WEARING a valuable watch is probably the best, and generally most subtle, way for successful executives to display their taste and wealth. The genuine Rolex is an accessory universally recognised as a symbol of achievement, although it is by no means the only, or the most expensive wrist-watch available. Rolex, along with such names as Patek Philipe, Cartier and Longines, have attained fame because of their watches' longevity and reliability. There are still perfect working examples of these watches from the 1920s and 1930s but they are becoming more difficult to find, to the regret of David Lowe, chairman of Irvan, which sells antique watches, jewellery and accessories through its stores in Central and Pacific Place. When Mr Lowe opened the company nine years ago, it was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Since then, a constant flow of customers, many of whom became regulars, seeking alternatives to the large, flashy watches and jewellery that dominate modern design. ''Many of our customers are successful business people, fashion-conscious executives who like to wear an antique watch as a symbol of their good taste,'' Mr Lowe said. ''Some clients may have collected as many as 20 or 30 watches, each individual , which of course provides added value.'' This can push the price of a 50-year-old Rolex considerably higher than its modern equivalent, and is an investment for the fashion conscious. A limited-edition range released by Patek Philippe to celebrate its 150th anniversary appreciated 10 times in value within a few years. There had always been tremendous interest in watches in Hong Kong, Mr Lowe said. ''Traditionally, Shanghainese people loved watches and clocks, and so did the Chinese here in Hong Kong,'' he said. ''The watch has to be an attractive piece of jewellery as well as a practical accessory. ''This applies particularly to women's watches, where diamonds are very popular as decoration around the face of the watch and on the band.'' Most of Mr Lowe's clients are local residents, and many overseas visitors have been drawn by his reputation for dealing in only the highest quality wrist-watches, and increasingly popular pocket watches, acquired from all over the world. Meticulous care is taken to ensure that every watch for sale is authentic, and in top working order. Mr Lowe said he recently examined excellent copies, even of antique watches, that would pass all but expert inspection. While counterfeiters are interested only in reproducing watch designs as accurately as possible, famous names such as Cartier and Patek Philippe are drawing on the inspiration of their own original styles and recreating the look in their current models. One watch dealer in Central said this classic styling, together with the Swiss pedigree of many of the leading manufacturers, was what attracted younger, up and coming executives. ''People buy accessories with names they know and trust,'' he said. ''The younger ones go for the sports-type watches by Tag-Heuer and Zodiac, or the classic designs by Omega, Tissot, Philippe Chariol and Oris. ''The leading sellers are Swiss, but the Japanese Seiko and Citizen models are also popular.'' The chronograph, in its various guises, is a popular and useful accessory for aspiring pilots and rally drivers, but it also looks effective when worn with a business suit. Leading brands such as Breitling, Lanvin and Lecroix offer several dials on one watchface, and push buttons, that tell different times. Even Swatch, which has become one of the most sought-after fashion accessories, has released a range of chronographs.