A monster of a surprise has struck an unsuspecting watch-buying public once again…
(when you found out the #SpeedyTuesday Speedmaster was sold out)
The event occurred Tuesday, July 10, at approximately 6 a.m. Absolutely no one (and no wallet) was declared safe. Because, on this average summer day, Omega quietly snuck a new #SpeedyTuesday Speedmaster Limited Edition 42mm “Ultraman” under the radar, capturing watch enthusiasts off-guard. Tensions were high as collectors the world over debated how to avert this intense emotional decision. To buy or not to buy? Sadly, the Monster Attack Team was unavailable to aid in this crisis. The clock was ticking. What to do?
How did we get here? Flashback to 1967, when Japanese television introduced the science-fiction program “Ultraman.” A phenomenon of epic proportion, the show went on to reach mythological status, inspiring countless sequels and spin-offs. Among them, “Return of Ultraman” from 1970, in which the black-and-orange Omega Speedmaster was featured as an essential piece of the Monster Attack Team’s kit. Fact and fiction merged, the kaiju (“giant monster”) genre flourished, and the Moonwatch became part of Japanese sci-fi history.
This new 42mm Speedmaster is a fitting tribute; sci-fi design references abound. Ultraman’s superhero mode lasted approximately three minutes, indicated by a trio of orange markers on subdial at three o’clock. The strap-changing tool, made to look like Ultraman’s Beta Capsule, also holds an ultraviolet light; when illuminated, it reveals Ultraman’s hidden image on the nine o’clock subdial. The Speedy’s familiar caseback engraving (“FLIGHT-QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNED SPACE MISSIONS * THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”) is complemented by a unique serial number and #SpeedyTuesday etching, plus a vintage Omega logo and an orange-striped NATO strap, which matches the Monster Attack Team orange uniforms.
Still debating on how to handle this unsought and unsolicited pressure? Crisis averted. As of 8:15 a.m., all 2,012 pieces of the limited-run #SpeedTuesday Ultraman collection (retail: $7,100) have already sold out.
Gomen’nasai, tokei wa kanbaidesu. So sorry, the watch is sold out.
But! Like any good reoccurring installment, you won’t have to wait long: Netflix recently announced a new animated Ultraman series, slated for 2019. Chances are #SpeedyTuesday #3 will someday be appearing on a monitor near you.
Like Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, Robert M. Lee was ahead of his time. In the mid-1960s, Lee, an outdoor enthusiast, and businessman, designed and fabricated a line of clothing and equipment explicitly created for life on the Serengeti. Working with sailmakers in Angola, he swapped out heavy canvas for a new polyurethane-coated nylon. The material, called Battue, brought lightness and waterproofing to traditional shoulder bags and duffels, with a shock-absorbing foam core and a snag-resistant jersey inner core. He returned home to New York and set up shop. Thus, Hunting World Inc. was born.
Lee’s little gear company soon offered a big selection—distinctive luggage, leather goods, apparel, sporting goods, even watches. Battue bags became an underground status symbol, especially in Japan. By the 1990s, Hunting World was running full-page ads in TheNew York Times alongside Barneys and Bergdorf. But Hunting World was relying on a reputation—clever, stylish, durable—that it could no longer live up to. Customers who encountered this generation of product in person were surprised. Many of the great designs from Hunting World’s core line had been replaced or disappeared entirely. Even the names of the styles and patterns—“metallic tweed,” “mystical shade,” “encompass jacquard”—were tacky.
I was one of those customers.
It was only after I started buying vintage catalogs on eBay, and researching the brand through Japanese sites, that I discovered Hunting World’s fabulous history and more curious product experiments.
In old press photos, Lee appears in impeccably tailored outdoor clothing, riding a camel on a conservation expedition in the Chinese Pamirs or shooting clay birds with the Duke of Valderano. The accompanying ad copy espouses his philosophy: “Mr. Lee designs for function first, believing the aesthetics will follow. He tests his gear personally and also equips others who are going into the field, asking for their feedback. After all, if a bag can withstand rugged conditions in the field, it can easily cope with the rigors of Tokyo, New York, or Paris.”
