Timeless Style

By Emili Vesilind

Jack Yeaton has an admitted obsession. It tells time and, on occasion, induces profound envy. The Boston-based luxury-brand publicist has collected a certain type of watch for years: the so-called tropical dial Rolex—vintage watches with dials that have faded (or developed a funky mix of colors) through years of exposure to sunlight. The imperfection—reportedly caused by a rare chemical error—has inspired a movement of obsessive enthusiasts. Their faded faces aside, the vintage Daytonas, Submariners and Oysters are otherwise characteristically understated. “They’re normal Rolex stainless-steel watches that would usually retail for $3,000 or $4,000.” And sell for as much as $30,000 (the most expensive tropical dial ever sold was Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, which fetched $17.8 million at auction in 2017). Yeaton, a watch aficionado who’s well known within the timepiece-collecting communities in New York and New England (his daily watch is an IWC Chronograph with a rare Italian dial), isn’t alone in his affection for high-end analog watches and their obsession-worthy particulars.

 

Analog Movement in a Digital World
While roughly 10 percent of Americans will sport a smartwatch this year, according to a recent forecast from market analyst firm eMarketer, interest in its inverse—the old-school Swiss-made luxury wristwatch—is also climbing. The latest statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry show that sales of Swiss watches spiked 17.6 percent in the U.S. in November 2018, capping off a year of steady growth.

Longevity of Luxury
This demand for new and vintage watches from Rolex, Omega, Piaget, Panerai, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and other storied brands is high, particularly for understated models that transcend trends. Joshua Bonifas, co-owner of the new Rolex boutique in San Diego, says his clientele is drawn to the classic Rolex because “there’s a greater awareness these days of what real quality and luxury is. Consumers are educated now, and when you’re educated, you start looking for the best and for what’s most rare.”

Watch Her
Barbara Palumbo, a writer in Philadelphia and founder of @whatsonherwrist (a watch-centric Instagram feed), says educating herself on the long histories of Swiss watch brands opened the door to her ongoing fascination with them. Her first high-end watch—a Baume & Mercier—led to about a dozen more, including her “ultimate”—a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso tank. “Watches have so much history to them, and when they become yours, they also become a part of your own history,” she says. “I love that I’ll be passing them down to my daughter.”

Smart on Occasion
Virginia-based software engineer Mike Harris, whose watch collection includes timepieces from Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15202 (his daily watch), became intrigued with high-end watches a few years ago because, he says, “They’re an unobtrusive luxury and one of the few pieces of ‘jewelry’ a man can wear.” Harris wears a smartwatch on occasion, noting, “It’s very functional, and it does its job very well. But ultimately it feels like an instrument I’m wearing to get a job done. When I wear my Royal Oak, I know how much went into the creation of the watch, and it really feels special.”

Legends Never Die
New timepieces often feature an aesthetic or functional nod to their familial predecessor. At last year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) showcase in Geneva, Switzerland—ground zero for Swiss watch debuts—Piaget unveiled the 36mm Altiplano High Jewelry watch, a dapper update of its original Altiplano. Despite the baguette-cut diamonds peppering its bezel and dial, it’s a supremely understated timepiece. Patek Philippe’s latest watch designs for women riff off its storied Twenty-4 watch, and the new Twenty-4 Automatics are as simple and unfettered as the original. For years, Cartier has been reinterpreting many of its legendary watches under its Privé banner. At SIHH, the French jeweler and watchmaker unveiled a capsule collection of new interpretations of its Tonneau watch, which debuted in 1906 and was one of the house’s first-ever watches. And the latest Hermès watch, the Arceau 78, marries an unadorned anthracite dial with slim hands and straightforward Arabic numerals. It’s hard to imagine the handsome timepiece falling out of fashion—at least in this century.

The Romance of It All
Following that showcase, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, a marketing entity for the luxury watch industry, reported that brands have returned to “more tangible values, affordable price points and traditional materials.” Horology’s centuries-old traditions are exactly what reeled Kathleen McGivney into the world of fine timepieces. The co-president of the New York City chapter of the watch collectors’ community RedBar Group, she collects timepieces from several brands—many featuring her favorite movement, the moon phase. “There’s a sort of romanticism to watches, because there are a lot of things about them that don’t really pertain to modern life, which I think is cool,” she says. “Do I need to track the phases of the moon on my wrist? No. But I love that I can.”

Article by Mosaic and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley.

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