An Element of Style


(Image ukwatches.com)

Do you still wear a wristwatch? Or do you rely on your cellphone? I do both depending on the occasion.

I got my “everyday watch,” a stainless steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust like the one above, the hard way. I inherited it. My father bought it sometime in the late ’50’s or early ’60’s, probably from the PX. It was never the same after Vietnam — the humidity, rain and sweat did in the insides. Against my better judgement, I had it reconditioned. The patina is gone — much to my chagrin — but it works better than ever. And at USD$300 a throw for cleaning, etc. it seemed a wise investment. I hope my son appreciates it.

It’s a great watch, don’t get me wrong. Very comfortable to wear, the band especially, considering it is a steel link thing. I don’t wear it with a dinner jacket. And some of my better made shirt cuffs don’t accommodate its bulk very well. (I like very fitted cuffs.) Of course I could ape L’Avvocato and wear it over the cuff, but there really was only one Gianni Agnelli.

L\'Avvocato looking stylish and pensive.

I’d like something that I could wear on more formal evenings. An elegant, slim, leather banded watch adds an element of style to the severe black and white of dinner clothes.

Before my father’s watch came into my possession, I ruined my favourite watch. It wasn’t very expensive, but it made me feel very elegant. It was a copy of a 1940’s Hamilton tank watch on a pigskin band, then an alligator band, then another as I sweated through each whilst working as a dance instructor. I eventually sweated through the insides of the watch, too, hopelessly rusting the mechanism.


(Image TimelyClassics)

The tank watch may be my favourite watch shape. I’d love a Jaeger-LeCoulter Reverso, the watch created for polo players, which flips over to protect the face behind an engravable back.

The Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoulter
(Image Amazon.com)

But given my history with perspiring through watches… having the face against my wrist may not be the smartest way to go.

Another to consider, a very elegant model, is the Hermès Cape Cod 1928.


(Image Men.Style.Com)

A Cape Cod Gent in Rose Gold (or the Moonphase edition) is an attractive alternative.


(Image Europastar Magazine)

Really, the grandfather of them all, the “original” tank watch was inspired by the modern design of the Renault tank. Louis Cartier, who designed the iconic time piece in 1917, even gave the prototype to General Pershing. So groundbreaking was the design that it remains one of the most coveted timepieces in the world. A pre-War (II) tank watch would be a very grand watch to own indeed. There is even a book dedicated to tracing the evolution of Mr. Cartier’s watch.


(Available through Amazon.com)

Whether you opt for the original design (Louis Cartier Tank from Gemnation), or the Tank Americaine, or any of the tank line really, this is the watch to wear with your dinner jacket.

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24 Responses to An Element of Style

  1. Reggie says:

    Hullo Easy,
    During the summer and when I want to be “sporty” I wear a Rolex Daytona in stainless and gold. Cooler weather and more formal occasions I wear a plain Tiffany Mark gold automatic with alligator strap; the Tiffany watch is on the larger size but not too bulky, and has a delightful retro look about it without being cartoonish…

  2. For some years I wore a 1970s Rolex, which had sentimental value but which still looked too small on my pioneer-stock wrist. So I traded it in and bought a Panerai Submersible—much bigger, much beefier, much more macho, I think. But now I am beginning to tire of its heft and considering the purchase of a slimmer timepiece. Still it truly is the only watch whose scale matches mine.

  3. Hullo Reggie,
    Nice to know that Tiffany is still making a mark. I’ll look into the design!

    Aesthete, I have to admit to envying you your Panerai…. a very good pedigree there. My wrists, despite years of fencing, are small… ridiculously so …. although my hands are large. The Roles is about the limit for me, everything else looks silly (including my G-Shock which I wear to work out.)

  4. Leslie says:

    What about the Rolex submariner? My husband has my father’s old one. He has loved it since he is a diver too.

    Daddy also had a Patek Phillipe but we sold that one because we thought it was tacky.

