[The interior of the London Watch Salon on New Bond Street]
It has been a little over a year since Ralph Lauren launched his watch collection. The collection started with three basic models: stirrup, sports, and slim classic. However, rather than go down the usual fashion house route of designing a case and dial and then putting in a quartz movement, Ralph Lauren, a noted watch collector in his own right, wanted to introduce a watch line that would stand the test of time; that would look good this year, next, and in years to come.
I had been a little skeptical of the whole enterprise. Sure, most fashion houses had introduced watches of some description, usually with some third party involved as a licensee for the brand name and producing watches with a name. There was the odd success; Chanel was a noted exception; along with the odd joint venture with Prada (and IWC).
However I am going to argue that the Ralph Lauren Watch collection was a unique one for the fashion industry. For a start, this was not simply a number of different styles. There are three core collections: Stirrup, Sports and Slim Classique. Within the basic three ranges, there are special editions being assembled that give the collection a quality edge. The movements are also first quality. Thanks to an agreement with Richemont, Ralph Lauren Watches has access to movements from the Richemont brands: Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC, and Piaget. These are quality watches with a design element from Ralph Lauren. The production numbers are low, so you are not going to see too many on people’s wrists any time soon. Yet, Ralph Lauren has committed considerable resources to the project; well aware that this is a slow burn, but he is committed and while results will be slow, he will see it through. I have to admire the commitment and the watches, while limited in design, will progress and I am sure 10 years down the road from now, Ralph Lauren Watches will be a smaller watch brand on the list of ‘known’ brands.
The Stirrup collection is easily the most recognizable, iconic, and the closest style link with the Polo symbol and clothing line that Ralph Lauren started and grew with. There are three case sizes; unsurprisingly large, medium and small. Cases are in rose or white gold, and platinum; and can either come in the plain polished version, or one clustered with diamonds. The cases are very well finished, highly polished, and the weight of the metal gives the watch a ‘heft’ on the wrist. The large case chronograph that I tried out looked distinguished, although I will confess this watch is not my style. However, the watch is well made. The pushers are responsive and the start/stop had no delay. The platinum case, the enamel dial, onyx stone on the crown, and the blued hands all added up to a very attractive watch on the wrist. Only 67 were made to celebrate the founding year of Polo Ralph Lauren brand (1967).
While the larger case with the chronograph movement might not be my thing, the Stirrup collection in the small and medium sized case for the female wrist was eye catching. The medium sized case with time only (off-centre second hand) was very distinctive. It looked different, elegant, and would be noticed on the wrist.
The Sports collection is the watch RLX equivalent. I think that the Ralph Lauren Watch sports line is a noted addition to the sports watch world. Admittedly all sports styled watches seem to have the screws or something similar on the bezel these days (well, certainly since the Royal Oak debuted some forty years ago), so nothing new there. But the case is once again well made, and the lugs help curve the generously sized case (at 44.8mm for the larger case size) to the wrist. There are three variants of the model: a Classic, a Chronograph, and a World Time. Sharp eyed Purists will note that the movements come from IWC (Classic), and from Jaeger LeCoultre (Chronograph and World Time). Cases are available in steel (with and without a steel bracelet) and in white and rose gold (with a leather strap). The dial colours are in the Henry Ford choice variety of either black or white.
There have been a couple of special editions in the Sports collection that have been released. One recently which took its inspiration from Ralph Lauren’s Type 57 Atalante. (http://news.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost/fi-112/pi-4246339/ti-670934/s-0/), the other is an all-blacked version. The blacked version has a case in PVD with the bracelet in vulcanized rubber. I have to say that the watch is striking and in keeping with their production mantra, only 30 are to be made. If the rumour is true, when the man himself (RL) saw the watch at the Paris atelier, he put it on his wrist and would not take it off!
However, the star of the collection to my mind is the Slim Classique. Definitely a watch that does fit with my style and the one watch that caught my eye when the collections were released. There are two case sizes: 38mm and 42mm, and once again, three metal types: rose gold, white gold, and the limited edition platinum. Movements are the trusty workhorses from Piaget. What makes the watch eye catching to my sight is the engine turned pattern from the dial out through to the bezel. The case back is polished and smooth which makes it very comfortable against the skin. The hands are Breguet style and are either black, or blue (platinum version). The platinum version also has an onyx stone on the crown.
For the ‘bling’ orientated there is the Slim Classique with the diamonds set in the bezel. ‘Bling’ is definitely not my thing, but I would make an exception on this occasion. The baguette diamond set bezel would grace the wrist of either men or women. While still not my thing, it is watch that looks good with the diamonds set in the bezel. Both are elegant and distinctive.
The question remains on why? With the exception of the Ralph Lauren Purple Label (mens) and Collection (womens) line, Ralph Lauren clothing is not high end fashion. The ubiquitous Ralph Lauren polo shirts with the galloping horse are bought and worn by almost everyone (or so it seems). Why then would you trust a watch with the same designers name on the dial? Part of the answer lies in Ralph Lauren’s well known love for horology that comes through from his collecting watches. Certain stores around the world carried and continue to carry vintage watches for sale, sourced from local antique and second market watch dealers, and the watches are made available to complete the ‘look’ for the men’s and women's wardrobe. What Ralph Lauren has done here is complimented the vintage for watches of similar quality, but with his design aesthetic running through them. The second part of the answer lies in Ralph Lauren finding the right partner for a project he has had on the backburner for some time. It was only when he could make the statement that he wanted to, with the quality movements and resources that Richemont could provide, that he put the watch designs into the market. The watches are designed to make a statement in the same way the Purple Label and Collection did within clothing. To provide a statement on a timeless design with a quality that will show through, all bound within the same aesthetic.
The Ralph Lauren Watch collection is only available at a certain stores around the world (with specialized boutiques); with specialized watch salons in Paris, London, New York, and Macau. Take a look at the collection; they are good solid watches, with innovation in design that make them worth taking seriously.