FindingElDorado_Hero

Finding El Dorado

From the baking coastal deserts to the fertile terraces of the Sacred Valley, the sun was worshipped by almost all of Peru’s indigenous peoples. And when the Nazca, Salinar, Vicús, Chimú, Moche and Sipán cultures sought a physical expression of this vital power, they turned to their most precious metal: gold.

 

When I first visited Lima’s state-run Museo de Oro and the private Larco museum of Pre-Columbian art in Cuzco, my jaw dropped at the extraordinarily exquisite representations of animals, ceremonial clothing and bags, sculptured hands, ceremonial cups and Tumis (axes with semi-circular blades) and funerary masks. These masterpieces demonstrate how gold, for the nobility, played a role in every aspect of life and death.

 

This story was repeated across the Americas, from the Mayas in Mexico to the Muisca people of Colombia. When the conquistadors came knocking, much of the splendor was scattered. Some traveled to Spain and Europe, some went to the Pope. Many of the extant gold artworks and jewelry are now held in museums or kept in private collections.

 

This is what makes Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas – at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center and then in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – a unique event. The show will feature more than 300 works rarely or never-before seen in the United States from more than 50 international lenders, including treasures unearthed in recent excavations across the continent.

 

To understand the history of the Americas, you have to understand gold. The Museo de Oro has pieces dating from as early as 100 AD. In Cuzco, the Incas’ “navel of the world”, Atahualpa was said to possess a portable throne of 15-carat gold that weighed 183 pounds. For many of the pre-Incan cultures, gold and silver were the embodiment of a fundamental dualism of light and dark, male and female, night and day.

 

For the Incas, whose empire stretched from Ecuador to northern Argentina, gold was not merely beautiful and rare, it symbolized unearthly and uncanny power. Archaeologists believe the Inca road network served for ritual activities. The famous Machu Picchu citadel had multiple and overlapping functions, sacred and profane. The most stirring place at the site, for me, is a stone pillar known as the Intihuatana. The name, possibly given to it by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911, means “hitching post of the sun”. The Incas, using the stone as an astronomical clock, held ceremonies on the March and September equinoxes when the sun was directly above the pillar. The Inca knew our closest star provided them with crops, fire, life itself and they believed that gold in some way embodied this cosmic force. Whoever owned gold had harnessed the creative energy of the sun.

 

Bogotá’s famous Museo de Oro claims to be the largest collection of gold objects in the world. Representations of fishes and sea snails, decorative plates, surreal anthropomorphs and zoomorphs and a dazzling votive raft express the vivid imaginations and demonstrate the artisanal talents of the Muisca culture, which occupied the Andean highlands from as early as the 16th century BC right up to the Spanish conquest.

Europeans were mesmerized by gold, too. If Columbus’s main goal was a fast route to the Indies, this was because he was seeking spices, silks, and precious stones and metals. Hernán Cortés is said to have confessed, “We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure.”

 

When Aztec ruler Montezuma made an offering of the precious metal to the invaders, believing them to be divine rather than dastardly, Cortés saw his chance. Much of the hoard was shipped to Europe, to become part of Spain’s imperial treasures, to pay debts, to be melted down, to be shipped on as patronage to the Pope. King Ferdinand of Spain required gold in order to fund further expeditions, to spread the word of God and to secure control over the vast new territories. Some was lost en route, plundered by pirates. In 1975, an octopus fisherman spied something glittering in shallow waters off Punta Gorda, near Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf. He dug into the sand with his free hand. The find, now known as the Fisherman’s Treasure, contained beautiful Aztec bracelets, pendants and ornaments, originally destined for Charles V but sunk en route. Some of these will be on show at Golden Kingdoms.

 

The search for gold would lead colonists and conquistadors to take terrible risks. Even in the deserts of Patagonia, Spanish explorers would, on hearing fantastical rumors told by natives, set off on epic, futile – often fatal – expeditions across the arid plains. Imaginary places like the City of the Caesars became the talk of coffee shops in Seville and Genoa, London and Paris.

