Punk Rock, Morning Scotch, and All the Balls a Writer Can Handle: Watch Week in Vegas Part 2 – Quality Time at Clockwork and Swiss Watch
“To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.” – Patti Smith, punk rock poet laureate
What is freedom to you? Seriously, I’m asking you. Or rather, I am suggesting for the sake of this piece that you ask yourself that question. When you hear the word “freedom,” what’s the first thing you think of? Is it our country? A sense of nationalism? Divorce? Leaving your job? Travel? Not paying your taxes? A night out without the kids? Going commando? Paragliding? What makes you free in your own mind? How would you make yourself free if you could?
For me, freedom means the ability to write how I’d like without penalty. It means working for myself, and expressing myself through the voice that separates me from the pack. Freedom, by all accounts, means that I’m uninhibited; that I can strip a story to its bare bones and tell it as it happened without the fear of being fired, fined, or frankly, f**ked. That is my freedom; being unattached. It is what gives me the wings to fly as far as I’m able or as near as I wish, but what also allows me to chirp whenever I feel the need, and as loudly as I deem fit.
And at that end of the day, that, quite honestly, is very much punk rock.
In between my volunteer work at the Women’s Jewelry Association station that was set up right outside the entrance to the JCK show, I was able to make appointments with some of the watch brands at Swiss Watch as well as at the other two watch sections of JCK: Clockwork, and LUXURY Watch. The Swiss Watch show has long provided a place where notable brands such as Longines, Carl F. Bucherer, Tissot, Frederique Constant, and Perrelet are able to comfortably show their wares to retailers far away from the batsh*t craziness that is the show floor. Getting up to the suites at Swiss Watch is no small feat, however, for the entrance is heavily guarded and requires not only an appointment, but also a phone call confirming said appointment, a show badge, photo ID, proof of residency, blood type, mother’s maiden name, voter registration card, life insurance policy, first-born male child, frequent flyer number, AARP membership card, and a handwritten letter of permission from your parents. But once they get those things you pretty much have free rein. Clearly, I’m using satire here but the truth is that with all of the nuttiness going on in this country, you probably don’t want your entire inventory of Swiss timepieces set up in the middle of some one-sided booth with a sign that says “honor system” beneath it.
My favorite meeting in the suites had to be with Ball Watch Company for a couple of solid yet also slightly disturbing reasons. For one, the company is called, “Ball”… um, have you met me, people? Hell, have you read me? You can’t throw a watch brand by the name of “Ball” my way and expect that I’m just going to let that slide. Every one of my comedic idols would shun me if I were to not mention how exciting it was to see all of the Balls spread out on the table during my appointment, or the fact that the tan ones had a really good weight to them. (I mean it, folks, those were some hefty Balls. I’m thinking of getting a couple of my own.) And while it’s no secret that I’m desperately trying to make coffee spew from your nose as you read this, the reality is that I have been a longtime lover of Balls. In fact, back in May of 2014, I wrote a piece on my jewelry blog about the watch brands I was looking forward to seeing at Swiss Watch, and Ball Watch Company was first on my list. Here’s a passage from that post about the Balls I was anxious to get my hands on:
Models of interest:
- DeepQUEST: (Because the title reminds me of my trip to Cancun in the 90’s for spring break. IT HAS TO DO WITH SNORKELING, YOU PERVS.) 43mm diameter, titanium single-block case, automatic helium release valve.
- Big Boy: (Um, what man doesn’t want a watch by this name?) 46mm diameter, anti-reflective convex sapphire crystal, stainless steel, screwed-in crown.
- Roman: (The name of my son. Or rather, the thing that happened nine months after I experienced *DeepQUEST* with *Big Boy.*) 41mm diameter, automatic caliber, crocodile strap with stainless buckle, shock resistant to 5,000G’s.
So as you can see, I’ve been researching Balls for years. I can’t even begin to describe to you how many hours in my adult life I’ve spent on the internet looking at pictures of Balls, so to have them here, in Las Vegas, right in front of my face and in all of their glistening glory, brought me immeasurable joy.
I was greeted with a scotch and a smile by a young, handsome man when I walked into the hotel suite (or as I like to call it – flashbacks of my twenties [and occasional forties]) whom I recognized to be Wes Burke, marketing and communications director at Ball Watch USA. If you have yet to meet Wes then you’re not as happy in your life as you could be. This ray of sunshine sprinkled with the sweat of Christmas elves will make you fall in love with anything he’s pushing, so prepare yourself if he approaches you, especially if he’s providing booze before noon. Good booze before noon. And lots of it.
I mentioned to Wes that what I really wanted him to show me were his women’s Balls. These Balls are smaller in size but that didn’t make them any less glorious. While several of the Balls appealed to me, I found two in particular that really piqued my interest. First was the ladies Trainmaster Moon Phase with mother of pearl dial (though, by rights, I expressed to Wes that Ball should change the name to the Ladies TrainMISTRESS Moon Phase because there is a big market for dominatrix watch collectors [or so I’ve heard] and Ball could corner that market without the use of whips or Shibari. Don’t ask me why I know that term. Seriously. Just… just don’t.) I particularly liked the black leather strap on the Trainmistress Trainmaster because… well… you know what they say… once you go black leather strap…
The other Ball that I found interesting simply because it didn’t look like any of the Balls I had seen in my life was the Ladies Conductor Transcendent Diamond. Rather than being round, this Ball had almost a cushion shape to it, which appealed to me, aesthetically, because I like it when designs (and people, and ideas, and body parts, and blogs) go against the norm. The one I tried on had a mother of pearl face, white leather strap, and stainless steel diamond bezel which made it eye catching enough for the watch buyers out there who like it when their Balls get attention.
It was a fun-filled meeting where I learned many things about Balls that I had not known prior. And all kidding aside, the watches themselves are very much legit. They’re hitting a price point that is sought out right now, especially with sales numbers declining for Swiss Watches across the board. And they’re doing it by not taking themselves so seriously. This is key, people. I said the same thing in the article I recently wrote for InDesign.Jewelry: fun is where it’s at, and if you can’t have some fun with Balls in your life, then you probably can’t have fun with anything.
The other experience I want to talk about in this post is the unexpected one I had with Jack Mason watches. For starters, they had the coolest, raddest, and most phallic-looking booth in all of Vegas: an Airstream trailer (seriously, don’t those things look like Bullets?). I didn’t have a pre-scheduled meeting set with Jack Mason, but on my way back from the Red Bar Crew Mixer event being held in the Clockwork lounge (which by the way, was where I FINALLY got to meet social media pal and watch writer Ed Estlow, along with Faisel Nayani, Kevin Mantell, Paul Erhardt, and some bearded dude named Adam), I swung by the Airstream to at least take a peek. Thankfully I ran into Taisia Fredrickson who handles Jack Mason’s brand and digital content, and she invited me inside so that I could have a closer look.
Let me point out the first thing that grabbed me about this brand and that likely may never let me go: the genre of music playing inside the trailer was Punk. Effing. Rock. Taisia informed me that they carefully select the music and try their best to keep it a diverse mix but also representative of the brand, and any watch brand that has punk rock playing in their booth is a watch brand I want to get to know.
