Sun Valley Conference: Watch Trends on Display at “Billionaire Summer Camp”


After a pandemic year-long hiatus, the Sun Valley conference resumed in idyllic Idaho last week. The “billionaire summer camp,” as it’s called, brings together industry titans to strike deals and tackle the most pressing issues of our time, like how can we also to beat Jeff Bezos in space? And despite the overwhelming wealth of those in attendance, fashion is often abandoned: these men (for the most part) typically give in to their worst casual sartorial impulses. Good news for us, however: T-shirts, hoodies, shorts and down jackets are often associated with outrageously expensive watches.

These outrageously expensive watches are the product of a rather unique environment. In Sun Valley, attendees don’t dress for a business meeting, a place to appease shareholders on Crazy money, or even a night out to eat expensive, shaved food. Instead, they’re dressing for a much more intense task: fitting in and impressing their billionaire counterparts. (In the past, there has been no greater holy grail of Sun Valley than the conference product itself. North Face has made logo jackets for previous editions before handing over the job this year to Zero. Restriction, depending on NPRAnd while you might expect to see a lot of turbo watches from brands like Richard Mille, the ones known as the Billionaire Handshake, the reality on the ground was quite different. These are the watch wearing trends that we have noticed this year.

Chuck Robbins (left) wearing his Patek Philippe Calatrava.

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

The dress shows the death knell

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The watches on display at the Billionaires’ Summer Camp match the trends we’ve seen in the collector community. A great example: Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco, was standing despite wearing one of the watches you would expect to see at an event like this. Robbins was pictured in a Patek Philippe Calatrava, one of the finest and most stylish watches in the world. It’s simple, dressy, and unpretentious – a quiet luxury piece that pairs well with the Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli cashmere suits – and theoretically the ultimate wealthy businessman’s watch.

But Robbins was the only one to wear the watch and one of the only participants to wear a dress watch. Only the Glashütte Senator Observer of Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos was compared in terms of dress. Even the only Cartier on display, owned by retired Army General David Petraeus, was the brand’s drive-inspired (and not-so-subtly named) Drive.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, in conference merchandising with his Patek Philippe Aquanaut.

Kevin dietsch

Adrien Nussenbaum knows the Sun Valley dress code: $ 21,000 T-shirt and watch.

Kevin dietsch

Casual is king

While there weren’t many takers for Robbins’ Calatrava, another Patek Philippe has appeared in Sun Valley more than once. Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Disney president and future King of Quibi, and Mirakl co-founder Adrien Nussenbaum have been seen wearing by far the most casual watch in Patek Philippe’s catalog: the Aquanaut. Following the success of its already dressed Nautilus, Patek released the Aquanaut in 1997 to appeal to a customer who wanted a luxury watch to wear with their luxury tracksuits. And few watches make more sense, ironically, amid the laid-back vibes of the Sun Valley billionaire gathering.

Evan Greenberg with his Rolex Explorer II.

Kevin dietsch

It wasn’t just the Aquanauts either. Michael Fux, CEO of Comfort Revolution, wore a puffy Royal Oak like a sports car. The stock version of this watch is already casual; and Fux comes with a tachometer, the busy complication taken from pilot’s watches, and plenty of sub-dials. Insurance mogul Evan Greenberg wore the all-new Rolex Explorer II, a watch designed for caving. Zander Lurie, the former CEO of SurveyMonkey, opted for an all-black IWC aviator’s watch, a piece that is not without resonance considering the more than 90 private jets that landed in Sun Valley last week.

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Tim Cook and his Apple Watch.

Kevin dietsch

Courtesy of Apple

The only true movement of power

There were a lot of beautiful watches in Sun Valley, but the conference’s ultimate watchmaking status symbol was something incredibly affordable or, better yet, no watch at all. The most striking thing about this photo of Bill Gates and Evan Greenberg crossing a lawn is that while Greenberg opts for the Rolex, Gates is content to wear one of his Casio watches. Apple CEO Tim Cook wore an Apple Watch, as did Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson and former CIA deputy deputy director of operations Robert Richer. Mark Zuckerberg was not wearing a watch at all!

Cook, Zuck, and Gates continue to nurture the idea that great businessmen don’t need a big watch to assert their status. You don’t need to check your wrist to find out where these guys rank on the Forbes list. In fact, avoiding an expensive watch seems intended to send a different kind of message about the frugal pragmatism of our oligarch overlords. In this way, Billionaire Summer Camp isn’t all that different from regular summer camp: Cool kids always find a way to go their separate ways.

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