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Why not...? - Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Where does our passion for watches come from?  The answer to this fundamental question is often linked to our childhood, to the people who have influenced us and no doubt to our education (in the wider sense). I learned to love watches indirectly, not through the object itself but thanks to my dad’s interest in pens. As a family of immigrants, learning had always been important in our family and the pen was to some extent a kind of magical object.

I quickly fell in love with an old Parker with a silvered body and a woven motif. And I started to look at the details of its construction and the materials and design used. Although I’m still a fan of fine writing instruments, my attention one day veered towards watches.

The first watch! Now there is a subject that unites us all. A child’s watch, a watch borrowed from one’s father, a gift for an important event. This “first” will always have a fond place in a collector’s heart. Even if it is outmoded, broken and abused for years, it will always be the one that started it all.

So, I remember a short stay in Geneva, my first time on the shores of the lake. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that life would bring me back here later on. Quartz was the thing of the moment and my childhood dream was to have a nice digital watch. It was a Certina, small, simple and probably relatively inexpensive. That was my first.

Today, I still have it. The strap is broken, but I wear it on a brightly-coloured NATO. I don’t wear it very often, but I can’t help picking it up regularly to check that it’s alright. This ritual is reassuring but it also takes me back in time with a hint of nostalgia.

And what about that nostalgia? As we grow up, watches become more serious, more “adult”. They continue to fascinate us but few of them are linked to our childhood and its colours, tastes and memories.

When we talk about watches and childhood, we naturally think of the colourful Flik Flak watches, or of the Swatch that we probably all owned at one time or another. But these watches are pigeonholed into a specific role with a specific target customer. The well-known quote by Malcom Forbes [Editor’s note: American entrepreneur and publisher of Forbes magazine], “the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys”, is particularly apt in this context. A watch is something that links back to our childhood, but as we grow up it seems to lose its “childish” character. For adults, the watch becomes harder, more severe, serious, blunt, sometimes not at all funny. Did maturity kill off the child inside us?

If we take a closer look there are in fact some “adult” brands who still dare to venture into childhood territory: as a big fan of vintage Seikos, I love their automatic models that feature Disney characters. There are also the famous Genta models that celebrated Mickey Mouse. And the same character was snapped up more recently in a collaboration between Swatch and Damien Hirst. In this (non-exhaustive) list of watches that take us back to our childhood we can also mention Ice-Watch and Tintin and Casio and its G-Shock.

But finding such examples is nevertheless difficult. Combining a link to our childhood with the seriousness of an adult watch does not appear to be easy. And this is our fault rather than that of the brands, because we are stuck-up adults who think that wearing a funny watch would ruin our serious image and damage our professional credibility.

So, when a brand does try to make us smile and remind us of our sweets, our toys and our teddy bears, I can only congratulate them and say a big “thank you”.

Why Ralph Lauren?

Who has never heard of Ralph Lauren? His brand has existed for half a century and over the decades has become a veritable legend in the world of fashion. He grew up in the Bronx and was always interested in fashion, but never studied it at school. He learned everything “on the job”, starting with odd jobs and moving up the ladder to become a salesman at Brooks Brothers.

Just imagine Ralph Lauren in the famous store on Madison Avenue selling button-down shirts invented by Brooks Brothers. How could you not see the link with his future creations and the classics from the brand favoured by POTUS (Presidents Of The United States)?

It wasn’t long before Ralph Lauren started suggesting changes – which were, of course, rejected – and decided to go it alone. The rest is a fairytale and slowly but surely Ralph Lauren took over the world.

The RL style, which is classic but always original, was hugely successful. Whether you feel more like a cowboy, a biker on Route 66, an Ivy League student or a Gatsby in a tuxedo, there will always be some “Ralph” for you.

But Ralph Lauren transcends the creations themselves. It is a universe, a feeling and a taste for spectacle. His stores are treasure troves of creativity, as the marvellous Rhinelander Mansion shows. It is arguably the most beautiful fashion store in the world.

Nevertheless, there was one area yet to be conquered by the brand: watches. For 10 years Richemont and RL worked hand in hand, presenting some interesting watches, of which my favourites are the Safari and the Stirrup from 2011.

But RL has since regained its independence and offers some enticing new models.

The American Western collection takes us back to the Wild West, John Wayne and John Ford films. But my attention was drawn to a model that is as unusual as it is refreshing: the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear Watch.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Three models of the Western collection © Ralph Lauren

The Polo Bear Watch : once upon a time there was childhood…

If you like Ralph Lauren, you cannot ignore one of the key characters in his collections: The Teddy/Polo Bear.

Since 1991 – and a famous limited-edition of the Steiff bear – the chic teddy has been seen on a number of different RL clothes. There have been pullovers, T-shirts, polo shirts and caps. Polo Bear is probably one of the coolest characters in fashion. He is always well dressed and shows impeccable taste. He can be seen wearing a tuxedo, jeans or a vintage look. He inspires and amuses but above all evokes a child-like tenderness. We love this cuddly star!