Taisia explained to me that the Jack Mason watches were all designed in Dallas, Texas and the company is headquartered there, but as to not run into any Shinola-like trouble (my term, not hers) she was clear that the parts were made and assembled elsewhere. The movements are Japanese, the leather straps are made in Italy, and the watches are assembled in China. You know what, I’m all about disclosure, and I respect that Taisia was up front right off the bat so that there was no confusion and so that I didn’t immediately think that the watches were U.S. made. So, now that the details on the manufacturing have been stated, I want to talk a little bit about the look of the watch and why I think they’d be a great starter watch for someone who may not have the funds to go for something like a Tudor, or even the stash to buy a price point watch like a Hamilton.
Their watches are separated into two different series types: Nautical and Aviation, the latter allowing them to offer pilot-type watches and chronographs with stainless steel cases for under three-hundred bucks. And from an American design standpoint, they truly took care to make these watches look a LOT more expensive than they are, down to the subtle red, white, and blue markings on the watch’s second-hand. They are clear that these watches are accessories and not necessarily heirlooms, but also that they’re nice accessories and that they’re proud of how the pieces are designed.
I’m looking forward to the launch of their women’s line this October and will absolutely be buying one for myself because honestly, I really just like how they look. I’d drop a couple of hundred dollars on a pair of shoes without blinking an eye so why wouldn’t I on a chronograph that’s as appealing as anything else I might wear, right? Fun, people. Fun is king. If you didn’t believe that statement to be true you wouldn’t be reading my blog in the first place.
That’s all the time we have for today, but stay tuned for the third and final installment in my coverage of the watch events in Las Vegas as I get into what goes down when the lights go up. Until then, be careful not to break your, or anyone else’s Balls.
Roulette, Cuvette, Black Jack, Black Bay, Craps, Straps, and Multiple Hands: Watch Week in Vegas Part 1 – COUTUREtime
“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.” – Ambrose Bierce, American editorialist/journalist/satirist.
I was inexplicably confused.
On the one hand, I had several of my retailer friends warning me that I couldn’t do what I felt I wanted to because I’d be pigeonholed. “You realize you can’t write your watch blog in the same voice you use to write your jewelry blog, right? I mean, these are the Swiss we’re talking about. You don’t want to piss them off, and they’re not going to understand you.”
The warning made sense. For one, the watch industry is known for being conservative with few exceptions. “They’re right,” I thought. “I can’t write as colorfully as I’d like. I’m going to have to tone it down.”
But then, I got to Baselworld, where I met, in person, many of the watch journalists and editors I’d been following for quite some time. There, the tone and tune was dramatically different. “If you write your watch blog the way you write your jewelry blog, you’re going to KILL IT. Nobody is writing the way you write. It’s refreshing. And it’s needed.”
Like I said… mind meldingly confused.
Yet as I continued to pen (key) piece after piece here I found that my work and my storytelling was finding its own natural path. The very first posts come off a little more reserved but the last was playful, daring, and borderline controversial. The story is as important to me – speaking from the writer’s side – as the product discussed or the brands highlighted. The story is what makes the reader remember what it was they read. We often hear the word “stickiness” when we’re talking about content. What sticks? What makes thing stick? How do you make something sticky? You make something stick by being memorable; by not regurgitating canned text and copying and pasting press releases. You make it sticky by experiencing the moments in which you write; by breathing emotion into the words you print on pages or publish on the interwebs. Posting something daily and calling it blogging doesn’t make you a writer; it makes you a content creator. To be a writer you must live what you share. To be a writer you have to believe in that which you express, paid post or not. To be a writer you must see the world, your life, and your business through the eyes of a writer. Every mishap is a story. Every joke is a line. Every dinner, a side note. And every city, an adventure.
For the last couple of years on the blog of my alter ego (Adornmentality.com) I have written a multi-part series called, “Tales From the Strip” which covers the back stories of Las Vegas Jewelry Week. Every year these are my most-read blog posts as they delve deeply into what really goes down during those long, hard, but fun seven or more days. Yes, I discuss brands, and product, and designers, but what I mostly talk about is real life. That’s the stickiness of Vegas. Vegas is both as real and as fake as life can be. Body parts? Fake. Money lost? Real. Adoration? Fake. Swollen feet? Real. And because of the success of those posts I decided I wanted to do something similar here on the watch blog. Maybe I won’t get into the story of my near wardrobe malfunction at my Montblanc appointment. And maybe I won’t talk about the creepy watch-sector guy who hit on everything that had a set of eyeballs (and honestly that’s not entirely true because I saw him talking to that blonde woman with the eye patch). But then again, maybe I will. I don’t know for sure as I haven’t written it yet. I‘ll see where my memory takes me, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Just be careful. The seats might be a wee bit sticky.
I had one full day plus two hours the next day to cover the brands exhibiting at COUTUREtime at the Wynn. I strategically made my appointments well over a month in advance to ensure that I’d be on the lists of the companies I didn’t get the chance to see at Baselworld. Brands such as Tudor, Hermès, TAG Heuer and Chopard. For the most part these people didn’t know me from Adam (not Craniotes, as everyone knows him and I doubt anyone would ever confuse us. [My beard is nicer]). Or at least, that’s what I thought, however, a few actually had heard about the blog, which was a pretty rad ego boost to the chagrin of those who have to live with me.
My first appointment of the day was with Montblanc, which translates to my first middle-aged hot flash of the day as I walked in to see a life-sized poster of Hugh Jackman standing before me. This is no Wolverine Hugh, either (not that I don’t love pork chop sideburns, leather pants, and claws, but that’s for another blog entirely). This is Oscar-hosting Hugh. “The Fountain” Hugh. “Oscar & Leopold” Hugh. The Hugh you want to take home to meet your mother only to get into a fight with your mother because she drilled a peep hole in the guest bedroom where Hugh was staying. Hugh, alone, is influential enough to make me buy that ladies’ Boheme ExoTourbillon Stop-Second in rose gold even on a writer’s salary. I mean, do I really need this second kidney? Or this second lung? Pfffft. Lungs are for punks. Weaklings, even. But tourbillons, well, those are for stylish people.
All kidding aside (momentarily), the crew at Montblanc was wonderful and incredibly patient, even as I had a wardrobe near-mishap trying to take a picture under a table to get proper lighting. Many thanks to Florent-Aymeric Dubiez, VP of Marketing at Montblanc, as well as Training Director, Jonathan Berke, for making my first experience with the brand one to reflect upon happily. I am enamored by what the brand is doing and at the price points that they’re doing it. Keep up the stunning work and don’t you ever stop showing me pictures of Hugh. I will hunt you down like Wolverine would if you do.
I then headed over to see a watch company that holds a very special place in my heart: Baume et Mercier. Not only did one of my closest friends work for the company for years, but the Hampton was the first official Swiss watch I ever owned. Back in 2002, shortly after 9/11, I left the watch I owned in a bin going through airport security. Thankfully, because the human race and the TSA are so honest, they honestly told me, “You’re never going to see that watch again. Honestly.” With the money I had saved working a part time job slinging Cosmopolitans and Mojitos at a Philadelphia nightclub, I went out and bought myself a Baume et Mercier Hampton avec bracelet. The watch is still a part of my collection (when am I allowed to call what I own an actual “collection”? Anyone?) And I even took it with me to Vegas to show the Baume et Mercier folks.
I worked with Sandrine Donguy, B et M’s Marketing and Communication Director, who showed me the new Petite Promesse watches and their video campaign. I was thrilled to see that the brand was putting a focus on not just women’s watches, but on young women’s watches – and that they were going after women of the Gen Y set. Only a handful of watch brands are reaching this market so it was refreshing to see firsthand how the campaign was being run. While there I was also able to check out the Shelby Cobra limited edition watch and had a little fun playing around in the car itself. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth just four: hell to the yes.
