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When it comes to wristwatches, gold gets a bad rap. Rather unfairly, I feel. There’s a good reason for why it is so. Our spending choices, especially on lifestyle items, is often coloured by pop culture. And there, gold watches are always the accessory of choice of the morally crooked and the ethically compromised.
Take the gorgeous gold Rolex Day-Date, for example. It is an extremely important watch in the manufacturer’s catalogue. US Presidents have worn it, so have famous golfers. Even the Dalai Lama has worn it. But in pop culture, the watch is most associated with James Gandolfini’s mob boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, Christian Bale’s Wall Street serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, or Alec Baldwin’s crude real estate salesman Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Such associations stick, much to the detriment of not just Rolex, but gold watches in general. Yet, they remain cool statement watches. And of late, gold watches have been on my mind. I’m in the market for a flashy, blingy timepiece, and to my mind, nothing does it better than gold (both the colour and the metal). But before we go into some of the best gold watches out there, let’s quickly get some misconceptions out of the way.
First of all, the watch industry uses gold in all kinds of configurations, depending on the price category.
You could get a watch that’s coloured gold, where the actual material underneath is resin or stainless steel. You could get a watch that’s gold-ion plated, or you could get a watch that is gold-toned or one that is gold-filled. At the top of the price category are the solid gold watches, made of 18k gold. These watches are typically made of an alloy with at least 75% pure gold. With the wide diversity on offer, you get your gold fix for anywhere between ₹4,000 to ₹40 lakh.
2022 has been proof of that. This year saw the release of two excellent watches at either end of the price spectrum. At the watch trade fair Watches & Wonders in Geneva in April, the watch that completely owned the buzz was Vacheron Constantin’s 18k yellow gold Les Historiques 222 Ref. 4200H/222J-B935. The 222 is Vacheron’s own iteration of the 1970s integrated-bracelet-luxury-sportswatch design. Originally released in 1977 as Vacheron’s answer to the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Overseas (as the 222 was originally called) had been a huge hit for the manufacture. The Overseas has remained in Vacheron’s core collection in one form or another.
As this column had speculated at the beginning of the year, the chances of a special version of the 222 in 2022 was high. It was, after all, the 45th anniversary of the original release. And right on cue, Vacheron produced a re-issue of the original. The original layout of the watch, from the famous watch designer Jörg Hysek, was a forward-looking winner to begin with. With the update, Vacheron hasn’t tinkered too much. It’s a classic design, right down to its 37mm diameter, with the aesthetics to match. The gold-tone dial is perfectly complimented by a fluted bezel, and the integrated bracelet is neat too, with hexagonal centre-links and a nice taper. The movement is the in-house automatic calibre 2455/2, with a 40 hour power reserve.
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At a hefty $62,000, the 222 will grace the wrists of very few, but what the watch does is cement the continuing popularity of the 70s designs. But if you don’t have the cash for it, don’t fret, because you can get the same handsome bling for a much more sensible price.
And that is because of the Tissot PRX. Ever since its launch in 2021, the PRX line has become an undisputed hit among watch enthusiasts, and for good reason. Tissot knocked it out of the park by reinventing their very own 70s sports stainless steel watch with an integrated bracelet, the Seastar. Last year’s models came in both quartz and automatic versions, but were a tad too large for most wrists at a hefty 40mm. While for normal sports watches, that might be a size that works for most wrists, it tends to make watches with integrated bracelets look much larger. When Tissot launched a 35mm version this year, it was the perfect marriage of form and function. While there are quite a few dial colourways to choose from, nothing screams 70s hedonism like the yellow gold PVD-coated version. The gold on gold tones of the matching dial and bracelet work like a dream, while the quartz calibre ticking along inside keeps the cost low.
For about ₹37,000, this could well be your ticket to partying like it’s 1979.
If even that is too expensive (and it is), fret not, because there is Casio.
A horological giant in its own right, no watch collection is complete without one of the classic 80s-inspired digital pieces. And the best of them, in my view is the A168. If you want gold bling for just over ₹4,000, look no further than the A168 in yellow gold PVD. It’s svelte enough be elegant, and bright enough to make a statement, and cheap enough for you to not worry.
So there you go, a gold watch for pretty much every price category there is. The bottom line is: maybe you should get one.
Handwound is a column on watches and watchmaking.