The Hands of Time
Classic Watches Are More Than Just Timepieces--They're Works of Art for the Wrist
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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If there is one watch that can be judged as a membership requirement of the international club of millionaires, it is probably the Royal Oak. As F. Scott Fitzgerald's oft-quoted maxim points out, the rich really are different. So while the merely aspiring millionaire may dream about the day when he can have a gold watch gleaming with diamonds sitting on his wrist, the man who actually is rich has tired of such baubles and is looking for new ways to spend his money. Thus it was in 1972 that Audemars Piguet launched a revolutionary luxury watch...made of steel.
The Royal Oak was the first luxury sports watch to be fashioned out of such a humble material as steel; it was the world's most expensive steel watch at the time. In the oil-shock years of the early 1970s, some industry pundits may have questioned the wisdom of introducing such a product, but, in the way that true classics have of asserting themselves, the Royal Oak caught on. Numerous permutations have since evolved--some set with multicolored precious stones, some with complicated movements and others with numerous subdials. The variety of choices have spawned many Oak junkies, quite literally men so addicted to this distinctive watch with its octagonal bezel, fastened by eight hexagonal bolts of white gold, that they have examples and variations of it in every metal, from 18-carat gold to tantalum (a rare metal of the vanadium family).
The name "Royal Oak" is said to owe something to the hollow tree in which Charles II of England hid after his defeat at the battle of Worcester in the mid-seventeenth century. Between 1802 and 1914, three Royal Navy ships were christened Royal Oak. But the evolution of the name is secondary to the beauty of the watch; somehow the various shapes incorporated into the design and the contrasting matte and polished surfaces combine to make one of the most memorable watches of the late twentieth century.
Piaget has had a history of designing extravagant pieces, and the 1960s and early '70s saw an explosion of creativity. Memorable women's pieces include the Slave Collection of 1971, in which watches with coral faces were set into bangles. More restrained, yet striking, is the Piaget Protocole, with its classic Dauphine hands and square case with cut corners and grooved finish. Among the features that distinguished it when it debuted in 1963 was its ultrathin movement. Its styling is distinctive in that, although more than 30 years old, the design retains a freshness and almost futuristic appeal.
Patek Philippe--Golden Ellipse
Among collectors, Patek is regarded as the premier marque; if you collect with a view to investment, you can't get much more blue-chip. Almost any Patek is a classic. The most sought-after are perpetual calendars and those with unusual features on the dial. Many would regard the Golden Ellipse, launched in 1968, as the classic Patek. The Golden Ellipse's case, with gently rounded corners and blue-gold dial, makes it one of the world's more recognizable watches. It could be argued that its classic status owes something to subliminal appeal; Patek says that its design was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's Golden Section, a mathematical ratio the artist used to ensure the most harmonious and pleasing rectangular shape.
Girard Perregaux Vintage
The beginning of Ian Fleming's 1957 James Bond novel, From Russia With Love, says it all: In a list of the "typical membership badges of the rich man's club," Fleming includes "a bulky gold wristwatch on a well-used brown crocodile strap. It was a Girard Perregaux model designed for people who like gadgets, and it had a sweep second-hand and two little windows in the face to tell the day of the month, and the month, and the phase of the moon." Although Girard Perregaux was founded 204 years ago, it is still very innovative. Three years ago, the firm was purchased by Luigi Macaluso, a former race car driver, and in 1995, Girard Perregaux produced the first "Girard Perregaux pour Ferrari," a chunky, classically styled 12-hour chronograph. Under Macaluso's stewardship, the company is also reissuing copies of one piece from its museum every year, selling them under the name "Vintage" and making them in limited quantities. A recent example is copied from a watch issued in the 1930s. For those who weren't around then, it is a wonderful opportunity to pick up the same watch 60 years later.
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