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Rich used to endow galleries and patronise are. Today they buy big watches.

BACK PAGES……………….24/12/14.

For 20 years, the Financial Times weekend glossy magazine How To Spend It has been affording little people an insight into the lifestyles of the one per cent, confirming that, whatever else it does, money doesn’t buy taste.

A garish compendium of over-designed handbags, bling jewellery and overpriced clothing, it offers us some slight moral compensation for not being able to afford the entry price to their world.

The must-have accessory for the indecently wealthy this Christmas is the big, in-your-face watch, preferably with lots of pointless dials, animations and chimes. A starter Rolex Oyster is about £3,300. But if you want something worth talking about you’ll want to look at Bulgari’s Ammiraglio del Tempo at £268,000 or thereabouts which has a four-gong Westminster chime. Then there is the Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon at £284,000.

If you want the big daddy, the “grande sonnerie”, that strikes four times an hour 24 hours a day, “to tell the story of the passage of time” Lange & Soehne’s Grand Complication, costs more than £1 million. The waiting list is more than a year, though.

Quality doesn’t come cheap and these are, we are assured by the FT, the “sine qua non” for collectors; though God only knows who would want to collect these ugly brutes, which make you look as if you have a mantle-piece clock hanging off your cuff.

But this year the FT has gone one better. Instead of How to Spend It, its New Year issue is to be turned into a philanthropic venture called How to Give It; a charity auction of bling. The items are all “donated” by luxury goods companies, so How to Give It is essentially a promotional device. But it allows the wealthy to indulge in a bit more conspicuous consumption in the season of good cheer and pat themselves on the back while doing so.

If you want to display your ecological credentials you can buy the Chopard LUC Tourbillon Qualite Fleurier Fairmined (TQFF), which is available in the How to Give It Auction. This “important” watch is “introduced” by the actor Colin Firth, who played Mr D’Arcy in Pride and Prejudice. Apparently he collaborated with Chopard in “The Journey to Sustainable Luxury” project, run by Eco-Age, the company he founded with his wife Livia.

Eco Age is dedicated to sourcing and certifying “fair mined gold”. This is “ethical” gold that has been extracted by “artisanal and small-scale miners”, using sustainable techniques. It’s a comfort to know that someone is finally addressing this neglected environmental issue.

The TQFF isn’t a watch. It is a cry of defiance against a “digital, fossil fuel and electrical age”. Mr D’Arcy goes on: “A watch is a story of hands: there are hands that mine the ground for gold, which passes through the hands of the craftsmen who make the watch, which passes into the hands of the person who’s going to wear it”. Usually, a financial speculator who may have been involved in boosting gold as a hedge against inflation.

Greenwash aside, has there ever been a more bizarre commodity than the trophy watch? A more obscure object of desire? If you want something that tells the time highly accurately you can buy a digital for ten quid. And you don’t have to spend a fortune insuring it.

These highly complicated watches are the ultimate consumer anachronism because the craftsmanship and labour that go into making the tiny cogs and chimes are entirely pointless. Anyway, everyone has the time on their phones.

The only thing that comes near to the plutocratic stupidity of the big watch are these daft over-engineered bags that women pay large sums for. But at least the bags hold something. Watches are entirely display, and what they display more than anything is the vacuous tastelessness of their owners.

Rich people used to do sensible things with their money: build churches, patronise musicians, commission great works of art. They gave to charity and set up philanthropic foundations. Now they set up shell trusts, speculate in trash and wear technological contradictions that cost as much as a house. Really, they need to be saved from themselves.

Herald 4/12/14

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