Watch Words


Forced by presidential and public ridicule to take fewer trips on chartered jets, what are the ultra rich doing with their extra cash these days? Based on inspection of two lavish newspaper supplements, it appears they're buying watches.

"WSJ," published as part of The Wall Street Journal, and "T," The New York Times style magazine, each showed up alongside the regular newsprint sections this month. They are glossy and over-sized in every way - from the physical dimensions of their pages to the magnitude of egos required to take their content seriously during such dire economic times.

In a full-page ode to Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin, WSJ raves about the firm's latest timepiece that was "five years in the making." Praising the wristwatch, writer Liz McDaniel notes, "The curiously angled dial is ideal for inconspicuous time checks during interminable meetings." One assumes she is not talking about meetings at the unemployment office, because the watch costs $24,900.

By comparison, the Bell & Ross watches - "time instruments," as the manufacturer prefers they be known - advertised in full-page ads in both WSJ and T, are positively steals at $8,000.

T, whose spartan interests seem strictly limited to selecting the number of letters in its name, has three separate editorial features on watches. One pictures a nifty Glashutte original Panomaticreserve XL with a trieste strap that goes for $23,000. Also shown is a Ferrari pink gold Chronograph that must require major bailout money to afford, since it's price is only available "on request."

Elsewhere on the pages of T is a Georg Jensen 18-karat gold wristwatch priced at just $6,500, about which The Times writes: "In uncertain times, the classics can be comforting." Now there's a turn of phrase that only a watchmaker and his banker can truly appreciate.

T is loaded with full-page watch ads from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Piaget, and Ball USA. You would think that this issue was some kind of tribute to how Wall Street denizens celebrate the switch to Daylight Saving Time.

It would be unreasonable for struggling Americans to begrudge those with good jobs and high incomes their overpriced baubles - even those who are unruffled by the nation's economic collapse and choose to continue highly conspicuous consumption. After all, when President Obama warned Congress to be suspicious of the "fancy drapes" and private jets purchased by the barons of Wall Street, he never said anything about the Tag Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre 17 RS 2 Chronograph shown on page 54 of T magazine, priced at $6,900.

Yet, there is something profoundly unsettling about the Editor's Letter in WSJ from Tina Gaudoin. She writes: "People dress to express themselves, to signal who they are, where they are going and what they are looking for. Economic crisis or no economic crisis, we still need to get dressed."

That undoubtedly explains why the well-dressed woman on page 73 of WSJ is wearing a $6,050 Rolex, and why on the following page she's matched her outfit by switching to a $17,925 watch from Cartier.

If people do, indeed, dress to signal where they are going and what they are looking for, is it too much to ask that, for now at least, those in positions of wealth and influence choose to send better signals?

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.

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