Okay, so the world of watches is basically divided into watches that are cool and watches that are not cool. Everybody knows this. All guys get this. But no one wants to come out and say it.

So I guess I will.

Because it’s so obvious that even the irascible, philosophical pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer, couldn’t refute it. And what, essentially, is the elusive quality, that transcendental magic bullet that causes one specific watch to be cool and another one not to be?

Well that, my friend, is the question, ain’t it?

The Patek Philippe ref. 3700/1A A-series Nautilus — an icon of cool

The fact is Pre-Vendôme Panerai Luminor Marinas are cool; URWERK Hammerheads are cool; 1976 A-Series Patek Philippe Nautiluses are cool; 1972 A-Series Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks are cool; MB&F’s Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar is cool; pretty much all Richard Milles — but in particular the RM 009 and the RM 012 — are cool; IWC Big Pilots are cool; Rolex 18k yellow gold 6265s (particularly the Paul Newman dial ones) are cool; Hublot’s mash-up with Lapo Elkann is cool.

In terms of identifying the underpinning of cool, one argument would be that many of these come from brands that have retain their haut-de-gamme legitimacy in terms of finish and horological acumen, but at the same time have not been afraid to root their product smack dead center in the crosshairs of contemporary culture. Which doesn’t necessarily mean to be modern.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” (Image courtesy of Rolex Passion Report)

With the current infatuation for all things vintage — I’m still kicking myself for not pulling the trigger on the Porsche 933 Carrera 4 S five years ago — men like Davide Cerrato, now Montblanc’s new managing director of their watch division, transformed Tudor from Rolex’s less attractive sibling to one of the coolest watch brands on the planet by tapping into the vintage zeitgeist.

Tudor’s Black Bay was so cool that it soon defied it price category by becoming the watch that everyone — from the guy that was wearing the sapphire-crystal Richard Mille to first-time buyers — had to have. You need proof positive, just look at the stratospheric nosebleed price achieved by that Black Bay in last year’s Only Watch auction.

At the same time, “cool” can’t be manufactured. A lot of the watches I’ve mentioned are vintage watches, and some of them have flown decidedly under the radar until they suddenly got cool because of an organic public interest in them.

Vintage Cartier Tank Cintrée timepieces with variant dials

 

Stella-dial Rolexes were the epitome of uncool until they suddenly became the epitome of cool. Ditto yellow-gold Day-Dates. Ditto the Oyster Quartz. Ditto the Tank Cintree. Ditto the original Patek Philippe 3970 that came with the non-water-resistant solid snap on its case back, which are now commanding premiums.

Yes, I know. This rant has probably been essentially useless, as I’ve revealed very little about the mechanics behind how a watch becomes cool. I do know two things. First, it is not cool to be intentionally self-censoring. A couple years ago, I commissioned a pièce unique from a venerable Vallée de Joux watch brand. When asked what engraving I wanted on one side of the watch, I explained I wanted a Skull and Crossbones with the words “Tempus Fugit”, thinking it was a salient reminder of the fleeting nature of existence — constantly reinforced by time’s stalwart march forward on my watch dial. Also it was really cool.

I was told, “Oh my word, we could never put such an aggressive symbol on one of our watches,” which told me this brand had its head so buried in the sand as to be oblivious to the prevailing collective consciousness of the era it was living in. It also felt like an attractive woman with a great derriere who could only wear really large loose grandmother’s underpants. Not cool.

The Richard Mille RM 009 “Felipe Massa” tourbillon with case in ALUSIC alloy

Second, I do know that a cool watch is never going to be created by committee. You’re not going to get a bunch of suits in a room and put up a Powerpoint presentation on the median price for maximum profitability and get a cool watch. A cool watch has to be created by a human being. And that person is usually creating that watch for themselves, first and foremost. Ever seen Richard Mille kiss his watch? He loves his watches.

Similarly, when I interviewed Samuel L Jackson, he explained that when making the cinematic classic, Pulp Fiction, he and director Quentin Tarantino thought they were making something that they would love and would entertain their friends. But that film was so singular, so original, so unlike anything that had come before that it revolutionized film and is now recognized as one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a travesty of justice that it lost out to Forrest fucking Gump for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

But my point is: from originality comes greatness. Case in point, the Royal Oak. Microphone dropped.