What distinction can you make between a formal watch (Cartier, Vacheron) and a casual watch (Seiko, Rolex)?

The distinction between models (not brands – brands have very different  models in their lineup) is quite subtle, if you ask me. And I have  seen quite a lot of watch models and collections. So, what happened is  that in time, the watches evolved so to match their intended use.

The Daytona is expensive, but not a formal watch

So, watches had to specialize along these functions, and along the context where they would have to be worn.
Until quite recently, and I mean the Seventies, the distinction was pretty clear. Gold watches were for dressy events; steel watches were for everyday life and business; diver and other kind watches were informal, and so, strictly for leisure. Remember that a JLC Reverso was considered a sporty watch.
Then,  there came the Seventies, the genius of Gerald Genta, and the  introduction of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, and the world of watches  literally went crazy. One of the first headlines for the Patek Philippe Nautilus was like “There is a steel watch that is costly as gold ones”,  and people raced to buy it, after an initial skepticism.
The creation of the “luxury sports” category meant that the traditional  categories were no longer valid, or better, no longer binding. You would find breaches of etiquette in formal occasions that would have sent Lord Brummel wailing in the night.
So,  what you are finding today is a very complex system made of models  displaying various shades of dressy-ness, if I can use this term. And I  will make some examples.

Lange und Sohne Saxonia

How dressy is dressy?

Take Lange und Sohne for example, a company that lies among the manufacturers of uber-dressy watches, like the Saxonia that you can see on here. As you can readily notice, it is very similar to  the Patek Philippe Calatrava, the prototype of the dress watch if there is one.  Now compare it with a Lange One.

Lange und Sohne Lange One

Do  you find it more or less dressy? Actually, the One is a little bit less  formal than the Saxonia (even if it is way more expensive).

Now let’s take a look at another timepiece. It is another Saxonia (precisely, a Saxonia Small Seconds Big Date), but it is a bit different from the one on top.
This Saxonia looks way more sporty than the first Saxonia, and also from the Lange One . But you see the metal? This could be either steel or white gold or platinum – we cannot be sure.  That would complicate matters enormously as for the value and the social  occasions where to wear this timepiece.
So, this longish discussion is taking up to the point where it becomes quite difficult to make a definite list about what is formal and what is not. It is not a black and white issue. It is more along a scale of grey.
The same feature could be valued differently if placed in two  different contexts.

VIPs and watch wearing

As  such, we can see that VIPs make huge breaches of etiquette when using  watches. And I am not saying that these wrongdoings come from “nouveau riches,” who have no idea. I am  saying from people who have had a very formal upbringing.

Prince William and his Omega Seamaster

Look at what Prince William is wearing. A steel Omega with a steel bracelet AND a suit in a formal occasion?
That would be really off for you and me – but HE is the Prince Royal, so he can. More, the watch was a gift from his mother, Princess Diana. So, he can. You, better not.
Let’s recap things a little bit. What I am writing should not be  taken as a 100% tried and true watch etiquette, because it isn’t one. It  is a very rough-and-tough guide to avoid big social blunders, and blend  seamlessly in every crowd of watch digerati. It is conservative, mind  you – so it exceeds on the way of caution. Your mileage may vary.
There are mostly three kind of activities: leisure, business and formal.
Let’s examine the rules that apply to them.

Leisure – Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

In  leisure activities, you can wear whatever you want. It is your wrist,  and your activity. So you can wear a FitBit, a Swatch, a G-Shock or  anything else with abandon.
Nobody would say anything to you about that.  In leisure, the watch you wear will probably be closely linked to your  activity: so, if you are a diver, you would be wearing a diver watch,  while if you are going to a sports event (or cooking spaghetti), you  might enjoy wearing a chronograph.

Kevin O’Leary

Business is business, baby

When  you take a watch into a meeting room, you are starting to put other elements in the mix. That is, you are going to be evaluated for what you show. The  people watching you from the other side of the table are going to paint  an impression of you through your look. And a watch (or its lack) is an important part  of any look.
If  we ask to business professionals, they quite agree that a watch is a  good way to establish a character, a style. And they employ this tactic  routinely. For example, someone like Kevin O’Leary has a “quirk”: almost  all of his watches have a red band. He also wears other red accents on  him at all times. This is part of the style he wants to broadcast, and  that defines him globally.
Quite  simply, when you are dressing for business, a watch becomes a specific  tool. Use it to impress, so wear what is most effective to this end. And  to do so, you need to know it in advance, by studying your “opponent”.  This means that there are no holds barred.
You  might wear a flashy gold Rolex, or resort to a playfyul plastic Swatch,  if the latter is better for your overall plan and the image you want to  get through. It is up to you and your goal, not to cumbersome social  rules.

