FORM AND FUNCTION

Men’s accessories are as old as man, but have they always had the same significance? No, they have not.

There was a time when jewellery and other decorative objects tended to have a religious or ceremonial purpose. Ancient Egyptian scarab pendants usually commemorated an achievement – such as “pyramid builder of the month” – while ancient Greek ceramic jewellery was often worn to protect against “the evil eye”. Swords were adorned with inscriptions to bring luck to the warrior. The oldest known bracelet is 40,000 years old. Rings date back at least 3,000 years and were mostly used as signet rings, to “sign” documents, or earlier still, clay tablets. Or whatever else was handy.

What all of these objects have in common is that they identified the owner. Individually made, they accompanied their owners throughout their lives and often were – and still are – buried or cremated with them. Those that survived were often handed down from generation to generation. They became family heirlooms.

 

Duke of Windsor – formerly King Edward III with a signet ring

The rise of function…

Up to the eighteenth century, many men had no difficulty with wearing decorative objects, as long as they could afford them. This changed. Over the following two hundred years, and driven by mass production, men’s accessories gradually became more functional. Bracelets disappeared. Rings were plain rather than decorative.

But even in an age when practicality and ease of manufacturing ruled, people still wanted to imprint their own identity on the objects that accompanied them through their daily lives. And this trend has recently led to a revaluation of old skills and traditions of craftsmanship. A purse, and later a wallet, might be a purely functional object for transporting coins and notes, but in time it became increasingly decorative or even, in some cases, austerely plain. The leather that it was made of told a lot about the owner; intricate or elegantly simple tooling stamped the owner’s identity on the object.

 

1937 Amity Director Billfold Wallet ad

…and the return of form

Nowhere is this shift between simple functionality and style more apparent than in the case of the wristwatch.

The earliest known watch was given to Queen Elizabeth I of England by her “favourite” Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, in 1571. It was largely made of gold, intricately decorated, and probably did not tell the time with any degree of accuracy. But it was certainly a great conversation piece and probably did not do Robert Dudley any harm at all.

Relatively shortly after that, science took over. People were less interested in what the watch looked like and more interested in whether it could display the time. However, once the issue of timekeeping had been cracked, attention returned to the appearance of the watch, thankfully.

Wristwatch supposedly produced by Constant Girard in 1879 for German navy officers.

The result, over the years, has been an immense proliferation of different styles. As your mobile phone can give you the time with a higher degree of accuracy than any watch on the planet, and as many watches share the same movements, irrespective of their price tag, the design of the watch has become its defining characteristic.  

In fact, the wheel has come full circle – from form to function and back to form again. In an increasingly uniform world, it is personalised, finely-crafted objects that underline our individuality. And that is what Debonair is all about.