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Look at any watch advertisement and you'll notice that it's always 10:10. This is not a coincidence.

Watchmakers and their marketing teams set a watch's hands at 10:10 because the time resembles a smile, a happy face that is meant to trigger positive connotations in the subconscious of consumers.

You might think that recent economic tumbles would turn those happy faces into 8:20s, but it seems luxury watches may be one of the few items immune to times of economic hardship, with retailers saying they have seen no drop in business.

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A watch is an investment piece, says Anny Kazanjian, divisional vice-president of public relations and events at Birks & Mayors Inc.

"Consumers are spending money, but rather than being excessive in their purchases, they're strategizing. This is when you gravitate toward brands that really stand the test of time."

There is also the fact that those who like luxury watches often have the enthusiasm of a true devotee.

For example, David Hopkinson, vice-president of corporate and community partnerships at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, was keen to get his hands on a Concord C1 Chronograph when the Swiss watchmaker's latest creation became available in Canada.

"It's so different and cool," he says of the watch. "It's completely stunning."

Hopkinson also has an Omega and an Ebel, two other luxury watches.

"I like them because it's a personal statement," he says. "I'm in sales and marketing and people look for things demonstrating that you're on the edge of fashion, that you get culture and you get quality. A watch is a really nice way to communicate that."

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Hopkinson doesn't consider himself a collector. Indeed, owning three watches hardly qualifies, considering how many some men own.

"One of my customers owns something like 38 watches," says Doug Youngson, manager of Humbertown Jewellers in Toronto. "Men and watches is about the equivalent of women and shoes."

While classics such as Rolex and Cartier are still popular, the hot luxury watch brands these days include Breguet, Ulysse Nardin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Concord, Breitling and Bell & Ross.

"People are wanting the exotic brands more," says Bernard Florence, president of Calgary Jewellery. "They are looking for watches that are a little bit more exclusive."

Florence agrees that sales have yet to see a slowdown. "People are still treating themselves to fine quality timepieces," he says. "Even though we're in a slowdown, people are still coming in and saying, 'You know what, because it is what it is, I'm not going to stop from treating myself to something special.' "

Many of these watches start at $10,000 and range up to a small fortune. Concord's C1 Tourbillon Gravity, for instance, retails for $320,000 (and it's sold out). But Florence points out that some luxury brands, such as Omega, Hamilton and Baume & Mercier, range from $750 to $1,300.

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Youngson notes that some customers buy luxury watches as investments, but most do it for more emotional reasons. Three weeks ago, one of his clients came in to buy a Patek Philippe, a brand that usually starts at about $12,000.

"He said, 'You know what, I've wanted this watch for 25 years. I've been hoarding my money away, putting it in the stock market. My portfolio dropped by more than 50 per cent. I might as well buy the watch. At least I can enjoy it,' " Youngson recalls.

Matt Baily, owner of Matt Baily Watch Merchant in Montreal, says there is still room for the luxury watch market to continue to expand.

"In North America, people have really only been buying luxury watches for the last 20 years and the market's been growing," he says. "In the last 10 years, it's only been double-digit growth."

It's not surprising, then, that more companies are entering the arena. The Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Company, for instance, will launch its first collection of timepieces in January. Other new brands of the past decade include De Grisogone in 2000 and David Yurman in 1999.

Watchmaking is also seeing creative partnerships, such as a Breitling for Bentley and a Hamilton partnership with Harrison Ford and Conservation International. Omega's limited-edition Quantum of Solace watch is also reportedly selling well.

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In Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has partnered with Concord to launch a limited-edition custom watch for the Toronto Raptors.

Michael Reichmann, a Toronto photographer and former telecommunications entrepreneur, has been a watch aficionado since he was a young boy.

"My dad had fancy jewellery watches and I guess back in the fifties it was a status thing. For me, it's one of those pieces of jewellery that men are allowed to have," he laughs. "You're allowed to have a wedding ring and a watch, so make the most of it."

He now owns five watches that he wears regularly, including an Omega X33, a Bell & Ross BR04 and a Yes. (There are more in his collection.)

Once or twice a year, Reichmann will buy a high-end watch magazine, which he calls "watch porn," to see what's new on the market.

"An interesting watch is something that you have forever," he says.

No wonder it's always 10:10 in luxury watch land.

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