Watch Men: Toby Bateman
They say a man’s best friend is his dog, but strike up a conversation with any chap about what’s strapped to his wrist and you might well think it’s his watch. Because despite the dominance of smart gadgets and the ever-encroaching metaverse – many men still have a deep-seated, emotional attachment to the analogue watch. At Turnbull & Asser, we know the merits of a well-curated wardrobe and that behind every considered look is a prized timepiece. With that in mind, for Off the Cuff’s horology series, Watch Men, we meet some of the most stylish movers and shakers of the watch world and find out what makes them tick.
Toby Bateman, 49, Surrey, United Kingdom
For some watch aficionados it’s escapements and tourbillons that get their pulse racing. But for Toby Bateman it’s brand history, stories and aesthetics that make a timepiece – which is fitting for the former Head of Buying and Managing Director of online men’s style destination, MR PORTER. His innate enthusiasm for horology later led him to become the CEO of Hodinkee, one of the world’s most influential watch websites. For this instalment of our horology series, he explains his ardour for Blancpain tropical rubber straps and why a sporty Rolex makes an ideal partner to a white dinner jacket.
Turnbull: What’s the story behind your timepiece?
Toby: The Blancpain x Hodinkee limited edition was the first collaborative project to come out after I started as CEO at Hodinkee, so it’s a significant marker of that time for me. Coincidentally, it’s a true-to-form remake of what was already one of my favourite watches, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC. I really like it because it has different dimensions to other divers – it’s relatively small at just over 40 millimetres, so doesn't feel like you kind of got this huge thing on your wrist. It’s easy to wear. I also love the brushed steel finish, as I’m not into shiny things. In fact, one of the reasons the US military chose the model for its divers in the 1960s was because the other watches they were reviewing at the time, including a model from Rolex, had a polished case and they were concerned it could attract the attention of large fish that might want to eat the divers. The dimensions, the brushed finish and clarity of the bezel make it such a simple, clean watch. I swapped the NATO strap for Blancpain’s tropical rubber strap which I’m overly obsessed with, which is such a nerdy thing to admit. It’s imprinted with this intricate geometric grain and even the buckle is pleasantly square and brushed. I wear the watch a lot, because I enjoy how it looks.
How did you first become interested in watches and horology?
It started largely because of one of my good friends as a teenager, who when we were about 17 or 18, wore a 3706 IWC pilot’s watch from the ‘70s which I loved. His dad, who was a vintage watch dealer in Rome and a contemporary of Auro Montanari, [the watch collector and writer] had given it to him and I was sort of obsessed with how different and cool it was. This was the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, before watches really became a ‘thing’ and before vintage watches were popular – and I suddenly became aware of vintage IWCs and Rolexes. In fact, it was the Italians that were the first to get into things like vintage Rolex, Omega and Heuer. I ended up buying my first proper watch from his father – an early 1970s Rolex Oyster date precision. I’ve still got it and I literally never wear it, but I don’t think I could ever sell it.
Does your watch influence your outfit in any way?
Some days, I'll decide I really want to wear a watch and I’ll shape my outfit around it. But that doesn’t just happen with watches – it might be a pair of shoes or shirt and then I’ll think of what trousers or jeans go with them… that’s sort of how my brain works. But generally, I wear an outfit with consideration for what I’ve got on for the day – what meetings I have, or who I’m meeting. And I don’t get too hung up on correctness. Some people might say you can’t wear a dive watch with a suit or a dress watch with a pair of jeans, but I don’t believe in that. I went to a friend's wedding in Marrakech and the dress code was white, so I wore a white dinner jacket, dress shirt and bowtie with my vintage Rolex Submariner. Which, strictly speaking I shouldn't have done, but I really enjoyed wearing a vintage sports watch with that outfit. I’m not likening myself to him in any way, but there was something a bit Sean Connery about it. But there are degrees to observe. If I was wearing a pinstripe suit or a shirt, tie and cufflinks and I was going to a board meeting, I wouldn't wear my Blancpain, I’d probably put on my Rolex 1016, which would be more suitable.
What would be your advice to the modern man about harmonising a watch with your wardrobe?
If you’re wearing a shirt with a cuff, it needs to be a leather or metal-bracelet watch. With double cuffs, as they’re a bit longer, you need to wear a watch that’s going to fit comfortably beneath the cuff. I’d also say to never wear a rubber strap dive watch with a formal shirt – for me it doesn’t go. But generally, dress codes now are much less formal, so you can be a bit freer with your choice of watch. I find myself wearing less formal shirts as dress codes have changed and I find a fine-gauge knit like this Turnbull & Asser Cecil polo a smart alternative. The merino wool makes it super comfy whether it’s warm or cool and it looks great under a softly structured blazer. And the casual element works perfectly with a proper sports watch like my Blancpain.
If you want to be a bit more serious about it though, you need at least one watch you can wear with a tuxedo, one with a suit and one you can wear to the beach. If you’ve got those three in your collection, then you’re covered.
Is there a particular watch you’re coveting at the moment?
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar in rose gold. Most of my watches are discreet but this is pretty punchy. It’s a sort of a dream watch for an alternate me in another dimension. It’s just a thing of beauty and it fits really well on the wrist – it’s so thin. I like the integrated bracelet and the clasp with the Maltese cross. And I love the fact it’s such a high complication with the perpetual calendar – it doesn’t get more iconic in fine watchmaking. Someone would look at it and say, “Oh, it's not a Nautilus – or a Royal Oak. What is it?” It still has that insider feel, which appeals to me.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar, rose gold, £POR vacheronconstantin.com
Toby wears the Turnbull & Asser Cecil merino wool polo shirt.
Edited by Shane C. Kurup
Photography and styling by Dan Choppen