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Playtime: Five Stylish Games To Kill Time With This Holiday

Our roundup of this year’s best argument-inducing toys (and the watches that go with them)

It may not normally be one of the key factors in deciding to buy a watch, but to the long list of reasons why a watch is one of the nicest things to find underneath the tree on Christmas morning, we would humbly add that it is the perfect accompaniment to the inevitable rounds of family board games. Consider this: how better to distract opponents than a flash of a new timepiece? When you find yourself embroiled in tense discussions over how long is really acceptable to take over one’s turn at chess or backgammon, step forward the owner of a bright new chronograph. And should play go on late into the night, even the bleariest, most sherry-infused glance at an ultra-legible pilot’s or diving watch will tell you it’s time for bed. In which festive spirit we present a selection of the finest watches and games to buy this Christmas.

Poker

Encased in a handmade Italian presentation box and clad in black full-grain calf leather, this Smythson poker set is perfect for anyone looking to upgrade their regular home game (or raise the stakes with competitive siblings). It contains two decks of Art Deco patterned cards and 300 chips in five different colours, as well as a set of poker dice for more casual games (players take turns to roll, aiming to construct the best “hand” from the five dice, which show nine, 10, jack, queen, king and ace).

The watch

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date

The Patrimony line is Vacheron Constantin at its most traditional. Here, centre stage is given to a retrograde date indicator arcing across the upper half of the dial, echoed by the smaller semicircle of the moonphase below (which, uncommonly, is annotated with the days of the lunar month). For the many watch fans who find date windows jarring, elevating the date to be the dominant aspect of the design is an elegant solution.


Backgammon

One of the world’s oldest games – archeologists have found remains of the game dating back as far as 5,000 years in the Middle East – backgammon’s strength is in its blend of luck and strategy. And like the best games, the simplicity of its design belies the potential for infinite matches, limited only by your relatives’ patience. This set is crafted by Linley from walnut and leather.

The watches

Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris

Based on a 1968 diving watch, the Polaris is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s sportiest timepiece, and remains true to its forebear with the inclusion of an inner rotating bezel – controlled by the second crown at two o’clock – which allows it to perform all the functions of a diving watch without the addition of a big, chunky bezel. As a result, it’s a svelte 11.2mm thick and makes the most of its 41mm diameter with a highly legible dial.

Bremont ALT1-ZT

The ALT1-ZT is one of Bremont’s most enduringly popular models, and packs both a chronograph and second time zone indicator, read off the 24-hour scale around the outside of the dial (the ZT stands for Zulu Time, used by the military to refer to UTC). This model, with its “RAF navy blue” dial, red detailing and high-contrast white chronograph subdials, is exclusive to MR PORTER, produced in a limited run of just 15 pieces.


Snakes and Ladders

Originating in ancient India, the moralistic lesson of Snakes And Ladders found favour with the Victorians, who reintroduced the game to England with squares of Fulfillment, Grace and Success accessed by ladders of Thrift, Penitence and Industry (while you avoid a fall to Illness, Disgrace or Poverty via the snakes of Indulgence, Disobedience and Indolence). True to form, William & Son’s version features a 19th-century style illustration, atop a hand-stitched leather board.

The watches

IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince

IWC’s pilot’s chronograph is one of the most versatile designs in the horological sphere, ranging from mil-spec ceramic and khaki to this, its most casual execution. Fans of the brand will know that the blue dial indicates this is a “Petit Prince” model, celebrating the life and work of Mr Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the aviator and children’s writer. Paired with a two-tone canvas strap, it has a knockabout feel that’s well suited to Christmas at home.

Maurice de Mauriac L2

In some ways, it is amazing it took so long for bronze watches to break into the mainstream. Bronze carries with it the warmth of gold at a far lower price, is nearly as durable as steel, and has the added bonus of developing a characterful patina that’s completely unique to each watch. On the Maurice de Mauriac L2, it is paired with a rich blue dial and blue leather strap.


Jacks

Games don’t get much simpler than Jacks; all you need is a ball, six-pointed counters and a bag to keep them in (in this case, made by Dunhill from fine Spanish leather). But you can still argue over the rules, as many variants of the game exist – dating back to classical times, when it was played with bones. To this day, Jacks is also often called “Knucklebones” around the world.

The watch

Cartier Santos

One of very few watches in the world to carry a name other than that of their maker, the Santos may technically be the world’s first pilot’s watch (it was made by Mr Louis Cartier for Brazilian pioneer aviator Mr Alberto Santos Dumont), but today it is seen almost exclusively as a product of the 1980s. It had a number of updates this year, including the adoption of a quick-change strap system.


Chess

Spectacle specialist Cubitts has branched out (to mark its fifth anniversary) into the realm of table games with this ultra-minimalist chess set. The maple and walnut pieces have been reduced to their bare minimum, following a design by modern artist Mr Graham Lanier in 1966, and designed so that they pack away in one neat, tessellated rectangle (with the help of the brand’s signature “butterfly” rivet in solid brass).

The watches

Breitling Chronomat B01

The modern-day Chronomat dates back to the mid-1980s, when Breitling, under new ownership, sought to revive its fortunes with a forward-looking chronograph design – commissioned by the Italian Air Force. Its standout feature is the oversized bezel with four extruding tabs for easier rotation; this model has Breitling’s in-house B01 chronograph movement.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

Ask any designer and they’ll tell you that making something truly simple is immensely difficult: all the proportions must balance exactly, as they do on Vacheron Constantin’s base-level Patrimony. There’s nothing simple about the way it’s made either, as every component is made to meet Geneva Seal standards, which demand exacting levels of hand-finishing even if it will never be seen.


Dominoes

As anyone who’s played it will know, the most annoying thing about dominoes is getting them to line up properly, especially if you’re embarking on a marathon session after a hearty Christmas lunch. Bamford Watch Department solves the issue for ever by embedding tiny magnets into each lacquered wood domino, ensuring OCD-friendly levels of neatness as you battle it out.

The watch

Zenith Defy El Primero 21

The Defy El Primero 21 takes Zenith’s famous chronograph movement (which turns 50 next year) into the 21st century: able to measure time down to 1/100th of a second, it has a second escapement just for the chronograph. Thanks to its high frequency, the chronograph second hand makes a full rotation of the dial every second – a party trick watch nerds won’t tire of demonstrating.


Or try these

  • Montblanc Summit 2 42mm Stainless Steel and Leather Smart Watch

  • Ermenegildo Zegna Pelle Tessuta Leather Mahjong Set

  • NOMOS Glashütte Orion Neomatik Datum Automatic 41mm Stainless Steel and Cordovan Leather Watch

  • Linley Set of Two Illustrated Playing Cards Game Set

  • Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic 40mm Stainless Steel and Alligator Watch

  • William & Son Leather Solitaire and Noughts & Crosses Set