After leaving B et M, I went to visit with a brand I have been anxious to see ever since being introduced to Ana Martins – Bovet. Dear, sweet Bovet. If you were a man and I were a single women I’d follow you everywhere until such time the restraining order took effect. I think I love you and I don’t just say that to every watch brand; I usually save it for brands containing vowels. Your style is not for the weak at heart, nor is it for the bleak of wallet, but man, I’m obsessed with you, particularly with your “Shooting Star” timepiece in rose gold. I mean, jumping hour with retrograde minutes, 5-day tourbillon, hemispheric worldwide time function with selectable time zones, hemispheric moon phase, and oh, so much more? STAAAHP!! This is not a WATCH! This belongs in a NASA bunker! I feel like I need a degree to own this thing, it’s just that intricate. Nevertheless, I was enormously taken with it and with many of the other pieces in your collection (including Duane’s bespoke watch hand-painted with a picture of his puppies). A. Dorbs.
This was my first experience getting to visit brands in the villas. While I’m not new to writing, my past Jewelry Weeks in Vegas meant working for someone else, so to be there as an independent meant that I had more time to see those I had not been privy to in the past. The feeling of having only the “journalist” label was sweet, and riding the villa elevators knowing I would soon be sitting down with those I had only studied from afar up to this point was humbling.
I stepped off at floor two and headed down the brightly-hued but dimly lit hallway toward villa 208. I was alone but could see a group of four men conversing in my path about twenty or so feet in front of me. As I got closer, however, I started recognizing most of their faces: Will, Frank, and Anna Wintour Ben (only if you read the NYT piece will you get that reference). The Hodinkee gang, less a few talented and favored exceptions, were quietly chatting as I walked past.
I will be the first person to admit that I’m a Hodinkee fangirl. I get the Hodinkee Daily delivered to more than one email address. I learned all I care to know about the history of spring bars, the legend of why Geneva stripes were invented, and what makes a ridiculous 18th-century mechanical pooping bird from France so special thanks to the esteemed Jack Forster. I know the difference between their Value Proposition, Hands On, and Reference Points categories. And any time some dude (or chick) from some other blog has tried dissing the site while in my presence, I’ve come to their defense as if I owned stock in the company (full disclosure: I do not own stock in the company). So here was my chance to introduce myself to those who’ve made loving the watch world a little easier for me. I’m not shy. I’m not easily intimidated. I was taller than all of them. And honestly, I had nothing to lose.
“There’s a whole bunch of Hodinkeeness going on right here!”
Great opening line, idiot. Well f**king done. Could I have been more cheesy? I think not. I think not.
Thankfully they spared me (at least to my face) the feeling of embarrassment by allowing me to introduce myself and my blog while shaking each of their hands. Ben gave me an “Ah…” nod when I mentioned that I write WhatsOnHerWrist, which left me a little unsettled, frankly. Was it, “Ah, I’ve heard of you”? Or was it, “Ah, I really don’t care”? Or maybe it was, “AH! You’re the one they’ve warned us about.” I’m guessing the third, but that’s cool, because as I got to the fourth person in the group, whose face I didn’t recognize, I upped my a**hole game by stating, “I’m sorry, I really have no idea who you are” to which he replied, “Rob.”
My scotches-from-the-night-before-soaked brain was suddenly a flurry of activity. Rob. Rob. Why does that name sound familiar? Does Hodinkee have a Rob on their staff? No. Plus this guy doesn’t have a beard so I doubt they’d hire him. Hmm. Ah well. I’ll figure it out eventually.
And I did, about three feet into my walking away and realizing that this Rob was the Rob I was supposed to be meeting with as he was the Rob from Hermès. Mother. Bleeper.
Four letter words were all I could conjure internally as I now had to make a 180-degree turn and walk back, past the Hodincrew, past good ol’ Rob, and sheepishly into the Hermès suite.
I. Could. Have. DIED.
Thankfully, I was greeted pleasantly by Senior Sales Manager Andrea Galella, who offered me something to drink. I wanted to order a glass of champagne with a side of cyanide but settled for a sparkling water as to not add “drunken lush” to my already unquestionable “dipsh*t” status.
Andrea started to show me some of the new Cape Cod series watches when Rob joined our conversation. I apologized for not knowing who he was and eventually settled into work mode. Rob was serious, and a little dry, but knowledgeable, and at one point asked me what the name of my watch blog was. As Andrea and I discussed styles and as I showed her the Hermes timepiece I was currently wearing, I could see Rob on his phone, shoulders shaking, and giggling under his breath. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until I realized what he was reading…
“Wait. Wait a minute. Andrea, you’ve got to hear this,” Rob said, now full-on laughing, before he proceeded to read aloud the first few paragraphs of my last blog post. He then looked up at me and said, “You’re pretty funny,” which is when I knew that Rob and I were going to get along just fine. Actually, likely better than fine.
My 3 o’clock appointment was with TAG Heuer’s Marketing VP, Francoise Bezzola, who graciously showed me around and gave me the rundown on what was newly released in time for the COUTURE show. And I finally got the chance to play around with the TAG Heuer CONNECTED watch, which if I’m being honest, is the only smart watch available on the market right now that I’d even consider buying. I was also fortunate enough to meet the man himself – Jean-Claude Biver – later that same evening after the COUTURE opening party, sponsored by TAG Heuer. Mr. Biver was warm and kind and has since stayed in contact with me, to my amazement. It’s easy to see why he is thought so highly of.
Following TAG Heuer, I traipsed down to visit some of the darlingest watch folks I know – the crew at ORIS. How anyone could not like ORIS is beyond me, and I’m not just saying that because their name is super fun to say. The watches are wearable, affordable, and smartly designed. The staff is fun, accommodating, and inclusive. And they throw some pretty rad parties which they invite me to, so, you know… bonus. When I first sat down with them at Baselworld I spent a lot of time focusing on their women’s watches (which are designed by a woman) but it wasn’t until this trip that I was able to get my hands on and spend some time with their Divers Sixty Five watch, which greatly appealed to me in the blue dial and with the blue NATO strap. At 42mm it’s a bit too large for my wrist but that likely won’t stop me from eventually getting it for my significant other. Unless, of course, he starts some sh*t in which case I’ll buy him a fake Breitling from some New York street vendor in the East Village and call it a day.
The next company to visit on my COUTUREtime journey was Graham watches, which not only makes some cool, off-the-beaten-path-type timepieces, but knows how to market them properly, thanks largely to PR woman extraordinaire, Lisa Delane. While sipping an espresso (which was probably the last thing I needed considering I have hyperactivity issues as it is… no surprises there), I was introduced to a really special watch which debuted in 2015 called the Navy SEAL Chronofighter. Graham has partnered with the Navy SEAL Foundation – the first time the organization had ever partnered with a watch or any luxury brand to create a commercially saleable product – and is donating a portion of each of the sales of the limited edition watch (500 total pieces were made) to that foundation. You see now, when I hear of partnerships like these, it makes me proud to be in the business I’m in. Well done, Graham. Keep striving to do things a little differently, a little more meaningfully, and with a little bit of edge. That’s the thing that will set you apart. Oh, and I absolutely loved meeting a Swiss guy with a sense of humor (private joke, y’all. I’m kidding. You had to be there.)
