Wristy business: The only good jewellery for men
Unless you’re Captain Jack Sparrow, Ryan Gosling, or part of a ‘90s boy band revival group, male jewellery is seldom a good idea.
Bracelets, chains, and earrings don’t complement Adam’s apples, in the same way Craig Thomson and credit cards don’t mix, and Rod Stewart’s nasal passages don’t gel with C-Dust.
The one exception to this rule for self-respecting blokes seeking an accessory is, of course, the watch*.
In a flagging retail environment, wristy business is booming. Sales of men’s watches have increased markedly in the past decade, Swiss watch exports hit record levels last year, and there are now more than 200 watch manufacturers worldwide.
What makes those stats especially staggering is the fact the actual function of a watch is increasingly redundant. A quick glance at a smartphone or computer screen is all it takes to tell the time these days; watches, it would seem, are as superfluous as floppy disc drives and AM radio dials.
What’s more, watches are bloody expensive a lot of the time, they’re easily misplaced (there’s no ’find my watch’ app to install) and they can leave you with a nasty tan line.
Despite all this, males continue to covet watches almost as much as cured pig pancakes.
Men’s taste for timepieces is at an all-time high, and it seems a big part of the sales spike is our increasingly liberal attitude towards watch ownership.
“Even only ten years ago, the majority of guys were happy to have a single watch, nowadays it seems they want to have two, three, four different watches,” explains QUT fashion lecturer and former watchmaker Dean Brough. “A man used to have one watch for everything, now he’s got one for every event.”
The changing of watches in line with different occasions might be dismissed as pointless or metrosexual, but to me it’s a no-brainer. When watches are your only chance to accessorise, why not take full advantage of it?
I’ve got seven watches, all with different purpose, functions, and aesthetic appeal, and I alternate them appropriately. If I’m going for a run I’ll wear my sports GPS tracking watch. If it’s anything heavy duty it’ll be my G-shock. Brown leather band with brown belt or shoes, black with black, silver for anything else.
Pairing what you’re wearing with what’s on your wrist should be at the top of the list in men’s style 101, along with no shorts cuffed half way up your thighs, and no sporting camouflage print or fluorescent anything.
But there are reasons other than fashion for men’s ongoing obsession with watches.
A spokesperson for century-old Swiss luxury watch company Ebel told me watches can be about anything from patrimony and heritage, to celebrating memorable milestones or achievements, to status and power symbols, and there’s no arguing with any of that.
Watches are often steeped with significance, as treasured family heirlooms passed down multiple generations, or gilded gifts for 21st birthdays, retirements or long-service recognition. They’re engraved with congratulations and I love you’s, stored sheathed in silk inside velvet-plated boxes, and adjusted millimetre perfectly to the wearers’ wrist.
But watches are wonderfully versatile too, don’t forget! They can be used for the sinister as well as the sweet.
“Watches are a huge sign of status and power, especially in the boardroom, and professions like law,” says Dean Brough. “Men tend to scrutinise each other’s watches, and judge the wearers based on that. The better the watch, the more respect you’re afforded and the more credibility you have in some circles. Watches are kind of the new luxury car-but much smaller and more environmentally friendly.”
He reckons the watches and power connection is a throwback to the days where watches were so rare and prestigious that any man who had the time in his pocket was deemed authoritative.
As an ex-watch crafter, Brough knows better than most another great appeal of the timepieces to males en masse: “They’re shiny gadgets, and their inner workings are complex moving parts; that appeals to the nerd inside all guys. Some of the watches on the market now are mind-blowing; water-resistant to 4000 metres, built to withstand being thrown out of buildings - advancements in technology are fascinating to a lot of men.”
Whiz-bang gadgetry appeals to the majority of blokes, but there are some who take the watch obsession to near fanatical. There are diehard watch geeks out there who are enthralled by the trivia and history surrounding watches, and, by extension, their collectability. A raft of dedicated watch blogs, fan sites devoted to specific watch brands, and forums discussing watch appearances in movies, TV shows, and on celebrities exist.
Founder of watchesinmovies.info James Enloe says watch-spotting in films is “a lot of fun as a sort of game; entertainment within entertainment,”and he knows thousands of fanatics who pore over small glimpses of movie footage to identify precise watch makes.
But above all else, watches are a means of self-expression; a way to make a personal statement, be it over-the-top or understated. As Ben Balmer of Breitling watches explains, watches are a reflection of what type of man you are.
“Some people say that the first things you look at on a man are his watch and his shoes,” he says. “I guess I would notice a man’s shoes if they were really ugly, or really dirty. But the watch is a sure sign of who a person is. ”
*And a wedding band, obviously, for anyone who might want to pull me up on that.
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