I was wearing a man’s watch when I was still a girl. The first one was my father’s, and it had been his father’s. Bought in the 1950s, somewhere in Yorkshire, that watch wasn’t a posh brand. (Have you ever heard of Incarna? Me neither.) I wore it for most of my teenage years, until my father inconsiderately decided he wanted it back.
The case was of an indeterminate gold-hued alloy, the face ever so slightly gilded too, with Mad Men-style numerals. Whatever the hour showing on its face, that watch evoked the softness of a Mediterranean sunset. What better timepiece to counter winter evenings on the beat in Holmfirth? (Sergeant Thomas Murphy.) Or early school starts in Bristol? (Me.)
It was that watch that began my lifelong love affair with men’s watches. I think there is nothing more chic on a woman’s wrist than a man’s timepiece. Which is just as well, because I also inherited from Grandad Thomas his vast bog-Irish hands. (Our branch of the Murphys may have left Co Mayo in the 1860s but we still boast a potato cropper’s handspan. Even when I hold in my hand a jacket potato of Brobdingnagian proportions it looks like a mere maris piper.)
A man’s watch is a key prop for those of us generously behanded ladies who might, should things have been different, have featured in a Seamus Heaney poem. However, that’s not the only reason I like men’s watches. If you compare the men’s and women’s version of the same model, to my mind, the latter always looks namby-pamby size-wise and, to make matters worse, it has often been Disney-fied with fussy detailing. More is more when it comes to size, less is more when it comes to detail. My guru in all matters chronometric has long been the impeccably stylish late head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli. I was no fan of his womanising, and not that interested in his fast cars (although should someone want to lend me a 1952 Fiat 8V, I wouldn’t complain). But I loved his taste in watches, and the way he used to wear them on top of his cuff rather than underneath. (I even did it myself for a while.)
Which men’s watches do I most covet today? For me, certamente, it’s a case of which would Gianni like. (I feel we are on first-name terms by now.) For its beautiful classicism, you can’t beat Patek Philippe’s Calatrava (I especially like the rose-gold version). For a different kind of enduring chic there’s always Rolex, preferably its steel Oyster Perpetual 39 (the midnight-faced one is particularly striking). And then there’s the historical exuberance of Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques collection (I adore the American style, with its dial set at a diagonal). And the quiet charm of Omega’s De Ville Trésor in white gold. Nor am I averse to the more fashion-forward offerings of the luxury fashion labels that have moved into watches, particularly Dior’s space-age Chiffre Rouge and Louis Vuitton’s chic all-brown Chronograph (from £5,250, louisvuitton.com).
The watch I would like more than any? Grandad Thomas’s, of course.
Anna Murphy is Fashion Director of The Times
Give a big hand to . . .
Philippe’s signature model, the Calatrava, is the doyen of dress watches. First created in 1932, its sleek lines and understated elegance underline its timeless style.
Rose gold, £17,160;
The cool design features clean lines — interpreting the house’s graphic codes of black, red and asymmetry — and, twinned with top-notch movements, embodies the spirit of Dior’s men’s tailoring.
The Historiques collection reinterprets the house’s iconic models, and this is a zany, contemporary iteration of a 1921 piece, with manual-wind calibre, in rose or yellow gold.
Rose gold, £26,150;
George Clooney wore a version of this at his wedding. This subtle watch features a thin gold case that holds advanced mechanical movements and is decorated with a silvery opaline dial.
White gold, £9,490;