Gold watches have long divided opinion, and with good reason. Bit gauche, aren’t they? For a lot of people who own them, it’s less about style and more about wearing your bank balance on your wrist. A gold watch is the epitome of 1980s Wall Street yuppies. Patrick Bateman had one. Donald Trump has several. And today, the trend is kept alive by oligarchs, Gulf State royalty and the rich kids of Instagram (and, yes, Donald Trump).
But either yuppie styling is making an unlikely comeback or the world is starting to reappraise gold timepieces. Just as watch brands began to hark back to subtler designs and smaller dials, Rolex, Cartier and other manufactures have placed big statement pieces back in the spotlight.
“At this year’s Baselworld, countless brands pushed bold, yellow gold pieces after a few years focusing on smaller watches,” says Erica Redgrave, buyer at luxury watch retailer Bucherer. “Though instead of diamond-encrusted bezels or a wealth of features, the best pieces countered the showmanship with simpler dials and minimal detailing.” Something that should come as sweet relief to anyone who doesn’t quite share Mr. T’s taste in accessories.
That said, those American Psycho vibes are hard to shake, so err on the side of the caution. “The biggest mistake is getting the wrong tone of gold, especially when matching accessories and jewellery,” says Terry Markham, head of buying at WatchShop.com. “Too yellow, and your resulting outfit will run vulgar, while paler tones can be forgettable on the wrist.” The remedy lies with a happy medium: a gold that shines without looking like a Las Vegas casino sign.
You know what they say: all that glitters isn’t gold. And this has never been more true than when it comes to watches. A timepiece with a solid gold case is possible but it’s also likely to cost you more than a car. There are other options, however.
PVD – shorthand for physical vapour deposition – is a process where the chosen material, be it gold, steel or carbon, is vaporised. It’s then deposited on the base of the watch, melding two substances for a more durable finish.
Another alternative is gold plating, which simply adds a thin layer of the shiny stuff onto another metal. It may give the appearance of real gold, but it’s also more susceptible to ageing, scratches and general wear-and-tear.
Markham recommends a PVD finish: “It lasts longer, and is much harder wearing than simple gold-coloured watches. Plating technology has improved in recent years, and newer electroplating methods prevent the watch from flaking and peeling over time.”
Styling your gold watch is much easier than you might think; it’s not just something to wear with a navy pinstripe suit. Pop culture would have us believe that a sparkling Submariner is best deployed in the boardroom, but gold watches are just as suitable off-duty – so long as the rest of your outfit remains restrained.
Think white tees, simple bombers, selvedge jeans, Oxford shirts and the like. Monochrome looks in particular give you a 24-carat platform for something shimmering. It may be tempting to team your newfound arm cannon with an Armani suit and a shearling jacket (worn over the shoulders, naturally), but sadly, you’ll be more attention-seeking fashion blogger than Gordon Gekko.
The Oyster Perpetual Date is one of Rolex’s most iconic timepieces – in fact, it was one of the first to really launch the brand to fame in 1926. Today’s iteration looks decidedly different, but with an all-gold palette and classic eighties detailing, it will stay handsome for a hundred years or more.
Tudor makes watches for the explorers in life: men like Bear Grylls, David de Rothschild, and your dad up a hill on his annual hiking holiday. Lesser known, but just as stylish, are the brand’s dress watches. The suitably named Glamour is an automatic piece in gold and steel. At 38mm, this is a fine example of how to wear gold on your wrist without showboating.
Stylish watches needn’t cost the earth – something Elysee knows all too well. By swerving Swiss craftsmanship in favour of German assembly, the century-old label packs gold-standard quality without the usual price tag.
This gold PVD dress watch, for example, incorporates an automatic movement and costs less than £500.
The next time a purist sniffs at a designer watch from a fashion house rather than a watch manufacturer, put Gucci under their nose.
The Italian brand has long offered Swiss-made watches and they’re usually a lot more exciting than conservative heirlooms – making them a worthy companion to Gucci’s current menswear offering. This piece is low on subtlety and all the better for it.
In terms of brand recognition, Cartier is one of the few that stands toe-to-toe with Rolex. It has an instantly-recognisable aesthetic, heavyweight horological know how, and iconic models such as the Tank require no introduction or explanation to people in the know. The square case and Roman numerals ensure that, unlike some gold watches, this oozes sophistication.
Few labels boast the appeal of Armani Exchange. We all know it. Most of us love it. And that same level of prestige translates to the label’s watch line-up, even though it’s determinedly affordable. This quartz-powered offering is gold plated and indulgently styled for the baller on a budget.
As some watch brands increasingly try to dominate every corner of every market, Longines sticks to what it knows: classic watches for classic dressers made using classic watchmaking techniques. Times change, but your watch needn’t, as this traditionally-styled gold-plated dress number attests.
There’s a reason rappers bang on about Audemars Piguet. The brand is eye-wateringly expensive, and the likes of Rick Ross have never been modest about their salaries, but it’s also undeniably cool.
The Swiss juggernaut is the undisputed king of statement and will pack a punch on any wrist, regardless if you’ve appeared on a Kendrick Lamar track or otherwise. Fortunately, AP also happens to be one of the finest watchmakers in the world.
Turns out Ivy League preppiness lends itself well to wrist candy. Tommy Hilfiger – founding father of preppy style – drops stateside showmanship with classic, chronograph styling. The PVD finish will go the distance on this sporty model, too. A ticker fit for your induction at Harvard (or Hull University, take your pick).
Seiko almost brought the traditional Swiss industry to its knees during the Quartz Crisis, and it still won’t let Geneva catch a break. The Japanese label has since branched out into smarter, evening-appropriate timepieces that combine the manufacturer’s quality mechanics with a surprisingly refined touch.