Watches for each stage of life

From your first watch to the charm of old timepieces passed down the family, Robin Swithinbank recommends the best wristwear for each stage of your life

The allure of a fine timepiece is such that it can absorb even a hopelessly ill-disciplined man in silent reverie for some considerable period.

In my youth, I would draw pictures of watches with TV screens, built-in walkie-talkies and pop-up aerials (if only I’d been an entrepreneur)—now, I can easily plot the path of my future watch purchases. If I avoid fecklessness, or an early demise, my wristwear wardrobe might, one day, reflect my horological heritage.

Apple watch

The Apple Watch

What is harder to accept, however, is that that wardrobe will be filled with ‘smart’ wristworn devices. The Apple Watch has been diverting, although—together with its kin—it has yet to convince me it’s more than a tricksy Tamagotchi-style trinket with the longterm value of an X-Factor winner’s debut single. But we are in the genesis phase, here.

Still, I would venture that, in 40 years’ time, when my grandchildren are of an age to care about such things, they won’t hover over an Apple Watch with the same sense of wonder as they will over my great-grandfather’s 19th-century pocket watch or my grandfather’s Rolex, which was passed to me shortly after his death, when I was in my late teens.

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Rolex air-king watches

My grandfather (above) and his timeless Rolex Air-King

My father must have thought that an appropriate point, presumably because it had been given to my grandfather when he was a similar age, we believe for his 21st birthday, by which time he’d already been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross after escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp in Greece. It’s an early Rolex Air-King, with a tiny case measuring just over an inch (33mm) in diameter and a heavily patinated dial. By modern standards, it’s too small for me and yet I wear it with enormous pride, particularly on family occasions.

That it still works almost 75 years since it was first spirited into life is a source of constant amazement to me—bless the Apple Watch, but I dare say it will struggle for breath in 2090. The Rolex, by contrast, has every chance of survival into the next century.

As a person who spends much time in the further reaches of the watch industry, I’m frequently asked for wisdom on the right timepiece for a particular gentleman at a particular stage in his life. Such wisdom as it is is invariably defined by questions of budget and taste, but my advice usually leads to watches with the highest reputations, the finest designs and the best stories.

Which is why, if you’re considering a watch for your son, as he enters the first stage of manhood—whether at 18 or 21, as you determine—you should do exactly as my greatgrandparents did for my grandfather and opt for a Rolex. Today’s models are infinitely superior in build quality to the delicate object I keep tucked away and, if looked after properly (regular servicing will do it), should provide many generations of pleasure. The grey-dialled 39mm Oyster Perpetual launched this year would suffice for many a long year.

However, come his 30th, he may wish to add another of the great dial names—that of Omega—to his collection. The Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial is a revival of a 1957 diving watch and it is a thing of great masculinity. It’s also a technical marvel, powered as it is by a movement that can allay the damaging attentions of magnetic fields—up to the value of 15,000 gauss, in fact—far more than that emitted by any of his electronic devices.

At some point thereafter, and if Nature is kind, our gentleman will become a father himself, an occasion that merits investment in an object of parallel longevity. For that, I’d perhaps go for a Panerai Radiomir, the cushion-shaped icon first prototyped for the Royal Italian Navy in 1936. The latest of these includes the Black Seal PAM00610, a 45mm twohander that houses Panerai’s eight-day hand-wound P.5000 calibre.

By 40, a man should have matured sufficiently to appreciate some of the finer things in life, at which time, he may choose to indulge in a Jaeger-LeCoultre. Few watches reek of sophistication with the insouciant elegance of the company’s Reverso, the watch with the reversible case first produced at the behest of disgruntled polo-playing British army officers fed up with smashing their watches on the field of play. It has also withstood the test of time and, if you opt for a piece such as the Grande Reverso 1931 Seconde Centrale (available only through Jaeger-LeCoultre’s vast Old Bond Street emporium), you’ll be able to have your initials engraved on its blank reverse. By such tokens will future generations remember us.

As a man’s temples grey and his position in life becomes more secure, there is a chance he will want to let down what hair he has left. Thank goodness then for Bremont, the charismatic British brand, whose collection now includes the unashamedly patriotic Jaguar MKII. This is a chronograph with a dial plucked from the dashboard of the famous marque’s 1961 E-Type—a watch for the Mr Toad inside us all.

If our man is fortunate enough, time will have allowed him to gather the resources necessary to invest in some of fine watchmaking’s treasures. As he passes 50, then 60 and moves into the golden age of retirement, his wrist might be spoiled by the presence of a Vacheron Constantin Harmony chronograph in pink gold or perhaps Patek Philippe’s white-gold 5270G perpetual calendar chronograph. He should also find room in his collection for A. Lange & Söhne’s platinumcased Lange 1—as sure a sign of man’s full maturity as there is.

Each of these is more than a watch: it’s an heirloom and a trophy that testifies to a man’s good taste and prosperity.

If, when my time comes, I have even half of these in my collection, I will feel I’ve passed through the ages of man with no little splendour and good fortune. I suppose only time will tell.