Formal is different than business

When  you are in business, you may use pretty much whatever you want, if it  suits your character, lifestyle, and goal. But when you are doing things  formally, you should not. A formal event has different “levels”, so to  say.
1 – formal  dress means at least a two-piece suit, with matching jacket and  trousers. This level goes up to the tuxedo. The right watch for this  kind of event is a gold watch, as simple as it can be. If you do not  have a gold dress watch, a gold-plated dress watch would do. Prefer  white dials over dark ones, and avoid bracelets if possible – a gold  bracelet, especially if cumbersome-looking, would be considered boorish. The  wristband should be dark, possibly black: the brown one you see on the  Saxonia on top would not be totally fitting.
2  – in case of black or white tie events, that is, a level more formal than the tuxedo, man’s suits are composed of three pieces, including the waistcoat. The waistcoat has some little pockets.
You should put a yellow gold pocket watch into one of them. The pocket watch has to be  secured on a gold chain, linking the watch to the waistcoat. As usual, if you don’t have a gold watch, a gold-plated one would do – but if you are invited to a black-tie event, well, you most probably have the means of owning a gold pocket watch.
3  – you have an opportunity here, however. A vintage/antique watch is considered to enjoy  a “free pass” over the social etiquette in watches. This means that you  could breach the standard rules if you are wearing something that is  obviously vintage, and probably has some serious significance for you, like Prince William does.
Remember that you got to have the knowledge about what you are wearing,  though, because people at the event are going to comment about your watch and  ask questions. If you cannot justify why you are wearing a vintage timepiece, nor you have an idea about horology, you would be written off as a fool.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

Why are “luxury watches” such a status symbol for people?

Despite what lots of people think, true luxury and high-end are really two separate things, and might co-exist in the same brand.

High-end and luxury watches sometimes represent a rite of passage. As you rightly say, a sort of status-symbol object. But what transforms a high-end or a luxury object into true luxury?

Its uniqueness.

It is like when you are shopping for a suit. You might go in a store and buy a no-name suit which fits you well. Or enter into a shop selling branded suits coming from one of the best-known names of the fashion industry, such as Armani.

The shop assistants would then let you try the suit and make adjustments so it fits you better – or if you are lucky enough, you could wear it off the rack and that would be all.

In other cases, you would instead go to a tailor and ask him for a suit. He would take his measurements of your body, and you would select the fabric that you want your suit made in. Then, the tailor would make a suit expressly for you.

How much would you pay for such a luxury? More than any pre-made suit bought at a shop. By the way, clothes that you buy in shops are known as “pret a porter” (ready to wear), while clothes made expressly for you are known as “haute couture” (high fashion). You can easily understand which of the two is more precious and exclusive.

When you are a celebrity, you can have a big name of fashion make a suit for you. That would be the ultimate step of exclusivity, of course.

Now, let’s return to our watches. To reward yourself for your achievements, you could buy yourself a watch. let’s say, a famous watch, like a Rolex Submariner. That would be the equivalent of the Armani suit. Still, everyone else in your social position would have something similar – a Rolex Submariner like the one that you have.

While the Average Joe wears – let’s say – a Swatch, you are discovering that in this new social standing, every Average Joe wears a Submariner.

The new Patek Philippe 6711

So, to distinguish yourself you have to step up the game a bit. Now, you need to buy a Patek Philippe if you want to distinguish yourself from the Rolex-wearers. And when you have, you have to buy a precious/exclusive Patek Philippe to distinguish yourself between the Patek Philippe owners.

As you can see, it is a rat race, and it has no endline, as when you have crossed it, there’s anothe rat race starting, with more select opponents!

But there is an alternative.
You might always go for bespoke suits.

While a bespoke suit does not give you bragging rights, everyone who knows a bit of etiquette seeing you in one would understand that this suit is one-of-a-kind. And this gives you the character to stand on your own without having to elbow your way upwards.

And this is true luxury.

The Watch Museum timepiece by Vincent Calabrese

Matching Craftsmanship and Art

Coming back to timepieces, I have recently found a timepiece that expresses this standing well. It is a watch coming from the genius of Vincent Calabrese, one of the most visionary contemporary watch creators, which becomes a real work of art through personalization.

Calabrese has joined forces with a company called Watch Museum to make something which is truly unique.

The timepiece is based on a Wandering Hours concept of exceptional purity, which leaves its dial almost completely empty. Through an online configurator, the client can select a detail of a famous artwork, and through the intervention of a master miniaturist (who spends from 80 to 100 hours of painstaking work), the detail is painted by hand on the dial, as it were a tiny canvas.

And this is the result.

The beauty of a bespoke watch

The customer has the possibility, if he wishes, to have a hidden text of his choice written on the artwork. It is a secret dedication. Only the owner will know it is there. Whether it is a poem or a souvenir, the text is so small and discreet that nobody will ever notice it.

The dial’s slow rotation on its center permits to give a new, innovative perspective to the detail of the artwork portrayed on it for a subtle, rewarding, unexpected visual experience.

This is Art for the wrist. And it is absolutely bespoke.

Well, if you ask me, this is what real luxury means.

