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Time And again

The very definition of a watch has evolved over the years, from a functional timepiece to an accessory en vogue. Charmaine Fernz reminisces through some of these timeless classics

The history of the wristwatch is indeed short. In the early 1800s, the wristwatch made more frequent appearances, when jewellery and watchmakers began creating gem-encrusted timepieces for the elite. In the years to come, automatic (self-winding) wristwatches were created, drawing on technology used in pocket watches. Initially they were unreliable, but were perfected by the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was then that the wristwatch became the dominant means of timekeeping among both men and women.

‘The times, they are changin...’, Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics sung more than three decades ago, still hold true, remarked my father as he pronounced a preface to his pet subject. A passionate connoisseur, he closely watches the trends in the field of horology and confirms that time, both metaphorically and literally, has undergone a veritable metamorphosis. To him, a watch has always been more than just a functional piece, in fact an objet d’art.

Watches have been the object of his affection, but I recently discovered its magnitude over a casual tete-a-tete. Being what he calls the ‘amateur’, I typically bragged about my latest Swatch and how big it is in the United States, patronised by most kids my age. I thought I’d be a bit suave and also throw in a few details about the contemporary styles in the Esprit and Elle collection. It was after having silently suffered my display of ignorance, that my father unveiled his treasure trove of prudence, as he formally acquainted me to the world of the affluent, coupled with an irresistible offer to accompany him to the burgeoning Basel Watch & Jewellery Show 2002. A collector’s paradise and annual fiesta for those in tune with the times.

The invitation, of course, came with a price and like most parents, my father also deemed it fit to give me an enriching orientation. Ruffling through his salt and pepper mane, he narrated in retrospect: “Undoubtedly, as our predecessors testify, times have changed significantly, in fact radically, and to keep pace with time, so have the devices used to denote it.

Frankly, the very definition of a watch has evolved over the years, he depicted excitedly, from that of a functional timepiece to a fashion statement, a jewellery piece, an accessory en vogue, a status symbol and a collector’s item. Classic models and established brands, all command the price and value of antique jewellery. Take wristwatches - they’re no longer used solely to monitor the ticking of time. They have evolved to high-tech watches that screen golf scores, monitor air temperatures, capture digital photos, operate televisions, or any electrical equipment and even allow you to download your favourite songs, you would know that. Now having said that, maybe we should go back in time to trace the trail of a bygone era.”

Like they rightly say, ‘Old is Gold’, he continued, long staying labels have constantly been creating and innovating through the decades. The time industry is inundated with brands one better than the other, fabricating styles from the rugged and simple to the opulent and ornate. Brands like Omega, Rolex and Cartier are a status symbol like many others, but have their own charm. Newer brands too are fast catching up catering more to individual tastes.

To my mind, he opined, Omega has been synonymous with accomplishments and perfection for decades now. In watch-making, the brand is at the forefront of know-how, design and human achievement. If my memory serves me right, the brand was founded in 1848. However, what would be of interest to you is its endorsement by celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Pierce Brosnan.

This one, you probably haven’t heard of, but when speaking of the classics, Gerald Genta was a veteran and a true watchmaker with world-renowned designs like the Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, Omega’s Constellation and Cartier’s Pasha to his acclaim. After creating masterpieces, he created his own Retro Classic watch that revolutionised the world of horology. Beat that!

But nothing to beat the look on your mother’s face as I gifted her a Cartier on our 25th anniversary, I’d never forget the way she swaggered over her prized possession. Well, it did cost me a fortune, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, he confirmed.

A short spell of silence and I thought to myself, “What can I say, this only reinstates the title of ‘amateur’, I always associated Cartier more with jewellery only in the reach of Maharajas and the elite. Naturally, given the astounding price range that starts at a ‘mere’ Rs 80,000-90,000 and soars to a handsome Rs 7-8 lakhs.”

Then he finally spoke, for your mother, watches are amongst her preferred possessions, not a treasured valuable like in my case, he unveiled his priceless collection. Chopard, Omega and Vacheron Constantin are just a glimpse of dad’s private collection and regal inheritance from my grandfather, also an avid collector. Left me pretty much dumb-founded, I’m not sure about you. Well, I’ll get straight at it, without losing any ‘precious time’.

In dad’s own authoritative words, dating back in history for the elegant, Chopard belongs to the illustrious history of the clock and watchmakers of Geneva and makes exceptional quality and high precision watches. What he’s currently got his eyes set on is Chopard’s Happy Sport, a square dial in steel with five cabochon-cut sapphires and seven free moving diamonds. Chopard possess a range of high quality watches mainly, ‘Haute Joaillerie’ watches. En parlance, he mentioned the Happy Diamonds priced from Rs 2,99,000 to Rs 7,76,000, followed by the Happy Sport, the Imperiale, the Chronograph, the Gstaad, and the time honoured classics like Ageless Splendour.

Moving on or should I say turning back, he picked out the Vacheron Constantin, which is apparently the oldest manufacturer in the world dating back to 1755. Centuries of painstaking research and experimentation stand behind all of Vacheron Constantin’s products, he attested. Whatever their particular design and features, Vacheron Constantin watches are made in limited series only, sometimes numbering no more than a few dozen. Today, as of two centuries now, acquiring a Vacheron Constantin means owning a rare treasure, a watchmaker’s labour of love, he stated boastfully.

