Full disclosure: I’m not a watch wearer nor do I write about watches. My tenuous connection to watches begins and ends with my dad, a self-proclaimed watch buff who sees timepieces as “engineering marvels”. So when I tried on three luxury tickers from a Swiss watchmaker and two luxury French Maisons, I saw them as a gateway to a world and parlance I know nothing about.
You see, most writing on the subject is incredibly technical – and rightly specialist. It’s a far cry from the fashion lexicon I’m accustomed to where handbags are “iconic”, outfits aren’t clothes, they’re “ensembles”, and everything is “undeniably effortless”. (See Repeller’s (RIP) fashion review mad-libs; Luke Leitch’s op-ed on fashion’s “linguistic pomposity” for The Economist; and Charlie Porter’s piece on the chasm between everyday clothing and runway vocabulary if you’re piqued.)
My brief introduction to the world of horology has taught me a few fundamental terms. I’m now vaguely familiar with what lugs are – they’re the parts of a watch that connect to the straps. I now know what the little knob used to wind time is called – it’s known as the crown.
The Aquaracer Professional 200 Date by Tag Heuer makes a case for dainty-meets-utilitarian timepieces.
I also understand the difference between a quartz watch and an automatic watch – the former is powered by a battery, and the latter is powered by the energy from the movement of a wearer’s wrist, with no need for a battery. This makes automatic watches astronomically more expensive, because of the sheer time-intensity it takes to craft and assemble its hundreds of tiny parts.
Disclaimer: just because a watch is deemed “automatic”, you’d still need to wind it manually once the mainspring – the coiled metal bit in your timepiece that releases energy for it to run – has become fully unwound. In watch speak, the watch’s power reserve (see, another new term) has gone nada.
I also discovered that the best way to not be intimidated by this luxury world is to simply think of them as artisanal accessories that can be appreciated for their beauty, aesthetic and styling possibilities. Of course, the fact that they often come with interesting backstories is an added bonus.
The first watch I tried on was the ladies’ Tag Heuer’s Aquaracer Professional 200 Date, the latest iteration of the 162-year-old brand’s iconic diving model that doubles as a hyper-utilitarian accessory. I don’t typically gravitate towards metallic watches – or dive for that matter – but I enjoyed how masculine and unassuming this ticker was.
The writer gave her Aquaracer Professional 200 Date a witty marine touch – by pairing it with a Marine Serre top.
Unlike its predecessors, the watery depths in which this new-gen Aquaracer can reach have been reduced to just 200m – but that update meant that I got to wear a smaller and less hefty timepiece on my wrist. Yours truly ain’t complaining.
I’ve always appreciated menswear in renewed contexts, but masculine (or mannish) timepieces haven’t been on my radar the same way trends like normcore or dadcore have. So I decided to wear this 30mm-wide Aquaracer Professional 200 Date with a Marine Serre top, my favourite carpenter jeans, and the ultimate normcore staple, my 10-year-old New Balances. The diamond-specked hour markers on the smoky dial and steel bracelet make the piece quietly glamorous, but still outdoorsy without veering into gorpcore.
“I’ve always appreciated menswear in renewed contexts, but masculine (or mannish) timepieces haven’t been on my radar the same way trends like normcore or dadcore have.”Weiqi Yap
Next came the Chanel J12, a white ceramic and steel watch that was instantly cool to the touch and weighted on the wrist. This was slightly more familiar territory – Chanel is a name instantly associated with fashion, but in the past few years have become a major player in luxury watchmaking.
Fun fact: the house of double Cs has snagged a total of seven wins in the past decade at the Le Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (a.k.a. the Oscars of the watch world which started in 2001). Its daring move into horology wasn’t immediately welcomed by the old guard, but 22 years since its launch, the J12 has firmly found its footing amongst the fashion set.
Chanel J12: for days you want “an unexpected sportiness” to your outfit.
In an attempt to emulate girls with bullet journal spreads and fully-realised morning routines, I paired this with one of my go-to outfits for when I need to feel put together: a pleated maxi dress and vintage pleated lilac shirt, which I usually wear with heavy oxfords. The stark white added an unexpected sportiness to my outfit, which I tried to complement with steel earrings from Closet Children, and a jade ring from Chinatown.
The last watch I tried on was Cartier’s Tank Must. Trying on this steel timepiece which first debuted in 1977 and was reintroduced last year was my first-time experience with the house of Cartier. The black leather straps were an instant draw for me. I have a soft spot for anything that looks like it was passed down through generations. And it has!
The Tank Must was first introduced by Cartier in 1977.
The Tank family of watches itself has been around for over a century, with its rectangular visage remaining as irreverent as it was 105 years ago when Louis Cartier designed it amid a sea of round-faced watches. Telling time is but one of many reasons why horologists are enamoured with the art of watches. Andy Warhol famously never even wound Cartier’s Tank watch despite wearing it religiously – he wore it because he effusively called it “the watch to wear!”
I chose to wear the quartz-powered Tank Must with my ’80s chef’s dress, a double-breasted number I picked up from a vintage reseller on Broadway Market. While wearing it, I’d glance down at its Roman numerals to check the time (I’m not quite Warholian enough to wear a Cartier Tank purely for style’s sake), and its blue cabochon (a fancy term for shaped and polished gemstones – also a new word in my vocabulary) crown, and feel distinctly classier.
It’s official: Cartier’s Tank Must will make any outfit classier.
Wearing these watches, checking the time felt less like a race against my schedule, and more like an analogue act of mindful time-keeping. Ever since I got an iPhone, it’s become the site of everything I need to move through my day. This digital phantom arm quickly became (and still is) my alarm clock, my watch, my camera, my journal, my calendar, my schedule, my email inbox – all this isn’t unfamiliar to anyone on the grid. Time flies when you’re having fun, sure – but time also flies when you’re procrastinating through scrolling.
“While wearing [the Tank Must], I’d glance down at its Roman numerals to check the time (I’m not quite Warholian enough to wear a Cartier Tank purely for style’s sake), and its blue cabochon (a fancy term for shaped and polished gemstones – also a new word in my vocabulary) crown, and feel distinctly classier.”Weiqi Yap
Am I suggesting that watches are antidotes to digital fatigue and procrastination? Of course not. That would be a reach, and definitely a romanticisation of an accessory that most people already wear, but are still knee-deep in digital lethargy. But as a non-watch wearer who has been dipped back into watch-wearing, the shift in the way I take note of time passing has been palpable just by going back to basics.
For now, as my fledgling vocabulary in watch-speak grows, so might my appreciation for timepieces – who knows?