The three “Grazie” of Botticelli on a dial

How much true luxury costs? Less than what you assume

More, remember that this watch, with this “bespoke” treatment, would cost more or less the same as a stock Rolex GMT Master II.

Which Average Joe is going to gasp in awe before it? Possibly no-one.

Which watch lover would? Almost everyone I know of – myself included.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

The charm of the vintage timepieces is unquestionable

I have a legacy Longines watch (1940s). Do you suggest refurbishing and servicing it at the factory or at a local specialist?

This is a very common debate in the vintage world. And the answer has varied in time. As much as the tradition of a brand is important, when you get watches this old, dealing with an external specialist is often a better idea.

Modern Maisons have generally little interest in dealing with old watches. They are far out of their marketing cycle, so they do not really signify much in monetary terms. Most likely, they will not have anymore spare parts for them, so your lovely old watch will be trated more as a nuisance than a cherished old memento of times past. With exceptions, of course!

But if your watch is an old Longines of a simple make, it will be much better served by an independent watchmaker than the official service network of any company.

Modern companies usually depend on few different stock calibers, built by few big manufacturers like ETA and Sellita. Of course, the high-end Maisons have their own calibers, but resorting to stock ebauches was far more common back in time.

Movement-making has changed in time

Many companies (Longines included) made their own movements, which more often than not are not anymore in production, like this old, beautiful Longines-branded movement.

More, their services networks are trained to repair the current calibers, not the old ones, as it would be a waste of time and energy to train someone to repair one caliber which comes in the service shop once every blue moon.

This means that the service centers will not be prepared to deal with your caliber, and possibly, will not even want to get into the nitty-gritty details of studying it to repair it. It is simply not profitable enough anymore.

The Official Service Networks are today semi-industrially structured

Most of the service networks of watch companies are based on a quasi-industrial repair procedure, which have been fueled by modern business practices. As it happens with modern cars, they do not repair anything anymore: they are more likely to take a spare part and install it into the mechanism, replacing the faulty one. But when there are no ready spare parts to use, as it happens in vintage timepieces, this procedure becomes impossible to enact.

An independent watchmaker is instead trained to work on different calibers. He has no issues about learning the intricacies of a new one, and usually has an extensive spare parts inventory that he can use to this extent: finding a spare part that could resolve the issue at hand. Repairing the single part if and when necessary.

An independent watchmaker has no “hidden agenda”

This is the main reason why I warmly suggest to everyone that when the warranty on your watch ends, the best solution is to resort to the network of independent watchmakers.

While you are never sure of their professional preparation, the majority of them are well-rounded individuals who have sound business ethics, and act for the best interest of their customers, not of their customers’ watch’s manufacturing company.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

The futility of checking time at the wrist

In 2020, wearing a watch looks almost useless.

Currently, we have many different ways to check the time around us. Our phones show the time, and far more accurately than any mechanical watch could. Our PCs show the time. Our cars show the time. If we walk around our cities, we can check the time everywhere.

We are literally surrounded by ways of checking the time. Our entire Western world runs because we have developed the concept of time – that is, a day divided in fixed hours of equal length.

Time, and its checking, are pervasive, and all-important for our way of living. We have scedules and deadlines.

Actually, we need to check time. And we need to check it precisely. If our time calculations are not precise enough, people die. Trains crash. People make or lose fortunes in the financial markets because of good or bad timing. Apollo 13 was saved by a very precise maneuver, carefully checked on an Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch”.

Omega 321 movement – 17 jewel hand-wind column wheel screwed balance chronograph movement with 30-minute and 12-hour registers.

So, what do you do when you become aware that your time is precious? You transform it into a statement. Into a memento. Rather than contemplating a macabre dance, the representations of time and death in art forms, created first in the Medieval Age to show that we are all – from the highest Emperor to the lowest peasant – subject to the great equalizers, Father Time and Death, today you can check your watch.

And the watch becomes a statement of the time passing, and a beautiful object to contemplate – or better, to watch, let’s say – the passing of time.

I am pretty aware that few make this transfer with the lucid knowledge of what they are doing. But I bet that the more philosophically-inclined are just doing that. They accumulate watches like they build a repository of cherished memories, while they contemplate the slow unfolding of the mainspring of their lives, and meditate about the meaning when the watches stop, the hands motionless and frozen to indicate a precise moment.

Show must go on

While watches are about the only case of man’s jewelry there is, they are much more than simple ornaments, because at their core, they are objects with a function, even if this function has become today rather obsolete and inaccurate.

So, in my humble opinion, a man has to wear a watch to stay vigilant and aware of the limits determined by his human nature. And while he does, doing it in style.

And as we are talking about style, if you thinking about buying a vintage watch, take a look at our pre-loved watches, by clicking here


Oh, and do not forget that even if used by gentlemen, wristwatches were invented for Ladies. This is the first manufactured wristwatch still in existence, made by Patek Philippe for the Countess Koskowicz of Hungary.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual