One often sees the subject of watches come up here in the comments section as well as on Ivy Style’s Facebook group, usually concerning which timepieces might confer an Ivy aura. That can be a wormhole, since people wore a variety of watch styles over the decades. However, there are watches that were popular during the Ivy heyday and share traits of the Ivy wardrobe.
A large part of the style was about pared-down simplicity: jacket without darts, trousers without pleats, shoes without laces. And it was modern. Per the Fashion Institute of Technology, “Ivy was a cutting-edge look during its heyday.”
Right off, that casts a shadow on the Cartier Tank and Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, as their designs are very much rooted in an earlier epoch. Particularly examples featuring numerals of the Roman sort. By the heyday of Ivy Style, Roman numerals were an anachronism. Even lofty Ferrari abandoned Roman numerals on its shift knobs in favor of Arabic in the 1950s.
Understand that both the Tank and Reverso are gorgeous timepieces and are among the true enduring classics of watch design; there is just nothing particularly Ivy about them, though many were indeed worn in period. Even by Don Draper, who wore a Reverso on “Mad Men.”
Now let’s jump forward to “The Great Gatsby” film adaptation of the 1970s. If I enjoyed wearing wide ties and wide lapels over flared trousers, I would want to complement my outfits with an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972) or a Patek Phillipe Nautilus (1976). These are two more watch design classics that remain popular today, but they too are aesthetically very representative of the period in which they were created.
Now you are probably thinking, “OK, smart guy, so what would you consider an ‘Ivy’ watch?”
That’s a tall order, but I can put forth a style that best represents the heyday period. It is simple, unassuming and modern; something that looks like it was designed somewhere between 1954 and 1967. Something simply round, generally with minimalist stick markers in lieu of Roman or even Arabic fonts.
This style is the one that features most prominently in watch catalogues of the period as well as Playboy and Esquire pictorials of the era.
Size matters; note that all the watches illustrated above are 36mm or smaller. Even 36mm was considered rather large a half-century ago. Today’s versions of many of the classics shown here have unfortunately grown to elephantine proportions apparently in order to properly complement the current trends for mega-mansions, SUVs, steroid-pumped men and silicone-enhanced women. A modestly sized timepiece is more period appropriate and keeps the watch in its place as an accessory as opposed to a focal point.
A great Ivy-appropriate watch would be a period Glashütte Senator. A simple, elegant case and dial, but accented by Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9. And look at that font. Just a glance at those numerals conjures visions not of The Great Gatsby, but rather Sputnik, Telstar, and we’re going to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. And bongo drums.
For aficionados of budget wristware, there is a period-correct option that has the right look, the right size and the right price; the Seiko 5, available for less than $100. First introduced in 1963 as the Seiko Sportsmatic, this fully mechanical and automatic-winding Seiko is built like an army tank and is considered genuinely respectable wear in horological circles. A modest step up is the Seiko SARB035 for $330 which features a very handsome ivory dial.
Since most men own but a single watch, it is (like eyeglasses) something usually worn seven days a week. As a result, it is understandability a very personal item. Do you have to wear an “Ivy” watch with your Ivy outfit? Certainly not. Your timepiece of choice can serve as an effective counterpoint to your outfit in lieu of an adjunct. If you are lucky enough to have inherited a beautiful and treasured watch such as the aforementioned Cartier Tank, so much the better, and wear it with pride. — JAMES KRAUS
James Kraus, pictured in top image, is the founder of Jet Age Media.