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« Which watch are you? | Main | Sphere factor »

Time keepers


Presenting the cornerstones of a classic gentleman’s wristwatch collection

From left to right: Breguet Classique 7137/BA/11/9V6, RM 017 Extra Flat Tourbillon and Patek Phillipe Calatrava 5119

Classique 7137BA/11/9V6
Breguet’s rise marked the culmination of the 18th-century tradition that saw watchmakers not as creators of mechanical toys, but as scientific researchers. If there was a problem to do with timekeeping, Abraham-Louis Breguet, also a master salesman, could be relied on to come up with a raft of solutions. Breguet popularised the tourbillon, but it is guilloche engraving that is its most recognisable visual signature, and this watch features a lovely example.

RM 017 Extra Flat Tourbillon
Richard Mille is one of the people who defined the direction taken by luxury watchmaking in the 21st century: a futuristic aesthetic executed in avant-garde materials – carbon nanofibre is something he’s particularly fond of. Although Mille is best known for the tonneau case shape, it’s his straight-sided RM 017 that is particularly appealing – extra flat, as is the trend these days, and available in titanium, white gold or red gold.

Calatrava 5119
In the watch world, the Calatrava cross that is the mark of this storied family-owned brand arouses the same sort of passions as Ferrari’s prancing horse. Its legendary ‘You never own a Patek Philippe…’ ad campaign and domination of auction rooms’ upper reaches have made its watches investment-grade products – if only the world’s financiers had invested in Pateks, perhaps we wouldn’t be in such trouble today. If you don’t quite have the $800,000 or so needed to start the bidding on a first-series 2499 from the late Fifties, why not start with an elegant Calatrava 5119, with a clous de Paris bezel?

Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 and, right, Vacheron Constantin Historique 1954 Aronde

Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931

The watch that can be flipped over on the wrist was a typically functional product of the Art Deco period. Inspired by polo players whose fragile watch glasses kept breaking, this was the watch behind the spectacular revival Jaeger-LeCoultre enjoyed in the late 20th century. Today there are dozens of different iterations in the Jaeger line-up, including some very ritzy complications, but for a watch that looks as good on the wrist as in a museum you’ll find it hard to beat this year’s 80th-anniversary model.

Historique 1954 Aronde

Vacheron Constantin has always been there – in 2015 this firm will be an incredible 260 years old. Vacheron can minute-repeat and tourbillon with the best, but for heritage, its back catalogue is second to none. In recent years the brand has taken the commendable step of revisiting its past, and this watch from the Fifties, a surprisingly racy period in watch design, is a true beauty. If you are after a big statement then cross this off your list – this is a recondite, individual and sophisticated timepiece that demands similar qualities from its wearer.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Hublot King Power Oceanographic and A. Lange & Söhne Double Split

Royal Oak

The octagonal profile of the pumped up Royal Oak Offshore models has become a familiar sight wherever playboys gather, from Costa Smeralda to St Tropez. But the original Royal Oak was a thin two-hand watch on a steel bracelet and next year it celebrates its 40th birthday. It’s a hugely important watch in that it started the trend for the oversized luxury steel sports watch with integral bracelet that now typifies
the top end of sport-luxe timekeeping. It is supremely wearable too – if you’re after a watch that can take you from beach to boardroom, this is it.

King Power Oceanographic 48mm 4000

Hublot watches are functional but fun, and this combination of technicality and good-times styling comes from Jean Claude Biver, an industry legend who first revived Blancpain, then revved up Omega and now finds himself running Hublot. Coining the mission statement ‘the art of fusion’, Biver has made Hublot the reference point when it comes to rugged horology that makes use of the latest tech in materials. With this model, he also holds the current depth record with a piece that can withstand the pressures of life 4,000m underwater.

Double Split

In 19th-century watchmaking, Lange was a name to drop alongside the great houses of Switzerland, but the DDR years rather dented its reputation for high-quality timepieces. Undaunted, after the Wall’s fall, the founder’s great-grandson Walter Lange picked up where his forebears had left off. Today A. Lange & Söhne (A. Lange and Sons) is the reference for high-end German watchmaking and its quality ranks it alongside the best in Switzerland. The Double Split is a great watch that can time two separate events that might start simultaneously but end up to half an hour apart. Truly a superior timepiece.

Girrard-Perregaux Tourbillion with three gold bridges and, right, Rolex Vintage GMT Master 1675GIRARD-PERREGAUX
Tourbillon with three gold bridges

Girard-Perregaux is one of those recherché brands that makes only 20,000 or so watches a year and is seen
on discriminating wrists only. In 1992 the firm was taken over by Luigi ‘Gino’ Macaluso, who was a towering figure in the watch world – an architect and former rally champ, too. Alas, he died in 2010, but his legacy is the portfolio of classic watches that bear his name. This model is based on a 19th-century pocket watch, and as well as a technical tour de force is that rare thing: a watch that can be recognised across a crowded room.

Vintage GMT - Master 1675

The Levi’s 501 of watches, just like the classic denims, a Rolex gets better with age and there are plenty of styles to choose from. Personally, I would always go for a vintage sports model, but other aficionados tick the boxes with an Explorer II with orange second hand, aka the ‘Steve McQueen’, or a ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. Given that this is Rolex, it’s excusable to go for a bit of bling and take a gold watch on a gold bracelet – try an early GMT 1675 in 18-carat gold (watch the beginning of Easy Rider very carefully and you’ll see a prototype example gracing Peter Fonda’s wrist). Interested? Danny Pizzigoni of Watch Club ( on Royal Arcade, just off Old Bond Street, will sort you out.

Nick Foulkes is the editor of Vanity Fair On Time