The name of Ralph Lauren’s RL888 collection, its first collection designed exclusively for women, was not chosen because of any resemblance between the figure 8 and the symbol for infinity. 888 is in fact the address of the Ralph Lauren store on New York’s Madison Avenue, a mecca for women’s shopping. But the timeless elegance of this collection, launched in 2016, may yet ensure its place in eternity! The classic round case with its generous bezel, available in diameters of 32 mm and 38 mm, frames an understated yet original Art Deco-inspired dial, which features four oversized Roman numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, interspersed with eight smaller Arabic numerals. The slender Breguet-style “apple” hands, combined with a black-on-white (or white-on-black) dial, cement the watch’s classically stylish appeal. Simple but far from unsophisticated, all the RL888 models are supplied with hour and minutes functions by the Swiss-made quartz calibre RL057, decorated with vertical Geneva striping, which is guaranteed to run for 60 months.
This year’s five new versions of the RL888 remain faithful to the collection’s aesthetic codes. Inspired by Ralph Lauren’s passion for fine jewellery, the most sophisticated piece is snow-set with 99 diamonds (totalling approx. 0.45 ct) around the bezel of the 32 mm steel case. The white lacquered and polished dial contrasts elegantly with the black alligator strap. The RL888 Snowfall Diamond also comes in a 38 mm version set with 153 diamonds. Continuing the diamond theme, a 38 mm variant of the RL888 in polished rose gold offers a larger-sized alternative to last year’s 32 mm version. The 61 diamonds (approx. 0.99 ct) set around the bezel are complemented by a rose-cut diamond in the crown. This year’s final two versions of the RL888 are both steel: one 32 mm with a black dial, and the other 38 mm with a white dial.
Although the watches themselves come in only black and white, Ralph Lauren has nevertheless given women plenty of colour options. The RL888 collection comes with a wide range of interchangeable straps in alligator, calfskin, patent leather, satin and grosgrain, in a broad colour palette. An 18K rose gold-plated steel bracelet, triple-linked for flexibility, provide a further, dressier option for the rose gold models.
On seeing these new Ralph Lauren watches for the first time at the launch in Milan, I instantly knew that this American house was on to a winner. And that’s because not only is the RL888 a chic little timekeeper, it also comes with an array of watch straps that will bring summer to the wrist, with colors cooler than any Italian gelateria could match.
I love color, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Summer has me thinking of icy fresh peach and sorbet tones. And with the 40 or so choices available for the strap of your RL888, you can change your watch with each season, just like the rest of your wardrobe. A white strap takes you straight into summertime mode, after which you could move into a rich bottle green for fall, warm red or purple for the Holiday Season, and floral pinks and greens to welcome in spring.
Color is key to pulling together an outfit, which is why it always baffles me when I see a gorgeous new watch presented on a ho-hum black strap. To me this is like having just one handbag or a single pair of sensible black shoes. Imagine an evening out wearing those black shoes with your ivory, sequined silk dress? Or having nothing to sling over the shoulder of your crisp, white, laser-cut linen dress other than a clunky black handbag?
And then along comes Mr. Ralph Lauren, who not only knows what women want but inspires us with new ways to dress up. Just like his revival of British country manor tweed, pre-war aviator chic and cowboy cool, he has presented us with a new way to wear an old favourite, in the very pretty form of the RL888 watches for women.
The RL888 is classic yet classy. The dial mixes up Roman and Arabic numerals, evoking the decadent glamour of the Jazz Age, while the sober, round case is all about the elegance of the Art Deco skyscrapers in New York. But the fun really starts when you see the rainbow of watch straps. There are over 40 different shades to choose from, which match the colours of the famous Ricky handbags, named after Mr. Lauren’s wife. So go to town and match your watch to your bag or your shoes, and ask yourself: why has no one thought of this before?
The straps – available in leather, alligator, grosgrain or satin – snap in and out easily, which means you can change them yourself in a flash. When you buy the RL888 it comes on a standard black strap, metal or gold bracelet, but after that, you can add as many to your collection as you want.
The straps are presented in a handsome, black, alligator-clad box with five drawers: two for the glossy alligator versions and one each for leather, grosgrain and satin. Slide open any one of the velvet drawers and a mouth-watering selection of colored straps appears. I had as much fun playing with this box, as I did when I got my first ever box of Swiss coloring pencils.
And although this may sound like a trivial detail, the fact that the gold or metal bracelets can also be swapped is a very cool feature. Normally, once you opt for a bracelet-style strap, you are wedded to it for life. But not with the RL888 as these too can be changed – though it does mean a trip to the nearest Ralph Lauren boutique. A small price to pay for such flexibility.
It had to be an outsider to the Swiss watch industry who could come up with such an astoundingly simple idea. Ralph Lauren waited many years to bring his laidback luxury to the traditional world of fine Swiss watchmaking, as he knew that when he did launch a watch collection, it had to be a true reflection of his style and obsession with craftsmanship. In an interview I wrote for the Financial Times in 2009, to coincide with the launch, the all-American designer – a total watch buff – said: “I wanted to build a watch brand, not a fashion accessory. I wanted my watches to sit up there with the best watch companies in the world.” Which the RL888 does, with the added bonus of all those gorgeous straps to choose from. Thank you, Mr. Lauren!