I must say, seeing the lavishly factory-set, full pave dial-equipped Rolex GMT-Master II 116759SARU hands-on was much like a soul-searching experience. I had this dream once, where I met the high priest of some long-abolished civilization. Sitting on the ground, sipping on his weird pipe, with his eyes closed, he told me: “Go, son, find something preposterously expensive and look at it. Look at it as long as you want, look it in the eye! And somewhere in there, between the sparkle of two brilliant-cut diamonds, you’ll see your true self.” Well, here I am.
The soul searching, for me, really boiled down to one question: “Would I wear this? Seriously, would I wear this a lot? Out there? In the real world?” Either my brain is very smart in answering big life questions, which in hindsight seems like a stretch of a statement to make, or it just had a fart of a brainwave… but, somehow, the answer crystallized just like the old priest said it would and I said to myself: “I’d wear the sh*t out of this watch.”
It is only now, writing this memoir of seeing the 116759SARU that I realize, I had not answered the question. The question is not whether I would wear this watch, but rather what doing so would make me. In all seriousness, such a watch is a window – though a decidedly difficult to see out of window – on our society, on our constraints and our values, on what we think and what we think others think to be appropriate or inappropriate. So, the question still stands: what would wearing this watch make me – or make you, or make a random guy you see boarding first class as you make your way to the barbed wired section of the plane?
How much, do you think, this watch retails for? I’ll help you out by saying, this is an all-gold Rolex GMT-Master II on the full white gold bracelet, with a factory-set pave dial and a bezel with high quality and painstakingly color-matched stones and massive baguette diamonds. I’ll also say that a similar Day-Date 40 with green stuff on it, albeit in platinum, costs $412,000 (hands-on here). Okay, here we go: this one costs $112,000 – both prices are before the insanity-inducing 27% VAT of Hungary, where I saw these pieces (but you of course don’t have to pay that if you, like most six-figure priced watch buyers, have a foreign passport).
So, “a bit over a hundred kay” it is. However, looking at it, irrespective of whether you are doing that with a watch lover’s eye or that of a civilian, you are likely to get the idea that this watch stands above a number on a price tag, for two big reasons.
First, there is the barrier of entry not in terms of shelling out this much money for a watch, but in terms of making the call and saying, yep, this is the watch I’m gonna wear. The moment you put this on and walk out of the store, the price tag is removed and though yes, it objectively looks stupendously expensive, I’d expect every onlooker to subconsciously think not of a price, but rather what it takes to wear something like this – and I’ll get back to that question in a moment.
Second, Rolex makes these rather difficult to get. They, at least in parts of the world that I frequent, never put this sort of watch out into the shop windows – it’s presented to you if they deem you worthy. It’s a win-win in the sense that it helps improve the idea of exclusivity, and it also is not driving away Regular Joe (i.e. you or I), who just wants “an Explorer I with the properly sized hands.” I am absolutely sure that placing a watch like this out in the windows would result in a noticeable drop in sales to ordinary people, at least in most parts of Europe for sure.
This neatly leads us back to the question of why that is. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here. Do we turn our heads in a disapproving manner every time we see a needlessly expensive car? Do you know how long it takes to assemble a $400,000 Lamborghini Aventador? The car has different bits and pieces fitted to it at 12 different workstations, and it spends 90 minutes at each, that’s 18 hours of work, to go from a bare chassis to a complete car. Add chassis and engine assembly time and it’s still just a few days of work, unlike the exterior of this watch that can take over a week to do. Or do we give unfriendly looks when we see people board a plane with an $8,000 ticket, just to sit a bit further in the front, in what is essentially a very noisy and cramped version of a hotel room?
So yeah, in a way, this watch actually is good value, when you consider the amount of work and the value of the components that went into it, compared to a car made from reinforced plastic or a flight that’s over in 8-12 hours where all you have after it is a memory of getting mildly drunk in a plane and once owning $8,000… And yet, you just know, wearing this merely 40mm-wide watch is asking for trouble.
So, with all this in mind, perhaps we are getting closer to answering the question, “what does wearing this watch make me?” I am dead serious when I say I’d wear this watch. At this point I’d go so far as to say if I had to make a deal of having to wear this watch and no other for the rest of my life, I think I’d still go for it. Weirdly, though, this motive is not fueled by a lust for perceived social status, but rather by my thinking that this watch stands above the rest in a weird way, as though the general rules of watches did not apply to it.