 

The 20th century was not immune to gold fever. The recent film The Lost City of Z tells of British explorer, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett, who traveled to Brazil eight times between 1906 and 1925, searching for vestiges of an ancient civilization. Tales of lost Inca gold turn up perennially in newspapers – and, indeed, ancient sites are being discovered all the time (Golden Kingdoms, for instance, will showcase ornaments from Sipán, the richest unlooted tomb in the ancient Americas, found only in 1988).

 

All these possibilities are captured in the notion of El Dorado – the mythic Golden Man that segued from being a tribal chief associated with the Muisca to become a city, a kingdom and, ultimately, a lost empire. A few years ago, traveling through northern Brazil by bus, I woke to find we’d passed through a place called El Dorado during the night. It seemed fitting: to doze while passing through a place that has occupied so many dreams. Like all those conquistadors before me, I had to make do with the fiery glow of the dawn sun. Anyway, I rationalized, it was bound to have disappointed me. It was a small town, a nowhere place. There had to be dozens of humdrum El Dorados named after that futile, crazed illusion.

 

Then again, perhaps, buried a few inches beneath the ground, was a rusting chest containing a stash of gold that once lit up the faces of Incas or Amazonians, and lay waiting, shining in the dark, if only I could find it.

 

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas is at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (getty.edu) from September 16, 2017, to January 28, 2018, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York metmuseum.org from February 27 to May 28, 2018.

Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

Above: Aztec serpent labret with articulated tongue

 

 

Above: Moche octopus frontlet

 

Above and below: artifacts from the Golden Kingdoms exhibition

 

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Brand Ambitions

It was the late brilliant retailer Joseph Ettedgui who opened our eyes to the charms of interspersing some arresting, avant-garde furniture in among the fashion at his eponymous shop in London’s Fulham Road. The sight of one of André Dubreuil’s whimsical chairs lurking right next to the ball gowns seemed at the time to be shockingly adventurous, but it had the interesting effect of each enhancing the allure of the other.

 

These days, combinations of this sort are everywhere – from Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como in Milan to fashion designer Margaret Howell’s collection of mid-century furniture, which she dots between her signature shirts and gymslips. But many of the big fashion brands have taken the notion even further and have diversified into designing their own ranges of chairs and sofas, tableware and fragrance, as well as applying their imprint to such things as hotels, yachts and almost anything else that seems to take their fancy. Brand extension is what they call it – and most of them are at it. The cynical explanation for why it has become so ubiquitous is that it seems the logical way to sell more things to more people. If he/she likes the clothes, chances are they’ll like the sofa, the lamp, the cushion, even the chess set. Many of the great brands, run by some of the canniest businessmen and women in the world, have further observed that the word “lifestyle” is on an awful lot of lips. The woman who buys, for example, an Armani dress is tapping into a very precise aesthetic and – so the thinking goes – if she is sympathetic to the Armani world she is more than likely to want to surround herself with everything else the great man designs.

 

Key to the success of this approach is what industry observers refer to as “authenticity”. It’s not enough to slap a name on a product; it should encapsulate the essential DNA of the brand. For example, when St. Regis decided to create a Bentley Suite on the 15th floor of the hotel, they went to enormous lengths to make sure it wasn’t just a name that was added but the craftsmanship for which the legendary carmaker is renowned. The seductive lines of the Bentley Continental are echoed in the curved, veneered walls of the living room; the mirrored ceiling and marble floors remind visitors of the interior of a car wheel, and a light installation subtly recalls the car’s headlights. Further Bentley Suites have followed at The St. Regis Dubai and The St. Regis Istanbul, while The St. Regis New York now also boasts an exquisite Tiffany Suite.

 

Here we see a brand extension with a shared aesthetic and most importantly, a genuine connection between the name and the end product. Bentley has extended this careful attention to the core values of its motor cars to a whole range of luxury products, from soft leather driving gloves to cashmere throws and leather weekend bags, all of which reflect what it calls “the design language of our cars”.

