When it comes to wristwatches, World War I changed everything. Prior to that time, such an item was women’s territory—dainty, more jewelry than timepiece—dating back to the 1800s. Some suggest watches go back even earlier (to the 1500s). But one thing’s clear—no self-respecting gent wore one. Men stuck to pocket watches, thank you very much. Sturdy. Weighty. Passed down from father to son.
Until WWI, that is, when the fellas realized the benefits of having a rugged, easily-glimpsed timepiece strapped to your wrist in the midst of combat.
Today, no one needs convincing. Watches are standard gear, and come in all shapes and sizes, some as delicate as a petite strand of pearls—others, Schwarzenegger-size, pumped up with functions, or “complications,” as watchmakers say. They measure temperature, calculate moon phases. Yeah—they tell time, too.
We’ve gathered watches from 10 of the finest brands you’ll find in Manhattan. Some cost more than an automobile. A few others, more than a modest (or not so modest) country home. But, oh, the antique finish, the creamy face with those Roman numerals, the diamonds, emeralds, rubies… These are dials to drool over.
Wempe’s Chrono-meterwerke is an option for gentlemen looking for fine (but subtle) styling. This 18-kt gold watch comes with a silver-plated dial, a hand-sewn, full-cut Louisiana crocodile skin strap and 18-kt gold pin clasp—your choice of Roman or Arabic numerals. $19,950. 700 Fifth Avenue (at 55th Street); 212-397-9000; wempe.com
Cellini Jewelers offers a sybaritic escape for the collector of fine timepieces, with an array of luxury brands for men and women—here, A. Lange & Söhne’s Grand Lange 1, for men, in white gold with handsome, tuxedo-sleek dial. $40,500. Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, 301 Park Avenue (at 49th Street); 212-751-9824, 800-CELLINI; cellinijewelers.com
Patek Philippe could be called the Rolls-Royce of timepieces, given the exquisite Swiss craftsmanship and attention to detail (one watch, for instance, chimed like Big Ben). This Ladies World Time watch boasts mechanical self-winding movement, 24 time-zone indicators, a rose gold with diamond bezel and hand-guilloched ivory opaline dial. $56,900. Tiffany & Co., 727 Fifth Avenue (at 57th Street); 212-755-8000; tiffany.com
Jacob & Co.'s women’s Brilliant Skeleton Baguette Ruby watch lets you peer inside, thanks to open worked anthracite movement with rose gold bridges and gears—and the more than 350 baguette rubies aren’t bad either. Price upon request. 48 E. 57th Street; 212-719-5887; jacobandco.com
BOVET 1822, a Swiss brand with nearly two centuries of expertise, is known for pocket watches, and their men’s Amadeo Fleurier Tourbillon Virtuoso III, with retrograde perpetual calendar, converts from reversible wristwatch to pocket watch to table clock. $350,000. The Boutiques at 50 Central Park South, at the Ritz-Carlton (near Sixth Avenue); 212-257-5015; boutiques50cps.com
TW Steel, a proud Dutch brand, offers the CEO Canteen Automatic Dario Franchitti Limited Edition, a stunner named for the Scottish Indy 500 race car driver, combining dark titanium case, hammered bezel and mod numbering. $979. Madison Jewelers, 400 Madison Avenue (47th/48th Streets); 212-644-4100; madisonjewelersnyc.com
Ulysse Nardin only recently launched its first in-house designed, self-winding watch for women. This Jade watch melds feminine aesthetics to function—four delicate green jade horns flank the bezel, along with 86 emeralds, 341 diamonds and a mother-of-pearl dial, and there’s no pushing or pulling the crown to set the date or time (thus preserving your manicure). $83,000. Ritz-Carlton, 50 Central Park South (near Sixth Avenue); 212-257-4920; ulysse-nardin.com
Perrelet, dating back to 1777, reportedly gets credit for devising the first automatic (self-winding) watch. This New Diamond Flower watch for women bears a petite lotus flower on its serene white face, along with petal-shaped hour markers and 88 diamonds (1.02 ct) encircling the case. $9,250. Kenjo, 40 W. 57th Street (near Sixth Avenue); 212-333-7220; kenjo.net
Raymond Weil, the intrepid Swiss luxury watchmaker, died this winter at age 87, leaving behind one of the last family-run watch-making companies in Switzerland. This men’s watch from the Freelancer line offers a chic skull on a two-tone black dial. $2,275.
Tourneau TimeMachine, 12 E. 57th St. (Fifth/Madison Avenues); 212-758-7300; tourneau.com
Carl F. Bucherer's men’s Patravi ScubaTec diver’s watch, from Switzerland, has a helium valve allowing gas to escape automatically during dives. Complemented by a luminous display, it ensures readability whether above the waves or plumbing the murky depths. $6,400. Kenjo, 40 W. 57th Street (near Sixth Avenue); 212-333-7220; kenjo.net