September 18, 2018
by Zen Love
My guess is that many watch lovers out there are intrigued by the watches American fashion label Ralph Lauren is offering but have mixed emotions about the name on the dial. Hardcore horology fans and collectors are often skeptical of brands coming from the fashion industry without an established history of watchmaking, but this is one such brand that regularly releases surprisingly impressive watches that challenge those (not unfounded) perceptions. At least, fashion brands like Ralph Lauren often have an interesting take on watch design. The new Ralph Lauren American Western collection of three wristwatches and two pocket watches, all with extensive hand-engraving and quite respectable horological specs, will once again raise these uncomfortable questions. One thing should be uncontroversial: the Ralph Lauren American Western watches are at least worthy of discussion and closer examination.
First, let’s look at the collection because there are multiple models here. Two of the Ralph Lauren American Western wristwatches have solid, hand-printed off-white dials, one with a round case and one with a cushion-shaped case. The third wristwatch model shares the same round case, but its dial and movement are skeletonized. Then, there are two pocket watch models that are similar to one another, but one has a closing hunter-style case. The company’s release materials seem to indicate that Ralph Lauren, the man himself, is responsible for the watches’ design, and the collection’s overarching theme, we are told, is the style of the American old West and specifically “vintage rodeo and Concho belts” that Mr. Lauren likes to wear. This concept is expressed through the vintage style of case shapes, dials, leather straps, and engraving, but of course also the presence of pocket watches.
As noted above, Ralph Lauren is relatively young as a watch brand, so their relevant expertise is in fashion design and marketing but also in curating a range of suppliers, all while working with Swiss partners. The case and buckles of each model are hand-engraved and “aged” in New York City in a style reminiscent of, for example, the Rolex watches that L.A.-based MadeWorn had customized by traditional gun engravers. The brand uses the word “antiqued” for the aged look applied to the cases, which I wasn’t familiar with as a verb, but one gets the idea. The leather straps (brown and black) are hand-tooled in Texas and then burnished in Italy. Many brands source components and skills from around the world for a quite international final product, but some choose to emphasize it more than others.
As is also often the case, however, we find ourselves back in Switzerland again. The Polo Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Company was created in 2007 as a 50/50 joint venture between the Ralph Lauren Corporation and the Richemont Group – who, as you know, is one of the major players in the luxury watch industry, owning numerous prominent and prestigious luxury watch brands. Both wristwatches in the Ralph Lauren American Western collection with solid dials use the RL514 automatic movement which is made by Piaget, a Richemont company, for Ralph Lauren. It operates at 3Hz with a power reserve of 40 hours and is decorated with the standard Geneva stripes and perlage – unfortunately, the brand has not included caseback images for any of the watches.
A different movement is used for the pocket watches and the skeletonized “RL Western Round Skeleton” model. In the pocket watches, it is called the RL98295, and the same movement in its skeletonized form is called the RL1967. These are the same movements we saw in the Ralph Lauren RL Automotive Skeleton & Non-Skeleton watches (hands-on here), produced for Ralph Lauren by IWC (also Richemont, of course). We know that the skeletonization is provided by the Richemont-owned movement maker ValFleurier, but no word on the movements’ engraving and other finishing, as this probably isn’t done by the same people working on the cases. These movements are relatively simple, manually wound, and operate at 2.5Hz, which could lead one to view the movements themselves “vintage-style,” in keeping, perhaps, with the collection’s theme. For the movement’s low operating frequency and relative size (about 37mm wide) that could theoretically incorporate a larger barrel, I would have hoped for a bit longer power reserve than its approximate 45 hours.
Ralph Lauren only specifies that the cases are engraved in New York, but we will assume they and other components are otherwise produced by Richemont’s extensive resources and facilities. Not that we need to know the origin of every part of a watch, but it is actually cool and interesting to the extent that we can, and perhaps also more germane to those who view watches from fashion brands like Ralph Lauren with extra scrutiny. Each wristwatch model is available in silver or 18k rose gold, while the open pocket watch is in rose gold and the hunter-style case is silver. All have the antiqued finish, I believe.
Both pocket watches measure 50mm wide and the hunter case version is naturally thicker at 14mm than the open dial one that is 11.4mm thick. While the skeletonized Ralph Lauren RL Western Round Skeleton wristwatch uses the basic same movement as the pocket watches, it shares the same case as the non-skeletonized wristwatch that is a substantial 45.8mm wide and 11.24mm thick – to match the large Texan belt buckles, perhaps? The cushion-shaped Ralph Lauren American Western watch is 42mm by 10.6mm. This case shape might tend to wear slightly larger in general, but I am guessing that might be offset by the smaller dial and that this model might be the most wearable of the bunch.
If there wasn’t enough potential controversy associated with the Ralph Lauren American Western watches, I can imagine that the mixture of Roman and Arabic numerals will be yet another point of contention for some. The Ralph Lauren 35mm 867 (hands-on here) is another example of mixed Roman and Arabic numerals. This is a design signature for the brand, we are told, and I personally think it looks unique without being too in-your-face or clashing – it doesn’t bother me. These dials, the Breguet-style hands, and sapphire crystals are shared across the collection, except the skeletonized one, of course, which has virtually no dial and appears significantly less legible.
You don’t have to be attracted to the cowboy style of something like the Ralph Lauren American Western watches or their prices, but Ralph Lauren deserves credit as one fashion brand that has put the extra effort into making watches with a lot of qualities watch lovers can appreciate. With all the expertise the Richemont Group’s resources can offer, the only questions remaining should be those of aesthetics and value. Personally, I try to carefully observe and limit how brand names affect my perceptions, but I would happily wear a Ralph Lauren watch that matched my taste and budget — they do tend to price themselves among stiff competition. What often intrigues me about fashion brands is that they at least bring an outsider’s fresh perspective to watch design, and Ralph Lauren definitely does that.
The open pocket watch in red gold (reference RLR0911100) will have a price of $44,400, and the hunter case pocket watch in silver (RLR0919902) will be $44,000. The skeletonized wristwatch will be $48,000 in silver (RLR0919702) and $58,000 in gold (RLR0911702). In silver, both non-skeletonized wristwatches in the round 46mm case (RLR0919701) or the cushion-shaped 42mm case (RLR0919700) are $24,000. In 18k rose gold, the round Ralph Lauren RL American Western wristwatch (RLR0911701) is $42,000, and the cushion-shaped model (RLR0911700) is $39,000. ralphlauren.com