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Who Cares What Time It Is?


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I like watches. A lot. Plenty of men out there think it's cool to go bare-armed and get the time from their cell phones. Not me. Watches are wearable art. They're fun. They're powerful. I normally wear an M & Co. classic. Occasionally, I'll put on my Yves Behar-designed MINImotion watch (it is supposed to go with the MINI car lifestyle), which is outstanding. But I've never worn really, really expensive, fancy, and bold watches.

Until now. In April, I had on my left hand a succession of watches worth a total of nearly $55,000. Now, that is some weight. I wore a steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak self-winder (my Tony Soprano watch) that goes for $11,000. I had an 18-karat Vacheron Constantin Malte Tonneau Dual Time (my Great Gatsby) that sells for $23,200. And I wore a Franck Muller Crazy Hours (my Sultan of Brunei) that costs $20,600.

These three watchmakers were among the top contenders in the Luxury Institute's Ultra-Luxury Watches Survey. Franck Muller earned top honors as the most prestigious brand in the recent survey of 400 millionaires. Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet tied for third place. (Patek Philippe placed second, but the company wouldn't let us test drive a model. Neither would Breguet, which also tied for third.)

I had each watch for a week and wore them around town in Manhattan and in the Hamptons. It would have been great to have shown them off in Buenos Aires, Beijing, and Barcelona, but I couldn't get the T&E for it.

My basic technique to see how people reacted to the watches was to use my left hand to order drinks, hail cabs, and wave at people. I'm a righty, so this took some effort. I also took to holding my wife's hand with my watch-adorned left hand to impress her. It worked only once.

The Audemars Piguet was the first of these watches I put on. The immediate sensation was one of weight. It has substance. And it feels good. I've never worn a bracelet watch before, one that you hook up, but I liked it. Real customers have their new watches adjusted at the store to fit their wrists. Mine was a little loose, but I didn't care. It was out there, brash, strong, in your face. It looked bolted on to my wrist and said: "I made it the hard way, so don't mess with me."

I wore it in what were once two of the toughest neighborhoods in New York -- Hell's Kitchen and Little Italy. Not much reaction in Hell's Kitchen. It has become way too gentrified. But there are still a lot of tough guys who come from the suburbs to the restaurants of the old neighborhood, and my gleaming Audemars Piguet caught a lot of attention there. I had a cannoli at a pastry shop near Mulberry Street, with my sleeves rolled up. A lot of eyes turned. I got a couple of "lemme see that." Hey, you know that thing? Yeah, that thing is impressive.

Next up was the beauty, the gold Vacheron Constantin Malte Tonneau Dual Time. This was pure elegance: brown alligator strap, white guilloche dial, and incredible design. I put on black clothes, strapped on this baby, and headed to the Spice Market restaurant in the über-fashionable Meatpacking District. There, I tested it out amid New York's hot media/model/hedge fund mogul crowd of thirtysomethings. It was a huge hit. A seriously big deal. Men came over to say they really liked it. Women loved it -- on men and on themselves. There was a lot of fondling of this watch among the women. People asked to try it on. I almost didn't get it back twice. The Vacheron Constantin did it for my wife, too. It got me that look that men are always looking for in the faces of the women they want to impress. That's worth $23,200, isn't it?

I wore the Franck Muller Crazy Hours to the Broadway play Three Days of Rain, starring Julia Roberts. They were a perfect match. The watch is magnificent to look at but doesn't work the conventional way. She was the same.

ECCENTRIC FACE

The Franck Muller skips around a lot -- the hour markers are whimsically placed in an eccentric order (hence the name, Crazy Hours). At 8 o'clock, the hour hand points to what would be 12 o'clock on a conventional watch. As the hour turns, it jumps five places to get to 9 o'clock, the position we traditionally think of as 5 o'clock. The minute hand, however, moves the way a minute hand should. It takes getting used to. I had to wear two watches all week.

Not that fans mind. In fact, I'm convinced there is a cult of Franck Muller out there. The Julia Roberts play was mobbed, with standing room only, but when I pushed myself to the front of the counter for a coffee (hey, it's New York) and waved with my left hand to get some attention, people flocked to the watch. "Is that a real Franck Muller?" "How much is it?" "They're gorgeous, aren't they?"

They are. So is Julia. So maybe she doesn't work all that well onstage yet. In her movies, the camera is almost always on her face. She acts with her face. On the stage, you have to act with movement, and Julia doesn't. Yet her fans don't seem to mind. They were there to cheer her. The Franck Muller watch is all about face as well, not movement. And fans don't care, either. They love it.

By Bruce Nussbaum


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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