There are two ways of looking at watches. To some, they are utilitarian devices that tell time and are, on margin, stylish. To others, watches are objects of adoration, a passion, part of a collection. I used to belong to the first category but am veering towards the latter.
Mean machines: (left) A piece by Vacheron Constantin; and Reverso Gyrotourbillon.
Watches are easy for me. We each have an eye for certain things and don’t “get” others. I, for instance, have trouble with shoes. I want Roger Vivier’s verve, Jimmy Choo’s sexiness, Christian Louboutin’s red heel, and the avant-garde look of Yves St Laurent’s cage shoes. Ergo, put me in a shoe store and I cannot choose. Ditto with handbags. With perfume, it is even worse. Inevitably, the perfume that appeals to my nose will do nothing for me. Worse, when I come into the room, people will start sniffing and say, “Isn’t something burning?” Or something like that.
Watches, on the other hand, I get. As with most things in luxury, it is mostly a matter of knowing what you like. I can walk into a watch store and tick off the items with the confidence of a gay man. Love it, hate that, oh-that’s-horrible, who-wears-that, detest that, ooh-luuuve-that. You get my drift.
Mostly, I am drawn to men’s watches. Wearing a Bigger Bang black Hublot with a flirty chiffon sari is, in my mind, sexy. The brands I like are Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breguet, Breitling, Blancpain, IWC and Patek Philippe. I dislike some brands for well thought out, but what some would consider arbitrary, reasons. Franck Muller, for instance, is a cult brand that makes the kind of mechanical watches I love. But I don’t like their square dial and the feminine design of their hour markings. Rolex and Omega are overexposed. Cartier, Chaumet, Van Cleef are too bejewelled. Some brands try to do too much. Audemars Piguet’s Jules Audemars, for instance, is a lovely instrument with its exposed dial and high-frequency escapement. But then, they go and spoil it with two small, enamelled dials inside. Why? If I am paying Rs1.5 crore for a watch, I’d like some consistency in the thought process. Are you into jewellery or horology? Don’t try to do both; to be all things to all people.
Also Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns
Enamelling is the latest trend in watches. Most Swiss houses have captured advances in horology. Decoration is the next frontier, so enamellers such as Anita Porchet and Vanessa Lecci get paid a bomb to do the kind of work that our thewa and minakari jewellers perfected centuries ago. Though I dislike them, Cartier’s enamelled watches, decorated with Japanese designs and fish swimming across the dial, are all the rage.
Another trend that caters to Russian oligarchs is putting totally unneccessary things like diamonds in watches. Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin used to be brands I enjoyed. Now they have coloured their watches blue and inserted sapphire gemstones, moonscapes and other métiers d’art into them. Some people, I guess, must like this kind of decoration, but not me. I think watches should sport two colours, three at most, and they should be silver, gold and black.
Straps are another selection criterion. Connoisseurs prefer straps and most high-end watches only offer straps. Sometimes, if they want to be cute, they’ll offer two straps—leather and rubber for when you want to go deep-sea diving. I actually like metal straps. And complications.
Patek Philippe and Breguet are the two brands in which “complications”, as the industry calls them, are part of the brand DNA. While complications are horological advances and genuinely difficult to achieve, I think some of these brands go overboard. If my memory serves right, Breguet started it with 20 complications and then Patek Philippe topped it with 25. Now Jaeger-LeCoultre and Franck Muller are in the game with 25 or 26 complications. And what do these complications do? Everything except feed you dinner. Thermometer, perpetual calendar, chronography, minute repetition—you name it, they have it.
I am not so steeped in horology to appreciate these complications. To me a watch should be three things: clunky, non-decorative and most important, transparent. By that, I mean that the more the watch reveals its mechanism, the more I love it. Watch connoisseurs call this tourbillon but I call it see-through watches, which is really what they are.
Jaeger-LeCoultre (which happens to be my favourite watch brand) has a number of tourbillon watches. Their Reverso Gyrotourbillon debuted last year to great fanfare but I dislike it. It is too small. The dial is square and therefore unusual, but ladylike square. I much prefer their 2006 gyrotourbillon with a master minute repeater and multiple tones. If all of that sounds Swiss to you, take heart. The main thing about the 2006 gyrotourbillon is that it is a watch within a watch. On your wrist, you’ll see the standard dial. And then you’ll see a miniature skeleton case that pivots within the outer case. Gruebel Forsey has a quadruple tourbillon with four miniature skeletons doing this, but that seems like overkill.
The watch I would buy now? Or rather, the watch I would buy if I could square the fact that I could subsidize a small country with that money is an IWC Skeleton Portuguese minute repeater. My second choice would be a Vacheron Constantin openworked minute repeater from their Cabinotiers line. Both are completely transparent skeleton watches. I guarantee that you won’t be able to take your eyes off them.
Shoba checks time through her iPhone. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org