How watch brands like Hublot and Patek Philippe are creating works of art

Some of the most important artists of the 20th century were horological connoisseurs. Picasso had a collection that would have any Hodinkee reader salivating – among them, the Rolex GMT-Master, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Date Moonphase, and, to appreciate, a Patek Philippe Triple Date Moonphase. Warhol is even more obsessed: He has amassed a collection of 313 watches, including Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Piagets, and various Cartiers that he is known to wear (but not by the wind). ). Even today, Hockney is rarely seen without one of the flimsy gold wristwatches peeking out from under his cardigan sleeve.

However, for many years, apart from artists who were connoisseurs, the worlds of mechanical and fine watchmaking rarely crossed the line. But that is changing rapidly as new cultural and aesthetic convergence takes on momentum. Jaeger-LeCoultre, for example, a few years ago paid homage to none other than Vincent van Gogh, adorning the dial of the exceptional number Reversos with painstakingly enameled reproductions of the artist’s works. Dutch Postimpressionist. (The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam even sells some in its gift shop.) Lamp shops like Seurat, Xu Beihong and Ferdinand Hodler are similarly organized on Reversos.

Now, a number of watchmakers are collaborating directly with artists — a move that seemed completely revolutionary back in 1986, when Keith Haring worked with Swatch to create four custom pieces. for his Pop Store. Today, we’re not just talking about $100 Swatches, but six-figure creations that elevate contemporary art. Hublot worked with Takashi Murakami, Richard Orlinski and Shepard Fairey, among others, to recreate limited editions of the brand’s iconic timepieces. Murakami’s latest creation features a transparent sapphire crystal case and a smiley-flower-patterned revolving dial done with 384 colored gemstones, for $106,000 – a bargain, in a way. , considering the artist ‘s works that have been auctioned over the years .

Luckily, you don’t need that currency to buy a piece of wearable art. Swatch now partners with MoMA, creating affordable quartz-powered timepieces adorned with pieces by Klimt and Mondrian. Regrettably, Haring’s original Swatch models are out of production, but vintage models on eBay can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars each.

Of course, art lovers and watch lovers are in good spirits. The mediums can vary, but, as renowned international art collector and consultant Fabien Fryns explains it, both create a unique admiration for the creator. “You can see an artist’s hand in a watch, just as you can see an artist’s hand in a painting,” he told me. “I didn’t know a big car collector who also had a great art collection; I’m sure there are a few, but I often come across art lovers collecting watches, and vice versa.”

In the last sign of true convergence, there is a new trend that wants to present watches as a work of art, taking them from the wrist to becoming the objective of major cultural institutions. I speak from experience. I was recently approached to help a top collector prepare his collection – mainly Patek Philippes – for an exhibition. The show will not take place in a hotel or private club, as many watch circles usually do, but at the Design Museum in London, where the timepieces will be displayed as one of a kind. offensive items they have.

While Patek Philippe has held international exhibitions, this will be the first time that a private collection mainly composed of wristwatches by the blue chip maker will be displayed at a museum. I hope it won’t be the last. As the collector pointed out, “People have been exhibiting their art collections for years, centuries, so why not look at the collections?”

In other words: Don’t be surprised if in a few years you’ll be asking for directions at The Met to find the Hall of Hyped-Up Horology.

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue with the headline “Sorry, is that Murakami on your wrist?”

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