The Good Life

An accessory to time

Luxury watches let you show your status with a flick of the wrist

decade ago, fashionistas were heralding the demise of the watch. What practical purpose did it serve anyway with time having become omnipresent, whether on the car dashboard, the mobile, the laptop or any other electronic device worth its name? The wristband seemed an encumbrance one couldn’t get rid of fast enough. The wristwatch, like the pocket watch before it, had had its day, right?

Wrong, as it turned out. True, for a bit it seemed like people had stopped wearing time on their cuffs, but that was a passing phase. The shift consolidated the pre-eminence of the watch as an accessory rather than as timekeeper. Men, who one might have assumed would be the first to succumb, switched to statement dial watches with larger faces and complicated movements almost overnight. While the boys were absorbed with their toys, women stole a lead with watchmakers wooing them not so much with timepieces as with handiworks of jewellery.

And the fad refuses to slow down. As the world becomes a glitzier place, the jewelled watch seems set to stay. Not only do people have more than one watch, many now sport them with diamonds, wearing them with an insouciance that announces their status to the less privileged almost as a matter of choice. Even men are wooing the studded case with diamonds strewn like the milky way across the frame, while women have always believed in the foreverness of diamonds.

From zircon on cheap China fakes to brilliantly cut stones, watchmakers have been pulling out all stops to make these watches a design statement. No wonder prices are rising steeply. While there’s optimum choice for newbies in the sub-₹1 lakh category, most such watches are more likely to cost between ₹2 lakh and ₹10 lakh — at least, if they are not to embarrass you at a social outing. Donatella Versace herself is said to be behind the design of the classic Medusa redone in a limited edition studded with diamonds, sapphires and emeralds for ₹20 lakh.

But whether it’s a similarly priced Rado, or a Dior or Breguet for half that price, a Damiani at a starting point of ₹2 lakh, or a Backes & Strauss diamond engraved watch for ₹70 lakh, they seem positively affordable when compared with some of the most expensive watches in the world. That list includes the Cartier Phoenix that looks like a soaring bird covered with 3,010 diamonds and priced at $2.7 million, the Piaget Emperador Temple watch that has two faces that open to, first, reveal the mother-of-pearl face of the watch, and next, to show off its tourbillion, both of them masked behind 1,200 diamonds that make up much of its $3.3 million cost.

But the most expensive of them all — and really, this is only relative, since bespoke designs could match or beat these prices based on the quality and quantity of gemstones — is the 201-carat Chopard that features 87 diamonds in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours and, when created in 2000, was priced at a whopping $25 million. That it is mostly gemstones with the watch face pretty nearly hidden behind them only accentuates the needlessness of time when it comes to watches these days. 

While these jewelled watches may be a bet against inflation — or at least can be cashed in for money in a hurry — in India, we haven’t done so well yet beyond the mandatory Tanishq. A few jewellers have tried their hand at creating wristbands, and Tarun Tahiliani has created a range for Timex that, at ₹10,000-25,000, might be more affordable but can hardly be labelled elegant. Fortunately, whatever your choice, you can be sure that there’s one that fits your wrist — and wallet!

The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator