Bling a Ding-Ding

Bling-a-Ding-Ding


by Ken Kessler

“Bling-Bling” and the wearing thereof are anathema to some of us, a way of life for others. The inanity, tastelessness and/or crassness of bling-bling serve as a counter to what once seemed like a global increase in style and taste, and a return to elegance. But as we see, for every Brioni or Huntsman, there are dozens of tack-merchants willing to exploit the Kardashian/hip-hop/Eurotrash influence. Live-and-let-live becomes a tougher motto to respect.

For the watch brands, it’s been a curious way of providing “added value” (read: “added profits”) to otherwise unadorned models. Think of what this current love for vulgarity has done for the industry: you can add $100,000 worth of gems to a $10,000 watch, and increase your margin exponentially. Initially, the glitter was added to quartz-powered swill, by brands that pandered to rappers, Russian mobsters and their Svetlanas, and the occasional aristo-brat who did not inherit his or her parents’ innate good taste.

Breguet Full Diamonds

Breguet Full Diamonds

Now you find pimped tourbillons and perpetual calendars from houses that you wish could resist the lure of Mammon, or at least in part – after all, companies are in business to make money, not lose it. But some restraint in these parlous times would not go amiss. But the much-needed (at least, for those of us who don’t want to don sunglasses in order to look at the latest watch releases) departure from a bling-led market has not happened, despite two indications that it should be upon us.

If anything, the recent craze for ultra-thin watches and the trend toward smaller diameters – the latter being a return to 40mm-44mm watches and a drop in the number of watches exceeding that dimension – should have signalled a concomitant return to subtlety, discretion and other qualities associated with less “in your face” timepieces. But I fear that bad taste will out, even though the muse for this column was a week in Las Vegas – hardly the taste capital of the world.

Actually, that’s unfair. Wandering around the more upscale casino hotels such as Caesar’s Palace, Wynn or the Bellagio reveal the presence of every classy clothing, jewellery, luggage or watch brand one could name, many with their own boutiques. Watches, too, are incredibly well-represented, putting paid to any charges of Americans not buying outside of the Rolex/Cartier/TAG-Heuer/Patek-Philippe spheres. There are watch stores in Las Vegas to challenge any you can name in London, Paris, New York, Berlin or even Geneva.

Bell & Ross BR-01 (Airborn Only)

Bell & Ross BR-01 (Airborn Only)

An eagle-eyed watch-spotter can easily feast on visitors wearing pieces from Roger Dubuis, U-Boat, Richard Mille, Lange & Söhne, Bell & Ross (BR-01 of course), Breitling, Breguet, Blancpain, IWC, Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre, as well as the usual suspects: Patek Philippe Nautiluses, Audemars-Piguet Royal Oaks, various Rolexes and the watch-du-jour in Vegas: the Hublot Big Bang.

While “subtlety” and “Big Bang” are not natural etymological partners, neither are all Big Bangs hideous, gem-encrusted monstrosities. The Hublot of choice for Vegas habitués appears to be the classic rose gold chronograph, sans diamonds, sapphires or rubies. In direct contrast to the city’s love of bling, the all-black versions were plentiful, too.

Hublot Big Bang Black Lemon

Hublot Big Bang Black Lemon

Rolex? Most seen are the sport models – GMT, Submariner, Explorer II – with the GMT often in steel and gold. Old-school gamblers still prefer all-gold Day-Dates and Datejusts, as well as “root beer” GMTs. Daytonas were everywhere, especially the ones with coloured dials, but you could count on Italian visitors to stick to the classics: steel SeaDwellers, “Pepsi-Cola” GMTs, steel Daytonas of a certain age.

Wandering around a few shops, it is easy to believe that visitors to Las Vegas are hard-core enthusiasts. I saw complications of every sort, from triple and perpetual calendars to minute repeaters, as well as tourbillons from a number of sources. But nothing could match the profusion of oversized, over-the-top and over-egged eye-burners, the bigger and blingier, the better.

Blancpain Tourbillon Full Diamonds

Blancpain Tourbillon Full Diamonds

I am not about to court a lawsuit, but some of the jewellery houses should be ashamed of themselves, for committing crimes against taste. I know, I know: a rather large audience of muscle-bound morons with more tattoos than brain cells, who worship excess, aspire to mediocrity and have a surfeit of cash is a tempting market indeed.

But these revellers who pour out of the noisier night clubs are not buying serious watches that happen to be bejewelled. They do not buy Royal Oaks with diamond cladding, nor Big Bangs with gem bezels. Theirs is a world of 58mm-60mm diving watches from brands you’ve never heard of, and with price tags that encourage their sale from any of the hundreds of street vendors who line the Strip, quartz garbage that impresses firstly by virtue of the size, and secondly but the presence of so much paste that you’d have to be an idiot to think that the stones are real.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak with Diamond Cladding

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak with Diamond Cladding

It’s either ludicrously funny or truly sad depending on your own level of generosity. These clubbers worship hip-hop and rap heroes, but don’t understand that there’s a world of difference between their $59 travesties and a pavé Royal Oak Offshore. The latter may be hideous, vulgar, over-the-top, but underneath, it is still a pedigreed masterpiece, not a battery-powered toy.

There is, however, a sine qua non among bling watches for those who would be Bling Bling Kings in Las Vegas – or anywhere else for that matter. There are bigger watches, costlier watches, watches with a higher gem count than the leopard-skin Rolex Daytona, but none can match is sheer, unbridled tastelessness.

Rolex Daytona Leopard (Ref. 116598)

Rolex Daytona Leopard (Ref. 116598)

To give it its full name, the timepiece is, impressively, called the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Special Edition Leopard Print With Sapphires, Ref 116598. In all of its orange-y glory, it sits on the wrist like a totem of tack, a challenge to one’s palate, a monument to all that is hideous. And yet a dear friend of mine wore one in Las Vegas, and it drew more admiring glances than any other timepiece one might consider as an alternative. It is the definitive Las Vegas wristwatch. Cirque du Soleil should build a show around it. It increases in value daily. It is truly repulsive.

But, oh, do I want one!!?

    Author Bio

    Articles by Ken Kessler

    Contributor

    Ken Kessler has been involved with watches for over 35 years, initially as a collector, then as a dealer in vintage pieces. He has been writing about watches since the mid-1990s, his articles having appeared in Wall Street Journal, GQ, Men’s Health, Top Gear, Esquire, Financial Times, FT How To Spend It, The Telegraph, The Times, QP, International Wristwatch (USA), Status (USA), Hour Glass (Australia), Playboy, Brummell, City AM, Your London, Spear’s, Motorsport, Mail On Sunday and many other titles. Also a renowned expert in high-end audio, Ken is the author and co-author of four hi-fi histories. His weaknesses include chronographs, military watches and diving watches, while other pursuits include music, literature and wine.

    • David Brailsford

      I agree Ken and somebody needed to say it at last!