 

On the whole, though, the designers who have been keenest to extend their brand into home furniture and accessories have been the fashion designers. At this year’s Salone del Mobile furniture show in Milan, many of the big names displayed their home collections with the same enthusiasm and panache as their annual fashion shows. For instance, Hermès produces a small collection of finely honed pieces usually using exquisite leather, often combined with wood, from a calfskin-topped desk made from walnut to its vast range of fine china, many patterned with the equestrian themes that lie at the heart of the Hermès heritage.

 

At Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier has carefully managed the brand’s extraordinary expansion based on what he calls “the four cornerstones: fine-quality materials, extraordinary craftsmanship, contemporary functionality, and timeless design”. His venture into furniture started in 2006 with a solitary bench. Today, in the splendid surroundings of Palazzo Gallarati Scotti, an 18th-century palazzo in the heart of Milan, there is a complete and very haute collection of everything from sofas to accessories, which he has sourced from an extensive range of ateliers and factories: glass artists in Murano, the fine porcelain manufacturer Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, and Poltrona Frau for seating. He, too, has created an affinity with St. Regis Hotels: in Rome and Florence guests can check into one-of-a-kind Bottega Veneta suites and enjoy the charms of both brands simultaneously.

 

Christian Lacroix has transferred his fascination with the rich imagery of the Camargue (the famous salt marshes that lie just south of Arles in the south of France) and his interest in ancient cultures and folklore that infused his fashion line onto a range of homeware that bears the distinctive Lacroix imprint. At Dolce & Gabbana the designers teamed up with Smeg, the celebrated Italian manufacturer of upmarket appliances, to come up with some extraordinary limited-edition fridges with historical medieval scenes hand-painted by local Sicilian artists, each of which took around 200 hours to complete and cost upwards of $40,000. And Swarovski, that maker of brilliant crystals, has corralled some of the biggest names in the world of design and architecture – Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad, Fredrikson Stallard to name just a few – to launch what it calls Atelier Swarovski Home.

   

The Italian house of Missoni was one of the earliest to see that the Missoni aesthetic could be happily transferred from fashion into home accessories. Anybody who knows anything about the brand can’t fail to see the deep and genuine connection between its fashion and the home line that Rosita Missoni, wife of the late Tai with whom she founded the brand way back in the 1960s, developed. She took the patterns she always loved – the stripes and zigzags, the waves, squares and tartans – and put them on to sheets and rugs, plates and towels. The home line is infused with the same joyousness, warmth and love of color that was the basis of their success in fashion.

 

Suite dreams

The Dior Suite at The St. Regis New York, where hospitality and fashion merge

 

 

After a fashion

Cushions by fashion house Christian Lacroix, which has created products for the home

Fendi is a more recent player in the game and it turned to that iconic Paris-based designer Maria Pergay to come up with seriously original and often quite challenging limited-edition pieces. The notion behind the collection, as Silvia Fendi put it, was to “highlight the bond between leather and fur workmanship, iconic Fendi materials, and Pergay’s steel design”. This translated into some extraordinary pieces such as her Cabinet Pétales, a polychrome stainless steel and lacquered wood cabinet finished with embossed leather that resembles a giant exploded flower, as well as a chair made from stainless steel with gold-plated bronze and leopard-pattern marquetry: all very Fendi.

 

Roberto Cavalli, another of Italy’s best-known fashion designers, also very recently decided that those who liked his frocks might like to surround themselves with a whole Cavalli look. Today, he offers a whole world of opulence: of gold-rimmed serving platters, of faux leopard-skin throws, of richly patterned linens, of sumptuous padded upholstery and highly decorated tableware.

 

Jonathan Anderson, Loewe’s creative director, has just launched some 15 pieces of furniture all linked to the Loewe world by the craft that goes into their making. His approach might perhaps be considered more curatorial than original design, in that he took a series of vintage 1930s pieces and then he applied leather marquetry to refresh or revive their forms. And finally, the latest to announce a foray into expanding its universe is one of the grandest of all names in fashion. The house of Dior, no less, opened its first Dior Homme Boutique in London, designed by superstar architect Peter Marino, with a collection of home objects made by 11 different designers ranging from Lucie de la Falaise and Yann Debelle de Montby to Michaël Cailloux and Marino himself. The great M. Dior himself was fond of saying that “living in a house that doesn’t reflect who you are is akin to wearing someone else’s clothes”.


