Not all of us are Premier League footballers. Most of us have pretty normal jobs, and we would look ridiculous flashing a brightly colored Richard Mille. Add to that all of the horror stories about robberies, and the concept of “stealth wealth” starts to seem pretty attractive. There is something so cool about a watch that feels like business but that no one notices — a private menage à deux between you and your watch. You know what you’ve got, and that is enough.
Now, there are several ways to go about stealth wealth when it comes to watches. Let me share some strategies and examples here. We will start with some exotic stuff, but rest assured, there is something here for more reasonable budgets as well. After all, stealth wealth is about the experience, not the money.
White gold stealth wealth — Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Canopus Gold
White gold, especially of the 18K variety, is perfect for a stealth-wealth-watch splurge. It takes a trained eye to see the difference in tone between steel and white gold. To most laypeople, it will look like any old steel watch. You, however, will feel a heavy chunk of gold on your wrist, especially when you include a solid white gold bracelet. Enough, in fact, to make your watch-arm bicep grow bigger than the other.
My pick would be an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch in Canopus white gold. Its silver dial is a giveaway for true Speedy aficionados, so anyone who actually notices your watch will be someone with whom you can have a nice, thorough watch talk. To anyone else, it is just a steel chronograph. Weighing in at a cool 235 grams, the Canopus Speedmaster will leave no doubt as to what you are wearing. It is something you have to experience. It is surprisingly heavy, which is a surprisingly nice feeling.
The visual difference between steel and white gold is not to be underestimated either. Once you notice the warmer hue of the precious metal, you are doomed. It does take a pretty penny to buy into the Canopus Speedmaster. It is yours for €55,300 / US$49,400.
Platinum stealth wealth — Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
“What a quirky square watch you have there.” “Thanks! Isn’t it fun with its slanted dial?” That is about as deep as most conversations on your Vacheron Constantin will go. No one will be any wiser about the fact that you are quietly enjoying a €51,000 / US$51,000 masterpiece.
Platinum is another great stealth-wealth material. Its price is, in part, the result of its costly mining and refining process and the rarity that is the result of it. To produce 30 grams of pure platinum, you need to refine 10 tonnes of platinum ore. It is about 11% denser than gold, making your platinum watch even heftier on the wrist. As with white gold, you will have to switch watch arms daily to keep those biceps even.
The Vacheron Constantin 1921 Excellence Platine was a limited edition. That makes it even more of an under-the-radar flaunt. You will have to track one down on the secondary market. At the time of writing, none were on offer on Chrono24. That only adds to the private joy of wearing something that cannot just be bought by anyone with enough cash.
Go vintage to stay under the radar — Patek Philippe Calatrava
Another great way to enjoy your watches without showing off is to go vintage. In particular, vintage dress watches will do the trick. For one, the smaller dimensions make them less likely to be noticed. But the decades have often taken the shininess down a notch too.
From a distance, most vintage dress watches look alike. It is impossible for outsiders to tell whether you are wearing an affordable no-name brand or a Patek. But you will know. You experience the refinement of an old-world Haute Horlogerie wristwatch.
My pick would be a Patek Philippe Calatrava. You can go pre-WWII or opt for something more recent. The example above is a 35mm beauty from 1969. It is white gold to boot, ticking another stealth-wealth box.
Microbrands for stealth wealth — Baltic Bicompax 002
All right, all the above has been in the five-digit price range. But the principle of stealth wealth applies in any segment. Sometimes you just want to wear a nice watch without the outside world knowing what it is. You can do that by opting for a microbrand.
Now, there are a lot of microbrands out there with absolutely horrid designs and build quality. But there are those that are certainly worthy of your consideration as well. What I particularly like about them is that they are often run by watch lovers like you and me. These brands tend to be in close contact with the community, and they tend to get little details right. And outside of the watch world, they are free of any sort of stigma. They are simply unknown to the masses. That enables you to enjoy your watch without prying eyes.
The Baltic Bicompax 002 (€653.40 inc. VAT / €540 ex. VAT for the US) is a good option. It is a smallish vintage-inspired chronograph on a leather strap. People will see how nice it is when they are up close to you, but otherwise, no one will notice. You will, however, experience the wealth of a vintage chronograph without the hefty price tag of one.
Exploit the ignorance surrounding Seiko — Grand Seiko SBGW231
You and I know that Seiko is an awe-inspiring brand with a great heritage and a catalog full of gems. But to the layperson, there is no luxury connotation there. Even if you put “Grand” before “Seiko”, it sounds like a fairly common watch to most people. If you want the world to know you are spending big money on watches, that might be a bad thing. But trust me, it is actually pretty great.
Why? Because it forces you to buy the watch merely for yourself. And that is a healthy thing to do. A Grand Seiko can be an object of beauty, a source of enjoyment. It does not come with status. You won’t get that awkward “Wow, what did you pay for that?” question. And that is nice. Very nice, actually. You can wear it without worrying about getting whacked in the back of the head by some robber too. Pretty neat.
My choice would be (and has been) the SBGW231. It is more under the radar than 44GS stuff on bracelets. It is a small dress watch with a very conservative, classical design, but it is executed to such a high standard. It really is quite the thing to behold up close. The indices and hands are so razor sharp and reflective. Winding it is a tactile pleasure. You really do get the Haute Horlogerie vibe at a more attainable price. And no one but you will pay it any mind. Stealthy!
So there you have it — five different ways to enjoy your watch privately from under €700 to north of 50 grand. A nice watch really does feel luxurious, but why should that have to go hand in hand with showmanship? Should a watch make you feel good, or should it show the world that you have made it? In my opinion, your watch should be for you. Your actions will show the world what you are about… if that even matters at all.
How about you? Do you enjoy under-the-radar watches? Or do you prefer to flex from time to time? Let me know in the comments.