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Ralph Lauren’s Stirrup Gets a Refresh with New Straps, and Some Additional Thoughts on the 4th Watch

Ralph Lauren’s Stirrup Gets a Refresh with New Straps, and Some Additional Thoughts on the 4th Watch

Last week, Blake wrote an editorial examining the idea of the so-called “4th watch,” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I can feel myself heading into what I have a feeling will come to be known as the Summer of the Fourth Watch. I find that when I’m picking out a watch for the day, the normal stuff doesn’t catch my eye. I’m drawn to bright colors, unusual shapes, and left of the middle executions more than I normally am, and my “normal” is kind of weird to begin with. For whatever reason, though, I’m in a season of experimentation and, frankly, boredom with the obvious choices. It’s possible that come fall, I could have a box full of 4th watches. 

So it’s with this frame of mind that I’m approaching the latest announcement from Ralph Lauren, a refresh of their Stirrup watch collection featuring a selection of colorful interchangeable leather straps. Am I going to buy a Stirrup watch? Probably not. Almost certainly not. I can’t imagine it. But I can see the appeal of these as a potential 4th watch. 

The truth is, I’ve always been a fan of Ralph Lauren watches. They tend to have clean, classic designs, and the watches themselves are very well made. Many belong in another watch category we like to talk about here, the Sleeper. There are truly high end and beautifully finished Ralph Lauren watches that are hiding under the cover of the dreaded “fashion watch” designation, but these aren’t mass produced, hastily licensed junk. They are considered and thoughtful designs meant to reflect a carefully curated image of one of the most successful and well recognized American brands.

The Stirrup watch is meant to reflect Ralph Lauren’s equestrian design inspiration. In that respect, it’s a bit on the nose. The shape of the watch resembles, you guessed it, a stirrup. In practice that means that the watch has a natural asymmetry, with the bottom half of the watch, which is squared off, wider than the top, which is rounded. In that way it’s kind of a mashup of watch designs: Tank on the bottom, Baignoire on the top. You could call it a watch mullet if its level of refinement weren’t so obvious. 

The stirrup shape is carried over to the dial, with a Roman numeral hour track that takes the shape of the case. This is the design characteristic that feels the most Cartier inspired to me, even more so than the shaped case. It’s not that Cartier owns black Romans on a square-ish white dial, but seeing an arrangement like this, for me, immediately triggers my brain to think of the Tank, for better or worse. 

The Stirrup doesn’t use traditional spring bars, but incorporates a fixed lug bar design not unlike the Pelagos FXD or the Atelier Holgur Frømand. Like the latter watch, the straps are designed with a buckle on either side, and the differing lug widths make for a unique visual impression. The straps aren’t integrated (Ralph Lauren is making a point of how easily interchangeable they are with this refresh) but the look appears cohesive, like the straps were truly considered equally with the case during the design process. I don’t need to tell you how rare that is in the watch world. 

Shaped cases are typically a love it or hate it proposition, which I think makes them prime 4th watch candidates. I suspect that most people don’t begin a search for a new watch thinking they’d like something in the shape of a Stirrup, or a weird oval like the vintage Zenith Port Royal I’ve written about here a few times, but when you stumble across it, and it clicks, it can become a lowkey obsession. 

For me, it always goes back to the intentionality of the design, and the conviction of the brand to follow through all the way. It can’t just be weird or unnecessary for the sake of it, but should reflect an idea and have purpose. If you’ve spent years flipping through Ralph Lauren catalogs and seeing the brand’s clothes in both popular culture and your own life, the Stirrup watch makes immediate sense. And it’s fascinating that a watch so unusual (in the larger context of the watch world) can also feel so totally obvious. 

The Stirrup comes in a total of five sizes: mini, petite, small, medium, and large. The large version tops out at 36.6mm by 38.5mm, with the mini measuring just 16.8mm by 22.5mm, and the other sizes falling in between. The smallest sizes use Swiss quartz movements, but the three larger sizes use the automatic RL300 movement with 42 hours of power reserve, which is a rebadged Sellita SW300. With so many sizes and variants there’s a wide price range, with the most basic mini starting at $2,400, and diamond set versions coming in at $8,400. The range also includes references with black PVD cases in multiple sizes. 

Whether it’s personally for you or not, I think the Stirrup represents a particular and undeniable manifestation of the 4th watch concept. It’s hardly practical, will almost certainly be an outlier in any collection, and surely offers a wearing experience that is going to be completely distinct from just about any other watch you can think of. I think another way we can define a 4th watch is by something we can call the Small Talk Test. It’s simple. If you’re at a party (not a watch meetup) and you have to choose someone to make small talk with for the evening, would you pick the person wearing this watch? I can say with 100% certainty, I’m heading right for the guest wearing a Stirrup, a Ploprof, an Argon Space One, or something along those lines. Who needs a cocktail when you can hear the story behind why someone chose a watch like this? Ralph Lauren

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