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Power Watches

A watch is more than the sum of its parts, and the right timepiece signals that you're a force to be reckoned with
Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

Entering the boardroom, the first thing on your mind is making the right impression. Not just with your business acumen, but with your smart, confident style. So you dress in your best power suit, a made-to-measure Armani or Saville Row perhaps, your favorite Ermenegildo Zegna tie powered by a perfect double-Windsor knot and wing-tipped brogues brought to a high shine. You also arrive donning an accessory that says so much about you, yet is sometimes overlooked by discerning males: the power watch. Today, wearing the right watch signifies to your friends, colleagues and even your adversaries that you are on top of things. The power watch is formal, yet sporting and active, and is loaded with a certain substance and style that exudes confidence in any setting. Most of all, its appearance demands attention.

Power Players
Back in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan became known for the red tie he always wore. It was dubbed the power tie and soon turned into a symbol of American corporate culture. Although the term "power watch" wasn't coined until the same period, such timepieces originated in the early 1970s. The legendary watch designer Gérald Genta was hired to design a new sports watch for Audemars Piguet, signaling that the time had arrived for stainless steel to be taken seriously in the luxury industry. Since its inception in 1972, the Royal Oak has been an undisputed leader. It has experienced a number of evolutions in the three and a half decades since hitting the world's jewelry shops, the next almost always better than the last, and has remained a perpetual best seller.

Genta also lent his expertise and fine feel for soft-yet-hard lines in stainless steel to the Nautilus, Patek Philippe's first purpose-built sports watch, which debuted in 1976 and has enjoyed evergreen success ever since. An advertisement supporting the original Nautilus does an excellent job of defining what a power watch stands for, even today. "One of the world's costliest watches is made of steel," the copy read. "Designed for diving, for formal or festive occasions, or for slaying dragons in the executive suite."

Thirty years on, in the world of high-end horology, power watches are yours for the taking. However, visually expressing this is sometimes easier said than done. A vast range of power watches exists. Choosing one comes down to which brand you may be loyal to, a certain movement you desire and the amount of money you're willing to pay.

In Your Face
If you are technically minded, the first timepieces to look at are by Richard Mille. One of the hottest new designers, French-born Mille makes big toys for big boys. They are high in testosterone and get their special look and feel from Mille's love of automobile technology. "Racing has always been a passion of mine," Mille explains. "The creation of my watches emulates the system of thinking from the world of Formula 1 development. Every part of the car must have a specific function working at the highest certain level and quality, especially under stressful conditions. Also, every gram counts; many people do not realize that F1 cars are weighed by the gram during their development and construction. It's a balancing act, a pushing of the envelope."

Mille's statement is not just lip service. His desire has always been to go to the edge. "My RM 009 Felipe Massa, the world's lightest tourbillon wristwatch at 28 grams [without using plastics] was born of a challenge [Formula 1 driver] Felipe Massa made me. He asked me if I could make his RM 006—at 48 grams, then the lightest—even lighter." The technology and materials that Mille uses, including aluminum, titanium, Anticordal 100 (an alloy comprising aluminum, magnesium and silicon) and alusic (an aluminum and silicon carbide alloy), were unheard of until other brands saw how well his unique ideas were being received and also began using them to make watches.

The stately dimensioned timepieces designed by Mille are rare—approximately 1,000 wristwatches are made annually—technical and just plain cool-looking. They are mechanical beauties that immediately attract eyes.

Mille is not the only one who designs wristwatches targeted for in-your-face attention while retaining a distinct mechanical message and remaining rare. About three years ago, Hublot completely changed when it introduced the Big Bang line. Jean-Claude Biver and his longtime friend and designer Mijat—the masterminds behind the model—read the taste of the modern man so precisely that the Nyon, Switzerland —based Hublot can't keep jewelers in stock.

The reason is simple: the Big Bang is one of the sharpest watches out there. With its use of new materials to create the movements and the case, the Big Bang has modern grace, which is aided by its chunky size and classic rubber strap that the brand made socially acceptable for luxury watches. "This is deeper than fashion, which means it will not disappear," says Biver, Hublot's chief executive officer. "It starts with fashion, then it becomes about function, about the movement. And that is the nice thing. Hublot started with the fashion: rubber and gold. And today this is not just our fashion, it has become an institution—everybody does it."

If it's the larger size of modern timepieces coupled with a hint of elegance and rarity that makes your heart tick a little faster, then head 15 miles farther south to Geneva and take a look at Roger Dubuis's collection. Since each model that this brand makes is limited to 28 (gold) or 280 (stainless steel) pieces, it is highly unlikely that the guy sitting next to you in the meeting is also going to be wearing one. And should that come to pass, it's even more unlikely that it would be the same model, since this brand's owner and chief designer, Carlos Dias, has developed close to 7,000 models, including dial and metal variations, for the company's current catalogue.

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