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Men's Spring Fashion Issue

Time Management

There's the Man Whose Wristwatch Merely Registers Minutes and Seconds, and Then There's the Man Whose Watch Says Something Timeless

April 07, 2002|KEVIN RODERICK

A man in a decent suit enters a well-dressed room. he is scrutinized by two groups of people who are aligned, loosely, by gender. Women--and, yes, there are exceptions--silently judge the condition of his footwear, overall attentiveness to grooming details--from haircut to fingernails to the cut of his fabrics--and, perhaps, his physique and the gleam in his smile.

In the same split second, the fashion-aware males in the room scan for any visible flaws in the new competition's muscular or financial suitability to perpetuate the species. Odds are, both evaluations ultimately will fix on the appendage that displays a man's most personal and revealing style choice.

That window into a man's wardrobe soul is his wristwatch. A $20 Casio with a battery and a black plastic band says one thing about you--mainly, that you just want to know what time it is. It will keep time fine, as good or better than a watch costing 20 times as much. A $150 chronograph with sub-dials for elapsed time, pulse rate and hour of the day in Istanbul suggests that you really like to stay apprised of the time. It also implies that you'd kind of like others to notice your abilities of exactitude.

Then there is the statement made by the man whose sleeve rises just so, permitting a sly glimpse of a Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet, crafted in Switzerland in, say, the 1930s. A watch that the wearer winds lovingly by hand each day or so, and must periodically adjust to the correct time. If nothing else, this watch proclaims a man who has made a choice to value aesthetics over the mere registering of minutes and seconds, and has probably given some consideration to the heritage of the timepiece he puts on his arm. After all, being on time only counts for so much.

The men with the magnificent watches can be intimidating, and it's not because they can afford to dump a few thousand dollars on a watch. Classic watches don't have to cost a lot. Look on EBay or visit Wanna Buy a Watch? on Melrose. You'll find many vintage mechanical watches, Swiss-made even, for a modest investment. No, these guys are threatening because they grasp a wardrobe truth that many men don't get.

The fashion advice Web site www.AskMen.com routinely finds it necessary to remind its young male audience that "a classic watch is undoubtedly a man's single most important fashion accessory." Adds the site's fashion columnist Chris Rovny: "It's the only practical accessory a man can wear. In my view, it's the only accessory a man should wear. And his choice of a watch tells a lot about his style."

If that is discomfiting to you, the real bad news is that these men in the know are multiplying. Nowadays, it's easier and more inexpensive than ever to buy a watch that keeps excellent time without any effort. But you are missing a great chance to make some cool points if you go ahead and strap just anything to your arm. Judging by EBay auctions, online discussion forums and plain old street buzz, more men are appreciating the classic beauty of vintage watches or going for new models with a little elan. Rolex and Omega, of course, but also Breitling and Gruen and other top brands.

Aficionados prowl the monthly Rose Bowl flea market and shop at the Antiquarius mall on Beverly Boulevard for deals on vintage watches. They buy any of a half-dozen magazines devoted to watches and collecting, and they flock to Web sites such as www.TimeZone.com and the newer www.ThePuristS.com (based in Los Angeles) to discuss the intricacies of ebauche and etablissage (French terms for a key component of the watch movement and a method of assemblage). They voice their affection for their watches in words they might otherwise use to describe an affair of the heart.

"I imagine we all experience 'honeymoon' periods with our new watches, but for me, only a few of my acquisitions have managed to keep me enthralled," began a recent posting on www.TimeZone.com titled, "Head Over Heels in Love," a paean to the writer's vintage Hamilton Boulton: "It's such a cool watch to wear. The case is a stunning example of '30s Art Deco style and distinctly different from other watches from the same era. I know it's common for us watch nuts to say that our collections are 'art we can wear,' but it's a classic of watch design in much the same way that the Cord convertible is a classic car design from the same period, and both embody the same streamlined, futuristic aesthetic. I've got a feeling this is a love affair that's gonna last."

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