In this column, I decided to forego the traditional “best gift” or “best men’s stores” schtick. Besides, you’ll be seeing that “best whatever” type of thing all over the place and while these lists can be entertaining, for the most part they just encourage you to buy more stuff you don’t need. Rather, we’re going to talk about the little icons of personal style, watches, pens, and cufflinks – those personal accessories that most truly reflect who we are.
When I think of details making a difference, I always remember a particular college professor I had. He was a young guy with tons of style in that moody, intellectual way. Every day, he came in wearing some great outfit and he had this perfect bag that looked like one of those beat-up dispatch cases you always see in the movies but can’t actually find anywhere. Inside he carried antique pens in a double pen case, these great European notebooks, journals and all sorts of other interesting stuff. That guy had style because he paid attention to the details. And, of course, the girls loved him. He knew that his carefully chosen accessories spoke volumes about who he was before he even opened his mouth.
Luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe’s classic ad campaign, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation,” is a favorite of mine for a couple of reasons. First, the message behind the ad is that certain things in your life, truly personal objects that have meaning beyond their mere function, should never be disposable. Second, because of their very nature, these types of personal tools and accessories are often expensive. For those of you familiar with Patek Philippe, you know that’s a major understatement.
These small, seemingly innocuous things are far more defining than we give them credit for. Literally speaking, they are valuable because they cost us something. In an emotional sense they are valuable because they’re cherished.
Now, I happen to like nice pens. When using a fountain pen, I feel like I am composing a letter, rather than just writing out some words. Pens from makers like Mont Blanc, Omas, Parker or Pelikan aren’t just writing tools, they are an expression of style and personality. Fountain pens in particular are favorites of collectors, executives and those who simply don’t want to forget the purest form of communication – ink on paper. Yes, using a fountain pen takes more effort than typing on a keyboard, but therein lies its charm. There are several excellent pen shops in the DC area, including Fahrney’s, which has served the nation’s capital since 1929.
While to some a shirt is just a shirt, many American men are finally coming to appreciate the distinctive swagger of a French cuffed, spread collar creation from Thomas Pink or Charles Tyrwhitt. If you’re making the switch, you’ll need cuff links. For men, this is an opportunity to show some real personality. From simple silk knots to literal works of art in precious metals, you’ll always want to add more to your collection. A great pair of cufflinks can be found in almost all price ranges, from presidential seal inspired eagles at the White House Gift shop ($30) to beautiful gold and enamel handmade creations at Tiffany & Co. ($2,000). Looking for something imaginative? Take New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s route and go for recycled subway tokens.
The piece of jewelry most every man does wear is a watch. And right now, watches are big. Literally. If you look at almost any magazine or celebrity’s wrist, chunky, glitzy watches are de rigeur. Some, like Franck Muller’s fantastic timepieces, can cost the same as a pair of Mercedes. The aforementioned Patek Philippe watches are so sought after by collectors, they have their own secondary auction market. For the rest of us, there are plenty of excellent options. A good watch should be viewed as an investment, so save up and get something that will stand the test of style and time. A truly timeless Cartier Tank watch can run you around $6,000 but will still be classy well into the next generation. On the other hand, Raymond Weil’s Parsifal watch is a substantial and elegant alternative and at $1,100, will cost you a bit less.
Let me pause here for a moment to comment on something that seems to confuse some guys. As a general rule, sports watches don’t belong with suits. Yes, politicians on the campaign trail often sport a Timex Ironman to remind us that they’re just regular folks too. But unless you’re kissing babies for votes, or actually running a triathlon, leave it in the drawer for the weekend. Remember, just like anything else your watch should fit what you’re wearing.
When you are pickier about the personal items in your life, they take on more meaning. Something else happens too. You wind up with less stuff floating around, but the stuff you do have means something more to you. That’s the important part.