The Watch List
Wearing a traditional mechanical watch in an age of smartphones is anachronistic and yet watches continue to hold great appeal. Arguably the watch industry’s success relies on nostalgia and the fact that watches themselves serve as a talisman and physical reminder of a more well-mannered age. Ownership of a Swiss watch becomes a discreet but visible badge of entry into a gentlemen’s clubland of respectability and implies a belief in old-world chivalry. Whilst there is a fraternal bond of fellowship amongst watch-lovers as a group, that sodality is undoubtedly at its strongest amongst those who share ownership and a passion for of the same manufacturer. Watch brands themselves often have such long and proud histories—with a specific catalogued list of previous wearers—that the unique appeal of each and why one might choose a particular brand over another becomes possible to codify. As one of the most expensive and considered purchases a man can make the choice of which club to join comes with a great deal of contemplation, reflection and research. A watch itself therefore becomes less a mere technological device worn on the wrist and instead a reflection of the type of man each owner might wish themselves to be.
After listening to HandCut Radio and hearing Aleks Cvetkovic suggest to Matt Hranek that an article of this type was required I was somewhat surprised when looking for it that no one had already documented this in a way I found satisfactory. This article then, partly for my own amusement, is a personal attempt at setting out the key attributes of particular brands and specific monikers that each brands self-appointed affiliates might place importance on.
Rolex is the quintessential Swiss watch. Ownership therefore entry into the most gentlemanly of gentlemen’s club—perhaps following in the footsteps of your father and grandfather who were prior members too. Rolex purest core value is that of respectability—membership a marker of safe reliable trustworthiness. At a gathering the club member’s car park would resemble a German car showroom bowing to the solidity of the reputation club as a whole. Not to say that Rolex club members are staid, stolid and not willing to take risk. The fact that it was a Rolex that first ascended Everest and that first sailed solo around the world is testament to past daring. In the minds of its advocates however risk is something to be calculated and assessed. This is not a watch of gut feeling or anything so insubstantial and impermanent but instead a call to timelessness itself.
An Omega is possibly best defined by what a Rolex isn’t. An Omega owner shares to his core of the same acceptance of a gentleman’s ethical code but approaches the need and means for its preservation with more raffish conduct and spirit. Outwardly there is seemingly a playful disregard for strict authority fuelled by a triumph of individual excellence. Notably worn by American astronauts as part of the original space programme—many audacious military test pilots by training—it has since become fitting that the film incarnation of James Bond has become so tied up in Omega lore. Here on screen a brilliant, but where necessary, defiant agent serves for the benefit of the most status quo and chivalrous institution of all—that of the British Crown.
Vacheron Constantin see good manners as divine and the preservation of them as sacred. So driven in these beliefs the Vacheron Constantin wearer goes about their business with a nobility and devoutly paternal spirit. That patrician’s worldview implies and demands exclusivity and discretion as markers for ownership too. Undoubtedly a benefactor to the underprivileged and likely a head of a charitable foundation such is their sense of common duty despite their own good fortune.
If Vacheron Constantin owners are upstanding, morally forthright and unsullied monarchs, Audemars Piguet—no less discriminative—is comparatively the flamboyant Prince Regent. Audemars Piguet’s motto “To break the rules, one must first master them” was learnt under the very best private tutelage whilst each member’s unique defiance is all their own. Racing the finest vintage Ferraris from their own collection an obvious choice and reflective of their view that the best artefacts in life should be enjoyed hands-on rather than looked at behind glass.
Patek Philippe is both forward and backward looking. It’s members focussed on nothing less than the pursuit of timeless perfection wherever it might be found. Patek’s success relies not only on its own preservation but in collective advancement of the wider field of horology and its culture as a whole.
The Hublot club is populated by a small group of rulers with irreverence for following rules. Brightly-coloured Bentley Bentayga—all personalised and uniquely exclusive—fill the club garages whilst the members all decamp in the same direction to the world’s best ski resorts over winter—each flying by private plane.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is a purveyor of traditional propriety. Proudest of its own particular storied history with little more than cursory regard for modernism. Jaeger owners are content to hold on to their values and share their collective lament at exterior claims of the world’s progress over fine wine from their own well-stocked cellar. Reminiscent of the most honourable Flyfisher’s Club of Brook Street, Mayfair—a bastion of traditional sensibilities that only those of the same contemplative mind might notice as they pass by. Timeless in their dress and good taste because ultimately both are inherited.
Cartier is a lover of beauty above all. So refined is their aestheticism, taste and romanticism that genuine comfort comes in a tuxedo—opera programme tucked under one arm and an elegantly dressed woman protected under an umbrella held by the other.
The IWC owner is a man of modern refinement, civility and good manners. An IWC on the wrist the horological equivalent of a bespoke Tom Ford suit or an immaculately refurbished Mercedes 300SL
TAG Heuer’s most lauded ambassador remains Steve McQueen “King of Cool”. TAG Heuer having a youthful, active and cool spirit at its heart continues to follow this lead. More at home in the collar of a polo shirt than the output of Jermyn Street TAG Heuer is proudly egalitarian as a result.
Blancpain exhibits a pure single-minded fortitude in its commitment to the steadfast preservation of the past.
Breitling is a fraternity of engineering spirit and hands-on, derring-do. When not under the hood of their rebuilt vintage automobile they’re equally at home in blazer and tie on the balcony of the Duke of Richmond in June or studying the car in the Rotunda at the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall.
Breguet is proudly aristocratic in its membership, history and values. Like the passage of wider hunan history itself often those practices established by the elite later find popularity amongst others. Breguet they have led the spread of horological culture with distinction popularising many of the features and calling cards of Swiss manufacture that bourgeois rivals the world over now call on themselves.
The Seiko wearer is an advocate of technology and pragmatism whilst reflective of the traditions of the past too. Japanese culture, the land of the Samurai, contains just as many customs and manners as the most chivalrous nations of the old world. Here therefore there is an application of traditional values whilst also being completely accepting of the modern world too. As Japan Westernized contemporary Japanese thinkers spoke of Wakon-yōsai "Japanese spirit - Western techniques". Seiko is reflective of the best of that.
A Casio owner is a man of modern utility. This then is not so much a club itself but the friendly bar just around the corner from clubland where one takes libation amongst other keen imbibers during those hours when the doors of many clubs are closed.
I'd love to hear reader's thoughts and suggestions on the above. Please message me via Instagram at @mrharrisonsr
The above is a glaringly personal take I'd like to know what I got right and wrong to improve the list in time. I'm conscious that so many other great brands don't yet feature. If you're passionate about a particularly brand let me know what drew you to it specifically.
More watch articles are still being manufactured. I have however previously published the below: