If you look up “style” in the dictionary, more than a half-dozen definitions will face you, both nouns and verbs. At least two apply to this issue, one being “style” as a type of behaviour, as in “a stylish individual” or “she has style.” “Cool”, “suave” and “chic” come under that heading. The second most apposite meaning for our use in these pages is its application to describe a form, fashion or look, such as “military style” or “sporting style”. And these definitions work both for cars and watches.

Automobiles are prominent this quarter, the sorts of vehicles associated with the finest watches exhibiting similar styles in both usages of the term. Revolution includes an occasional series of features in which contributors Simon de Burton and Richard Holt link certain watches with specific cars and, more often than not, the pairings have nothing to do with official partnerships, like Bentley/Breitling or Bugatti/Parmigiani Fleurier. The task de Burton and Holt face is uncovering that almost indefinable commonality of style, shared between the two. It ain’t easy.

Part of me – the irritatingly pedantic, purist bit – prefers to match like with like, and not just in terms of the era. In such a case, both meanings of style apply. Were I to be blessed again with the ownership of a 1961/62 TR3B, I would prefer to drive it while wearing a watch of its era, evoking its visual style. Moreover, I would want the watch in question to be right in terms of its attitude: traversing the winding lanes of Kent in an attempt to turn back the clock would call for a sporting wristwatch, a period Lemania or Universal chronograph, perhaps, issued to the sort of flyboy who owned a Triumph back in the day. A Calatrava or a Tank somehow wouldn’t do.

1963 Triumph TR3B (Image: Vantage Sports Cars)
1963 Triumph TR3B (Image: Vantage Sports Cars)
Universal Geneve chronograph circa 1960 (Image: Matthew Bain Inc.)
Universal Geneve chronograph circa 1960 (Image: Matthew Bain Inc.)

Born This Way

As elusive as these connections may seem, they evoke an understanding of “style”, but beg a question: how does one acquire it? Worryingly, we’re veering into chicken-or-egg/nature-vs-nurture here, but one can usually tell if an individual’s style is forced or inherent.

It’s easy to imagine certain style gurus, the ones who are always trying too hard, as having pored over back issues of gents’ magazines in their youth, wishing their fathers wore tailored suits rather than off-the-peg and knew the difference between a Balthazar and a Nebuchadnezzar. Others, especially Italians, were simply born knowing which collar works best with which knot, and that you do not drink cappuccino after 11am.

Personal style – acquired or innate – can range from comical foppery (London is full of such preposterous-looking peacocks) to anachronistic young fogey (the genuinely authentic and priceless Jacob Rees-Mogg) to wannabee hip-hopper, classic roué or anything else one might care to project. But how does one find a style that works?

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg

For some, corpulence, a lack of funds, baldness, age or other conditions may mitigate against living the style we aspire to or appreciate. They say there’s a skinny person trying to escape from within every obese individual. So, too, is there probably an Alain Delon within every Woody Allen. The genius of Allen, however, makes aspirations to be anything else somehow meaningless or shallow, and it was the basis for his early comedies: the nebbish as lothario. In other words, Allen’s style is unique.

Can’t Buy It

And that is probably the ultimate style. Any schmuck with an Amex Centurion can run up a massive bill on Mount Street. He – or she – will not be exhibiting style, necessarily, so much as a knack for spending on big ticket brands. I will never forget the time when the table opposite consisted of a half-dozen ladies-who-lunch, and the PR person dining with me proceeded to name every handbag, pair of shoes, wristwatch, bracelet, ring, jacket, etc, from two metres away. Had we been closer, she would have named the scents.

That half-dozen, despite providing a compendium of A-list brands, did not exhibit style, for they were interchangeable. If they were junkies, they’d have shared needles, because they certainly used the same Botox pusher. All I could think of, upon seeing this mass lack of imagination, was again Woody Allen, who gave us Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Like the look or loathe it, she had – and has – style.

Me? I will never be recognised for my inner David Niven so much as my outer Danny DeVito, but I got over that back in 1967. I still rely on sommeliers to choose wines. I will never own a 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic or a Lempicka. But there’s one thing nobody tells me to do: which watch to wear. Today, it’s a 1961 Eterna KonTiki. And I found out about that all by myself.

Eterna KonTiki circa 1961 (Image: The Saleroom)
Eterna KonTiki circa 1961 (Image: The Saleroom)