  5. Columnist says:

    I’ve never worn a metal-banded watch because my wrists are too hairy, and it can be a painful experience, so I suspect that’s why Angnelli wore his that way; but as you suggest only he could get away with doing that, and not look out of place. I religeously wear my Hublot with its rubber strap day in, day out in Bangkok’s heat. In the evenings, if I’m going out, I wear either a Cartier Tank, with lizard skin, or a very thin Longines with lizard skin, or a new and not expensive very big (f/o) Armani, (which is like costume jewellery).

  6. Hello Leslie, That’s a beaut of a watch, very James Bond. The Patek Phillipes have a big following, but I’ve only seen one or two that I like. It’s a question of having a very thin watch for formal occasions.

    Columist, welcome! I’m looking forward to wandering through your blog. I’d forgotten about the Longines! According to the accounts I’ve read, Agnelli’s shirtmakers insisted on very tight cuffs on his shirts and he didn’t like to leave them undone, so the watch went over the cuff! Sprezzatura, that’s entertainment.

  7. Fairfax says:

    I had a Cartier Tank which I adored. But it needed a new strap and I wasn’t wearing it when my house was robbed. I just wear a cheapie watch now because I still can hardly bear to have anything nice.

  8. Oh Fairfax, I am sorry. Robbery is terrible. We’ve been hit twice, but the alarm scared them off. I’ve also been held up at gunpoint, but didn’t have so much as a sou on me…. 6:45 am! I was walking the dog. My one fear is that I will be mugged and the SOB will get my Dad’s watch and signet.

  9. I don’t wear them, as my cell phone does it all. But I’ve been craving the completely unnecessary men’s watch lately. I don’t care much for leather or skin bands. I’m a metal-to-skin skin kind of girl. Honestly, I’d rock that Rolex whether it works or not, simply because it is gorgeous.

    and I agree.. Tiffany has a nice selection right now. But nothing beats the classic Rolex style.

  10. A completely manic watch-wearer I’m almost never without. I had a very pragmatic, sleek Ebel for the early childhood years when I felt my hands were nearly always in water. Mr. Blandings surprised me with a 70s Rolex – white face, just slashes, no numbers – for our 15th anniversary. I adore it and just had a buff colored croc band put on for summer. I have his grandfather’s old Hamilton with deco-ish glow in the dark numbers that I wear a lot in the winter. Cushion shaped face. The funny thing is, the hands are not glow in the dark – a slight design flaw. But if there were a dream watch it would be the Cartier Tank American, probably a man’s version as I tend to scale up in almost all jewerly. I do appreciate your comment that you got your Rolex “the hard way.” I came by some of my best jewelry that way, but I’d gladly be without.

  11. CallMeAl says:

    Believe it or not, left handers need their own kind of watch (other than pocket watches). I like wearing a wrist watch, especially when outdoors, where I often need something waterproof and not dependent on signal reception. As a left hander, however, my traditional timepiece presents me two problems: The stem is on the wrong side for easy adjustment, and over time, the stem prematurely frays my shirt cuffs.

    Outside some of the hardcore diver watches and a Panerai I’ve seen, the lefty options are slim to none. So far, my only realistic option seems to be an incredibly clunky (52 mm case) Invicta Lefty, with styling cues apparently taken from the USSR. For the present, I think I’ll keep looking, and just continue to accommodate this right handed world.

    (When asked when exactly their people would start driving on the right hand side, the englishman shot back, “Just as soon as the rest of you drive on the left!”)

  12. Laguna Beach Trad says:

    I have this watch, except mine is a two-tone. I rarely take it off. I do take it off whilst surfing, spearfishing, and swimming in the ocean, due to a concern that it will attract large fish. My father has one from the 1960s that still works perfectly.

  13. RJW says:

    Hello,
    Wonderful site. Thanks for some marvelous commentary.

