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Big Time : Talk about dialing for dollars. When a wristwatch puts its best face forward, the connoisseur can wear her art on her sleeve, or he can make a sweeping statement in a second. Tick for tock, it's status to beat the band.


Wristwatches not only tell time, they speak volumes about the wearer's personality, tastes and cash flow. There are sporty watches that do almost everything but take one's blood pressure, avant-garde watches with minimalist faces for art lovers, prestige watches for corporate conservatives and flashy jeweled watches for those who like to show their wealth on their wrist. There's a watch for every fetish, from gambling to golf. Meeting with your bridge buddies? Impress them with a watch adorned with playing cards on its face. Love animals? There are cow watches, cat watches, dog watches and various other nature watches. Feeling holier-than-thou? Strap on a watch with a dial that bears a religious symbol. Such styles are among the more than 150 fashion watches at Keeping Time in Brea Mall. The store specializes in low-price watches that revolve around holidays, hobbies and professions.

"These watches are for people who just want to have fun and not spend a lot of money," says John Chu, owner of Keeping Time. "They're what Seiko would never do."

Music lovers can find a watch with a tiny bow and violin for hands. Cat-fanciers can sport a watch with a cat and mouse that run around the dial. Barbers and beauticians favor the watch with Edward Scissorhands. There's even a watch for watch collectors; its second hand looks like a tiny wristwatch.

Dinosaurs, playing cards, fish, golfers, hunters, cartoon characters, a miniature Van Gogh, seasonal themes such as Christmas and Valentine's Day--all can be found on a watch face. These fun watches don't pretend to take the place of fine watches. Rather, at $15 to $30 each, they're designed to round out one's watch wardrobe.

For those with bigger budgets, wearing a prestigious, higher-end watch is still the way to say, "I've arrived."

"A watch is a sort of power play," says Robert Penner, owner of the Watch Connection in Costa Mesa. "If a guy comes in wearing a $1,200 suit with a $30 watch, it looks stupid. He might as well wear a dirty shirt."

Penner's choice for the businessman who wants to impress a client: a cutting edge $1,300 Philippe Charriol with an 18-karat gold bezel and band made of stainless steel cables--the same kind found on aircraft.

"People are starting to recognize the importance of what they wear on their wrist," says Anthony D'Ambrosio, executive director of Tourneau, a retailer of fine Swiss watches in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. They "realize a watch tells as much about them as their clothes or automobile. Even more importantly, it's something they wear every day, all day long."

Rolex and Cartier are still kings of the status watches, Ambrosio says. While their names might not be as familiar to some, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin are also among the leading prestige watch manufacturers.

There's almost no limit to what one can spend on a watch. One Piaget watch available through Tourneau comes in solid emerald-cut diamonds and costs a cool $1 million. Rolexes vary in price depending on the amount of gold and number of diamonds.

"You can spend anything you want to on these guys," says Gary Elias, manager of Tourneau. The basic 18-karat gold men's Rolex is $13,900.

Some styles are geared for watch collectors who have as much appreciation for a watch's insides as its glamorous exterior.

Tourneau has a perpetual calendar minute repeater by Vacheron Constantin made of platinum ($355,000) that is "the epitome of the watchmaker's art and craft," D'Ambrosio says.

The handcrafted mechanism not only tells the date, it knows which months have 30 or 31 days and even which year is a leap year.

"There's actually a wheel inside that turns once every four years," D'Ambrosio says. In place of an hour hand, a small window offers a numerical display of the hour, and there's even a tiny chime to announce the hour.

"A watch like this is purchased by collectors, CEOs and celebrities--people who enjoy owning items that are rare," D'Ambrosio says.

Those with more unconventional tastes prefer the funky, sporty watches of Alain Silberstein. His watches are known for the bright colors and unusual geometric shapes of their hands, dials and pushpins. Silberstein's chronographs, which double as stop-watches, range from about $1,800 to $19,000 at Tourneau.

Art connoisseurs favor the sophisticated sterling watches designed by New York City artist Lisa Jenks, available for about $600 at Sunwatch in Fashion Island Newport Beach.

"They're museum quality. They have no numbers on the dial. The look is real clean," says Robert Zinda, owner of Sunwatch. "They're for the art shopper."

Some people like the subtle Southwest influence seen on the sterling watches by Ecclissi of Santa Fe, N.M. Ecclissi's watches have clean, uncluttered dials and unusual bands, one with a leather rope inlaid with sterling and another with a sterling rope bracelet, gold bezel and black dial ($250 to $425).

"It's the '90s. Everything's toned down. The looks are simple," Zinda says.

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