While clearly at the core of all this activity there is a very simple and straightforward commercial aim – that of expanding the brand’s customer base and persuading more of those customers to buy more things – it seems that something more profound lies behind this thinking. Creating a whole world around a brand seems not only to be a powerful way to create new energy around the name but to subtly change the way the brand is viewed. It gives far greater depth to the company’s narrative and it helps explain why they are busy devising ever more enterprising ways to get their story across to that modern phenomenon: the affluent, sophisticated and super-served global customer.


Your address: The St. Regis New YorkThe St. Regis Florence; The St. Regis Istanbul; The St. Regis Rome; The St. Regis Dubai

 

 

Pink glass by Giberto Arrivabene for Dior Home

 

 

Magazine rack from the Equilibre d’Hermès collection.

 

 

A pair of “Fireworks” chaises longues from iconic Italian brand Missoni, one of the first of the major fashion houses to extend its range into textiles, furniture and homewares

 

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Another Fine Romance

The classic honeymoon

It seemed to Franz and Samantha that all their friends went to The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort on honeymoon. Thus, they reasoned, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort in the French Polynesian Islands would be something different to Instagram home about. They’re not disappointed. From the moment Sam’s Bottega Veneta-shod feet alight from the hotel boat on to the private jetty, the couple are equally charmed and seduced. They’ve decided to do it in style, booking the Royal Overwater Villa with its plunge pool and steps down to the ocean, from which Franz, who needs to recover from his 12-hour-a-day job as an Asian currency trader, launches himself daily on a three-mile swim. Sam really doesn’t mind. She’s already thinking about ordering her first Bora Mary of the day (the St. Regis hotel first created the Bloody Mary, aka the Red Snapper, in 1934, so they know what they’re doing) and wondering which sushi to eat for her lunch on the Taki Terrace. She slips into her flimsiest Marysia bikini and heads for her private cabana at the Oasis pool. “No children allowed”, reads the sign. Just how she likes it, thinks Sam – for the moment.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, that Samantha and Franz considered for their honeymoon: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
 

The baby-moon

With the final months of pregnancy approaching, Dylan and Sacha have taken time out to enjoy a pre-baby celebration in Mallorca. For a couple who adore art and worship the tennis racket, the Spanish island is ideal. Their hotel, The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, happens to be located near Rafael Nadal’s home town – not that Dylan or Sacha ever spot the handsome Spanish tennis god. But knowing he’s around is enough. Luckily for Dylan, there’s plenty for his pregnant wife to do, including massages at the Arabella spa and viewing the art galleries in Deià. Because, alongside tennis coaching, which the hotel organizes for him, he has rediscovered another passion: cycling. “I’d forgotten how much I love it,” he says, as Sacha eyes his Lycra shorts dubiously. “Enjoy it,” she says, “because once the baby comes, there won’t be time for long bike rides.” Dylan, like all advertising types, can read between the lines. “I won’t be too long,” he says. “Excellent,” says Sacha, with a triumphant smile. “Because I’ve booked a table at Simply Fosh for an early supper, then I thought we could talk nursery colors.” As he pedals away, Dylan sees his life flashing before him.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, that Dylan and Sacha considered for their baby-moon: The St. Regis San Francisco and The St. Regis Bali Resort

