“Time Present and Time Past”: London’s Horology Forum and the Wondrous World of Watchmaking

Posted on

“If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable.”

The above lines were taken from the “Burnt Norton” poem in T.S. Eliot’s famed works, The Four Quartets. And while many refer to the poet as being an American because he was born in St. Louis, Eliot had technically renounced his United States citizenship in 1927 after legally becoming a British subject. Despite what was written on his 1888 birth certificate, Eliot considered himself to be quite the Englishman until the day of his death in 1965, and it is widely known that the poet lived his life obsessed with a single primary concept…

Time.

The first international Horology Forum took place on September 11th and 12th in the heart of London. The event – the brainchild of the creators of Dubai Watch Week and co-sponsored by Christie’s auction house – invited experts and novices alike to attend a series of thought-provoking panels and take part in free-flowing discussions in order to “bridge the widening generation gap between tradition and innovation,” according to the forum’s organizers. In other words, a slew of folks from all over the world gathered in the city where T.S. Eliot took his final breaths and likely closed the book on his obsession with time.

The forum itself consisted of five panels (Battle of the Soothsayers; Cultural Clout – the iBuyer Cult; The British Watch Industry: Colonizing Greenwich Meridian; When David Clocks Goliath; and, Genta and Daniels’ Punctual Yet Untimely Legacy), and one good ol’ fashioned British roast (which actually turned out to be a bit more of a ‘warming’ due to the very British politeness of those on the panel).

As an honored invitee to the event and guest moderator for the iBuyer Cult panel, I was treated not only to the experience of listening to and learning from speakers such as Peter Speake-Marin, Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, Fabrizio Buonamassa, Grégory Dourde, Christine Hutter, and Roger Smith, but was also able to take part in additional events such as a fascinating seminar at Christie’s Late on

iBuyer Cult panel (picture by Dubai Watch Week)

how color plays a major role in watchmaking (and always has throughout history), and an auctioneer training class that happened prior to Wednesday’s first panel discussion. Members of the press were also given the opportunity to interview the speakers and the moderators, allowing me to take full advantage of one-on-one time with H. Moser & Cie CEO Edouard Meylan, actor and watch designer Aldis Hodge, and Christie’s SVP and International Head of Watches John Reardon.

Mr. Reardon told me about his first experience with mechanical watches. “I will share a story today I never shared before,” he said to me when we first sat down for his interview, “because I’m inspired by the Princess Leia sticker you have on your computer. When I was six or seven years old, my parents, for Christmas, gave me a Buck Rodgers plastic watch. I was obsessed with sci-fi things as a child. It was a mechanical watch with plastic gears, and they were all different colors. I still have it to this day, and it still doesn’t work, because the first thing I did was take it apart. I was curious, ‘how does this little machine work?’ so I took it apart and tried to put it back together. I was inspired and curious as to how these little objects tell time, from a little kid’s perspective.”

Aldis Hodge (picture by Alan Hart)

Mr. Hodge also allowed me to take a glimpse into his childhood, to where his passion for watches and watch design began. “I love natural elements. I had a scientific mind when I was younger; I always wanted to be an engineer of some sort. For me, [getting into watchmaking] is a staple of achievement because I’ve been an actor since I was 2 or 3 years old. I would have had to quit that entirely in order to achieve my academic desires, but with watchmaking, that sort of encompasses art, architecture, engineering, and science.”

My conversation with Mr. Meylan delved more into his thoughts on the changes occurring in Basel, his company’s presence there, and which markets around the world he sees as becoming key players in the success of his brand. “Right now, for us, our two biggest markets are Asia and Europe, with Hong Kong and Switzerland being substantial. Germany and France are also good markets for us in Europe. But the two markets where we are seeing the strongest growth are definitely the Middle East and the United States. My brother just moved to Dubai, actually. We opened an office there, and the brand is really doing well.”

What Horology Forum and Dubai Watch Week succeed at accomplishing, where some other horologically-themed events falter, is invoking discussions that are current and relevant, and which are also hot topics often able to be intelligently debated. The panel I moderated is a perfect example of this. When I asked Scottish watch designer Fiona Krüger if there was a time when a watch world dilettante ever commented on one of her designs via the internet, she said that they had and proceeded to give an example of a remark made on her most recent watch release, the Chaos Mechanical Entropy. “One of the examples I got online was, ‘somebody take her computer away’ to which my reaction was, ‘I’m sorry mate, but I draw everything by hand in a sketch book, so, unlucky for you.’” We eventually moved the panel in the direction of influencers – particularly on social media – and whether or not the term is seen as a “dirty word” in the horological world. Watch brand D1 Milano’s founder Dario Spallone was the first to offer an opinion. “For me, an influencer is someone who influences the purchasing habit of the consumer. It’s not only about being an Instagram influencer. It’s also about being someone who – in real life – intertwines with the brand’s values.” And while discussion and debate happened naturally during each of Horology Forum’s panels, it was the eventual audience participation that left many wanting more. This is where the beauty of this event truly blooms into something spectacular, and this is why it’s incredibly important to gather people from every area of the watch world – be they designer, watchmaker, savant, collector, journalist, blogger, executive, retailer, or novice – in order to better understand our industry. What we, as attendees of Horology Forum and Dubai Watch Week, get to experience is the horological world through someone else’s eyes. We get to look at how the masters see their life’s work, at how artists are inspired, at what writers find interesting, and at what retailers do to speak to their customers. If every industry – heck, if every government – held an event yearly like this, we’d likely find that we’d see one another in a different way, and that we’d understand each other or, at bare minimum, hear each other out. I doubt that everything discussed at Horology Forum was agreed upon by all those in attendance, but it also wasn’t supposed to be. The event was created to make us think, at least in my opinion it was, and it certainly made me think long and hard about why I chose to write about watches and how I’ll see them in the future.

Panel on British Watchmaking (picture by DWW)

My days spent in London leading up to and including this event were invaluable. Listening to the stories about Gérald Genta and the “rebirth” of British watchmaking were indispensable. And gaining the knowledge I did while still a rookie in the world of watch journalism was, well, irreplaceable. But mostly, the entire experience is one that will remain truly unforgettable.

The final experience we had as a collective group was a beautifully arranged dinner at Boulestin, courtesy of our hosts. There, we were invited to relax in the company of our peers, sip fine wine and eat delicious French fare before saying our final goodbyes and heading off to our little corners of the Earth. It was a magnificent send-off filled with warmth and cheer, and I’m ever grateful to all of those who made it possible, and who also asked me to play such an important part in it.

So, to Melika Yazdjerdi – whom I had the pleasure of interviewing prior to this year’s Horology Forum – I congratulate you on a truly special, successful, one-of-a-kind experience. Your vision comes to life in this event, and we in the watch community owe you a debt of gratitude. To Hind Seddiqi and your entire team of AMAZING WOMEN, I cannot thank you enough. I have never felt so welcomed and so valued in the watch community as I had during this event. Thank you so, so much. To Shruti Dileep, what can I say? Thank you for being my “go-to” for everything; every question, every need, every worry. You’re the best. And to Dominique Mahoney, well, I feel like we were separated at birth, and I’ll just leave it at that. I cannot wait to work with you again someday. Thank you to John Reardon and those at Christie’s who helped to make this possible, and special thanks to everyone at Seddiqi Holdings who played a part in the organization and follow-through of Horology Forum.

iBuyer Cult panel in progress (picture by Alan Hart)

“I journeyed to London, to the timekept City/Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.” – T.S. Eliot, The Rock

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s