A sharp suit, exquisite tie and well polished boot is no longer exclusively the prerogative of the dowdy office square, but must-have off-duty essentials for every fashion-conscious man.
After decades of fast fashion and cheap imports, a style revolution has washed over the men’s clothing market that prizes quality, tailoring and a smart finish above all.
Rather than looking for the next big thing, this fashion pack looks backwards to vintage styles that speak of simpler, and better dressed, times gone by. And it is a trend that is here to stay according to Gemma Champ, editor of men’s fashion magazine Menswear Insight.
“The gentlemanly look is huge in men’s fashion at the moment,” says Champ. “Men have always been concerned with detail and quality, but since the Mad Men phenomenon tailoring has grown to become one of the main drivers in the industry, and this year even the more esoteric pieces like bow ties, pocket squares and braces have gone mainstream.
There are all sorts of interesting little brands doing handmade and limited-edition lines of finely made gloves, made-in-Europe shoes, hats, caps and even sock-suspenders, all with provenance as their selling point. This month’s film release of The Great Gatsby is likely to consolidate the look, with Brooks Brothers launching a Gatsby collection of summer linen suits, woven ties and boating blazers.”
A chunky chronograph jars somewhat when worn with a boating blazer, and a linen suit does not mesh well with a neon fashion watch. Instead, what is needed is a simpler classic watch that pays respect to the periods that these gentlemanly clothes take inspiration from.
The majority of men’s watches made in the first half of the 20th century were simple, functional and built to last, which has a strong synergy with the heritage fashion styles enjoying a renaissance. Cases were slimmer, dials cleaner and straps were made of leather.
Archives and reissues
looking back through the archives has been a popular exercise during the recession. Many watch houses have reissued safe models that proved themselves once upon a time before, albeit with a few tweaks, which save on research and development costs whilst simultaneously tapping into the vogue for all things vintage.
At BaselWorld last month Cuban-inspired watch house Cuervo y Sobrinos unveiled its Historiador Flameante, which pays tribute to one of its watches from the 1950s. The dial is simple with flourishes limited to a small seconds dial and subtle guilloché engraving, while the 40mm case has been made from rose gold and matched with a light brown alligator strap. As the brand says, it has “transported its history into the 21st century”, with a design it believes advocates “refinement and elegance”.
While it doesn’t have the lengthy archives to draw inspiration from, Graff Luxury Watches has also produced a much more gentlemanly watch in 2013 launch Graffstar Slim. The watch house has built its name on chunky cases and ostentatious cases, bracelets and dials swallowed up by its signature mosaic diamond settings, but this year it has created a slimmer, more refined offer.
The GraffStar Slim is the thinnest watch Graff has made to date at just 6.35mm thick. The watch is fitted with a black alligator strap, the black dial decorated minimally with gold hour markers in place of numerals and a rose or white gold faceted case.
Across the Channel, Vacheron Constantin created a watch to celebrate the opening of its recent Paris boutique that it describes as having a “timeless classicism and aura of restrained elegance”. The combination that elicited such words was a chestnut-coloured alligator strap, rose gold round case and minimalist guilloché dial.
Swiss brand Roamer has two collections dedicated to this gentlemanly trend, Vanguard and Limelight. The latter offers a more authentic collection of vintage style watches while Vanguard modernises the trend with high shine black or blue dials.
A simple style formula
The formula for the gentleman’s watch appears to be very simple: alligator strap, round case in rose or yellow gold, clean simple dial with elegant hands and indices with a case that is on the small side in comparison with modern creations, and most definitely slimmer.
This combination gives us a classic, safe and sellable timepiece that sits as perfectly on the wrist of a boy bought his first serious watch as it does on that of a retiree receiving it as a parting gift, but as we have mentioned, this admiration for classic styles is causing a stir at the cutting-edge of fashion not the safe mainstream.
As such it is not just the traditional watch brands creating such offers but directional fashion brands too, many of which have cleared some space amongst bright coloured silicone watches and high-shine chronographs for these quieter models.
Classic fashion watches
Ted Baker has created a simple model in this vein with rose tones, Roman numerals, a date window and brown mock croc strap, while Emporio Armani has created a collection of his ‘n’ hers round case models in a palette of nude, light brown, gold and bronze said to capture the spirit of understated luxury.
Fossil meanwhile has opted for a round case with a rougher stitched brown leather strap within its debut Swiss-made automatic collection. The watch, available with a plain stainless steel or rose gold tone 38mm case, has hand applied raised numerals and indices.
While the spirit of adventure and the nature of male bravado will always lead watch houses to bloat case sizes, incorporate cutting-edge modern materials and add complications that make watches look more like robots than fashion accessories, for now we can enjoy this more genteel trend.
While the DNA of this trend is to keep things simple, some watch houses have taken the staple round rose gold case and brown alligator strap but have introduced some more complicated features than just a small seconds dial, which seems to be a popular feature of the reinterpretation of the gentlemanly trend.
Arnold & Son has borrowed the gentlemanly aesthetic for its DBS watch but has used it to house a dual-time complication. The watch has two dials side by side, one showing the local time, the other sidereal time, a system used by astronomers to keep track of which direction to point their telescopes in to track stars.
The name of the new Girard-Perregeaux 1966 Minute Repeater, Annual Calendar & Equation of Time watch nods to the decade that inspired its good looks but the watch also delivers on all the complications listed in that name too, and as a result the dial is a tad busier than other models in this genre.
But whether it is a fashion watch to hit the chino-clad One Direction generation or a more expensive mechanical timepiece for a serious buyer, the sell is a fairly easy one. This style of watch has been around for 100 years and its enduring appeal will hold for 100 more.
And with Great Gatsby fever just round the corner and three-piece suits not just on the catwalks but the Topman racks too, classic round-dial and alligator strap gentlemanly watches are not just about making a purchase that has longevity, but about tapping into the zeitgeist right now.