The mini-moon

Jed and Susan had been just too busy for a proper honeymoon with all the stress of launching their digital startup. But, six months into their marriage, tempers are frayed. “We’ve just gotta get away,” Jed says to Susan. Well, he doesn’t actually say it. During the day, he and Susan communicate via SMS from consecutive floors of the tiny office building they rent. Susan’s response is as effusive as one might expect from a woman running a website: “OK.” And then, as an afterthought: “X.” San Francisco is the natural choice: confirmed urbanites, they’ve long cast themselves as Silicon Valley-philes, and now they’re going to party like them. Strolling out from The St. Regis San Francisco, they launch themselves into the hip Mission district for tacos at La Taqueria, ogle art at SFMOMA, and in Haight-Ashbury, discover a shop, The Booksmith, that sells ancient artefacts from days gone by: books. “Remember this?” says Jed, picking up a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Susan fishes her iPhone from her Céline Trio bag to Instagram her husband holding the book. “Honey,” Jed says, “Yosemite is only a drive away. Maybe we need to get back to nature?”
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis San Francisco, that Jed and Susan considered for their mini-moon: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, The St. Regis Dubai and The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur
 

The adventure-moon

Lisa can’t really call herself a Buddhist because, well, she’s not 100 per cent sure about reincarnation and she likes a good rare steak. But ever since she saw the Dalai Lama speak at Radio City Music Hall, she’s felt a deep connection. She and her partner Ronald are what they like to call “Big Travelers”. They’ve done the Rajasthan “triangle”, the cherry blossom in Kyoto and salmon spawning in Alaska. But to reaffirm their vows they really want to do something Spiritual with a big S – and what could be more spiritual than visiting the DL’s hometown of Lhasa? That is, if they venture out of The St. Regis Lhasa Resort, with its Gold Energy Spa Pool, its view of the DL’s former home and its fabulous Si Zi Kang restaurant. Dressed in their travel uniform of Banana Republic khaki combats, crisp white Ralph Lauren shirts and Tod’s loafers, the couple take in the sights – a trip to the Rongbuk Monastery at the foot of Everest and the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple – before bartering for Buddha statues, joss sticks and prayer beads in Barkhor Street market nearby. Almost as good for the soul as the full-body massage at the hotel spa. “Now, that,” they murmur, post-massage, as they float dreamily in the Golden Energy Pool, “was truly spiritual.”
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Lhasa Resort that Lisa and Ronald considered for their adventure-moon: The St. Regis Princeville Resort and The St. Regis Cairo
 

The second-moon

James and Sunita first honeymooned 20 years ago in Los Angeles – and remember it well. Both film buffs, they toured Hollywood studios, trekked up to The Sign, and even strolled together on The Walk of Fame. When, two (adult) children later, the couple want to “do it over” and celebrate the fact they’ve made it this far (unlike most of their friends), they want somewhere with a similar feel, but more exotic – like Bollywood. If in Hollywood they felt energetic, in Mumbai they’re positively on fire. This really is a city that never sleeps, and at The St. Regis Mumbai the couple really feel in the thick of it. Having toured the Bollywood film studios and taken a trip out to the 5th-century caves on Elephanta Island, they feel entitled just to hang out in their Gucci outfits in the hotel’s 40th-floor Asilo bar, sipping Aperol spritzes and gazing appreciatively out at the view. Tomorrow they’ll visit the famous Spice Market in the morning, with a synchronized full-body massage at the Four Senses spa in the afternoon. If this isn’t utter New India-style luxury, then they don’t know what is.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mumbai, that James and Sunita considered for their second moon: The St. Regis Langkawi and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
 

 

 

The classic honeymoon

 

 

The baby-moon

 

 

The adventure-moon

 

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Smarten Up

In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I of England was given the most advanced timepiece ever created. It was a small clock that could be worn on the wrist. In 2015 Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, presented what he referred to as “the most advanced timepiece ever created” to the world. It was a small clock that could be worn on the wrist.

 

Both Elizabeth’s “arm watch” and Cook’s Apple Watch are marvels of miniaturization. And yet youngsters of the iPhone generation might take one look at the queen’s mechanical bauble and wonder what the fuss was about. It could not, they might point out, respond to voice commands, measure its wearer’s heart rate, function as a contactless credit card or alert the sovereign to incoming emails – all of which Apple’s state-of-the-art gizmo can do, and more.

