Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Wristy Business

Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Wristy Business

Article excerpt

British gentlemen do not wear jewellery. A small unobtrusive gold family signet ring on the little finger of the left hand, perhaps, and gold cufflinks, but otherwise any personal ostentation is considered flash, foreign or naff. Except for watches.

The best way for a Briton to show his sense of taste and style is through his choice of watch. It's the ultimate chic male status symbol, like an Aston Martin Volante or 'midnight' Canaletto, except that you can carry it on your wrist, the top just visible from below your perfectly turned French cuff. We are all slaves to the iron dictates of what Kipling dubbed 'the unforgiving minute', so watches are practically impossible to live without unless one is a farmer, hermit or hippy. But that does not explain the beguiling aesthetic of the different brands.

There is the sporty Rolex Submariner beloved of James Bond and supposedly worn by divers and skiers, a rugged watch that has its dressy counterpart in the Datejust.

Dressier still is the Cartier American Tank, the only watch which really counts more as a gem than a chronometer. (Arguments abound as to how the word 'Tank' originated to describe this watch. ) Then there is the fantastically complicated Patek Philippe, which prides itself on being a potential heirloom, more like a family trust than a means for telling the time. (Of the 15 most expensive watches ever sold at auction, 14 have been Patek Philippes. ) Other brand names ooze a combination of (usually Swiss) reliability and sophistication.

Among those that have turned grown men into helpless watch-junkies are GirardPerregaux, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin and Longines. Breitling's aviator formula has proved hugely successful. Buy our watch, it whispers to our subconscious, and you too could be a fighter pilot who thinks nothing of landing a Hawker Harrier on the pitching flight deck of an aircraft carrier under heavy missile attack in high seas.

The greatest watchmaker who ever lived, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), sold timepieces to both Napoleon and Wellington.

(It wasn't the only thing the two men had in common; they also both had Josephina Grassini and Marguerite Weimer as mistresses, though not concurrently. ) For the then vast sum of 300 guineas, Breguet made Wellington a watch that 'on touching a spring at any time, struck the hour and the minutes'.

Today this is done by certain Patek Philippe watches, which boast minuterepeaters that can chime the time in the dark, and 'perpetual moonphase' operations, which can tell the difference between calendar and lunar months and even identifies leap years for you. …

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