So when Ralph Lauren decides to offer him a watch, there is no hesitation. You just have to go for it. Because with this watch, Ralph Lauren has got it spot on.

First of all, the Polo Bear watch is a collection of four models.

Let’s start with the Flag Bear, who is wearing the “American Flag” pullover for which RL became famous, a chambray shirt, jeans and boating shoes. He is the most dressed-down of the bunch, as casual as you can get.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Polo Bear - Flag Bear © Ralph Lauren

Next there is Preppy Bear, who is wearing the classic RL blazer with shield, a white shirt, striped tie and chinos. This is THE Ralph Lauren look par excellence, timeless and copied so many times yet never matched.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Polo Bear - Preppy Bear © Ralph Lauren

After the student comes the gentleman. This time, Martini Bear is wearing a superb black tuxedo with a red buttonhole and slippers. This bear is unquestionably the closest to the RL Purple Label high-end collection.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Polo Bear - Martini Bear © Ralph Lauren

Finally, we have Spectactor Bear. He is more intellectual and the only one wearing spectacles. He has a beige overcoat, blue pullover, white shirt and tie, grey flannel trousers and oxford saddle shoes. This Bohemian look is the most thought-out and the most unusual.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

Polo Bear - Spectator Bear © Ralph Lauren

Each of these bears is found on the dial of the watch, which it dominates. All the dials are off-white with solid Roman numerals. Only the 9 is missing, making way for a large POLO logo underscored by Ralph Lauren. So it’s difficult not to see the origin of this watch! Note that the Polo Bear does not display the date, which is a good decision and simplifies the dial.

The watch is 42mm in diameter for 10.4mm in thickness and is powered by an RL 300-1 automatic movement, which is most likely a modified ETA calibre. The movement can be seen through a sapphire crystal case back. One interesting detail is that the crown is at 2 o’clock, which adds to the charm of this model. It is embossed with the Ralph Lauren polo player logo.

Another distinctive element is that the lugs are rounded, in the true vintage style. The seconds hand is black, except for the Flag Bear model, which is entitled to a red version.

Each watch is offered with two straps: a gold leather and a tartan fabric, which recalls the first tie collections by Ralph Lifschitz, before he became Lauren! The only exception is the Martini Bear (tuxedo) model, which could of course only come in black, with an alligator leather and fabrics strap. Ralph Lauren has taken into account those who change their look often, since the straps have quick-release attachments!

This is a great choice of stylish bears. Ralph Lauren is making a bold statement with this collection and dares to break new ground that is as shaky as it is seductive.

I can only wish great success to these models, which celebrate the 50th anniversary of the brand with humour and elegance.

What does the devil’s advocate think about these cuddly bears?

It’s not hard for the devil’s advocate to find a lot to complain about in a watch that celebrates childhood and a carefree spirit. It is nice, off-beat and it makes you smile… Too bad for the naughty!

On a more serious note, a few details could be improved.

First of all, the diameter could be reduced from 42mm to 40mm. This would make the watch even  more versatile and could help it to win over more people.

Next, the logo should lose a bit of weight. It takes up too much space on the dial. The bear alone is enough to characterise the watch, trust it!

When trying the watch on, I also noticed that the fabric strap was too big for small wrists, and it’s impossible to add a hole to it. That’s a real shame!

One final comment: it’s a pity that Ralph Lauren doesn’t offer a set of all four watches. It’s difficult to choose between the four and even though I prefer the Spectator Bear, I can’t help but think that it would be great to be able to switch between the different models.

What style should you wear this teddy bear with?

There is only one choice, of course: total RL! The Martini Bear might be reserved for evening wear but the three other models are versatile enough to adapt to different styles.

You just need to choose classics from the brand, with an obligatory touch of the original wool blazer with the gold buttons or a Purple Label in serge, a white button-down shirt, short-sleeved polo shirt and either jeans (preferably Selvedge) or chinos (I love the RRL chino with patina).

For the shoes I would choose an old pair of RL moccasins in cordovan from Crockett & Jones. But a pair of Severn sneakers could be just as good a choice.

This should, of course, be rounded off with the famous Teddy Bear pullover. You have the choice between the Admiral Bear in the Purple Label collection, the hiking bear in wool or the classic Polo Bear in grey or blue.

Childhood and the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear watches

© Ralph Lauren

If the skies cloud over, I would not follow the same route as the Spectator Bear. Instead I would opt for a military style M65 jacket, either in camouflage or khaki cotton.

If you like to change your look as much as you like to change your watch, you’ll need an RL travel bag (the magnificent Cooper 50) and a blue flannel shopping bag with the shield and you’ll have to stuff them with other items from the – vast – Ralph Lauren collection.

In any case, it’s difficult not to make a good choice and in this way pay tribute to a great gentleman of fashion.

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