As watch lovers know all too well, watches don’t just tell the time – they tell a story. Some timepieces also tend to draw attention to themselves, making them great conversation starters. In this article, our authors Jorg Weppelink and Tom Mulraney each share a special piece from their collections and the effect it has on other people.
Jorg Weppelink: Omega Constellation Manhattan
One watch that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of attention at first but tends to eventually elicit strong opinions is my Omega Constellation Manhattan. I bought this 1984 stainless steel Constellation Manhattan almost three years ago. It is powered by the caliber 1422 and has a champagne dial. Its most remarkable features are its design and size. At just under 33 mm, it would be considered a women’s watch today – and a rather small one at that. In fact, a lot of people think I’m wearing a women’s watch!
What we often forget is that, up until the 1990s, watches were a lot smaller than they are today. At 33 mm, this watch was never big, but it wasn’t necessarily tiny, either. Take the regular Rolex Datejust from the 1980s, for example; it measures 36 mm, which isn’t a whole lot bigger than the Constellation Manhattan. We’ve simply gotten used to seeing oversized watches that measure anywhere from 43 to 48 mm. I never get comments on the size of my 45-mm Seiko Sumo, and let me tell you, that’s a big watch that wears like a big watch.
That is where the magic of the Constellation Manhattan lies. Thanks to Carol Didisheim’s fantastic design, it never feels like I’m wearing a small watch. While people do tend to think it’s small, it certainly doesn’t wear like a 33-mm watch. The combination of a barrel-shaped case and the incredibly comfortable integrated bracelet makes this timepiece feel at least a couple of millimeters larger than it is. When I wear this watch, it never feels too small.
Do I mind that people think it’s a women’s watch? Not at all. First of all, I wear watches because I like them. I don’t base my tastes and preferences on what other people think of a watch. Plus, a watch like this elicits strong opinions, making it a great conversation starter. People usually feel differently once they hear the story behind it. As is so often the case, it’s great to share the story behind a watch and see if it changes their opinions.
All the credit goes to Carol Didisheim and Omega for creating a watch that is not only unique in its looks and technically innovative but also very comfortable to wear. Combine that with an incredible ad campaign featuring one of the 1980’s kings of cool, Robert Wagner, and you can probably understand why I think the Omega Constellation Manhattan is the watch of the 80s. That said, I understand why a lot of people are not as into the watch as I am. I’m the first to acknowledge its unusual looks and size, but for me, that’s no reason to hate it.
Tom Mulraney: IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound
Like many watch collectors, my story is about a watch I regret letting go from my collection. The watch in question was an IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound ref. IW545404. It’s not a particularly rare model or even that expensive, relatively speaking, but it was one of my first nice dress watches, and my first IWC – and I really loved that watch.
On paper, the ref. IW5454-04 doesn’t really make sense. It’s styled like a contemporary dress watch – elegant dial, central time display, contrasting subdial at 6 o’clock for the running seconds – but it’s 44 mm in diameter (not including the crown). That is positively huge by dress watch standards, which tend to top out around 40 mm (maybe 42 mm at a stretch). But that is one of the things I love about it. You can’t miss it on the wrist, and despite being a relatively understated design, it still draws a lot of attention and comments. Best of all, thanks to its hand-wound movement, the steel case is thin (around 10 mm including the nicely domed sapphire crystal). Add to this gorgeous curved lugs and you have a big watch that still slides away comfortably under the cuff like any good dress watch should.
Of course, this design is not unprecedented for IWC. In fact, the ref. 5454-04 is arguably one of the truest recreations of the original Portugieser introduced in 1939. To understand why that is, it’s important to know that the original model combined the precision of a pocket watch movement with the practical functionality of a wristwatch. To make that possible, the case needed to be big – almost 40 mm big. That doesn’t seem unusual at all by today’s standards, but back then, the standard diameter for a dress watch was closer to 31 mm.
In terms of design and readability, the Portugieser is, in my opinion, one of the best-looking smart-casual/dress watches on the market. I could literally stare at that dial for hours. Sometimes the light would catch the polished hour numerals and markers just right and make the dial appear a rich midnight blue instead of black. In fact, I had countless debates with people throughout my time owning this timepiece as to what the actual color of the dial was. Many were convinced it was blue, and I even found myself questioning the color at times, but the reality is IWC never made this particular reference with a blue dial. Eventually, I just decided to accept that I had the best of both worlds: a good-looking watch with a black dial that sometimes looked blue in the right light.
The other cool feature about the ref. 5454-04 is its sapphire crystal case back that shows off the manual movement. The layout is very similar to that of the original pocket watch movement it descended from, and it oscillates at a slow and steady 18,000 A/h. It also has a Jones-style index (named after F.A. Jones – the American founder of IWC), which lets you know if the movement is running slow or fast. It’s not a super-complicated movement, but it is beautifully executed and nicely decorated. The IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound ref. IW545404 is a great starter watch and one that I regret letting go of. In any case, it’s definitely worth a closer look if you haven’t come across one before.