What do you think of luxury watches? Are they in or out? I suppose some of it depends on your social circle and age group. If you’re a middle aged executive you’ll have a different watch environment than say a young surfer.
This is a great opinion piece about the matter from the 80’s, when luxury watches really started to take off.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I first wore my $2 wristwatch to the office. A little ribbing, perhaps, about how clunky it looked. Or maybe a cutting comment about its origins. I was ready. “Yeah,” I’d say, “I got it on the street from a vendor, but it tells time and”–the clincher–“it only cost $2.” What I wasn’t prepared for was the silence. And those occasional sidelong glances.
We are living in watch-proud times. Even I will admit that at first I had misgivings about a timepiece costing roughly as much as a Big Mac. What does it say about the value you place on time, one of the underpinnings of the modern world, when somehow it is equated with ground beef on a bun? This watch even looks cheap, an affront alike to conspicuous consumption and the craft of watchmaking. On its lusterless face cryptic hieroglyphics indicated it can be taken in a swimming pool at least once, will not break if hit with a fountain pen, and may be worn on an airplane if not mistaken for a terrorist timing device. It is the Styrofoam of wristwatches, a throwaway packaging of time. The late George F. Babbitt wouldn’t have been caught dead with it; the Mad Hatter, had he found it in his teacup, would have left it there.
“He’s a Rolex man,” people are supposed to whisper appreciatively, as if talking about someone with old money. And in some situations, a high-ticket watch is better than a Mercedes because it doesn’t leave tire tracks on the floor at Lutece. We downscale watch owners must steel ourselves against social slights. When the average maitre d’ gets a glimpse of my sheet-metal special, he react as though he’s just seen a pair of scuffed loafers.
Most luxury watches cost as much as a fancy German sedan. They either have jewel-encrusted cases, or appear to have come from the control panel of a space shuttle and seem to belong in a museum–or a vault. It takes $10,000 for anything a salesman won’t sneer at, and so on up through “the most expensive standard men’s” watch at $100,000 to the $5 million Kallista, both of which made the Guinness Book of World Records. According to Charles Davidson, A vice president of the North American Watch Corporation in New York, the same fellows who import the likes of Piaget, Concord and Corum: “This generation has more affluency than any before.”
But I say “affluency” is how you see it. For the price of a Piaget Polo which, without the decorative jewels, goes for over $11,000, a watch fetishist can acquire 5,500 of my $2 jobs. Talk about affluency. That’s little like having a new watch every year since the pyramids, were built. Besides, my $2 timepiece flashes seconds and the date at the push (vigorous) of a button. And it has a built-in light which, for the price, could give costly utility companies a scare.
Besides, the better watches I have owned have all met untimely ends.
My father, a navigator in World War II, gave me my first when I was a child, in the fond hope I’d use it to calculate the average speed of the family car as it lurched to our summer vacation. Before the trip, however, the watch got a bath and thereafter indicated the same time upon departure and arrival.
Years later, in France, I acquired an antiestablishment timepiece, made in a factory whose workers took it over when management threatened a shutdown. The government nationalized the factory, turning my watch into a socialist timepiece. Then they shut the plant making the watch a collector’s item at least until it was expropriated (i.e., swiped) by some nonrespecter of private property.
There followed a period when time became a matter of public domain. I picked it off the airwaves, from barbershop walls, bank facades and people on the street wearing status watches. I developed a fine sixth sense for time and managed to miss many appointments, dates and trains.
Finally, I gave in and bought a prestigious Swiss watch. I knew it had status because the collection of grave watch repairmen, whom I soon had to resort to, spoke in hushed tones and charged a minimum of $90 just to listen to its insides. It was those gentlemen who drove me into the arms of the $2 street vendor.
Now, despite the occasional sneer, I have the confidence that comes from owning a timepiece outside all parameters of style. Not for me the chagrin of spending $900 for the latest in flossy chronometers, only to have $35 duplicates flood the market. A while back the Cartier people, in league with the U.S. Customs, consigned some 4,000 fake Cartier watches to be publicly crushed to death by bulldozers on TV. Cheap innards, Cartier claimed, but the price of the condemned items had been jacked up to $500 retail.
As for short-term status, author James Charlton has the answer to that. He’s just put out a book baldly entitled Surface Chic which provides fancy cardboard cutouts of many popular status brands, including the Piaget Polo. This is simply taped over your $2 watch, thus providing yourself a sense of power–and a saving of $10,998.
Even if my $2 watch stops, what have I lost? According to legend, no less a prince of cost-effective precision than the former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara preferred stopped watches to watches that kept gaining or losing time because, he said, at least twice a day they would be absolutely accurate.”