Alas, I was not there in Berlin on November 9 1989 when the wall came down. Having grown up in the time of East and West Germany, the idea of a Germany that was no longer sundered took a bit of getting used to. Besides, I had other things on my mind, as this was the end of the 1980s and I was in my early twenties, polishing my Filofax, hanging out at the Soho Brasserie and attending what used to be called warehouse parties, subsequently known as raves.
However, on the evening of Thursday March 27 2014, I was very much “there” – “there” being the ballroom of Les Trois Rois in Basel for the first Rolex press dinner. I do not usually attend press dinners; they bring out my Calvinist streak, as I find that they are too big and too noisy for me to be able accomplish much of that professional activity I believe goes by the name of “work”. On the whole, I would rather be visiting a factory, interviewing a watchmaker, studying archive material or generally conducting some activity that could in due course be converted into the written word. But there are times when I cannot resist the lure of a good horological knees up, and there was no way that I was going to miss the first Rolex press dinner.
In years to come, menus from this epochal event will sell for thousands at auction, and when we are old, those of us who attended will be trotted out to recount our dimming reminiscences of this evening. Until now, Rolex has had a very clear policy in terms of liaising with the media: official communiqués aside, it hasn’t. And the idea that it would actually go out of its way to invite the world’s media (or at least the part of it that concerns itself with fine clockwork) for an evening snack at Les Trois Rois (fast zooming up my top 10 of European hotels) and a postprandial performance by Paloma Faith would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. However, there has been a thawing of late, and a new climate of openness. Only last year, I was asked whether I would like to attend the Monaco Grand Prix as a guest of the crown (not Her Majesty but Rolex), and then this year I was asked to dinner. I hope that I behaved myself sufficiently well to qualify for an invitation should they repeat the exercise (which I hope they will).
I am all for this new era of horological glasnost – or do I mean perestroika, I forget which is which – not least because it has been accompanied by some cracking watches. There are exceptions: I think it is safe to say that I am neither a fan of the Yachmaster II nor the Skydweller. But over the past couple of years there have been some real smash hits. I am still in love with last year’s Daydate models with coloured dials: cherry red, cognac, spruce green and so forth. Another returning classic is the Sea Dweller, a watch that I used to love back in the late 1980s and that has aged rather better than either me or my Filofax.
But there are, in particular, two Rolexes this year that really stand out for me. First is the white-gold GMT Master II with the red and blue ceramic bezel insert (apparently a world first). It is a beauty and a workout in itself, as it must weigh getting on for half a kilo.
The other is at the more humble, discreet, (and let’s call a spade a hand-operated digging instrument) affordable end of the scale: the Oyster Perpetua Ref 116000. A time-only watch on a steel bracelet, it is perhaps also the purest expression of the three “Rs” of Rolex: readability, reliability and robustness. I like the fact that it is offered in a 36mm case, and its small size, coupled with the sobriety of its design, means that it is almost ostentatious in its level of understatement.
The slightly quirky colours of red grape (or what I might call pale violet) and white grape (pale yellow to you and me) are oddly appealing… So appealing, in fact, that I ordered one in red grape for my elder son’s 18th birthday. After all, it is not very often that one’s son and heir passes 18, so I feel that as a parent, the very least I can do is reward myself with a simple steel watch.