By JOHN BECHTOLD

In a world increasingly populated by iPhones, iPads and the like,  those allegedly in the know predict that the wristwatch has run out of time, destined for the trash heap of history.

They underestimate the stubborn endurance of male vanity and the lifelessness of an unadorned wrist.

I have a fatal attraction for watches, and an iPhone, capable as it may be, can’t compete with the appeal and statement of a great looking watch. How can one dismiss the unabashed masculinity of a Panerai, a Bell & Ross or a U-boat, the sheer elegance of a Blancpain, a Bruequet, a Vacheron Constantin or a Patek-Philippe? A great looking watch is, at minimum, a fashion statement and there are countries — Germany for example — where guys will have checked out your wrist before saying Guten Tag, just to determine the level of deference you warrant.

At a certain age, one suddenly becomes invisible to the younger opposite sex — the whole younger human race, actually — and the mundane practicality of owning a Maserati starts to overwhelm the emotional desire. When this happens, suppress any and all urges to rush out and buy gold neck-chains or bracelets. The used car salesman look has never been and will never be a winning formula.

Instead, start looking closely at the cornucopia of beautiful watches. And why have only one? When you are no longer bombarded with the weighty issues and challenges of a career, keep your brain ticking by having to make that critically difficult daily decision about which watch to wear.

Yes, you say, but don’t quality watches cost a lot of money? Yep.

But there is a solution beyond grand theft: quality replicas.

I’m not talking about the crap some guy in a long overcoat is trying to flog you in New York or the junk that is being peddled by what seems like a worldwide fraternity of Eritrean brothers who dart around tourist havens brandishing handbags, sunglasses and the inevitable metal suitcase forever keeping a wary eye out for the local police.

A great replica watch may set you back between $400 to $1,000, but for $150- $250 you can get some really fine stuff too. Just avoid the $50 stuff.

While most originate in China, they are being produced in many other places. Outlawed in Western countries, they can still be acquired online, although you take risks with payment, delivery, customs etc.

Which brings me to the Turkish connection, and a way to combine travel with timepiece fun.

The replica Panerai Black Seal: About $200.

Apart from being an interesting and beautiful country with friendly and hospitable people, great food and tons of history, Turkey is also is a great place to shop for replica watches. While you can find a good selection in Istanbul (the Grand Bazaar in particular) I have discovered that the best selection and most relaxed “hunting” is to be found in a couple of places on the southwest coast where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean. Between Izmir in the north and Antalya to the south east lie Bodrum and Kusadesi. The former is a well known resort popular with Europeans and wealthier Middle Eastern tourists, while the latter is the gateway town to the famous site of ancient Ephesus. Both are cruise ship destinations. Bodrum used to called

The real thing: about $6,000.

Halicarnassus in ancient times and was the birth place of Herodutus the “father” of history.”

You can spend a fun morning or afternoon browsing the old market alley ways, looking for the best deals. There are many storefronts specializing in only watches and they are out there clearly visible. Some have a better selection than others. Since the shop vendors are vocal and insistent, there are some rules you need to follow. Once they know you are a knowledgeable watch aficionado, they will usually become much friendlier and more patient, even closing the front door and asking you in for apple tea and a more relaxed viewing.

The basic rules:

  • Take a half dozen or so copies of watches you like from Internet sites selling the genuine article. This gives you a good idea of what you need to search for and what they should look like (face, back, sides) . Try to get specs, and know whether it’s an automatic, manual wind or quartz.
  •  Take cash with you, preferably U.S. dollars or Euros. and hide it in more than one place on your body or in your clothing

IN THE STORE

  • Don’t look overly anxious when you walk in. You’ve done this before.
  • Check out a few watches, look at them front and back and test the crowns. But replace them with a look of disdain, and say ” these are not much good.” Usually the cheaper more popular touristy stuff is in the front.
  • If the store has a locked glass cabinet in the back or some metal briefcases on the floor in the rear or on a desk ask “where is the good stuff ?” Throw out phrases like ” Swiss movement or ETA movement.” This is important because most travellers are casual purchasers, don’t have a clue and will buy the crap on the wall or in the front window.
  • If they have some good watches to show you, most likely they will ask you what kind you are looking for. This is where preparation helps.
  • Even if you find one you love, don’t go all soft in the knees or yell “eureka!”


CHECKLIST

  • Check the crown for solidity.
  • Check to see if the glass is crystal.
  • Check to see that the hands have good luminosity by cupping the watch to your eye so you can see what it looks like in the dark. (often cheap models skimp on the paint).
  • If you like a chrono(graph) or a model with a flyback mechanism, check out how they look and test the mechanism. It is a general rule that if you want a more complicated movement the good ones will cost more. If you are limited on price you are safer with a simpler mechanism.
  • If there is a second hand check the flow. A quartz will move in regular jumps but a hand wind or automatic should move smoothly.

NEGOTIATING

  • Sellers always expect the buyer to negotiate, so they always start high and they enjoy the process. If they start at $200-$250 they will probably come down to $100 -$150.
  • Be prepared to walk away, or tell them you are going to check other places. This is good anyway, but sets a better grounding for next stage.
  • Always be pleasant and thank them for the viewing.

With some luck and good planning, you’ll  get one or two great looking watches. And remember, if the watchband is not =to your liking, but the watch is good quality, you can always buy a new strap or get one made to order. It’s amazing how a good strap can make your replica — and you — look great.

Happy hunting.

Left, a replica Rolex men's stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Datejust: about $200. Right, the real thing: about $6,000.