The dominance of all-steel sport watches—particularly those designed by Gérald Genta, like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak—is fading among watch collectors. Men are experimenting with gaudy timepieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a jewelry box. Also, the nation is heading toward a knockdown, drag-out election between a populist Republican and an incumbent Democrat. The year is 1979—but that all describes 2024 too. And into both moments Piaget is releasing its defining timepiece. Meet the Piaget Polo. Again.
To celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary, Piaget debuts the Polo 79, a faithful take on a watch once worn by everyone from Miles Davis to Andy Warhol to Björn Borg. “It’s a timeless icon,” says Alain Borgeaud, Piaget’s director of patrimony. But the Polo, reinvigorated at 45 years old, is exactly the right watch for this moment too. The new Polo 79 mirrors the original in most ways (most—more on that soon). “The challenge was not to damage the charm of the original piece while keeping it up to date,” says Benjamin Comar, Piaget’s CEO.
The solid-gold design marked by alternating gadroons—those shiny speed bumps along the case, dial, and links that give the effect of the bracelet flowing unbroken across the wrist— still makes the Polo 79 an outrageous piece of unisex wristwear fit for a wealthy man or woman. “Mr. Piaget often says, ‘It’s a bracelet watch, not a watch bracelet,’” Borgeaud says. “It’s a jewel which gives time.”
Just like its last appearance, the Polo 79 is also a harbinger of change in the watch world. Today, as tastes veer from stainless steel simplicity to showier pieces, no brand epitomizes the shift better than Piaget. “I’ve seen Piaget catch on fire with everyone,” says Gai Gohari, a Piaget collector and watch dealer, about the brand’s vintage pieces. “They have texture, color, and shape—it brings you happiness.” (Gohari’s not the only collector to have Piaget on their hot list, either.)
The original Polo wasn’t just a hit; it was—still is—the most important watch in Piaget’s history. As the first Piaget timepiece to get a name, it catapulted the brand’s reputation in America. Customers would step into jewelry shops asking for the Polo without knowing it came from Piaget. Marketed as “the most expensive watch in the world,” according to Borgeaud, it sold for around $20,000—about $90,000 today. “[Our customers] want to be exquisite, even in sport,” Piaget’s chairman Yves Piaget explained when the original Polo arrived on the scene.
The new Polo 79 remains exquisite, if updated. The famously thin quartz movement is gone, swapped for a svelte automatic. The case is bigger: The O.G. Polo was a dainty 34 millimeters or smaller (depending on the version), while the Polo 79 clocks in at 38 millimeters. Personally, I wish the watch stayed closer to the original’s teensy size, but I begrudgingly get why Piaget beefed things up. Bigger means more gold, more panache— and, as Comar notes, more appeal to mainstream watch buyers.
If I sound like I’m nitpicking, it’s out of love. Piaget’s new Polo 79 is a gadrooned nail in the coffin of the steel sport watch’s long and tedious reign. Even if its extravagance isn’t to your taste—this watch has all the subtlety of an Elton John stage costume—you have to admit that choos- ing the Polo does at least require the presence of taste.
The watch is a champion of having a point of view instead of following the herd—and it speaks to the growing number of collectors who, like myself, want something fresh. We’ve been enchanted by Cartier’s funky shapes (the Crash, the Pebble, the Asymétrique), timepieces from Patek’s post-quartz whimsy, and—as Gohari mentioned—Piaget’s gleaming archives. Watches, like the Polo, that aren’t afraid to be fun. As Yves Piaget understood, we’re hungry for more jewelry which gives time.
Cam Wolf is a senior style writer at GQ.