It’s easy to be distracted by the lifestyle accessories, which range from zebra-skin magazine caddies and springbok hassocks to safari-styled Danish “supercube” furniture. (Available with genuine zebra tops. Naturally.) But late 1960s era Hunting World field bags are what you really want to collect. Among them, the Versatote from the 1968 “Out of Spain” line is a standout.
Produced by a small saddlery shop in the Spanish mountains, which Bob Lee supposedly discovered on a hunting trip, these bags are hewn from a unique, regional leather. It embodies everything great about early Hunting World wares.
Despite its latter-day speed bumps, Japan’s interest in the brand never waned. Hunting World has now been revived, with a line designed by Yosuke Aizawa, showing full collections in Milan since last year and developing limited-edition pieces especially for Dover Street Market in Ginza.
Are the new bags more technically sophisticated? Sure, and you can still get a modern approximation of Bob Lee’s designs through Brady, a luggage maker in Birmingham, England, whose models retain the same names. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, grab an old catalog, hit the vintage markets, and get to hunting.
Around the turn of the last century, Ulysse Nardin began supplying deck chronometers to the U.S. Navy. This 50-piece limited edition wristwatch featuring a stars-and-stripes dial decoration in red, white, and blue pays tribute to that little-known relationship, which continued until the early 1950s. Appealing to fans of Ulysse Nardin and patriotic watch lovers alike, the skeletonized timepiece was introduced on—you guessed it—Independence Day.
The website Mr Porter is best known for its selection of fashionable menswear, supplying modern shoppers with deftly chosen clothing by a range of labels, from Acne Studios to Z Zegna. It’s built a loyal following since launching in 2011. But recently, the site has been gaining recognition for offering designer wares of a different ilk: luxury watches.
“Our view on watches is the same as it is with fashion,” says Toby Bateman, Mr Porter’s managing director. “We’re trying to create a selection of brands that represents different aesthetics and different price points so that ultimately we’ll have something for everyone.”
Log on to mrporter.com, and you’ll find pieces from Montblanc and Baume & Mercier, starting at under $1,000, running up to investment-grade Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Mirroring the clothing side, which carries discovery labels such as And Wander and Herno Laminar as well as mainstays such as Gucci and Prada, insider watch brands like Ressence and Weiss are included in the mix.
All told, Mr Porter has hundreds of watches from more than a dozen brands. But the selection isn’t overwhelming. Like everything else on the site—and on its womenswear sister site, Net-a-Porter—what’s stocked is a concise, targeted edit instead of a scattershot.
“We’ve got buyers who can whittle down what can be a complicated and quite daunting shopping process for customers,” Bateman says.
His curation includes multiple iterations of classic pieces, quite a few exclusive styles and limited editions, the occasional desk clock, and even adventurous one-offs, like Bell & Ross with a transparent crystal sapphire case (priced at $480,000 and, as of this writing, still available.)
“We can talk about watches in the context of style . . . no one else in the market, online or offline, is really able to do that.”
– Toby Bateman, mrporter.com
But unlike a dedicated jeweler or watch retailer, Mr Porter’s overall breadth of stock—in addition to clothes and shoes, sunglasses, briefcases, neckties, and jewelry—helps shoppers imagine how a timepiece could fit in with their wardrobe. Bateman sees this as a major advantage.
“We can talk about watches in the context of style, and pretty much no one else in the market, whether their online or offline, is really able to do that,” he says. “If you go to a jewelry store on Madison Avenue or on Bond Street, you just see watches—you don’t really [get] ‘This is how you wear that diver’s watch,’ ‘This is the one for the office,’ ‘This is the one for jeans and a T-shirt over the weekend.’”
