Ralph Lauren has a special knack for making objects from the past desirable, be it leather elbow patches, tweed, old jeeps, canvas or riding jackets. And when it comes to watches, Ralph Lauren's design talent really sings out. This year at Ralph Lauren we see an enticing array of timepieces, all infused with the glamour and desirability that make up the wonderful world of Ralph Lauren.
There is good news for ladies at Ralph Lauren this year: the man himself has decided that it is time to pay more attention to women. And it makes sense. In other fields, Ralph Lauren has done an awful lot for women. It is thanks to him that unmistakably elegant belle-of-the-ball gowns are once again in vogue and that we long for safari chic, softly draped linen and stylishly faded denim.
"A watch for a woman is a piece of jewellery; it's an heirloom," says Ralph Lauren of his approach to designing women's watches. Faithful to this mantra, his watches are made in Switzerland using high-quality movements and employing the best craftsmen.
This year, which is incidentally only the sixth year that Ralph Lauren has been making watches, the Stirrup is dominating the scene. Fast becoming an icon - and I don't use the word lightly - this equestrian-inspired timepiece is instantly recognisable and evolving very nicely.
With a chunky, tactile appeal, the Stirrup is as much an outfit-enhancing bracelet as a watch. Now available in a smaller 'petite' version in stainless steel or rose gold, with mother of pearl and lacquer dials and different diamond-setting options, the Stirrup is here to stay. From everyday to extra special, the Stirrup works in simple stainless steel or entirely covered in diamonds, each link shimmering as if dipped in sugar. Seen against a new-season ivory silk gown, the entire vision of the Ralph Lauren woman is evident.
The Slim Classique was first presented as a men's watch with its sophisticated, ultra-slim mechanical movement. This year we see smaller versions for women that have a handsome, classical air about them. The elaborate guilloché dial, the Breguet style hands and the solid glossy Roman numerals, all in a slender gold case set with a judicious amount of diamonds, whisper 'old money', wafting us back to the days of oak-panelled dining rooms and sunsets on the private jetty, the sails of a yacht snapping gently in thåe breeze.
For me, the star of the show is the 867 Diamond watch with its lavishly sparkling strap, inspired by Art Deco designs. This sumptuous interpretation of a jewellery watch from the past is named in honour of the firm's flagship store at 867 Madison Avenue. Set with more than 400 diamonds and 20 baguette diamonds, the openwork, arabesque-style white gold bracelet entirely encircles the wrist with precious stones.
Mixing Roman and Arabic numerals on the dial adds a twist of fun that reminds me of the heady rush of the Jazz Age and its enthusiasm for the new. Beneath the glamour of the diamonds lies the mechanical, hand-wound RL430 calibre decorated with Côtes de Genève stripes and circular graining.
Men are not forgotten, of course. How could they be when Ralph Lauren tells us: "Watches are part of my expression; they are part of a man's expression. They are romantic because time is romantic." Touching on a favourite theme for Lauren, this year we see more men's watches added to the rugged Sporting collection in shades of Africa and bush safaris. Ralph Lauren explains: "Safari is a dream that I return to time after time. When you go on safari you always feel it was a special moment in your life."
The Black Safari Tourbillon combines the technical mastery of a tourbillon with a sporty look, a pairing that evokes the ultimate luxury safari, cooled champagne in hand beneath a spreading jacaranda tree. The Sporting Classic Chronometer in stainless steel, with a matte black dial, has a COSC-certified, highly reliable and precise RL366 automatic winding calibre at its heart, while the Ralph Lauren RL67 Chronometer brings to the wrist the robust beauty of blackened steel, which, like your favourite leather jacket, will age with a most pleasing patina.
Having seen all the Ralph Lauren watch collections since the day it launched, it is clear that Ralph Lauren's unique understanding of style is what sets these watches apart. The brand has created a highly desirable fusion of Ralph Lauren's design sensitivity with a traditional Swiss craft. It is hard not to look at these timepieces without being swept up into the beautiful world of Ralph Lauren, and that is no small triumph.