Educating me on what to look for he enthused, watch out for Movado’s Elliptica, an avant garde timepiece, which should be showcased this year. It is a state-of-the-art watch with ergonomic contours and a graceful comma-shaped case, that has been inspired by the original Polyplan, saluting Movado’s rich history of design innovation. He surely intends to add this one to his ‘collection prive’, I muttered.

Well, classicism in all its forms forged towards nouveaux forms d’art, he continued as he sneaked out his Christian Dior. The brand is universally acknowledged as both the guardian and innovative trendsetter of classic, elegant and fashionable design. Their unconventional techniques are seen in their 18 carat plated steel or yellow designing. The price range too is reasonable, starting at Rs 25,000 going up to Rs 100,000, he asserted.

And then attracting my attention he enthused, now that you seem so interested, we could kick off your very own collection with an O’Dior. It is a young, contemporary watch for the glamour-conscious and is also a Dior signature, with the famous cane work decor that is used in most Christian Dior watches. The elegant watch, with a round case and distinctive cane work bracelet, dazzles when embellished with scintillating diamonds and an alluring mother of pearl dial, which would ensure that it’s not ephemeral in style and design.

When you’re speaking of lasting beauty, the Swiss jewellery brand DeLaneau is also adorned with exquisite diamonds and precious stones, he informed me. The USP of their watches is that they look more like jewellery than watches, a plausible option for the future. Since the watches start at Rs 150,000 onwards, you better choose the right vocation to afford that one, he adviced. From my perspective, he evaluated, a value-add is obviously the Three Time Zone watches, which is indeed a blessing for the globe-trotter. Something you might understand with time, he explained.

Perhaps, a sporty look would fancy you, more with the times he smirked with a twinkle in his eyes. In which case, Carrera is the pick of the flick. It is named after the famous race in Mexico, Carrera Panamericana, which until today is considered exceptional amongst all racing fans. The Carrera Speed Time Collections are incarnations of the latest technological innovations. The brand also stands out for its unique use of metals in its dials.

Speaking of masculinity, at the risk of losing your undivided attention, Bell & Ross is a brand with a class apart especially designed for men and commonly known as the manufacturer of watches for ‘men of extremes’. The brand, initiated for men with a passion for perfection, is priced between Rs 60,000 to Rs 100,000. The USP is the variety of designs, which are created with four basic concepts - readability, performance, precision and water-resistance. One of their collections boast a watch, which has liquid silicon that can be sustained in an abyss!

Another masculine watch with a compelling personality is The Upstream by Piaget, which infuses life into matter by drawing upon its jeweller’s sensitivity. Both gold and steel are exalted through sculptural shapes and refined details. Its bezel unfolds at 12 o’clock, and initiates a new way of experiencing time. The Upstream, as the name suggests, is undoubtedly a statement of the Jeweller’s Art.

Being adorned with elegance suits some, but most men sport the macho look. A hallmark in this segment is TAG Heuer, I’m sure you’re familiar with the label? Not waiting for a response, he continued. Dating back to 1860, it is known for its technological innovation in precision timepieces, including stopwatches and water-resistant watches. A trend more towards sporty watches, TAG Heuer has provided official timing services for a host of sporting events including the Olympic Games, FIA Formula 1 World Championship and the FIS Ski World Cup. But, it’s purely up to you to choose a ‘tag’ or a price.

Now, let’s get down to business and coming to what your pocket money can buy, the popular Esprit Timewear Collection. It is known for its exceptional perception of fashion trends. Its USPs are its contrasting colours, multifunctional chronographs, solid stainless steel dress watches to digital watches. But if you’re status-conscious, a Pierre Cardin is more of a signature brand. These reasonable priced watches stand for exclusivity and quality.

Well, when it comes to watches you make the choice between the well-priced and the priceless, he simplified. You know that we are living in a material world and I’m sure you’re a ‘material girl’. ‘And diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ - and if you’re anything like your mother you’d agree, no pun intended I might add, he smirked.

This is exactly what TechnoMarine has conceptualised with their innovative techniques of setting diamonds in plastic in their new range - Diamonds & Plastics. Termed as one of the hottest rage in high society with the who’s who sporting the brand, it signifies not only a brand statement but an assertion of unique individuality and character. The magnificent model has a stainless steel case embedded with diamonds around the bezel mounted on a beautiful plastic gel strap.

Trapped in those straps is the timeless ‘piege’ as the French call the trap. If you haven’t already figured, it is the Piaget I’m talking about. Entirely hand crafted in 18-carat gold and platinum, Piaget’s Miss Protocol depicts a perfect portrait of today’s contemporary woman - in constant motion, an alchemist of trends, an acrobat of fashion and an equilibrist of combinations. The watch is adaptable with its interchangeable straps. I’d suggest you add that to your wish list, he concluded.

Like secrets coming out of a Pandora’s box, he had finished sharing his secret recipe of choosing a collector’s article. And while I was trying to sort out my muddled head swarmed with ideas and aspirations, he unexpectedly kicked off a Q&A like a professor conforming the comprehension of a significant lesson. I’m not sure how well I scored as a pupil, but I certainly hope someday I outscore his collection, if not his expertise.

(With inputs from Biren Vaidya, managing director, Egana India Pvt Ltd, and Initu Bali, assistant marketing manager, Finex Distribution Pvt Ltd)