    I still like a simple watch on a tie-silk band, leather-tipped band for color — any time of year. But definitely wouldn’t work in heavy heat or humidity. I don’t have the hairy wrist problem, but I still prefer leather bands over metal….although there are some stunner gold bands out there.

    Sir, my father and grandfather always told me it wasn’t quite cricket to wear a wristwatch with one’s dinner jacket; that the dinner jacket (and more so, white tie and tails) spoke of a festive and more formal occasion. The wrist watch, from its inception around WWI, is associated with the time demands of work and business and even war….none of which should be the considered when one is enjoying dinner, dancing or simply sitting in front of the fire in your dinner jacket. The pocket watch is the way to go. Discreetly glancing at your pocket watch is graceful and acceptable — everyone has to go to bed sometime. Pulling your cuff back to check the time rather implies you have better places to be than where you are.

    Having said all this….if you feel it’s absolutely critical to wear a wristwatch with your dinner jacket, what about something slim and gold on a black grosgrain band?

  14. Hello RJW, your father was absolutely correct. I do have my grandfather’s pocket watch that I use when I wear a vest with my dinner jacket. And lately have been using my phone as a “pocket watch” of sorts with my evening clothes. Glancing at it will send the wrong signal and I try to excuse myself or use a trip to the bar as an excuse to check the time. Since we have small children we are often “on the meter” with babysitters (at USD$10/hour.) A lousy excuse, but there you go. Your suggestion of slim and gold on a grosgrain band is very elegant indeed.

    Hi Al, I’d forgotten that you are left-handed. Might be time to bring back the pocket watch for a variety of reasons. I sometimes wear mine in the breast pocket of a suitcoat with the fob running through the buttonhole…

    Mrs. B., two very stylish options. I have to admit that, like men’s tailoring on women, the idea of a man’s watch worn casually by a stylish woman is intriguing….

    Ms. Durbin, I can only imagine that you would do so very well.

    LBT, hope you’re enjoying your time off and that the watch has been left behind for many a day chasing the seventh wave.

  15. pvedesign says:

    My wedding gift to my husband was a Tiffany Tank watch with a classic black band and he wears it every day. A wise investment, that watch and the husband keep in tickin!
    Love to upgrade to a Cartier Tank for his next big gift. Thanks for the easy and always elegant posts.
    Oh, his sister found an Omega watch years ago – gave it to him and he alternates, it is a classic gold round face with a croc band.

  16. tintin says:

    I purchased my Rolex Sub when I was going thru the SF qualification course. I’ve had it 32 years. It’s been overhauled 4 times and it keeps lousy time but I love it. Never have looked at another watch. But when I wanna know the time I look at my cell phone.

  17. Fencing was the only athletic pursuit I managed to pass at university.

  18. katiedid says:

    Man after my own heart. Tanks watches are what I love. I have a very tailored oversized one from Coach with a leather band that never seems to wear out. Not as beautiful as Cartier, but for everyday work purposes, it suits me perfectly. Mr. katiedid sports a Swiss Army tank. Very handsome.

  19. Aesthete! I’m a sabre man myself. I studied with Pete Conomikes and also with “Wes” Glon when he was at William & Mary.

  20. She Who Must Be Obeyed says:

    For his 21st birthday in 1941 my dad wanted an Omega, but instead he received a Rolex Oyster. I inherited it in, as you put it so well, the hard way in 1979 (yes, he died much too young). I’ve worn it every day since then, except when it’s been “in the shop”. It’s my most treasured possession.

  21. The architect says:

    My watch was literally ripped off my wrist down in Argentina; and it wasn’t insured either. Don’t wear a good watch in South America.

  22. mary says:

    I have always wanted a Cartier “Tank” watch–so classic.

  23. Mary, me too!

    Mrs. B., it displayed the monogram with the crown topped by the “E”. I’m not sure of the the colours.

  24. Pingback: Time Is On My Side

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