Men's Watches

The time lords

His choice of wristwatch can reveal a man’s true nature. But would Nick Foulkes give these characters the time of day? Illustrations by Chris Burke.

March 15 2010
Nick Foulkes

The Sports Personality: Hublot Big Bang

The sports personality is at the top of his game – and determined to stay there. His particular expertise might involve hitting a ball with his feet or with a stick but, whatever his branch of sporting endeavour, he is able to make sphere and foot/stick collide so beautifully and artistically that he makes millions and this year the Queen made him an MBE. Whenever he appears on the patch of grass where he encounters the ball, the cry goes up among spectators and they chant his name in a rhythmic way that he still can’t quite get over.

He has only ever known sport. He started as a child. By his late teens – half a lifetime ago – he was famous, and has been ever since. His story benefits from the satisfying narrative arc that started in a low-income household and has taken him to a life of unparalleled luxury. What makes him so popular is that in spite of his talent he remains modest and unassuming: the only time he was ever “papped” was leaving the Marcus watch store on New Bond Street, where he gets his Hublot fix.

His wife, however, more than makes up for his reticence: every time she sees another Wag on the cover of a fashion magazine, designing a line of clothes, and either presenting or appearing in some TV reality show she turns green with envy. Or, at least, she would go green if she weren’t already tanned a bright orange. She will not even be granted the publicity of her husband sending so much as a steamy SMS, let alone having a high-profile affair with a hot model – his only weakness is for hot horlogerie… hardly grounds for divorce.

The Hedge Funder: Vintage Rolex Explorer

As a youngster in the 1980s his walls were plastered not with posters of rock bands or football players; instead, a picture of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko was Blu-Tacked above his bed. If the hedge funder were 11 years old today, his pin-ups would be men such as Arpad Busson, Greg Coffey and Pierre Lagrange. These open-necked entrepreneurs, these financial Picassos, these are the men he so desperately wants to be.

Three or four years ago, it looked as if it was all coming together rather well. He had left his highly paid job in the City and taken a suite of ultra-smart offices near Mount Street, which he had decorated in a manner that was part Candy & Candy, part international spa resort. He had also hired a ludicrously long-legged, preposterously overpaid PA, and then set about establishing his business credentials, which involved turning up at that Glastonbury of the business élite, the Davos summit. He found himself lunching daily at the Mayfair club George – joining a few of the more expensive Tory Party donor clubs and boring anyone who’d listen about the merits of NetJets – and acquiring a collection of vintage sports Rolexes.

However, the much vaunted “bulletproof” nature of the financial snake oil that he was peddling has proved to be something of a chimera, and while not hit as badly as some, he had joined the Madoff bandwagon about a year before the wheels fell off. Today he is learning the virtues of a lower profile. The pretty PA has gone, and he has sold most of the Rolexes, which actually proved to be the best investment he made, although he couldn’t bring himself to part with the Orange Hand Explorer II, aka the “Steve McQueen” Rolex. Still, it is not all bad news: at least Wall Street II is out later this year.

The Captain of Industry: Patek Philippe

Such is his plutocracy, the captain of industry is really more of a rear admiral. He was one of the great financial swashbucklers of the late 1970s and early 1980s: to prove it, there are some embarrassing photographs of him as a young tycoon, at the time of his first big corporate raid, at the wheel of a Rolls-Royce Corniche with a large cigar in his mouth and one of the first car telephones held to his ear. He was awarded a CBE in Harold Wilson’s controversial resignation honours list – not bad going for a man then in his 30s – and was later knighted by Margaret Thatcher.

Whereas 30-40 years ago he may have seemed like the unacceptable face of capitalism, in today’s world of spivs and dodgy political donors, he appears a model of probity. His tastes are more understated too. The days of keeping one mistress tucked away in a flat behind Harrods and another in a mews off Belgrave Square are long gone; he’s been married to the same woman since 1977. There are no flashy motors; his chauffeur drives a two-year-old Audi. And there are certainly none of the big, over-the-top watches that young men of today seem to favour. Instead, when he pulls up his Huntsman-tailored sleeve, it is a discreet Patek Philippe Calatrava ref 5119 with the Clous de Paris bezel that gives him the time of day. Only he knows about the safe full of Patek Philippe complications at his house in Wilton Crescent.

The Vintage Car Broker: Girard-Perregaux

So suave he makes Hugh Grant look like sandpaper, the vintage car broker would have been created by Ian Fleming if he were a fictional character. He is at home wherever the international rich gather to show off their cars to each other: Villa d’Este in April, Le Mans Classic in July, Pebble Beach in August, Goodwood Revival in September and all the other rallies, auctions and hill climbs of the vintage car season.

The vintage car broker is a serious man who handles serious metal, the go-to guy for those who prefer to remain discreet when disposing of their automotive assets: 2.3 8C Alfa Romeos, Type 51 Bugattis, Ferrari GTOs, 250F Maseratis, Mercedes SSKs, these are the sort of things in which he specialises. But don’t go to him with anything as, well, “affordable” as a Maserati Mistral or as eccentric as a Voisin from the 1920s: he will be incredibly polite and enthusiastic about the styling and “presence on the road” but in the nicest possible way he will say, “It’s not my field, old boy.” Or he’ll tell you, “It’s a smashing-looking car, but I am afraid I really don’t know enough about it to be able to advise you correctly.”

His father was a racing driver who won the 12 Hours of Sebring, so he knows all the great racing drivers past and present and is on first-name terms with all the interesting characters in motorsport, including Bernie Ecclestone and former European Rally Champion and Girard-Perregaux owner Gino Macaluso. And it is this friendship that accounts for the presence on his wrist of a Girard-Perregaux ww.tc with a special dial altered to show the time at Sebring.

The Parisian Decorator: Cartier Santos Dumont

As French as Maurice Chevalier wearing a beret while eating snails on the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Parisian decorator has steadfastly refused to embrace the minimalist trend of recent years. He shudders at taupe and thinks a room looks naked unless it is packed with ormolu-mounted, museum-quality furniture and proper paintings (usually by Géricault, Courbet and Delacroix). For him, decorating is not a profession, it is a highly intellectual vocation, and he is a stickler for the correct context in all that he does. It pains him to see a picture hanging in a historically incorrect frame or a Regency guéridon placed too close to a Directoire armchair.

His taste is rooted in his personal fascination with late-19th-century France. He is obsessed with everything from the reinstatement of the Bonaparte dynasty under Napoleon III up to the death of Proust (he has read everything the French author wrote and is able to quote much of it).

One of his proudest achievements is the house he decorated according to the Huysmans novel A Rebours for a noted reclusive couturier who died recently, the record-breaking auction of whose possessions, all assembled under the guidance of the Parisian decorator, caused headlines around the world.

In particular, his work evokes the world of carefree decadents such as Robert de Montesquieu and Boni de Castellane and, as such, there is only one choice of timekeeper for him: Cartier. He has several vintage Cartiers, including a beautiful Tonneau and – his favourite – a very old Santos. For everyday wear, however, he prefers a Santos Dumont. One of his favourite characters from belle époque Paris is Alberto Santos Dumont, who used to get about town in small airships, which he’d moor at lamp-posts, and for whom Cartier designed the eponymous wristwatch so that he didn’t have to fumble in his pocket while operating his flying machines.

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