The lonely life of the watch widow

What is it with wealthy men’s strange obsession with haute timepieces?

The lonely life of the watch widow

Clive Brunskill/ Getty Images

Hockey widows now have company. Make room for the watch widow. On Oct. 28 at a luxury car dealership in Toronto, noted watch dealer Louis Kostopoulos, president of Louis Black, is hosting a very exclusive event for serious watch enthusiasts in honour of one of the world’s top haute horologists, François-Paul Journe. Kostopoulos describes the night as “an orgasmic event for the true watch lover.” Sixty men (and it’s only men) will sit down at an invite-only, security-guard-accompanied dinner with Journe to look at and talk about F.P. Journe watches, leaving a lot of wives at home shaking their heads.

Like most high-end watch enthusiasts and collectors, these men value their privacy. It makes sense. F.P. Journe’s watches sell for a minimum of $30,000, up to more than $650,000, and fewer than 900 are produced a year. It is the only company in the world to craft all their calibres (movements) in solid 18k gold.

“I’m definitely a watch widow,” moans one wealthy woman, who doesn’t want her name used. “My husband owns numerous watches and I just don’t get it. I used to talk about buying watches with him, but it just got completely out of hand. He would talk more about watches than anything else, including his job and our children. I was so painfully bored. So now I just leave it to him. Last week he came home with another watch and I pretended I didn’t even see it.”

François-Paul Journe gets it. “I cannot speak for all watch purchases,” he said last week. “But a man who buys my watches takes his time. A man buys one of my watches for himself after a long process of learning and researching. A woman may buy a watch for her husband as a gift. But it is because the man has been speaking endlessly about it.”

Endlessly is the right word. This writer  recently spent five hours, at eight different stores, looking at the same watch with a man. The man in question has been looking for the “right watch” for five years. “Before I make a commitment to a watch, which can be very expensive, I need to know how it feels and looks. It’s not a money issue for me. But it is an investment,” my friend says. He admits that expensive watches reflect status. (Journe, however, argues that a man does not buy a brand for status, because “they already have it.”)
What watch widows find difficult to understand is that often their husbands don’t even end up wearing the watches they’ve spent months or years talking about. “They are collectors who purchase our pieces out of desire and cultural thirst, and not to go with their wardrobe. If anything, they might change their wardrobe to match their new acquisition,” says Journe.

One interior designer and watch widow doesn’t mind that her husband collects watches. (He owns more than five dozen.) Only because, “for every five watches he buys for himself, he buys me one.” Her husband, a high-powered lawyer, was one of the lucky men invited to the private function. “I am still contemplating buying a watch that I fell in love with over 15 years ago,” he says. Speaking with him, one understands why so many women lose quality time, pun intended, with their husbands as a result of their watch obsession. “There are two kind of collectors emerging today,” says the lawyer. “The first is principally attracted to the status element, and that it is acceptable jewellery for men that has some element of function and is easy to enjoy, since it is hard to slide a Ferrari under your sleeve and take into your office, club, restaurant or wherever you go. The second kind of collector tends to spend hours researching watches and be more enamoured by the history, beauty, engineering, exclusivity and elegance of timepieces and certain manufacturers. The thrill of the hunt comes into play and then it is game over.”

A watch widow married to an investment banker says her husband spends “hours” looking at what she calls “watch porn” online. “I’ve also heard other friends say their husbands show signs of crazy addicts when it comes to watches, [obsessed] about the engraving of a serial number on the inside back case. My friend calls her husband a ‘WIS,’ as in Watch Idiot Savant. That’s kind of like my husband,” she sighs.

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