When Tom Ford launched his eponymous clothing line a decade ago, stylistically, he stood upon the shoulders of giants. It was clear his tailoring had been influenced by the work of Steven Hitchcock at Anderson & Sheppard, whose bespoke services Mr Ford had personally engaged on a number of occasions. His suits’ rampant lapels, svelte silhouette and generous trousers recalled Edward Sexton, and the glamorous disco-era style Ford had so successfully explored as creative director of Gucci.

Nevertheless, what he created was a product greater than the sum of its parts — something totally unique and distinctively, Tom Ford. Branding that requires no label to make itself apparent, a Tom Ford suit is instantly identifiable. Aphrodisiac and lightning rod, wear one, and your shagability and hireability instantly skyrocket. They are (as the name of one of Ford’s latest fragrances goes) fucking fabulous.

Silk linen basketweave sport coat and pants, Tom Ford (Image: The Rake)
Cocktail jacket, Tom Ford (Image: The Rake)

Beautifully made and detailed, too. The wizened master tailors at Zegna tasked with producing Ford’s suits reportedly threw their calloused hands in the air and muttered all manner of sacrilegious curses when they realised the level of craftsmanship and construction Ford demanded be present in his $5K-plus ready-to-wear suits.

He held the licensees responsible for making his sunglasses, skincare, cosmetics and fragrances to equally high standards. Tom Ford scents are sensational (trust us, try Azure Lime). The shades provide an instant facial upgrade. His men’s skincare is more restorative than a month in a pricey Swiss sanatorium. And have you ever kissed a woman wearing his lipstick? Delicious.

Given his immaculate track record, when news came of the impending launch of a Tom Ford timepiece, we anxiously awaited its unveiling. Surely Ford’s first foray into watchmaking would be just as beautifully designed, handsomely handcrafted and quality-focused as everything else he’s applied his name to…

Disappointingly, no. The man who, until now, could do no wrong, has made a rare misstep. (And a baffling one at that, given the immaculate taste he displays in his own watch collection, which includes beauties such as an IWC Portugieser Chronograph, a little Cartier Tank of the sort favored by numerous mid-century leading men, and various elegant gold Rolexes.)

Where to begin? Ford’s a designer (an absolutely brilliant one, too — we still wistfully look back at the work of his Gucci halcyon days, remembering a time when that brand spoke to grown-ups), so let’s start there. The design of the Tom Ford 001 is deeply derivative. It’s a Cartier Tank Solo with a splash of Hermes’ Cape Cod and a dash of the Apple Watch. It’s not a Tom Ford watch — it’s the bastard child of a French/Californian horological ménage a trois.

Cartier Tank Solo
Apple Watch
Hermes Cape Cod
Tom Ford 001

Ford has admitted he set out to make a Tank watch. “I have always preferred tank watches, so it felt natural to introduce the rectangular shape to our customer first,” he told GQ magazine.

Sorry, rectangular is up for grabs, but Tank — mon frère, that is a Cartier signature. What next? A Nautilus watch? A Royal Oak watch? (Oh wait, Burberry already created a chimera of those two with its execrable ‘The Britain’, which AP boss François-Henry Bennahmias took Diet Prada-esque glee in naming and shaming as a total rip-off.)

Burberry ‘The Britain’
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

On the technical front, unlike contemporaries such as Ermenegildo Zegna (which works with respected manufacture Girard-Perregaux to make its watches) or Ralph Lauren (whose finely crafted timepieces carry Jaeger-LeCoultre movements), Tom Ford has gone decidedly downmarket, partnering with a company called Bedrock Manufacturing. Founded by the man behind wildly successful ‘fashion’ watchmaker Fossil, Tom Kartsotis, Bedrock is the rather mysterious (take a look at their nothing website) parent company of Shinola, proud purveyor of goods ‘Built in Detroit’ — which for the most part means, assembled in the USA of imported parts.

Though Bedrock is an American company, Tom Ford’s 001 watches are marketed as ‘Made in Switzerland’ and carry the legend ‘Swiss Made’ on their dials. To make that claim, at a bare minimum, the movement must be at least 60 percent Swiss-made, and the watch has to have been cased up and inspected in Switzerland. All iterations of the 001 — from the “cheapest” US$2,190 stainless-steel model to the costliest US$9,900 18K gold-cased version — are powered by quartz movements. (By way of comparison, according to stats from leading pre-owned timepiece seller WatchBox, you could pick up an actual Cartier Tank with mechanical movement, in a gold case, for around $5,000. For ten grand, you can get a great mechanical watch from any number of iconic manufactures.)

Tom Ford 001 in stainless steel, $2,190
Tom Ford 001 in gold, $9,900

As of two years ago, Bedrock’s Shinola watches were built using movements from a Swiss company called Ronda AG. Ronda’s slim quartz movements, of the type that could provide a suitable powerhouse for a watch like the Tom Ford 001, can be readily purchased in bulk online for less than $10 each.

Everything that’s carried the Tom Ford name in the past has been costly, but has justified the price tag with discernible quality, sleek unique aesthetics and designer provenance. The 001 though? We’re just not sensing the value.

The watch’s big USP is that the strap can be easily swapped — you can buy different colors and textures to suit your mood from Tom Ford at around $600 each. Crafted in France, no doubt they’re beautifully made, like all Ford’s leather goods. Can the same be said of the 001 itself? To us, sadly, it feels more like a cheap, cynical cash-in, of the sort that drove the once respected Pierre Cardin brand into the ground (while admittedly, vastly enriching Mr Cardin along the way).

In more positive news, Tom Ford will soon be launching men’s underwear. Check it out. It will very likely be brilliant. Unlike the 001 — which is utter pants.