My last appointment of the day but not the last at COUTUREtime was with Chopard, a firm I had been greatly looking forward to sitting down with. And while their prior appointment ran a little long and I needed to leave early as I had to get ready for the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s “Diamonds Do Good” Awards, we still managed to get in some quality time (pun alert) to talk Happy Diamonds (#AreYouHappyDiamonds), new releases, and seriously well-made diamond watches for women. Thankfully, I knew I would be back in the Chopard villa the following Saturday at their private event, which proved to be quite enjoyable, and not just because of the abundance of Perrier-Jouet and Macallan (more on that and other events in the next post).
And this brings us to my last appointment at the Wynn which I went back for the following afternoon: Tudor.
I can’t really remember a watch brand in recent history that has caught on quite the way Tudor has. The brand has earned the respect of not only the most well-read watch journalists, but also of bloggers, instagrammers, and many other forms of social media curators. This is not your poor man’s Rolex, let me be clear. Tudor has built its own wagon, paved its own path, and found its own way to a home of high demand and great success, and after seeing the product first hand, it was easy to see why.
My appointment was with Gabriela Anastasio who was an absolute joy to work with and had such a beautiful presence. She showed me the two pieces I’d been wanting to see since their release at Baselworld: the Black Bay Dark, and the Black Bay Bronze, both of which were equally appealing to me for different reasons. And as a woman who doesn’t always want her watches to have diamonds, white straps, or a pink dial, it was refreshing to see watches like the Heritage Black Bay 36 up close; a timepiece clearly made to be unisex.
All in all, from an outsider’s point of view, COUTUREtime seemed to be a smashing success. For me, as a first-time, full-time editorialist/journalist/satirist, I could not have asked for a better experience. Thank you, Gannon Brousseau, for curating this event and gathering in the U.S. some of the top watch brands in the world. And thanks to those brands for agreeing to meet with me, for taking time with me, and for making me feel welcome. I’m looking forward to whatever is next, be it Salon QP, SIHH, or Baselworld 2017. Wherever it is, I promise to make it fun on my end.
And stay tuned for part 2 of Watch Week, which will cover the watch shows at JCK as well as some of the nighttime shenanigans, coming very soon.
Editor’s Note: I just wanted to take the time here to send a shout out to four great guys who have been overwhelmingly supportive in these last three-plus months of this blog’s life: Eric Wind, Carlos Torres, Joe Thompson, and Jason Heaton. Without your guidance, advice, feedback, and help, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to put myself out there. Thanks to all of you for being in my corner, for teaching me the proper way to pronounce Jaeger-LeCoultre, for introducing me to women and men whom you felt I needed to know, and for pushing me to share the voice that makes me who I am. I owe each of you a glass of the nicest scotch I can find. And you’ll get it, because I believe in keeping promises.
Recently – as I do fairly frequently and I’m sure to the annoyance of some many – I changed my profile picture on Facebook. The latest image is from a photo shoot I had taken part in back in 2011 when I was named one of Atlanta’s “50 Most Beautiful People” by Jezebel magazine. I was thirty-eight at the time, had just had my second child the year prior, had gotten my 5’ 9.5” self back in shape, and was probably feeling just a little arrogant. (Look, when you grow in and then push out two nine-pound babies from your body over a four-year span and can fit afterward into a dress you had since you were twenty-five, I think that earns you a pass on the cockiness scale, at least temporarily.) That attitude came across in the pictures, too, and to the delight of my tremendously talented photographer, Austin Holt, it gave him some hefty material to work with.
The shot I speak of was taken in Midtown Atlanta. In it, I’m walking toward the camera as the wind is blowing in my direction (think every video you’ve ever seen Beyoncé in) as Austin catches me mid-stride. My right eyebrow is cocked, my arms, intentionally swinging, my long, chestnut locks shining in the camera’s flash, and the smirk on my face is more evil than good. One might even say that I look sinister. I like sinister. Sinister vibes/attitudes/people make life interesting, because everything shouldn’t be all good, all the time. If this world were nothing but positive we would lose our appreciation for it. Without a little bad, there can be no good.
Once the profile picture change happened the comments followed almost immediately. “Femme Fatale” said my jewelry designer friend, Delphine Leymarie. “Fearless” replied Lisa Kim, another badass artisan, herself. But it was the verbiage used by horological “It Boy” James Thompson that stuck with me most and gave me the idea to write this piece:
He couldn’t have been more on the nose.
The sign of Aries and the label of “Alpha Female” pretty much go hand in hand. AF’s are often defined as being confident, bossy, intelligent, extroverted, and aware of their own sensuality. In a piece titled, “The Alpha Female Dilemma” written by Gabriela Cora M.D. for Psychology Today, Dr. Cora suggests that a professional AF should, “Dress down, use less makeup, or use plain colors to camouflage [her]self” since according to the article, “the more beautiful and smart a woman is, the more criticism she receives.”
The Alpha Female inside me read the above statement while doing my research on the interwebs and immediately had a thought that is likely typical of my personality type:
Yeah, to hell with that.
So this piece is for all of you Alpha Females out there who value your moments on this earth. These are my suggestions for you as to which watch fits your personality. Like your lipstick red, your men unavailable, and your lingerie where it belongs – on the floor? Then read on, sister, because no one knows how to use their time quite the way you do.
Roger Dubuis Velvet Haute Couture Passementerie
According to Merriam-Webster (which, by the way, is really fun to follow on Twitter, if you haven’t given up on Twitter yet), “Passementerie” is defined as an ornamental edging or trimming (as tassels) made of braid, cord, gimp, beading, or metallic thread. If you’re like I am, you had to look up the definition of the word “gimp” as you had only heard it used in an alternate, rather unpleasant meaning previously. Regardless, this particular timepiece by Geneva-based Roger Dubuis is one of a trilogy of watches that fall under the brand’s “Velvet Haute Couture” category. The Passementerie pays homage, it appears, to the one article of clothing that is a staple in every Alpha Female’s wardrobe: her fishnets. Yet while the sexiness of the watch’s strap will make for a great conversation piece while sipping a gin martini at the hotel bar (in your fishnets, no less), it’s the craftsmanship and inner-workings of the timepiece that make it truly worthy of ownership. The Poinçon de Genève hallmark on this watch is nothing to sneeze at, and the brand itself boasts on its website that it “devotes 40% longer production times to ensuring that all its Poinçon de Genève timepieces are worthy to bear this guarantee of exclusivity, origin, know-how, performance and durability.” I don’t know about you, but I’m a woman who really appreciates it when 40% more effort is involved in anything.
From a stats standpoint, the watch contains the automatic movement RD821, is 36mm, has a 48-hour power reserve, is set with roughly 1.76 carats in round, brilliant cut diamonds, has a warm grey dial and an 18K pink gold case. The strap is handmade with a beige satin finish and folding clasp that also contains round brilliant cuts. It’s the perfect watch for the woman who wants it all, and frankly, for the woman who deserves it all.
Bulgari Divas’ Dream in Black
When one thinks of Bulgari women’s watches one also tends to think of the famed Serpenti, however, Bulgari has more than snakes on the brain and this rose gold and diamond watch from the Divas’ Dream collection proves it. When I visualize a femme fatale or an Alpha Female, I often think of the colors black and red, which is likely why the watches I decided to highlight for this piece fall into that color scheme. I wouldn’t suggest wearing this particular watch to a board meeting, although, scratch that, because honestly, who am I to judge if you did? Yeah, wear it to your board meeting. Hell, wear it on your third date with Massimiliano Allegri as the two of you discuss Gianluigi Buffon’s goaltending statistics over a Barolo and a Federico Fellini movie. Wear it alongside your mink coat to midnight Mass when you’re home in South Philly for the Catholic holidays. Or wear it with your black silk tunic that you bought just for the occasion of celebrating your best friend’s birthday at the newest burlesque hall’s opening. Whatever you do, where it loudly, proudly, and often, for it’s a statement piece befitting a woman of your caliber.
