The truth is I love American popular culture and all those reality television programmes from overweight people repossessing cars to bounty hunters and pawn brokers. It is thoroughly entertaining and in part I enjoy watching the degradation of society through reality television. Probably all these elements existed in society prior to reality television, my guess is we just never celebrated them in quite the same manner.
From the United States, in my experience, there is this often a barely perceptible difference between art and life that is so reflexive that if you don't stop to notice it you can sometimes be fooled into thinking you are permanently on a movie set whilst you go around the country. And indeed, in the land where most of the world's consumed media comes from, you can sometimes feel that the policeman talking to you on the street is perfecting his own persona for when the time comes for someone to document his life in film, or that the guy hustling watches on the next corner looks like he's the next big name in rap.
Which brings me, rather slowly, to my point. That reflexive nature between art and life can have a negative impact or a positive one. So when you see gangsters in a US film walking around with gold teeth and 'ice' on their wrists with chunky Rolex 'Day-Date' or 'President' watches for a moment you consider that perhaps this is just a movie character, perhaps not. Then later society begins to reverberate or spread said character into the mainstream. You find yourself in Western Sydney and a Lebanese thug gangster has a full sleeve tattoo with the same watch. Maybe he's Italian, maybe Croatian, might even be Greek.
And as the phenomenon spreads, first by a real phenomenon, then by art which documents life, then life which emulates art and art that goes on to further document and re-create life, you find yourself wondering what was the original thing.
In the case below I am referring to the Rolex Day-Date President - a watch which was synonymous with business and political leaders starting with Ike in the 50's who wore a datejust with one of the first ever made President bracelets and continuing on with Kennedy (who got one as a gift from Marilyn so the story goes), Johnson, Nixon, Carter and then all the smaller dictators and presidents who followed suit. We wrote about it here.
Recently I found it extremely charming that Warren Buffet sported the same watch for decades in his recent HBO documentary, though they didn't discuss the watch. His was, again, like the presidents that served before him, a 36mm version of the watch with the gold president bracelet and a pearl face. Buffet is said to be a big fan of Rolex and at one point has wanted to buy the company (which wasn't for sale).
However, around 10 years ago now the watch was made into a 41mm version and the Day-Date II (I think that's what they call it) has become a symbol of the newly rich and gangsters and with that the product, which was once the pinnacle of power and prestige, has suddenly become a symbol of status in society that is slightly altered, slightly cliche.
In Sydney, in certain circles, the watch is actually more often seen on the women who do not work particularly hard during the week - their husbands often choosing a smaller less showy watch to wear to work in order to not give off the wrong impression to clients. Whilst the watch itself still radiates a wonderful glow and is immediately recognisable, the 41mm tends to look extraordinarily large on the wrist of said women.
By contrast, and possibly more in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, the 41mm is worn by men who work out a lot, often having colourful sleeve tattoos and tight t-shirts. The watch on these men actually looks to be the correct size owing to the size of their arms, but the cultural impact of this sort of look is that it is not for the gentleman, but for the man who lives on the edge - chasing money, notoriety, cars and women before other aspects of life. To these men it is a symbol of prestige and the arrival of fast money in their life and carries with it a certain reality television tonality.
Both instances I have just described are in part owing to American popular culture that feeds through Australia and both and then creates it's own sub-culture. And whilst all things must adapt and evolve or else cease to exist, it is perhaps somewhat sad and disheartening to see a watch with such a rich history of some of the 20th centuries most distinguished men and women somewhat blighted by recent cultural phenomenons.
It reminded me of when Oppenheimer once explained to me the faux pas I had in 2001 by wearing Burberry rain hat. He said to me "don't know know it was overtaken by the CHAV's (CHAV is an acronym for Council Housing And Violent) and the whole thing is dead? " . I had missed the memo it seems.
But more importantly, it took a long time for Burberry to win back it's customer base by doing everything it could to stop the brand being owned by sub-cultures.
I am not inclined to judge either sub-culture I have witnessed with my own eyes referring to the Rolex Day-Date - because in both instances I have found the watch to look aesthetically pleasing - on gangsters and on ladies who lunch - but I am concerned about how a brand protects the cultural progression of a product. As for me, and as I have often written on this blog in the past - a watch head over 36mm in the age of keyboards and daily typing is both cumbersome and superfluous. I am inclined to believe that the Day-Date 36mm was the watch of choice for those in the know for much of the latter part of the 20th century and I am glad it was Warren Buffet's choice too - a man who loves good products but not over-consumption and eschews status symbols.
|When does a product go CHAV?|
|Warren Buffet has been wearing a gold day-date 36mm for many years.|
|A 36mm day date with president bracelet tried on at The Hour Glass in Sydney Thank you Joan Fan for looking after me. This was the classic most revered shape and size in the history of the watch.|
|An example of a blue faced Rolex Day Date at LG Humphries in Sydney's CBD|
|Even the Rolex Cellini - which is more of a dumbed down formal dress watch - is now in a much larger casing which feels too big for my wrist considering it is supposed to be sleek evening dress watch.|