Welcome to the Golden Age of Red Carpet Watches
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Just a few days before the Met Gala, powerhouse celebrity stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who was prepping actors Rami Malek and Barry Keoghan for the event, was surprisingly relaxed. “It’s always so crazy I barely notice,” she says. Plus, unlike awards season—which requires juggling multiple outfits from multiple labels for her clients in rapid succession—Met Gala looks are designed bespoke and generally come together far in advance. But Urbinati still had one big thing left to figure out for both Malek and Keoghan: their watches.
Over the last couple years, for stylists like Urbinati, timepieces have gone from an occasional accessory to an essential element of every look they put together. “I used to put a watch here and there on guys,” Urbinati says. “Now every guy gets a watch.”
In Malek and Keoghan’s cases, that process begins with Urbinati screening a collection of 20 watches from each of their respective brand partners—Cartier for Malek and Bulgari for Keoghan—and whittling them down to six apiece. Those half-dozen selections are then on-hand for the stars’ final fittings, where she decides on the right watches for their looks and then sends them out the door.
Urbinati is not alone in prioritizing watches for the men she dresses. Timepieces are so close to the top of the checklist for stylist Jason Bolden, who works with celebrities like Dwyane Wade, Trevor Noah, and Michael B. Jordan, that he sometimes alters the clothes themselves to let the watches shine. “It’s been pretty aggressive with how I style,” Bolden says. “Now everyone’s wearing a timepiece. It’s even to the point that I have one side of the jacket sleeve hemmed a little bit shorter than the other side so you get to see a bit more of the faces of the watch.”
The results of this attention are evident on the red carpet, where watches are now more prevalent than ever. In fact, this newfound investment in watches by stylists resulted in the watchiest Met Gala in the event’s historye. There is more sheer quantity and variety of watches on the carpet than ever, but critically, these high-profile events also better reflect the prevalent trends among watch geeks, forum members, and serious collectors.
Urbinati isn’t trawling WatchUSeek, but she says there’s a “feeling in the air” that’s pushing the way she styles watches. She’s tuned into those vibrations in big and small ways, feeling out hot brands like Tag Heuer and intuitively understanding the shift towards steel sport watches as all-the-time pieces. “I used to really only prefer leather bands if it was a formal event, a steel band if it was casual,” she says. “But now I actually love a steel band for a formal event.” This, of course, is how most men are using their watch collection nowadays. And it’s not just because steel sport pieces rule the watch world—there’s good fashion sense driving the decision, too. “There’s just a relaxed feel to it that I prefer,” Urbinati says. “And I like the contradiction of the more casual watch with a more formal look.”
The growing focus on watches comes at a time when men are paying more attention to fashion in general. Bolden compares the pieces to a woman’s necklace or earrings—critical finishing touches to womenswear ensembles for decades. Now, menswear demands that same sort of meticulousness. “Everything gets more thought now: the shoes, socks, accessories, and the jewelry,” Urbinati says. “We never let a guy out to press without the perfect pair of socks with his outfit.” Naturally, this includes a deep dive into watches. Menswear’s wild-style era has also made it more palatable for dudes to get crazy with their watches. “Guys are feeling a little bit more liberated when it comes to jewelry and being a bit more flashy,” Bolden says.
And then there’s the simple fact that watches happen to be fun as hell. Many of the men Bolden and Urbinati work with have become collectors on their own over the years. Consider Trevor Noah, who wore his own matte-black Audemars Piguet Royal Oak to Monday’s Met Gala. (“It was insane,” Bolden says. “I’d never seen it before.”) Urbinati notes that clients like Will Arnett and James Marsden—who reads the watch blogs when he’s not serving on an imaginary jury—are massive watch enthusiasts. Beyond the true collectors, Urbinati also works with guys who are always down to try out something new. (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has to get custom extra-long straps and bracelets from the brands, falls into that category.) As watches have become more important, both Bolden and Urbinati have found themselves doing more research and falling deeper down the rabbit hole, too. “You’re finding out more and more interesting history around these timepieces and how long a lot of these companies have been around,” Bolden says. “A lot of my clients have become really invested in the story of these watches.”
The most significant change for these stylists is that they previously saw watches solely through an aesthetic lens: a match between colors and vibes were more important than getting a great watch. Urbinati says that’s changed for her recently. “If you can get the cool watch, that trumps the other stuff [like a dial color that better matches the look],” she says. That change in attitude is the biggest reason we’ve seen better watches on the red carpet recently. “The whole deep-dive watch-nerd stuff is just happening more now and it’s easier to get into,” Urbinati says. Seriously: what’s more true to a watch nerd’s experience than, like Urbinati’s Met Gala clients, having an outfit ready to go and then fretting over the perfect watch, deliberating the many options, and waiting until the very last minute to make a decision?
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