Gold watches back in fashion

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Al Pacino's Tony Montana chased the American dream wearing an 18-karat Omega La Magique in Scarface (1983). Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko ruled over New York in an 18-karat Cartier Santos de Cartier Galbee in Wall Street (1987). Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort partied like a rock star in an 18-karat gold plate Tag Heuer Series 1000 in The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013).

The gold watch: so iconic, so burdened with associations.

For company men of the Cold War era, the gold watch was the cherished retirement gift, a symbol of hard-won achievement.

By the moneyed 1980s, however, it had become the horological equivalent of a 60-foot Chris-Craft yacht, an emblem of macho swagger appropriated by bonus babies and rappers.

Lately, however, gold watches are moving beyond the pages of the Robb Report and catching on with a more street-smart crowd.

Call it a revival. Call it a reclamation. Just do not call it bling.

Rapper Jay Z wore a stately Jaeger- LeCoultre Tribute to 1931 Reverso in pink gold with his elegant black tie to the Grammys last February. Singer John Mayer, a noted watch enthusiast, has been seen in a jumbo rose gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

A further sign that gold is striking a new chord was Apple's announcement of a top-of-the-line Apple Watch Edition, a smartwatch priced up to US$17,000 (S$22,957), in "jaw-dropping, beautiful 18-karat gold".

True, like leather pants, a gold watch is a statement, and wearing one takes a certain attitude to pull off.

But that willingness to court a higher reward by higher style risk is one reason some young professionals, such as Mr Blake Egan, a software salesman in San Francisco, are deciding that there is life after stainless steel.

To the 30-year-old, a gold Rolex Day-Date was like something his father had worn. "That was Lyndon Johnson's watch," he said. "And Don Johnson's watch in the first season of Miami Vice."

Then, last April, he decided he loved the look of an 18-karat Rolex Submariner with a blue dial, the quintessential power watch. He invested US$27,000 in one and was surprised by the reaction. Ordinary citizens were glancing at his wrist. Flight attendants cooed.

Now he counts two rose-gold Patek Philippes (Patek 5205R and 5167R) in his collection.

"In less than a year, I went from not being sure on a full gold watch to being hooked on them," he said.

Retailers are noticing a healthy business in gold timepieces, too.

"A couple of years ago, there was some resistance to wearing something like that on your wrist," said Mr Michael Gordon, director of the Tourneau TimeMachine store in Manhattan. "You didn't want to seem ostentatious at work."

But nowadays, he said, young Wall Street types are increasingly drawn to subtly elegant pieces by, say, Vacheron Constantin or Breguet, many of which are available only in gold or platinum, as a means of adding panache to a standard business suit.

Yes, there are hazards. Consider the blinding resplendence of Reza Farahan, the flashy real estate agent on Bravo's reality series Shahs Of Sunset, who is seen on the show pairing a glimmering yellow-gold Rolex Daytona with his shiny suits and fuchsia power ties.

Indeed, for those who cannot help thinking of a King Tut exhibition when they see yellow gold, a subtler rose gold can be the perfect first step.

There was a rush on rose gold at last month's Baselworld watch and jewellery fair in Switzerland.

Rolex, for example, made a statement about rose gold's sporty potential with the Everose and black Yacht-Master with an Oysterflex rubber bracelet (at the unsporting price of US$25,000).

The Apple Watch is available in rose gold, too.

At more terrestrial prices, David Sokosh, the founder of Brooklyn Watches, sells two models in rose gold-coated stainless steel, for US$1,150 and US$1,395, for retro-minded heritage types on a budget.

"I associate rose gold with the 1930s, the 1940s," he said.

"It feels classic, feels like fedora hats and old cars, like going on an ocean liner with a steamer trunk."

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