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Lifestyle: Top 3 vintage watches inspired by Boardwalk Empire

by Frances Carbines
22 February, 2013
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A London based writer with a long-held interest in vintage clothing, antiques and timepieces, Frances' regular editorial content for Click Tempus' Lifestyle section includes everything from city guides to sartorial advice.

Boardwalk Empire

Inspired by the sparkling series Boardwalk Empire,Lifestyle Editor Frances Carbines presents a selection of swell vintage watches to placate your inner Al Capone.

Boardwalk Empire, the internationally successful HBO TV series set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is proving to be, in the words of its characters, simply sensational. Even Barack Obama is said to be a fan. If the Godfather and its ilk proved anything, it’s that there is a unique pleasure in watching gangsters of yore: they’re enviably well-dressed, the dialogue is filled with great repartee, and there’s never a dull moment, action-wise. While TV shows and films about the Roaring Twenties proliferate, Boardwalk Empire is critically and commercially in a class of its own: the winner of twelve Emmy awards, it also won the Golden Globe award for Best Television Series – Drama. It’s not just because of the pulse-racing plot: the costume department is one of the largest ever used for a production, and is on the set of what is reputed to be one of the most expensive TV shows ever made, which goes to explain why one of the most lauded aspects of the series, and one of the most talked about, is its visual style, and that of its characters.

The visual style is nowhere better exemplified than in the costumes of the leading men: a lot of effort has gone into finding authentic-looking props and attire, with actual vintage pieces used where possible. The difficulty is in finding authentic timepieces that look the part, because, of course, any actual vintage watches need to appear brand new in the 1920s-set show – and many have lost their lustre over time. Looking at three very different characters from the hit TV show, what watches they would they have worn?

Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson

Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson

Enoch Thompson, or ‘Nucky’, is played to perfection by Steve Buscemi, one of Hollywood’s finest actors, a role for which he won a Golden Globe. As the unofficial ruler of Atlantic City in the Roaring 1920s, Nucky Thomson presides over the city as treasurer: a role which, given the decade he’s in, means dealing with common criminals as well as state officials. To negotiate this task, Nucky needs to make a strong impression every time, without appearing flashy or too mobster-like, in order to conceal his underhand activities to the increasingly suspicious authorities. As such, his wardrobe osciallates between appearing business-like and well-to-do, and veering towards a more dandyish and buoyant pallet that betrays the flashy irreverence of the murky underworld prestige that he so enjoys. Cue stiff white collars and brightly checked three piece tailor made suits, with a foppish red carnation in his buttonhole.

A man-about-town needs a suitable vehicle, and Nucky is chauffeured in sumptuous style, in a very eye-catching blue Rolls Royce: a great accessory to his wardrobe, and his lifestyle:

Nucky Thompson's Blue Rolls Royce

For those who wish to channel Nucky Thompson, but do not have the means to acquire a vintage Rolls Royce of this hue, an alternative could be to invest in a high quality, refined and elegant timepiece of the period:

1920s Moser Gold Art Deco Watch

Moser 1920s 18ct Gold Art Deco Watch
Aspiring Nucky Thompsons would admire the craftsmanship of this exquisite Art Deco watch: made by Moser & Co, a highly respected Swiss watchmaker of the era. The quality genuine crocodile strap lends itself to the decadence of the Roaring ’20s, while making a bold statement alongside more contemporary fashions, without being flashy or ostentatious, while the gold face excudes timeless elegance.

Al Capone: the Archetypal Gangster

Al Capone
The start of the first series sees the early days of how he grew to be Chicago’s most infamous mob boss and one of the most notorious American gangsters of the 20th century, Al Capone in 1921 is a boisterous young man who hasn’t quite found his feet. He appears to suffer from a fair amount of status anxiety, given that he is unsure of how to dress, diminutive in stature, and (in the early 1920s) new to the underworld lifestyle. He overcompensates with bravado and machismo. He has a taste for the finer things in life.


Rolex Art Deco Chromed Tank Watch

Rolex Art Deco Chromed Tank Watch

This Rolex Art Deco Chromed Tank Watch, with its classic Art Deco silvered dial and blue steeled hands, would have suited Al Capone’s wrist, and his increasing celebrity, perfectly. While in the early 1920s, Rolex was a relatively new company, their branding and aesthetic fitted in with the budding Zeitgeist for trademarks and logo styles as industry trends: the name, short and snappy, easily pronounceable in most languages, hard to misspell, could initially have been Wilsdorf and Davis, had the two founding partners not wisely decided that the name Rolex was a better bet than putting their own names to the brand. The famous crown or coronet that graces the logo to this day was trademarked in 1925. This branding, plus the guarantee of quality ensured by the company’s products having the “Class A Certificate of Precision” after days of rigorous testing, it meant that the name Rolex quickly became synonymous with quality and distinction. Unfortunately, ‘Scarface’ himself may  have found similar Rolex watches rather hard to come by, on that side of the Atlantic – until the ’30s, at least.

Nelson Van Alden: Repressed Prohibition Agent

Nelson Van Alden


Staunch opponent of the demon drink, and of vice in general: in the Prohibtion era, Van Alden is a man on a mission. His dress is suitably demure, favouring dark blues and greys: the long arm of the law has a sombre colour pallet, to reflect its magnitude and import. Aspiring Nelson Van Aldens need a purposeful, serious watch to help them wing their way through this corrupt and gaudy world, but they also need a quality timepiece that won’t let them down on the job.

IWC Schaffhausen Silver Gents’ Watch (c.1925)

ICW Schaffhausen

This IWC Schaffhausen Silver Gents’ Watch would be just the thing for would-be Van Aldens: a strong gleaming solid silver case, blue steel Brueget moon hands make for a classic yet timeless design that evokes regimentality and stoicism in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Frances Carbines | Website

A London based writer with a long-held interest in vintage clothing, antiques and timepieces, Frances' regular editorial content for Click Tempus' Lifestyle section includes everything from city guides to sartorial advice.

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