New Pared-Down Luxury Watches Capture the Moment

The luxury-watch industry has gotten the message: pare it down. Small, slim, unadorned timepieces capture the mood of the moment. In his very first watch collection, Ralph Lauren has unveiled a series of delicate classic watches that exude luxury without bling; the Stirrup Collection features an equestrian silhouette, with Roman numerals and a "railroad track" minute marker. The crown bears either an embossed "RL" or a discreet diamond ($12,000 in rose gold). "The trend in design is understated, pure, classic simplicity and a return to roots," says Wei Koh, editor of the international watch journal Revolution Magazine. "Already legions of fans are reembracing Rolex, which is the industry's best value proposition from the perspective of performance and classic design."

Many watch brands are digging into their pasts to capitalize on this new period of elegant restraint. The slender Sotirio Bulgari watch, which celebrates the company's 125-year history, has a case that opens like an old pocket watch. Lange & Sohne 1815's solid-silver dial displays a railroad minute track, with classic Arabic figures inspired by the styling on the old Lange pocket watches. Stressing craftsmanship is key at a time when clients are seriously studying the value of what they buy. The Chanel J12 Noir Intense watch is made of black ceramic cut by the technique usually associated with cutting precious stones. The effect is one of discreet, yet pure, luxury, proving that less can be more.