Watch Curmudgeon 4: The Art of the Browse

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If you’re a bonafide watchaholic, you probably get tremendous pleasure out of gazing at ultra high-end watches in magazines, on the internet and in the windows of prestigious jewelers. Of course, many of you have bravely ventured into one of these often foreboding establishments. But if you actually want them to gladly slap a six-figure watch on your wrist for your approval, you have to look and act like you can afford nearly anything in the store.

I learned this the hard way. When I first got into watches, I started visiting jewelers and had no trouble trying on the likes of Hamiltons, TAG Heuers, and Omegas. But when I set my sights higher, I found that many salespeople were reluctant to let me handle the watches. So I got annoyed. My self-confidence took a plunge. And paranoia manifested itself.

…the moral of this story is that if you want to experience great watches, you’ve got to master the image game.

Then, one fine Saturday morning, as I was preparing to go out for a watch day, I looked at myself in the mirror and was hit with one of those well, duh moments of revelation. I was dressed like some dude on his way to buy a new hockey stick. Sure, I was clean and my duds were fairly well pressed, but I didn’t look like someone who could impress a persnickety, high-end watch salesperson.

So I decided to try an experiment. I slipped into an oxford shirt, a blue blazer and a pair of recently laundered chinos. An hour later, I had a beautiful IWC chronograph on my wrist. Then a Panerai. And then a Rolex. However, there was still something missing because upon asking to see an enticing Vacheron Constantin, I was gently nudged over to the Baume & Mercier area.

Another experiment was required. I ran home, put on a blue, pinstriped suit and a tie. That did it. I was able to admire a gold Royal Oak on my wrist. My wrist! So, the moral of this story is that if you want to experience great watches, you’ve got to master the image game. And that merely begins with your clothing. Just because you may be able to look like a hedge fund manager or a Hollywood divorce lawyer doesn’t mean anyone’s gonna strap a Patek Philippe on your wrist.

Follow these simple directions for gaining entrée and respect at the most exclusive watch retailers in America.

  1. Ascots work much better than ties, especially if you can adopt the airs of an English country gentleman. If you can perfect an upper-crust British accent and carry a swagger stick, all the better.
  2. Never, under any circumstances, wear a tuxedo. Especially a rental.
  3. When a salesperson is showing you a watch and they say, for example, “This De Bethune is $65,000,” don’t gasp, wince, or roll your eyes. Either react with complete indifference or say something like, “What a coincidence. That’s precisely what I paid for my Breguet last month.”
  4. Leave your G-Shock, Swatch or Canal Street Cartier at home. It’s far far better not to wear any watch at all than to be seen with some clunker. To the other extreme, if you’re wearing, let’s say, a Jaeger LeCoultre repeater, you could still be in your pajamas and the storeowner himself, will ask if you’d like a cappuccino. If, heaven forbid, you’re asked what watch you’ve got under your sleeve, snicker, show that your wrist is bare and tell them you just dropped off your Hublot because a diamond fell out of the bezel.
  5. Personal hygiene is a crucial element. Look, if your breath could melt the store’s gold-flocked wallpaper, it wouldn’t matter if you were wearing a $10,000 custom suit and silk ascot. They’d politely urge you to take your business to Macy’s or Cousin Bubba’s Bait Shack and Watch Emporium.
  6. Brush your teeth. And for God’s sake floss. You don’t want your grin to reveal that you had a spinach salad or poppy seed bagel for lunch.
  7. Shave. As we all know, a little stubble is fashionable, but you’ve really really got to be able to carry it off. Don’t let a few errant whiskers come between you and an outrageous URWERK.
  8. Pronunciation. Mispronounce the name of a watch company, and you’ll wind up in deep feces. Say something like Breeget or Blankpain, and you’ll have all the surveillance cameras trained on you. Even worse, you’ll be shadowed by the store’s version of Homeland Security. It’s better to just point at a watch and mumble.
  9. Wash and comb, my friends. But if it still looks like something’s living in it, wear a hat. A jaunty fedora will suffice. So will an unruffled Panama. Don’t wear a cowboy hat unless you’re at least 5’10 tall and can fake a Texas drawl. Caps are perfectly acceptable as long as they display an impressive logo. Harvard, Princeton, Goldman Sachs, and any yacht club, for example, will qualify you to fondle an MB & F Legacy Machine.
  10.  Don’t ask dumb questions. Don’t provide dumb answers. Say as little as possible about extraordinary watches until you’ve acquired a good working knowledge. Of course, if the salespeople think you’re rather well-heeled, anything you mutter will be ok. Remember, it’s all about image.

Now that you know the most important secrets to gaining the respect and trust of even the most arrogant and pretentious watch salespeople, go out and have some fun. But do check yourself prior to entering a fine store. Make sure nothing’s askew, like a chunk of dog excrement on your wingtips. I’m always fretting about that, and I’m perpetually worried that a pigeon has decorated the back of my jacket.

by John Weiss

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