A classic mechanical watch is an investment. At least, that’s what you tell yourself – and your significant other – when they question why you want to spend thousands of pounds on something your smartphone does.
But it’s a lot more than that. A proper timepiece is also a rite of passage. When you become a man, you put away childish things like the Spider-Man Swatch and the Casio calculator watch (unless you’re styling yourself like a late aughts hipster) in favour of something that syncs with your adult status.
For that reason, a watch is something that fathers often pass onto their sons when the latter turns 18 or the former dies (or he just wants an excuse to buy a new, even more expensive watch).
If you’re investing with a view to bequeathing, then you want to avoid anything with even the faintest whiff of fashion. (This rule also applies to wedding photos.) Think ‘classic’. Think ‘iconic’. But don’t think ‘timeless’, because we’ll slap you in the face for using the oldest cliché in the watch-describing book.
Unlike you, these five pieces of grown-up wrist candy are guaranteed to still be stylish when your rugrat is legally allowed to buy you a drink. You could put whichever one you choose in the wardrobe to appreciate untouched until their 18th. But then it does seem a crying shame not to make use of it…
As its moniker suggests but its elegance most certainly does not, the Tank was inspired by the WWI battlefield weapons that at the time – 1917 – were considered as revolutionary as its namesake timepiece’s square shape.
“Cartier’s Tank has evolved into various versions over the ages but the original is still the best: not too big, not overly cluttered, a perfect representation of the Art Deco period that spawned it,” says Chris Hall, deputy editor of specialist watch magazine QP. “Whether the associations with WWI tanks are of genuine importance to the design is somewhat moot – for nearly 100 years it has been the perfect square watch.”
Its enduring appeal and classic design make the Tank a bulletproof dress watch, especially for eveningwear, and therefore a hard-to-beat hand-me-down. “It’s an eternally good choice for black tie,” adds Hall. And unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Jay Z-soundtracked The Great Gatsby, it won’t look horribly dated in a couple of years.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
“You never actually own a Patek Philippe – you merely look after it for the next generation.” To which we’d add: very, very carefully.
Patek’s iconic ad campaign has been running since 1996; its signature Calatrava model, since 1932. “Stylish without being showy, the Calatrava embodies everything that’s great about watchmaking,” says Lloyd Amsdon, co-founder of pre-owned specialist Watchfinder. “That, and it also comes from what many consider to be the finest watchmaker in the world, so the heritage and quality is second to none.”
The Calatrava is for many purists the distilled essence of a dress watch: everything you need, nothing you don’t. Its design is beautifully simple; its movement one of the most precise around. Factor in Patek’s unparalleled craftsmanship – and cachet – and it’s never going to get old. Unlike your dad jokes.
Patek is arguably the watch brand; the Calatrava is arguably the Patek. If you can treat yourself, er, your offspring, to one of these, then truly all your Christmases (and theirs) have come at once.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Horological legend has it that esteemed watch designer Gérald Genta dreamt up the Royal Oak overnight after Audemars Piguet asked him to devise a luxury sports watch in stainless steel. The result is like Keith Richards writing ‘Satisfaction’ in his sleep: immortally rock ‘n’ roll.
Along with Patek’s Nautilus and IWC’s Ingenieur, the Royal Oak is one of Genta’s sporty triptych of 1970s masterpieces. But unlike the clothes from that decade – the fashion industry’s current mania for the decade notwithstanding – it’s just as wearable today. (In fact, sports luxe is more ‘on fleek’ than ever.) And it’ll probably still be wearable in another 40-odd years. (‘On fleek’, right? Isn’t that what the kids say…?)
Coming when it did, the Royal Oak, with its sturdy octagonal bezel, was a bulwark for the mechanical watch industry against the quartz onslaught. Six times more expensive than a Rolex Submariner at launch, it helped reinforce the notion that exquisitely made watches were worth more than just their essential use of telling the time. Teach your kid who to thank.
Another Art Deco thoroughbred, the Reverso was famously created for British army officers in India in 1931 who kept smashing their watches mid-polo match.
Ever resourceful – and alert to a commercial opportunity – Jaeger developed a clever reversible case so that the glass face could be hidden while on the hoof. As opposed to, you know, just getting them to take off their watches before playing.
While its practicality is debatable, its pedigree is not. “The Reverso has transcended its niche-sounding polo origins to become one of the iconic watch designs,” says Hall. “Like the Tank, its square lines make it an ideal dress watch.” It’s a safer bet than the favourite in the 2.15: the only unexpected reversal will be when you flip it round to impress your mates.
In fact, the unique design of the Reverso lends itself even more to heirloom status than its stablemates here: the reverse being ideal for engraving. “The Reverso’s true strength lies in its potential for customisation – and hence sentimental value to be passed on,” says Hall.
In watchmaking circles, first is, if not quite everything, then a hell of a lot. This at least partially explains the near-universal appeal of Rolex and its portfolio of models that reads like a greatest hits.
Indeed, you could make a case for pretty much any Rolex model being on this list. But we’re going to make one for the Datejust: it’s dressier than a Submariner or Daytona, not to mention more smartly priced. Many people’s first Rollie, it’s a great all-purpose, wear-anywhere timepiece.
The first Datejust was launched in 1945 to mark the 40th anniversary of the corporation. “It’s hard to believe that no other brand had created a self-changing date before Rolex did, but that’s how it is,” says Amsdon. “It makes the Datejust an icon not just of Rolex style, but of watchmaking legend as well.”
Today the Datejust is available in a vintage-looking 36mm and more modern 41mm (called the Datejust II). Rolex’s bullish brand equity means that it will definitely retain value and likely go up, especially in precious metals. Donald Trump didn’t get an inheritance this good.
Is choosing the best watches to pass down to your kids child’s play? Or are we kidding ourselves?
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