The watch itself does have a quartz movement rather than an automatic. However, the beauty of the piece and its use of onyx and diamond accents make the quartz aspect of it forgivable. The case measures 39mm in diameter and is 18K pink gold. The small central dial is lacquered black and the strap is a beautiful patterned satin connected by an easy to remove pink gold clasp (for those nights when you don’t watch to scratch up your partner during… uh… foosball). All in all, the Divas’ Dream is an ideal accessory for the AF with flair.
Hublot Big Bang Caviar
If there is a sport that an Alpha Female loves to take part in, it is the act of making a man – old, young, middle-aged, married, single, gay, or straight – ever so slightly uncomfortable. The AF enjoys the thrills that many men have had at the expense of women for years, which is why I selected this particular watch – largely because of its name – as one that an AF could have a really good time with: Big Bang. The watch is called “Big Bang.” I honestly feel like the rest of the description could write itself at this point. Let’s imagine the scene though, shall we? It’s late September in Miami. The woman is in her early fifties, fit with just the hint of reconstructive surgery that doesn’t show itself in proper five-star hotel bar lighting. She’s wearing a tailored suit and dress shirt unbuttoned just enough to peek at the black bra beneath. On her right wrist is a diamond bracelet; twelve carats total, a gift from her second ex-husband. On her left, a watch. A massive, bold, manly statement watch. Enter forty-something-year-old Delta airline pilot #1. He sits at the bar, two stools down from her with no one in between the pair of them. She makes big talk (because Alpha Females don’t *do* small talk) with the hipster bartender as Delta Pilot #1 watches her with mild admiration. Then, he speaks…
Pilot: “Are you drinking scotch?”
AF: “Why? You buying my next one?”
Pilot: “I would, if you’d like.”
AF: (to bartender) “I’ll have the Oban 21. Neat, please. The pilot’s buying.”
After a half-hour conversation, Delta Pilot’s much younger, taller co-pilot enters the room. He sits between the two of them uncomfortably as clearly there is a mist of sexual tension in the air. Sensing an opportunity to play the game she’s good at, the AF takes her final sip of scotch, gathers her briefcase, and bids the gentleman a pleasant evening but not before she’s beckoned back by Pilot #1…
Pilot: “I wanted to ask you, what’s that on your wrist? I couldn’t help but notice it since, well, it’s hard not to.”
AF: (Now making her way over to stand between the two men, maneuvering herself so that a part of her brushes both of their bodies.) “This? Oh, it’s my Hublot. It was a gift given to me by a former lover after our sailing trip on the Adriatic.”
Pilot: “Oh, really? What model is it?”
AF: (Looking at Pilot #1 longingly, then slowly turning toward the now blushing co-pilot before taking a long, slow breath as she sculpts the words in her mind before releasing them through her mouth.) “It’s called the ‘Big Bang.’ Isn’t that a great name?”
And with that, she exits the lounge, hips swaying, hair bouncing, and ever so softly chuckling.
This Big Bang Caviar contains 1.80 carats in round brilliant cut diamonds set into a high-polished 18K red gold bezel affixed to its 41mm case. The watch contains the HUB1112 self-winding movement with 42-hour power reserve, anti-reflective sapphire crystal, black shiny calf and rubber strap, and gold-plated dial. It’s one hell of a watch for one hell of a woman and it’s a guaranteed night starter whether it intends to be or not.
Fiona Krüger Black Skull
Another characteristic of the Alpha Female is that she senses and seeks out other driven, determined, and successful women and can often times become enamored with them. I don’t know Fiona Krüger personally, though I do hope to meet her someday soon, but what I know about her through what I feel when I look at her designs is that she dares. She dares to challenge the norm. She dares to challenge an industry dominated by men. And she dares to be herself, which means in the simplest of terms, to be different from all the rest. She’s a millennial woman, which makes her a target for the old school minds of the sometimes misogynistic watch world. She’s Scottish, which, you know, means she’s not Swiss (I can only imagine the “oh, the humanity!” looks this woman must receive), and she’s making watches that are creative, fun, and honestly, pretty g*ddamned badass. Fiona’s designs are right up the AF alley as they serve as a figurative middle finger to what some in horological society deem appropriate. The Black Skull series was made in a limited edition of twelve pieces, each crafted by hand in Switzerland. Every watch is intricately detailed, hand polished and hand painted. They are mechanical timepieces, each with a 5-day power reserve and custom black bridges. Fiona’s watches also come with a Certificate of Authenticity and 2-year warranty, proving yet again that Scottish people are really rather rad on the whole.
So, you can all thank James Thompson (who, by the way, I wrote about in an earlier piece here) for this idea. Hope you enjoyed an insider’s look into what the Alpha Female wants and is about. I’d write a piece on Omega and Beta females too, but, well, personally I wouldn’t quite know where to begin.
Until next time…
“Gold is proved by touch.” — French proverb
So let me tell you a little story about my friend, Jackie. Jackie started a company called, “My Story.” She is a self-made businesswoman, a go-getter, an avid runner, a beautiful person, and single. For years, Jackie wanted a child. She attempted – more than once – to have a baby via in vitro, but it wasn’t in the cards for her because Mother Nature had much better plans. In late 2013, Jackie adopted Julia, a gorgeous redheaded baby girl, and to celebrate this pinnacle day in her life Jackie purchased for herself a “push” present: a 1960’s vintage Rolex in 18K yellow gold.
Jackie’s purchase isn’t so uncommon, though, as women drive 70% to 80% of all consumer purchasing. And according to a 2015 article on Forbes.com, that purchasing is made through a combination of their buying power and their influence, meaning that, “even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.”
Now let’s look a little more closely at gold as it pertains to Swiss watches. I, myself, own a late 1940’s Longines in white gold, and while a few of my other Swiss watches are made in alternate materials, it’s that watch that I most enjoy wearing and it’s the one that receives the most attention. Nearly a half-million gold watches are made in Switzerland annually, and while gold and other precious metals only make up 2% of the overall units sold worldwide according to the Federation of the Swiss watch industry, they make up the highest percentage of the value category at 39%, with Rolex producing more than 200,000 units alone, per year.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Eric Wind – Vice President, Senior Specialist of Watches for Christie’s – teach a seminar on vintage watches at the American Gem Society Conclave in Washington D.C. When I asked Mr. Wind what the highest price ever paid for a vintage wristwatch at Christie’s was, he told me $5.7 million ($5,708,885 to be exact), back in 2010. According to Christie’s website, the watch was an 18K yellow gold signed Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar with moon phases and a Tonneau-shaped case that was manufactured in 1943 – a year that saw few 37+mm cases made. In fact, if we take a look at the most expensive watches ever sold at auction – both wristwatches and pocket watches – seven out of the top ten had gold cases.
But numbers aren’t everything when it comes to emotion. Gold makes us feel something. It represents more than prestige, though it has diligently made its place in history as the alloy that portrays wealth, stature, and accomplishment. Gold stands for dedication. It is the trophy one most covets as an Olympic athlete. It has coated the walls and domes of some of the most visited churches and state houses in the world. It adorns the fingers of lovers, the necks of mothers, and the wrists of many, many others. Gold has throughout time held its place in history, and to quote the late German-born economist, Hanz Sennholz, “No other commodity enjoys as much universal acceptability and marketability as gold.”