 

“Wearable technology” has come a long way. And the sector is set to go a great deal farther. How big might the boom be? According to Lisa Calhoun, founder of Write2Market, a technology PR firm, “Wearable tech is currently an $8 billion industry, projected to hit $50 billion in the next five years. With a change in image, the industry could accelerate and possibly even surpass that potential for growth.”

 

The wearables market is dominated by smartwatches and health- and fitness-related devices. At least in the short term these will remain the two biggest categories. When wearable fitness-monitoring devices created by companies such as Nike, Fitbit, Intel and Jawbone emerged a few years ago – measuring steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, skin temperature and sleep quality – they seemed to represent a move towards what has been termed “the quantified self”. In 2015 and beyond, expect to see further moves in the same direction, including motion-tracking socks and underwear, light-reactive jackets that glow in response to exertion, wireless devices for scanning blood-sugar levels, and shoes that can help runners manage their pace and navigate unfamiliar streets.

 

Meanwhile, other applications are being found for wearable technology. Car-makers are developing apps that will let people unlock and start their cars remotely using their smartwatches and phones. Airlines are investigating how wearable technology might help streamline the check-in process. Anxious parents can attach devices that use GPS technology to curious toddlers with a tendency to wander off. And sun-lovers can avail themselves of bracelets that monitor desired tan levels and swimwear that changes color to warn them when they are in danger of going from tanned to burnt.

 

Indeed, the point at which technology and fashion intersect is one in particular to keep an eye on. “In five to ten years’ time, all the little gadgets we have to carry around – like mobile phones, cameras or bracelets – will disappear and everything will be integrated into a garment,” speculates Francesca Rosella, creative director of CuteCircuit, which is at the cutting edge of fashionable wearable technology. CuteCircuit made its name with a “hug shirt” that mimics the sensation of being embraced when someone with the corresponding app sends the shirt’s wearer a text message. The brand is also known for its miniskirts and dresses that glow and switch between patterns, which have been shown off to striking effect by celebrity fans such as Katy Perry and Nicole Scherzinger.

 

But so far the highest-profile mainstream fashion label to express a keen interest in wearable technology is Ralph Lauren. Last year it launched the Polo Tech, a tightly fitted sports shirt that monitors heartbeat, breathing and stress levels. That data gets sent from the shirt to an app via a detachable Bluetooth-enabled box. (The shirt itself is fine in the washing machine; the box loaded with delicate biometric circuitry is not.) “The technology has evolved to a point where it can now be synthesized with clothing,” said David Lauren, Ralph’s son and the brand’s executive vice-president, on the occasion of the launch. “The goal now is to merge it into all kinds of clothing. It will be mind-blowing five years from now.”

 

Although the number of wearable devices is growing every day, the majority of consumers remain fitness fanatics. Yet studies also show that wearable fitness-trackers are apparently not as compelling as smartphones, with many users admitting to losing interest in and even abandoning their new toys after a short while.

 

On a technical level, another factor limiting the attractiveness of many wearable devices is their typically short battery life and inability to function unless connected to a nearby smartphone. With so many electronic gadgets to juggle already, why should consumers want to buy more – especially when their phones can already do practically everything wearables can?

 

Another obstacle is that eternal and, for the manufacturers of consumer goods, maddeningly unpredictable quirk of human nature: the perception of what is and is not cool. The rejection of Google Glass, smartglasses that overlay data and augmented imagery on what the wearer is looking at through their spectacle lenses, is a case in point. In principle, Google Glass is an exciting idea, and it seems likely that the technology will prove useful in industrial settings, making it easier, for example, for warehouse workers to locate and handle stock. But ordinary consumers were allergic to the product, perceiving it as not only creepy and intrusive but also, and most damningly, uncool.

 

Wearable technology’s true believers predict a future in which electronic devices worn on the wrist or neck will become part of every area of our daily lives, serving as a form of ID, allowing us to shop, navigate and communicate, as well as to gather and interpret data on our personal activity and wellbeing; in short, to provide what technologists call a “persistent digital identity”. We are certainly well on the way. But we have not quite arrived there yet. Elizabeth I’s arm watch is not entirely obsolete, after all.