Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 1 January, 2010
Hand-wound man likes to know what he is dealing with and he always makes it a rule never to get involved with anything that he cannot understand the workings of
Once upon a time “hand-wound man” and a few thousand others like him used to run the world: quiet men with quiet tastes who were sufficiently confident in the real power that they wielded that they did not need to make a big noise.
In England they were known as the “Establishment” and ran everything from industry to the government: you would find them in charge of national institutions like the Bank of England or the judiciary and their names would appear in the lists of those awarded CBEs and knighthoods in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. In the US they attended Yale and Harvard – or at a pinch Princeton – and followed their fathers into government or into the banks and law firms that were named after their great-grandfathers. In France they were either aristocrats of the ancient regime or technocrats educated at ENA; serious men in serious clothes.
Occasionally they would bump into each other at their tailor; they all dressed in the same sober dark blue or dark grey suits, which they had bespoken on Savile Row. They would also meet while shooting in Scotland or skiing at one of the old school resorts, say Kitzbuhel.
They belonged to an age when a handshake meant more than an online MBA in international finances and when hedges were large green things to be found in the grounds of their country estates that were best left to the gardener to look after rather than greedy young men in gelled hair and smart offices.
For the last 10 or 15 years hand-wound man has been something of an endangered species. While he drives a lovingly preserved Bristol or Facel Vega®*, Maybachs®* and Range Rovers®* with blacked-out windows have been de rigueur. He studiously avoided such mass “networking” opportunities as the Davos summit, preferring to settle things quietly over dinner at his club. And as for holidays these are usually taken at the ancestral family home, rather than on some billionaire’s gigayacht … besides he would look a little out of place in his battered cavalry twill trousers.
Hand-wound man likes to know what he is dealing with and he always makes it a rule never to get involved with anything that he cannot understand the workings of. Hence when, in 2007, he was offered considerably more than his staid insurance or shipping business was worth, he made sure that he was paid in cash rather than some complex cocktail of fiduciary instruments that promised limitless wealth within a few years. And when a friend suggested that he invest his money in a sure thing run by an American chappie called Bernie Madoff, he politely declined preferring instead to park his money on deposit.
All in all until a couple of years ago he seemed … well … rather old fashioned and more than a little dull. Now of course he is being hailed as a genius, when in fact he is not doing anything different from what his father and his grandfather and many earlier generations of his family have done. And don’t expect him to alter his way of life (he does not have a “lifestyle”) just because the winds of change are now blowing in his direction, he still continues in the time-honoured fashion, growing his roses, bidding for old master drawings at auction and waking up every morning at six thirty and getting into one of his dark suits and setting off to work.
However, look carefully and there is one change, instead of the battered nondescript watch at his wrist he now sports a handsome hand-wound simple hours and minutes Portuguese. Like him it is understated, no-nonsense, built to last and it passes his litmus test for life: he understands exactly how it works. There is nothing to worry about, just the information he needs. Moreover he finds a curious satisfaction in the simple application of thumb and forefinger to the winding crown for a few seconds after he has taken the watch off at night to ensure it continues running. You see for him, his IWC is a proper machine of the old school, something which, rather like hand-wound man himself, is utterly dependable.
*These trademarks are not owned by IWC Schaffhausen.
Nicholas Foulkes is an author, historian and journalist. Over the last 15 years his writing has appeared in most of Britain’s national newspapers at one time or another. He is a columnist on Country Life and the Luxury editor of GQ. His most recent book, Gentlemen and Blackguards – Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844, is published by Orion Publishing Group