Personally, the attribute I most admire in a gold watch beyond it representing wealth or worthiness is its wearability. Yellow gold, as most of us know by now, is and has been for years the go-to metal for fashion jewelry and there’s a reason for that. Yellow gold can be worn on a red carpet as easily as it can be worn to the movies. It’s versatile because it can be finished brightly to give it a more polished look, or with a satin appearance to make it more casual. It can be made in 22K so that the wearer experiences a deeply pure yellow color, or it can be alloyed with silver (15%), copper (6%), and cadmium (4%) to give it a green appearance. There are many ways karat gold can be produced and many colors it can be created in, which makes it unlike any of the other precious metals that watch cases are often crafted in.
Yet while the Swiss watch market saw in 2015 its first downturn since 2009, the introduction of the Apple watch brought wrist adornments to a new audience – the tech generation – and those watches are available in both 38mm and 42mm, in 18K yellow or rose gold. This is one more way that gold has proven itself not only versatile but also unexpendable.
As for me, I have my eye on a gold watch or two that I’d like to purchase for myself once this writing thing takes off. A recent trip to Baselworld in Basel, Switzerland introduced me to many watchmakers I had been previously unfamiliar with, so my watch wish list more than doubled by the time I took the ten-hour flight back home. And every one I found myself falling in love with was gold. A few were white gold, a couple were yellow, and one was a glorious rose gold with a dark brown leather strap and stunning mother-of-pearl dial. So many watchmakers are now adding a wider variety of women’s watches to their lines because as I had mentioned previously in this post, women are the ones with the majority of the buying power right now, and those numbers are bound to rise. Nearly 4.2 million women in the United States earned six figures or more according to the 2013 U.S. Census, and what better way for a woman to celebrate her accomplishments than with something she purchased for herself with the money she earned herself, that she can pass on eventually as an heirloom. Don’t think for a second that little Julia isn’t going to eventually get Jackie’s gold Rolex. There’s no doubt in my mind that she someday will.
Watches will likely be made in gold for many years to come. It is not a metal that has gone out of style even with price and market fluctuations, however, it is a metal that is rare now, and according to Goldman Sachs’ European Metals and Mining Analyst, Eugene King, may become even rarer in the future. So start saving your dollars and get the watch you want as soon as you can, gang, because the scarcer something gets, the more expensive it is bound to become. I don’t even want to think of living in a world where new gold watches no longer exist.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with and was sponsored by May is Gold Month, an annual celebration of all things Karat Gold. Visit MayisGoldMonth.com for weekly trends, extraordinary golden deals, and for a chance to win $1000 Karat Gold Jewelry shopping spree. Follow @MayisGoldMonth on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Or via #MIGM #MayisGoldMonth.
I play well with boys.
Let me reiterate: I grew up the youngest child and only girl in a house full of males. I played hockey, baseball, and football in my youth (and occasionally still do – just ask the Baselworld crew at the Shinola booth). I’m currently raising a soccer-and-ultimate-Frisbee-loving ten-year-old son, prefer my scotch from the Highlands (neat), was pre-accepted into the Philadelphia Police Academy at eighteen because of my skills at the firing range, have been known to hold my own in a game or two of D&D, and can name the majority of the 1986 Philadelphia Flyers starting lineup while also telling you their jersey numbers and most of their averages.
So as previously stated, don’t let the stilettos, pencil skirts, or deftly applied winged eyeliner fool you…
I play well with boys.
What this often means, however, is that I’m outnumbered in my preferred groups when it comes time to talk about things for women. Case in point: women’s watches. And while this year’s Baselworld could be considered The Year of the Woman (as I stated in a previous post) we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that women’s timepieces aren’t exactly on the lips (or fingertips) of every well-read watch journalist out there. Were there plenty of spectacular watches for *her* in Basel this year? Sure there were, and I will continue to talk about those down the road, but I thought it would be cool to also play the double standard game for a change and highlight some of the men’s watches from the show that were made nicely enough, and well enough, for a successful woman to wear. This doesn’t mean that the watches needed to have diamonds, or a floral pattern, or a brightly-colored crocodile strap. On the contrary, it means the watches needed to have personality, be beautiful on the inside (though the outside couldn’t hurt), and have, above all else, character. If my choices below were men, I’d be looking for certain qualities within them, which is how I’m choosing to describe them each in order to make this piece a little more fun.
First up, the Angelus U20 Ultra Skeleton Tourbillon.
If transparency is yo thang, then this is the watch for you. I regrettably didn’t have a ton of time to spend with this piece or the other Angelus watches I got to see but what little I did have was filled with amazement and awe. If I were speaking of this watch like I were speaking to my best friend about, say, a man I recently went on a first date with, I’d describe it this way:
“Well, let’s just say he had nothing to hide. I mean, he was meticulously on time, incredibly interesting, well-built, and he left everything out in the open. I liked these things about him. I wouldn’t call him overly ostentatious, but believe me, he definitely had an attention-getting quality. And no, we didn’t have enough time to get to *know one another better,* nosey.”
In order to give the U20 its unique “floating movement” appearance, the bridges have been made in skeletonized blue titanium for increased transparency, with the components being satin-finished and hand-polished. To give the wearer more visibility into the case (thus greatly increasing the three-dimensional effect) a sapphire crystal dome is used in lieu of a bezel, allowing the movement to be viewed from the side as well. The case is made of carbon fiber and uses titanium lugs, but even without the aesthetical description, the Ultra Skeleton Tourbillon stands on its own as one of the coolest dudes watches seen at Baselworld this year, in my opinion.
Next, if you’re a woman who is into complex humans or objects (men, watches, etc.) the Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ should be right up your alley. One of the most original pieces I laid eyes on in Basel, the hours and minutes of the watch’s local time zone are represented via peripheral hands that rotate around a raised, centrally placed dome. However, its coolness factor has only just begun, as the Visionnaire DTZ also exhibits a second, remote time zone which can be seen through an aperture – amplified by a magnifying element – located in the dome’s center. That second time zone can only be seen, however, when looking at the watch straight on, which adds to its appeal and gives it sort of a quirky feel (something I’m really learning to love about Fabergé). Upon inspecting the watch at our meeting, my colleague Craig Danforth looked at me with glee in his eyes and said, “Do you think [super well-known watch journalist] has seen this yet?!”
Now I’m going to break down some of the watch’s additional characteristics by giving you a definition for each as if I were describing to my mother a guy I was seeing.
- 43mm diameter = “He’s got broad shoulders, Mom, but he’s not overly muscular.”
- DLC-treated Titanium and 18K white gold case = “Yes, he comes from a well-adjusted family. Both sides.”
- AGH 6924 Caliber self-winding movement = “Well, he’s known around his office as the ‘self-starter.’”
- Black alligator strap = “Did I mention how good he looks in leather? He looks really good in leather.”
- German silver hands with TC1 luminescent coating = “Oh, and he has the NICEST hands.”
- Slim bezel = “He keeps himself very fit, yes. He’s mindful of his calories, for sure.”
- Water resistant to 30M = “He’s *so* into snorkeling.”
- 50-hour power reserve = “Um… that’s really not something I feel comfortable discussing with you.”
ANYWAAAAAAAAAY… let’s move on to the third watch in this piece, the Manero Flyback by Carl F. Bucherer.
