James Marsden Says He Has to ‘Master’ All of His Hobbies, Including Being a ‘Nerd’ About Watches
James Marsden doesn’t do things halfway.
The Disenchanted star, who has partnered with IWC Schaffhausen for years, admits that he’s a “nerd” when it comes to watches — and all of his hobbies — because he wants to know everything there is to know.
“I just have to immerse myself in all of it,” he says of his hobbies, one of which is collecting watches. “I have to master it, not to prove anything; I just can’t get enough information about it.”
His love for IWC Schaffhausen dates back to his Ally McBeal days in the early 2000s, he tells PEOPLE exclusively. When the show wrapped, the actor was gifted with an IWC Portofino watch, he says, and he fell in love with it right away.
“That was what lit the fuse to my enthusiasm,” Marsden, 49, says. “It was the first nice watch I’ve ever really owned. I began to slowly learn about them and learn about [IWC’s] history.”
Not too long after that, Marsden says he was preparing for a Met Gala when his stylist, Ilaria Urbanati, handed him another IWC watch to wear with his tux.
“It was just happenstance,” he says. “I was like, ‘Okay, well, this is written in the stars.'”
But rather than simply wear the watches and admire how “pretty” they are, Marsden did what he does with all of his hobbies — he learned everything. He met the team, he went to Switzerland to see how the timepieces are crafted, he joined the brand at events and he’s worn a number of watches for his own enjoyment.
“It’s one of these rare friendship-work relationships where these are your friends, but you are also just as much of a fan of the brand as you are the people who are involved with it,” Marsden says.
The luxury brand, which just opened the doors of a new boutique location in Palm Beach, Florida, in a partnership with Greenleaf & Crosby, specializes in classic timepieces that are built to last. And what Marsden loves so much about them is the fact that they aren’t splashy or “show-offy.”
“I like function; I like tool watches,” Marsden tells PEOPLE at the event celebrating the store’s opening. “I like something that has a purpose to it and on top of that is beautifully finished and looks very elegant. [IWC Schaffhausen] epitomizes that.”
Marsden rattles off a list of his favorite watches from the brand, including a Pilot Spitfire, a Portofino Chronograph and a Portugieser Chronograph. If you give the actor enough time, though, he’ll continue naming watches and features he likes, proving that he actually has mastered knowing all the fine details of the brand he admires.
The beautifully crafted watches start around $4,000 in price, but many are over $10,000. For Marsden, though, a luxury watch is a worthwhile investment if you can afford it — because you can hold onto it for years and years.
“I never went really crazy with fashion,” Marsden says of how he spent his first few big paychecks as an actor. “But luxury, boy, watches are what I would spend money on. To me, I could always argue you’re never going to lose that money on certain things. There are always going to be collector items, so essentially you’re making an investment.”
A classic watch ties in seamlessly with Marsden’s signature style, which he says is “effortless.” He’s quick to give credit to his stylist Urbanati for any fashion accolades he gets and notes that their relationship works well because she understands what he wants to wear.
“We would always talk about how there has to be an element of effortlessness,” he says of his process with Urbanati. “You don’t want to see the work put into it. [The outfit] can’t be wearing you. The people that I always think about are classic Marlon Brando or Paul Newman, where it’s simple but still beautiful. I think there’s a way of doing simplicity without it being boring. You can have elegance — so, that’s my foundation.”
And though the father of three is game for little bits of flair for a red carpet, he jokingly tells PEOPLE that he can’t compete with the style stars of today. The pastel Dolce & Gabbana suit he wore for the SAG Awards earlier this year was about as far outside his fashion box that he was willing to step.
“I wore a baby blue tuxedo to the SAG awards — I fought it for a while,” he says with a laugh before clarifying that he let Urbanati put him in “whatever” she wanted. “I always let her do that anyway; I don’t actually fight her.”
His stylist assured him that the suit was a winner, even though he felt like he belonged “on top of a wedding cake” somewhere.
“She said, ‘You wear this, you’ll get in GQ’s best dressed,’ and sure enough, she was right.”