Ralph Lauren was mad. I mean livid. I held the phone away from my ear as the fashion magnate let me have it, both barrels. “Who the Hell do you think you are!” he yelled. I’d had the temerity to suggest that the 1948 Ford “Woody” station wagon in his Boston Museum of Fine Arts automotive exhibition revealed his profound, underlying, defining desire to assimilate. The man born Ralph Rueben Lifshitz was having none of it . . .
This despite the official catalogue’s description of a young Ralph Lauren riding in his Dad’s clunker in stifling summer heat, seeing a family of WASPs heading to the coast in their impossibly glamorous “Woody.” A quintessentially American “someday I’ll have one of those” moments for the last born son of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants.
Our little “discussion” about our shared Jewish roots sprung to mind when the mainstream media revealed the new-sized versions of what hypebeast.com calls Ralph Lauren’s “iconic” chronograph.
I don’t think that word means what hypebeast or Mr. Lauren wants it to mean. Putting an example of his horological Automotive Collection next to, say, a panda-faced stainless steel Rolex Daytona would be like parking a Nissan Altima next to Mr. Lauren’s
“The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph Woodbezel Watch takes its inspiration from the flowing lines and rich materials of Lauren’s own 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe,” The Robb Report reports, regurgitating PR patter. “A beautifully patterned Amboyna burl bezel . . . the same kind of wood carved for use in the Type 57SC’s steering wheel.”
According to wood-database.com (SFW), “Amboyna is commonly used for fine furniture, turned objects, electric guitar tops, knife/gun grips, and other small specialty wood items.” As there are plenty of watches with wood bezels, the real connection between the Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph and Ralph Lauren’s insanely rare Bugatti is . . . Ralph Lauren.
That and the automotive-themed rehaut for timing fuel consumed per hour. The Bug’s fuel gauge doesn’t do that. So, setting side the idea that any chronograph has an automotive vibe, the horological decoration circumnavigating the dial is the main tie between the watch and four-wheeled transportation.
Although the Type 57C is generally considered to be the world’s first supercar – and a V16 supercharged engine’s bound to be pretty thirsty – I doubt its owner wore a watch calculating fuel consumption. If he did, the markings on the watch would indicate litres, rather than “units.” Just saying.
The more interesting question: what watch would the Bug’s owner have worn? A Patek Philippe stainless steel chronograph peut être? If it were me [in an alternative universe], I’d wear a Jaeger-leCoultre, saving some $843k at current values.
I don’t think the Bugatti’s original owner would have had any financial concerns – at least not until World War II broke out. Still, I reckon buying a $9k RL watch to honor the $40m Atlantique is kinda like buying a $99 Ferrari watch to pay homage to a Ferrari F50.
But that’s how Ralph Lauren rolls. Just like his MFA automotive ego wall, just like his clothes, the Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph is the Jewish designer’s attempt to sell WASP culture back to WASPs, and wanna-be WASPs. Unlike Mr. Lauren’s beautifully tailored, high-end fashion line, the chrono is, in a word, tacky. Especially the wood-on-steel-bracelet version.
Mr. Lauren has superb taste in all things. Well, all the things he owns. If the native New Yorker wanted to design a magnificent watch worthy of his automotive collection, he has both the eye and the wherewithal to make it happen. The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph ain’t it. It’s closest in concept to his immaculately restored “Woody,” the least significant or beautiful automobile in his astounding collection. But the most revealing.