First things first. Ralph Lauren has been collecting vintage watches for upwards of 30 years. I had heard through mutual friends that he was a great lover of early Panerai, and mid-century Cartier, two verticals that are nothing if not visually strong – almost archetypal for their respective categories. One is large and imposing, with the type of true purpose-built quality that simply does not exist in watchmaking anymore, while the other is the very essence of early-20th-century glamor and panache. I had also heard that he was involved at the very core of his own line of watches, personally designing each piece to fit the world in which he thought it should live. It turns out, both of those things were true, and then some.
Benjamin Clymer: What are some of your earliest memories of watches?
Ralph Lauren: Growing up, we had very little. And it is coming from nowhere that allowed me to appreciate what we didn’t have even more. The first memories I have of any watch was my father’s – it was a big round watch, with a stopwatch. He didn’t give it to me – I have two brothers and a sister – and I mostly remember him wearing it. And back then, there was no appreciation of what a fine watch was – it wasn’t until years later that I began to think of a watch as anything at all.
It wasn’t until I was in my teens and twenties that I began to realize that these great figures – Fred Astaire, Cary Grant – were always wearing a good watch. And it was these guys that gave me the inspiration to launch my tie business – mostly because I wanted to look like them and nobody else was making that style anymore.
BC: You wanted a wide tie, like one you’d see in the 1920s and 30s?
RL: Yes, at the time, nobody made a wide tie. It seems crazy now, but I suggested the idea to a few people and everyone said it wouldn’t sell. I had this vision for creating that world of Grant and Astaire, and the tie was at the core of it. But on watches, it was also these guys who wore the most elegant timepieces of their day, and that was Cartier. I love what Cartier has done over the years.