In the vacuum-sealed world of watches, there are certain topics that always generate heat, and “stacking” is up there. Is it okay to wear your watch with a big stack of bracelets? Few questions get the blood pressure up quicker.
The first time I encountered this debate was in March, when I posted a photo of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the night of her controversial Oprah interview to Dimepiece, the Instagram account I run about women and watches. In the photo, Meghan is wearing what’s been identified as Princess Diana’s yellow gold Cartier Tank Française, flanked by rich-mom-on-Abbot Kinney-style beaded bracelets. The post got comments like, “What a gaudy girl she is,” and, “She’s a pain in the ass”—all easily dismissible as personal opinions. But what stuck with me was a now-deleted comment stating, “You don’t stack heirloom jewelry.”
The Meghan case is loaded. Certain people are mad at her for … what, exactly? Removing herself from the royal family in the name of mental health? Her haters claim she’s too modern, too casual—so to see her style an heirloom with bracelets? Uncouth. This didn’t seem to be about the watch, exactly, but then again, it is yellow gold (a particularly soft metal vulnerable to scratching), and it’s been in the family for decades. The incident got me thinking, and whenever I posted other women pairing watches with bracelets, I realized I wasn’t alone. Stacking soon became one of the topics my audience inquired about most. Again and again, I’ve been asked: Is stacking bad for the watch? And is it a style faux pas?
Let’s answer the first question first, because it’s relatively straightforward: Yes, if you stack your watch with bracelets, it can get dinged. But Phillips’s watch specialist Isabella Proia says that the true risk here is over-polishing. If your watch is scratched, you may want to get it polished. But! Every time a watch is polished, a layer of the metal is stripped away. This leads to a softening of edges and dulling of hallmarks that may tamper with the watch’s design and lessen its value.
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Still, there’s a bigger philosophical question we’re really asking here. What does it mean to live with a luxury object? In the realm of high-end products, there are two types of collectors: the caretakers and the flaunters. There are those for whom a “fresh out of the box” look is the forever goal, no matter the item. They wince at a scuff on a leather loafer and become regulars at the local cobbler. And then, there are those like, say, Mary-Kate Olsen, whose beaten-to-death Hermès Kelly became the ultimate status symbol in the 2000s.
It’s so stained! So haggard! How do we even reason with this? Perhaps the way in is through @angelmoney007’s tweet, “Sorry but being a little messy is chic ….. you buttoned down ass hoes come across try hard asf don’t you want your luxury to feel a little lived in, aka you’re actually luxuriating in it…. like an actual plutocrat….. I’m trying to severely fuck up a Himalayan python Birkin.” Luxury here isn’t about pristine items locked up in safes or displayed in glass boxes. It’s about a product that’s so integrated into your world that you don’t care if it gets scuffed.
“A lived-in luxury item implies a compelling kind of nonchalance around such stuff,” GQ journalist and Opulence authority Rachel Seville Tashjian says. “On the one hand, it suggests their ubiquity in your life—oh, all my pens are Montblanc, and my bags are Birkins, and my shoes are Belgian loafers. And on the other, there’s a sense of adoration so enthusiastic that the condition of the piece is of little interest to the owner.” Being a little laid-back with your luxury items, she says, “reinforces a very traditional idea of luxury, in the sense that it exploits the craftsmanship of these pieces, which remain functional despite the user’s ‘bad behavior.’”
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This had me recalling the first time in recent memory that I tried on a luxury watch. It was my friend’s steel Cartier Tank Française, and because I was considering purchasing the same model, she urged me to get a feel for it. I had trouble even managing the clasp; I was so scared that I was going to snap it in two. “Can you open this?” I feebly asked, to which she replied, “No, you open it! You’re not going to break it. The watch is made out of steel; it’s handcrafted in Switzerland.” I realized that I was being overly precious with it, because I’d never held something so beautifully made, so artisanal. And now that I have my own Française? I let others try it on. And when they experience that same sense of hesitation? I’m like, “No, girl, give it a whirl,” and so on, and so on.
Still unsure? Let’s ask Chris Black. “Expensive things are generally well made,” he says. “The idea is to use them. Being too precious is corny. True luxury is the beat-up Birkin, not the pristine one.”
But what about watches? They look good all shiny and new. The glimmer of the steel, the clarity of the crystal case—all the parts work together in harmony to make up a gorgeous whole, and too many scratches can derail that. But a girl’s gotta live. Regardless of whether or not I’m weighing down my left arm with a fat stack of wrist candy, I’m still going to accidentally knock my watch on the door of a taxi. The point here is that life is messy, and your luxury items are not exempt from that, unless your hand is living under a glass dome à la the retired hand model in Zoolander.
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Plus, some people simply like to stack! It’s part of their look. Take Bella Hadid for example: She wears a mini yellow gold Cartier Panthère, a.k.a. the It girl watch, but sometimes you can hardly even see it under her layered stack of gold bangles. Gold on gold … a symphony of soft metal clanging about … are you uncomfortable right now? That’s fine, you’re not a stacker—to each their own.
Lori Hirshleifer, co-owner of the family-run Hirshleifers department store in Manhasset, New York, says that her husband and son both cringe at her stacking habit. “But I just love how it looks,” she says. “My style is very maximalist, and I’m a more-is-more kind of person. That is no different when it comes to stacking my bracelets with my watches. It feels like such a huge part of my identity to wear my pieces this way.” For the ultra-chic, like Lori, a sense of style is one with a sense of self, so why compromise the self in favor of an object that is, by default, designed to last?
Stacking, incidentally, seems to be a gendered issue. You don’t see a ton of men doing it. The ladies have bracelets and rings galore, but, typically, a watch will be a man’s singular accessory. Men are strongly opinionated on the subject though! I posted a poll to my Instagram Story with the prompt, “Stacking watches with bracelets: Hell yes, or hell no?” The results were pretty much 50/50, but the majority of the hell noes came from men, with scratches cited as the number one deterrent.
Some also stated that too many dings can even ruin a watch’s movement, which I fact-check with Proia, the specialist from Phillips. “I’m not sure the movement issue is an argument unless there’s a strong magnet in the bracelet,” she explains, suggesting further that excessive clanking could ruin the occasional watch with minimal shock absorption, “but, I mean, most people aren’t wearing the Liberty Bell on their wrists.”
Physical damage aside, some guys had aesthetic issues with the concept. “Excessive stacking is a no-go! It makes your wrists look clunky,” one wrote. Another: “Unless paired with intention, it interrupts the watch’s design and presence.” It could make my wrist look clunky. It could take away from the watch’s presence. But what if I like a clunky look to go with my clunky Prada loafers? And what if I’m so unconcerned with “presence” that I let my watch hide under the bracelets like Bella? Kind of a flex, TBH.
“The obsession with condition, with keeping something in ‘pristine shape,’ seems like a very masculine thing to me,” Tashjian adds. “Possessions are meant to be possessed, to show the character and instincts of the person who acquired the thing in the first place. I think real luxury and confidence, and most importantly style, demands an intimacy with your clothes and jewelry.”
To be intimate with our things—isn’t this what it’s all about? Why buy into the lifestyle if we can’t live it? You don’t have to be ultra-rich to do this. You just have to trust in the virtue of doing things your own way.
This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US