Now THIS is a watch worthy of wrapping itself around a woman’s wrist if I’ve ever seen one. I practically squealed when I got my hands on it so I’m pretty happy to get to talk about it on the blog. I’d consider this the “Romantic” of the group for more than one appropriate reason.
There is a wearable sleekness to the watches in the Manero series that makes them different than the other CFB collections. They’re suit watches, yet jeans watches; they’re your dress watch and your casual watch and likely no one would question their appearance on your wrist either way. This year’s Flyback Chronograph was pretty popular amongst both the retailers I spoke with as well as some of my fellow writers. The watch features the caliber CFB 1970 automatic movement which is controlled by a gearwheel while also providing a flyback function, allowing multiple time intervals to be measured in quick succession. But for me, as superficial as it will sound, the true beauty of the piece is in its face. The rose gold version was what I got to toy around with at my appointment in Basel and the contrast of the silver dial against the blush-hued, irregular tetrahedron-shaped raised indexes (thank you, tenth grade geometry class. [#nailedit]) gave me that “love at first sight” feeling that I hadn’t felt since, well, probably meeting my tenth grade geometry teacher. If this watch were a man sitting in my favorite coffee shop he’d likely be wearing a tan corduroy blazer over his perfectly fitted lightweight sweater and impeccably worn dark-toned jeans. And if it were a man, I’d likely make eye contact with him and hold that gaze until he looked away. I would then walk over to him and tell him that I found him incredibly attractive before turning and strutting toward the door. Then, naturally, I’d get my foot caught in someone’s computer bag strap while simultaneously dropping my skinny chai latte because that’s always what happens to me when I try to be sexy which is why I usually stick with humor.
And last but not least, we come to a watch specifically designed for the U.S. market by Laurent Ferrier, The Galet Traveller US Enamel Dial.
Many of you reading this may think to yourself, “I don’t understand. I live in the U.S. and this watch is made for the U.S. market, so why did they use two ‘l’s to spell the word, ‘traveler?’ (And many others of you reading this may think, “What did I eat for lunch yesterday?” because you’re not very good at spelling or foreign languages and you didn’t catch that there was a difference.) But the answer to the former of those questions is this: Laurent Ferrier has instead chosen to focus on the U.S. market in the literal sense by creating a new enameled dial that, according to the brand, “gives the entire North American continent pride of place.”
My appointment with Jessica Gasser, Laurent Ferrier’s head of Marketing and Communication, went extraordinarily well, partly because she was incredibly kind and patient with me and partly because the CEO of Laurent Ferrier, Vanessa Monestal, took part in our meeting. Here we were, just three girls hanging out and talking nail polish tourbillons, the Kardashians the Besançon Observatory, and Jimmy Choos Assegai-shaped hour and minute hands. I learned as much in that meeting as I think I learned in total for the entire trip and I was OBSESSED with the fact that Vanessa is at this wonderful company’s helm.
To round out my manly descriptions of the watches in this post, if I had to categorize the Galet Traveller US Enamel Dial, I’d say it would be my “Nerd Crush.” It has a self-winding Calibre LF230.01 chronometer, off-centered micro-rotor with pawl-fitted unidirectional winding, is equipped with a “silent bloc” shock-absorbing system, front and back domed sapphire crystals, has an 80-hour power reserve, “teardrop” hour markers, and Champlevé enameled dial depicting the Earth with North America in the center. The watch (and the company) is smart; it knows a thing or two about science, a thing or two about history, and a thing or two about design. It may not be for everyone, and I’m sure it’s certainly not for every woman, but for me, it was the Mary Poppins of timepieces… practically perfect in every way.
That concludes my little “double-standard” experiment with some of the men’s watches I had the pleasure of seeing at Baselworld. Hope you’ll stick around. I’m only just getting started.
The Lovechild of Art and Smart: The HMX Black Badger Brightens the MB&F Booth (and This Watch Writer’s Day)
Ever get a Facebook friend request from someone so popular, so well-loved, and so seemingly untouchable that you think to yourself, “there must be some mistake”? Well that’s what happened to me when I saw a notification stating that *the* Maximilian Büsser wanted to connect.
I had read all that I could read about Max and his “friends” up to the moment that the notification bar lit up. I had known of his connection with Jaeger LeCoultre, and Harry Winston, as well as his involvement in the Opus series, and with independent watchmakers. I skimmed pages of articles on his MB&F projects, and read about his ten-piece limited edition partnership with Hodinkee last year that produced the LM101 in stainless steel. I watched videos of his interviews, and flipped articles for future reading, but never did I think he’d be someone I’d call a friend.
That is, at least, until last week.
Heading toward the back of The Palace at Baselworld, I could see Max strolling in my direction. His swagger is unique and undeniably his and he walks as if he were eight feet tall (he is not). He saw me and smiled a very Max smile and I’m sure I turned six shades of chartreuse as a result, but when we reached one another it was if we’d been schoolmates for decades. “Finally!” I said, going in for a hug, to which he replied, “We see you later today, yes?” Then off we both went to our intended destinations, thankfully without my passing out from sheer fangirl glee.
When the time came for my scheduled meeting with Max’s Chief Communications Officer, the tremendously kind Charris Yadigaroglou, I decided to show up a few minutes early to take some photos of the booth and of course, of Max’s “machines.” That was when Jason Heaton walked in.
“DUDE! What are you doing here?” Which as I think about it now, was a rather stupid question to ask one of the most recognizable watch journalists in Baselworld. But before Jason and I got to talking, this super-animated bearded guy walks in, turns to Jason and exclaims rather vibrantly, “ADVENTUREMAN! I was hoping I was going to get to meet you!”
“Beardguy,” I soon came to realize, was none other than James Thompson, the composite specialist and industrial designer responsible for this year’s MB&F “Performance Art” limited edition watch series, the HMX Black Badger, so it made all the sense in the world that he would be in Max’s booth. He got to talking to Jason about stuff I’m still learning about but since I have a decades-long background in the jewelry industry, my eyes, while he spoke, were fixated on his rings.
Me: “Hey man, can I see that ring?”
JT: “Yeah” (handing it to me) “Go for it.”
Me: (Now turning the piece and inspecting it because that’s kind of what I do.) “Hmmm. What’s the inlay made of?”
JT: “Ahhh, see? Now, that’s the secret.”
What I quickly learned, however, was that this was the exact “secret” that led to James’ and Max’s partnership. James uses alternative materials such as DuPont™ Corian®, brightly colored lume, surfboard resin, and carbon fiber. He also mentioned something about digging through the trash to get hold of a certain substance to experiment with, which is right around the time that Charris walked into the lounge and saved me from my own curiosity.
“Performance Art. Are you familiar?” Mr. Yadigaroglou said to me, and while I was familiar (both with the MB&F version as well as the “what my friends did for extra credit in college” version), I wanted to make sure I had all of my information correct, so I beckoned my host to explain. In a nutshell, MB&F “Performance Art” pieces are limited edition works (either watch or machine) that are made in collaboration with various jewelry houses, designers, artists, and manufacturers who happen to tickle Max’s and his team’s fancy. This year’s version was no different.
James Thompson (aka – “Beardguy” – aka – Black Badger) first met Max back in 2013 at London’s SalonQP exhibition. Says JT of the meeting, “I wasn’t campaigning for a job or anything, I really just wanted to meet him and tell him how much I liked his stuff. Clearly he had better and more important things to be doing, but we had a really nice, genuine chat. To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything more of it than that, but then he emailed me a few weeks later and we started bouncing around ideas… I mean seriously? That’s like Sinatra asking what you thought of his new tune.”
