Now Reading: The eye of the beholder: watches and art

The eye of the beholder: watches and art

Watch companies know only too well that appreciation of fine watches and fine art go hand in hand

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By Dubai Watch Week

21 Oct, 2019

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Luxury watches. Practical objects that keep the time, or art? Despite the existential pretensions of the question, the answer is really quite simple. If time has showed us anything, particularly over the last 40 years, it’s that watches can be and are both. Practical to the point where even technology giants have admitted pocket-bound devices can’t replace them (a case of history repeating itself, you could say), and beautiful to the point where subjective appreciation makes them, even at a basic level, some form of art.

As inescapable is the watch industry’s adoption of the arts as a means to anchor their ideas and products to. While high-profile partnerships with automotive manufacturers or musicians are commonplace among watch brands, those with artists and artistic institutions tend to carry less punch. Or do they? Below, we’ve explored some of the most interesting liaisons between the watch and artistic communities.

Audemars Piguet and Origins: The Art Projects

The venerable family-owned watch business is well known in art circles for its Art Basel sponsorship, now in its seventh year. Less known but arguably more intriguing is its Origins: The Art Projects, a programme that invites artists to create works that reflect something of the AP story. This year, Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen created a sound composition called Du Petit Risoud aux Profondeurs du Lac de Joux, an acoustic piece that captures the sounds of the famous Vallée de Joux surrounding the company’s manufacture in Le Brassus. Listen to it here.


TAG Heuer and Alec Monopoly

Is graffiti art? Purists may not appreciate it, but few would deny the impact that street art has had on the artistic community and on those places where its most visible. Unlike that of the masters, the work of graffiti artists is widely accessible – it’s on walls and structures all over the world. TAG Heuer’s decision to partner with the masked spray painter Alec Monopoly broke new ground for the industry when it was announced in 2016. Various limited editions followed, but more importantly for TAG Heuer, it helped position its watches as disruptive, contemporary and, in the eyes of a young urban demographic, cool.

Rolex and the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

Rolex is both Switzerland’s largest watch brand and, believe or not, a charitable foundation with ‘non-profit’ status. Technicalities and the specifics of Swiss law to one side, what that means in practice is that Rolex invests huge (albeit undisclosed) sums of money in philanthropic activities. These cover many disciplines (it’s built university buildings and even a bridge in Geneva), many of them in the arts. Every two years since 2002, it has run the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, pairing talented, up-and-coming creatives with experienced mentors. Last year, four further pairings were announced, one of which saw architect Sir David Adjaye, whose body of work includes Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, paired with Mariam Kamara. Expect to hear more of her work in the coming years.


MB&F and the M.A.D. Gallery

While the watch industry’s large-scale brands have the budgets to amplify their artistic credentials by partnering with household names, smaller independents are often left to create and curate schemes of their own. MB&F, the brainchild of genius contemporary watchmaker Maximilian Büsser, makes just a few hundred watches a year, each a mechanical work of art. In 2011, the independent launched the M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva, a showcase for mechanical art that echoes MB&F’s watchmaking and aesthetic principles (M.A.D. standing for mechanical art devices). It has since added galleries in Hong Kong, Taipei and Dubai, featuring the extraordinary artistic talents of L’Epée 1839, Frank Buchwald, Gaby Wormann, Apical Reform and many others besides.

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