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OFF THE CUFF : Watch It! There's No Present Like the Time

August 25, 1994

\o7 Tick . . . tick . . . tick.

David Banner pays attention to watches, from the pricey Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin to the economical Swatch. As regional director of Tourneau, which has six stores that sell timepieces, including one in South Coast Plaza, he's an expert on Swiss watches.

Banner, who's certified as a gemologist by the Gemological Institute of America, started his career in his family jewelry business in Atlanta. He joined Tourneau three years ago because "I wanted to work for a leader, a 60-year-old company committed to customer service and selection of outstanding products."

Also committed to making money--Tourneau sells fine watches for as much as $550,000.

This is another in a series of first-person columns that allows people connected to the fashion industry to talk about their encounters.

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As a kid, I used to take watches apart, but I could never get them back together again. There were always a few extra parts. But I tinkered with watches because I was impressed with this engineering marvel--inside that small case were a hairspring, a balance wheel and 200 more parts.

I own five or six watches. I'm never late. Right now I'm wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which is a stainless steel and gold watch I've had for two years and I wear quite a bit.

The watch I wear depends on the mood I'm in. I also wear an Ebel Chronograph watch that's a little more sporty. But I don't have a favorite. Here, all our watches are our favorite, just like children.

Having more than one watch is one of the differences between watches today and 50 years ago. Then, a watch was a necessity used to tell time so you wouldn't be late. Now it's an accessory and a collectible. It's a fashion, a form of jewelry, especially for men who don't wear much jewelry.

Tourneau is the leader in its field of luxury Swiss watches. We have more brands than any other watch store in the U.S. and an inventory of 25,000 watches in our stores.

We appeal to many kinds of individuals, from those interested in purchasing a $40 Swatch to those wanting a half-million-dollar diamond watch. We carry antique watches, pocket watches, collectibles from the '40s and '50s, one-of-a-kind watches and Alain Silberstein watches, which are artistic, Andy Warhol-type pieces.

One watch that is coming out soon from the Breitling Co. will have a built-in antenna that will give off an SOS signal if you're stranded on a boat or if you're a pilot. But for the most part, new technology doesn't impact our selection because most of the watches we sell are made the way they were made in the 1800s.

The mechanical and automatic watches we sell show the true art of watchmaking. A mechanical watch is one you wind, and an automatic one is made with a mechanism that winds itself. We also sell quartz watches, but we've seen a resurgence in the appeal of Old-World automatics and mechanicals.

All of our watches are Swiss. The Swiss factories are only capable of producing a couple thousand watches a year, and, unfortunately, it's becoming a dying art.

It used to be a family business, where the grandfather, father and son all were watchmakers and knew the complicated production. But in 20 or 30 years, no one will be around to make these watches.

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