A quick thought on watches at the Australian Open

The Australian Open this year was a thriller. Watching Nadal and Federer on Friday night was one of my most enjoyable tennis experiences to date – two kings of the sport producing one phenomenal shot after another. As a horology fan however, I thoroughly enjoyed the battle between the big watch brands as their individual ambassadors got closer and closer to the final.

Last year I watched Stan and Novak go the distance in the 5th set, this year they produced another classic and it was great to see Stan come away with the title. Like 2013, Wawrinka was wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore throughout the tournament – the difference between this year and last year was a lot more people began to notice it. In my opinion the presence of watches on the court was a far more spoken about and noticed aspect of this years Australian Open.

From the couch to kitchen to Facebook to Twitter, everyone was asking why the players were wearing watches and debating the practicality of doing so. To argue any practicality of wearing a watch on court would be tough, to argue function however is a different story. Federer is sponsored by Rolex but doesn’t wear a watch on the court, he just puts it on for the press conference afterwards. I’ve always wondered whether this is because Rolex have just accepted that their watches have no reason to be on the court. If this is the reason, I admire them for it, because they don’t.

In all honesty I couldn’t imagine anything worse on my sweaty wrist, mid tennis match, than a heavy watch. This however is not the case for Rafa. The Richard Mille watch that Rafa wears weighs a mere 19 grams, no more than the wet sweat band on his other wrist. It, like the RM35-01 which is about to supersede it, was designed especially for him to cope with the demands of the game, and people are quite amazed when they find this information out – especially that it floats in water!

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On the other hand Stanilas Wawrinka’s bulky Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore weighs over 120grams (it’s heavy!) and was designed as a dive watch, which makes me think him wearing on the court was entirely a product placement gimmick. Not to mention the fact that he only wore it in the high-profile matches – it was absent from his wrist against Alejandro Falla. Rafa wears his watch every match.

Wawrinka vs Falla

Wawrinka without his AP in Round 2.

Richard Mille makes mechanically brilliant watches, almost in a league of their own, and their decision to sponsor Rafa goes beyond just product placement, to showcasing the technical ability of the brand. After finding out its weight, people begin to delve a little deeper and question the pressure the watch movement must be under as he swings, the materials that it’s built with and the rigidity and durability required of a such a watch, which in turn results in a pretty fascinated potential consumer. Whereas the only question I asked myself about Stan’s AP was ‘why would he want to play in that?’

Audemars Piguet is a great brand with great ambassadors and on paper they’d say they won the battle of the watch brands at this years Australian Open but to the trained eye I’d have to disagree. Lionel Messi doesn’t wear a watch when he plays, nor does Lebron James and I don’t think Stan should either – especially not a dive watch with no functional benefit for the his chosen sport. I’m all for Stan putting his Royal Oak Chronograph on for the conference and the photo shoot the next day, but wearing an Audemars Piguet dive watch on the tennis court makes me think that AP are slightly out of touch with their well-educated market.

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Stan in his Royal Oak Chronograph at the media call yesterday.

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James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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