“Wristwatches denote discernment, passion and knowledge,
and encountering a person with equal knowledge of, and passion for,
an esoteric subject will always produce volcanic surges of passion.”

What do V8 turbo engines, barbecue tips and the objectification of waitresses’ physical attributes all have in common? They are, of course, all things that men love to bond over. But if you’re one of the world’s burgeoning number of horology enthusiasts – a group which, happily, includes an increasing number of women – then topping your list of subjects which inspire camaraderie and friendship will surely be the beautiful specimens you and others in the fraternity wear upon your wrists. “Like a genial hotelier, Rolex has introduced me to some of the nicest people,” as French actor, cabaret singer and entertainer Maurice Chevalier puts it. “I ask about their Rolex and they ask about mine. It’s as marvellous a conversation piece as it is a timepiece.”

Maurice Chevalier

The following pictures displayed across this article testify to the veracity of Chevalier’s statement. Witness the growing warmth – you can almost see the cordiality pinging between their synapses – between Gordon Ramsay (a Submariner fan) and David Beckham (a Sea-Dweller aficionado) as they exchange Rolex banter at an LA Lakers Game in 2010. Or what of that of Eric Clapton – whose rare “Albino” Daytona sold for $1.4 million in 2015 – and John Mayer as they wax horological at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony dinner in 2005?

David Beckham, Gordon Ramsay
Nicolas Sarkozy

Behold that spontaneous shot of actor Alain Delon and director Jean-Pierre Melville – a favourite here at Revolution – parading their Cartier Tanks on set while the pair were filming 1972 French heist drama Un Flic, and tell me you can’t see a chemical reaction taking place. The rapport between “Madonna and Child”, as the Madge and her adopted Malawian child Mercy play with the former’s Rolex Daytona, makes one think that Michelangelo, tackling the subject with inspiration from an archetypal chronograph that wouldn’t be made for another half a millennium, may have produced a warmer, less sober take on the dynamic between virgin and the infant messiah.

Alain Delon

Not to forget the legendary bond between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. During an earlier interview with Revolution, Schwarzenegger told us: “Sly gave me a Panerai, which was engraved on the back and in return I gave him an Audemars Piguet as I had two. He wanted to outdo me so he gave me another, even bigger, Panerai. This is how it went. We gave each other watches from many different manufacturers and then Sly wore a watch in a movie and challenged me to do the same… We are like kids. But the bottom line is we have a great time – it’s fun and it’s harmless.”

So what exactly makes a timepiece such a powerful stimulator of congenial discourse and mutual regard? Ian Fleming once said that “a gentleman’s choice of timepiece says as much about him as does his Savile Row suit”, and a wristwatch certainly is a signifier. Were a silver-haired flâneur and a privet-bearded hipster forced at gunpoint to swap their 1950s Patek Philippe and classic gold digital Casio with one another, the foreign items now clamped around their respective wrists would immediately begin to clash with all smart assumptions about the two men involved in the exchange.

Giorgio Armani

On The Face Of It

But a watch’s role as a signifier goes beyond demographic diagnosis and character type. Wristwatches – those celebrated within these pages, at least – denote discernment, passion and knowledge, and encountering a person with equal knowledge of, and passion for, an esoteric subject will always produce volcanic surges of passion: hence, horological geeks are as happy comparing George Daniels’ Co-axial escapement and Abraham Louis-Breguet’s shock-protection for balance pivots as Beatles buffs are discussing the baroque speeded-up piano solo in In My Life.

And, they prompt more than just horological talk: the other clues a watch can offer about a person’s life, background or raison d’être can often spark wider conversation, too. An antique watch, in particular, contains as much rich personal narrative as an 11th-century Occitanian troubadour’s lute, hence its enduring suitability as an heirloom (especially in the event of owners having been, literally, in the wars – as parodied with ribald hilarity in the famous Pulp Fiction scene starring Christopher Walken). The acquaintance-making power a watch can pack is neatly illustrated by an anecdote from Stephen Bayley: “I was having lunch at The Goodwood Revival this year, more-or-less minding my own business and chatting to my wife, when we were gently interrupted by a distinguished old boy in tweeds who said very solemnly: ‘You have very good taste in wristwatches.’

“My new Rolex Explorer II – one which replaced a much-loved older one stolen in Sicily last spring – had caught his eye, just as the designers intended. It turned out he was one of the FIA’s commission on safety standards on motor-racing circuits. Admiring his patinated old Explorer, I asked if he had any other watches. He told me he kept an old Heuer in his travelling bag: ‘Just in case.’ The period use of the name ‘Heuer’, from before the TAG take-over, evoked nicely his antique interest in motorsports timekeeping, which just goes to show how the mere sight of a good watch can stimulate conversation.”

Pulp Fiction
Tinie Tempah
(L-R) US singer Pharrell Williams, Richard Mille, and Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake pose prior to the start of the 8th edition of Le Mans Classic race, on July 9, 2016 in Le Mans, western France. / AFP / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Games Time

Meanwhile Bonhams’ Global Head of Watches Jonathan Darracott points out that there’s even a healthily competitive element to wristwatch appreciation, which can manifest itself in a parlour game he’s observed on several occasions. “I know people who will sit and quote reference numbers to each other over a beer,” he says. “’Did you know the 2496 first came out with a such and such whereas the 5982…’ and so on.”

As with Test Cricket – a game which is confounding and dull to unconverted heathens who fail to understand its rich nuances and mesmerising variables and, therefore, miss out on its joys – getting to enthuse about wristwatches with other converts, according to Darracott, is one of the rewards for having done one’s homework. “It’s something you’ve invested time in and, if someone else has done the same, you can swap ideas – it’s a way of actually gaining a greater understanding,” he says. “I learn something new about watches every day. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.”

Jay Z

George Somlo of Somlo Antiques points out that pocket watches, in particular, can give history buffs plenty to wag chins about. “With older pieces, there’s providence to talk about – nobility, kings and queens, who wore them from Churchill to Napoleon and so on,” he says. But not everyone in the horological milieu is a convert to the watch’s power as a stimulant for friendship-enriching dialogue. “I never comment on other people’s watches, and this is why,” recalls London-based watch collector and expert James Dowling. “About 15 years ago I was in New York City, in a hotel that was holding an antique watch fair. I was going up to my room to fetch something, and a guy got in the lift I noticed he was wearing a really nice Submariner from the late-1960s or early 1970s. I looked at him and said: ‘Nice – have you had that since new?’ And he looked at me and said: ‘I’m not gay – fuck off.’”

The result of this unseemly encounter? “It’s kind of put me off bonding with guys over their watches. This morning, I was in a lift at the W hotel in Hong Kong, and a guy got in with me. He was wearing a very large, gold Royal Oak Offshore on a gold bracelet, and I’m wearing a big Louis Vuitton chrono. I could see him looking at my watch. And I looked at his. But neither of us said anything…”

Despite Dowling’s uninvited experience of hostility, we recommend a thin skin and zealous affability when it comes to wielding the power of the buddy watch.

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