In terms of ushering high-end menswear into the e-commerce realm, Mr Porter’s has been a trailblazing force, and the site’s upscale look was crucial to its breakout success. Even judged by those lofty standards, timepieces get special treatment in terms of imagery and text. Every watch is photographed in-house with dedicated cameras; more details about each are included than would be with, say, a pair of trendy sneakers or a bomber jacket. Some pieces are even offered with multiyear warranties.
“When you actually see how professional and well-done Mr Porter is, it was a little bit of a no-brainer,” says Nick English, the co-founder of Bremont, the first brand to partner with Mr Porter when it began carrying watches, in 2013. “The whole experience is pretty amazing—they just do it really well. It’s the closest thing to going in there and talking to someone in a shop.”
Some watch companies view the site’s unique position—egalitarian and accessibilible, but still upmarket—as a bridge. Put simply, Mr Porter represents a medium to showcase items to shoppers from around the world that might be intimidated by a traditional watch store, or simply unfamiliar with their brand.
“We felt this is a good opportunity to potentially connect with a new clientele in a very convenient way,” says Giovanni Carestia, North American President of Panerai, which has been carried on the site since last year. “This is great way to raise the bar.”
Nearly five years in, Bateman describes the site’s watch business as being “in its infancy.” He says a Luxury Watch Guide expansion is planned, and Mr Porter did stock the new Cartier Santos when it launched in April. Still, the site’s catalog largely leans away from formal dress watches, emphasizing versatility. Zenith, IWC, and Nomos Glashütte are featured heavily. TAG Heuer and Montblanc smartwatches have been popular thus far, but—ironically, for a digital-only retailer—a broader range of tech watches will be added only if they fit well into the overall mix.
(Bateman: “It will depend on what comes to market and whether it’s got a good U.S.P. [unique selling point] that we can talk about with our customers.”)
Regardless, he says timepiece category has already helped broaden the site’s customer base. And whether or not Mr Porter becomes a major player in the luxury watch market, Bateman believes that it’s positioning the site as a more holistic retailer for the shopper of the future.
“Having watches on the site has enabled us to reach guys who don’t consider themselves to be ‘fashion guys,’” he says. “They come to Mr Porter and see the watch selection, but in the process they’re discovering Mr Porter. What they then see is that we create really great content which isn’t overly fashion-led—it’s quite lifestyle—and we have a very diverse product offering across all our categories. [Those shoppers] hopefully will become Mr Porter customers in other aspects.”
And when it comes to sartorial versatility, nothing beats a fine timepiece inside a steel case. It can take you anywhere and everywhere. This year, reassess your wardrobe by eliminating the unnecessary and paring down to the essential. Here are a few ideas…
The Look: Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 ($5,700); rolex.com + A.P.C. Serge Shirt ($220) + A.P.C. New Standard Jeans ($220); apc-us.com
The Look: Breguet Type XXI Chronograph Ref. 3817 ($13,900); breguet.com + Todd Snyder Striped Brushed Wool Sweater ($298) + Todd Snyder Unconstructed Sport Coat ($598); toddsnyder.com
The Look: Glashütte Original Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date ($14,900); glashuette-original.com + Berluti Unlined Supple Wool Double Breasted Jacket, ($3,700) + Berluti Classic Wool Trouser ($1,010); berluti.com
The Look: Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A ($24,836); patek.com + Officine Generale Paul Wool Pants ($370) + Officine Generale Benoit Italian Poplin Shirt ($225) + Officine Generale Cashmere V Neck Sweater ($475); officinegenerale.com
The Look: TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 ($4,500); tagheuer.com + Ralph Lauren Cashmere Tickweave 3-Piece Suit ($9,995) + Ralph Lauren Purple Label Tailored End-on-End Shirt ($350); ralphlauren.com
The Look: Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chronograph ($5,050); tudorwatch.com + Louis Vuitton Double Face Jacket ($2,530) + Louis Vuitton Pique Crew Neck, ($920); louisvuitton.com