Often realised, but rarely written about, the connection between mechanical watchmaking and music is perhaps too obvious to inspire a meaningful relationship between pen and paper. Of course timing is critical to music. Of course a beautifully designed and crafted mechanical watch can stir the soul like a soaring aria. Of course brands will partner with big names in music. Move on.
But while some liaisons make sweet music, others are a clanging symbol. Here, Dubai Watch Week singles out five recent musical partnerships and asks whether they’re coming together in perfect harmony – or not.
Vacheron Constantin and Benjamin Clementine
A year ago, Vacheron Constantin formally launched the Fifty-Six collection at London’s Abbey Road Studios with a performance by artist, poet and singer-songwriter Benjamin Clementine. A couple of months later, Clementine released a track entitled ‘Eternity’, influenced in no small part by the Geneva watch house’s current strapline. The piece was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s poem ‘The True Knowledge’, recorded at Abbey Road’s Studio Two, produced by Clementine, featured his vocal and piano, and backed by a 12-piece string orchestra. The choice of Clementine was unconventional, and far from what you’d expect of one of Switzerland’s oldest and most traditional watch companies, but given the Fifty-Six is pegged as the entry-level line in Vacheron’s collection and therefore targeted at a new generation of sentient adult watch buyers, it makes a lot of sense.
Audemars Piguet and the Montreux Jazz Festival
In 2016, Audemars Piguet announced it had supported the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival as it digitised 5,000 hours of concerts, involving more than 14,000 tapes covering 11,000 hours of video recordings and 6,000 hours of high-quality audio. At the festival that year, the music was accessible via an immersive experience called the Montreux Heritage Lab II, which was developed with Montreux Sounds and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The restored, preserved recordings of more than 44,000 tracks became the first audiovisual library to be awarded the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ status. That’s the kind of legacy other brands would kill for.
Oris and jazz
Oris’s first foray into jazz came in the late 1990s when it partnered with the London Jazz Festival. That matured into a collection of limited edition pieces celebrating the genre’s most iconic figures, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis among them. What’s interesting about Oris’s approach is that rather than simply stick a name on a dial, it has looked to integrate something of the artist’s character and traits into its watches. In the recent Dexter Gordon, for example, the central seconds hand is brass coloured like a saxophone and elongated in homage to Gordon’s nickname ‘Long Tall Dex’, and the hour marker at 12 o’clock is shaped like a saxophone reed. Both add a distinct quality to the watch that would be interesting to detail obsessives with or without the jazz connection.
Zenith and Swizz Beatz
Watch brands breaking with their own conventions as a means of positioning themselves in front of new audiences is nothing new, but all the same, Zenith’s pursuit of the hip-hop artist and record producer Swizz Beatz raised a few eyebrows when it was announced last year. Back then, the venerable brand was under the direction of industry legend Jean-Claude Biver, whose towering successes with Hublot and TAG Heuer had depended hugely on affiliating products with faces more familiar to fans of popular culture than those of the esoteric world of fine watchmaking. Will it last? is the question industry observers are asking now that Zenith’s parent company LVMH has a new watch division sheriff in Stéphane Bianchi. Purists will hope not.
Raymond Weil Music Icons
Raymond Weil was founded in 1976, which is why some have taken exception to its appropriation of great names in music that pre-date it, and to other names to which it has no connection beyond the commercial. The Beatles, Bob Marley, AC/DC and David Bowie have all featured on the dial of limited editions produced by the brand in recent years. This year, it even went as far as creating a watch in homage to the album ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, a 3,000-piece limited edition announced at Baselworld. Music fans won’t understand it, and watch fans won’t like it.