The two eventually got together at the MAD Gallery in Geneva and started putting things in motion. The result (or, “lovechild” for the sake of this post) is an intricate timepiece that doubles as something that could entertain your Scout troop or chess club for hours. Made in Grade 5 titanium and stainless steel with either blue, green, or purple high-efficiency luminescent details (known as “rocker covers”), the HMX Black
Badger is, according to the MB&F website, “eye-catching by day, (but) it’s when the sun goes down that they really come out to party.”
The pieces are limited to eighteen in each of the three colors, with every one being a technological symphony of components (forty-four making up the case, two hundred and twenty-three making up the three-dimensional horological Engine). The watch has a forty-two-hour power reserve, and its functions include bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes, displayed by dual reflective sapphire crystal prisms with integrated magnifying lenses.
But at the end of the day what I will take away from my experience with Max, James, Charris, and the HMX Black Badger is this: I don’t remember laughing as hard as I did for the rest of the week in Baselworld, and I truly mean that. I can’t even recall what exactly it was we were talking about; all I know is that the three of us were in that darkened room using flashlights and cell phone lighting to try to get a picture of all of the watches glowing together, giggling like fools. I felt as if I were camping out with my friends from high school and trying to light a cigarette without my parents catching me. It is this feeling – this innocence of adolescence, and this joy of journeys past – that is the cornerstone of what I believe “Max Büsser and Friends” is all about.
Friends. Freunde. Copains. Amici. Vänner. No matter how any one of us at that meeting could say it or which language we could say it in, I feel we all were in agreement that “friends” is the core word in this entire project, and I thank Max, and his team, for accepting me as one of theirs.
Despite what the Manstream Media (I have waited for ages to use that term) might be saying, let it be known that Baselworld 2016 was most certainly The Year of the Woman. And why not? Statistics posted by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH, as of February 2016, state: “Swiss watch exports remained on a negative trend for the eighth consecutive month, recording a total value of 1.7 billion francs. This represents a decline of 3.3% compared to 2015, which was greatly influenced by developments on the Hong Kong market.” And while that’s borderline frightening news for the Swiss watch industry it’s also a wake-up call for them to go after a market that’s been largely untapped until now – the female self-purchaser.
According to this nifty infographic created by Marketing Zeus for Business Insider, 85% of purchases are made by women. They also state that two thirds of consumer wealth in America (the Swiss watch industry’s second largest market) will belong to women in the next decade. Oh, and get this: 50% of the products usually marketed to men are purchased by women, largely because a staggering 91% of women believe that advertisers don’t understand them. Walking through the main floor of Baselworld’s Hall 1 you would have seen that while women were the minority of the showgoers (but the majority of the deep neckline wearers and booth greeters), many in attendance were donning men’s watches. “Why?” you ask? Or you really didn’t but I’ll act like you did to make this point? Well, largely, as the infographic states, it’s because those watches were the only ones marketed to one gender. But the times, my friends, they thankfully are a changin’.
I chose not to set any appointments with brands at Baselworld that weren’t listed on the show’s website as also selling ladies’ watches. Each person I set a time with listened to my three-minute explanation of who I was, what this blog was going to be about, and what I’d be looking to see in terms of product in said meeting. To say that an overwhelming majority of PR people, marketing directors, and production assistants were relieved to hear that a watch blog was going to center on women would be an understatement. “It’s about time. There is not a lot of press for women’s watches” said Xavier Mettaz, Director of Production at luxury jewelry and timepiece house, Jacob & Co. Aurélie Picaud, manager of Fabergé Timepieces, stated, “This is so exciting that you’re doing this. It is really needed.” And the enthusiasm about the idea didn’t end there, with brand managers scurrying to show me what they had just released in terms of new digs for ladies, and with many of those digs containing mechanical movements (both automatic and manual).
One of my favorite moments of the trip came during my sit-down with Maurice Lacroix’s Product/R&D Director, David Sanchez. “Barbara, right now, 80% of the watches we produce are men’s and 20% are women’s. Do you know that 55% of Swiss watches sold are women’s watches? It’s not the greater profit or higher price point I’m talking, just volume. So for 2017, we’re looking to change it to 60% men’s and 40% women’s. And then, who knows, maybe someday it is split evenly.” David then proceeded to show me a brand new ladies mechanical (don’t rub your eyes, indeed I used the word “MECHANICAL”) square wheel watch from the Maurice Lacroix “Masterpiece” collection and my heart jumped into my throat.
At 43mm, the case was somewhat larger than what I would normally prefer, but the deep red hand-stitched crocodile strap, mother-of-pearl face, diamond SS bezel, and hand-wound in-house ML 156 movement pulled me in. The watch’s functions include a 45-hour power reserve, with the small seconds by square wheel (at 6 o’clock) and the power reserve hand at 3 o’clock. The piece also comes with a domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, thirty-four jewels, square-shaped and clover-shaped wheels highlighted by a circular opening on the movement bridge itself, and decorated with a sandblasted background. It won me over, as did the company, which I had not realized is not part of a larger watch group until my talk with David.
Another pleasant surprise for me at Baselworld was the overall vibe I got from Oris watches. On top of their U.S. team being pretty much all-around awesome and fun, they take their watches – and their new women’s watches – pretty darn seriously. I was lucky enough to work with V.J. Geronimo – their North American CEO – during my appointment, which was no less than an hour long. We talked a lot about what’s going on in the market, the fact that women are buying more for themselves, and how case sizes are slowly going to start showing up on the smaller side again, which is when he showed me the new Oris diamond Artelier automatic for women. The grey guilloche dial with diamond accents was visually comforting against the very feminine wine-colored strap. As an April baby, I’m a sucker for a diamond bezel, especially when the stones are set as perfectly as they were here, but it was the small case – 28.5mm to be exact – which set this watch apart from most others I had seen. An automatic movement for a woman is still a rarity in Basel, but finding a SMALL ladies watch with said movement is practically nonexistent. Want to know the thing that really sold me, though? Their head designer is female. Game, set, match, Oris. You win, and you win big.
Directly following my appointment with MB&F (more about that experience in a follow-up post. And yes, I managed to maintain my composure), designer and collaborator James Thompson graciously introduced me to Atom and Kathleen of RedBar fame. Upon giving them a two-minute synopsis of what I was looking for in the way of mechanical women’s watches to cover, they simultaneously asked me if I had been by to see Bremont yet, then proceeded to walk me over themselves and introduced me to Mike Pearson. (As a quick aside, I want to send a deeply felt message of thanks to everyone willing to help this Basel newbie out. Y’all are a rad group of folks. Thanks again.)
Bremont is loved by many a watch blogger out there, so I was quite familiar with their place in the watch world, as well as the uber cool things they do with their advertising. But to see the excitement on their faces as they handed me their new ladies Solo 32-LC (the “LC” an abbreviation for “Lettice Curtis;” a successful female pilot in World War II and the first woman to qualify to fly a four-engine bomber), made me, in turn, be just as excited about it, and I had barely looked at it! But once I had it in my hands, I could see why everyone felt the way they did. From a technical perspective, the watch contains a modified calibre BE-10AE automatic chronometer, Glucydur balance, Anachron balance spring, Nivaflex 1 mainspring, 18 jewels, and a 40-hour power reserve. It’s a 32mm stainless steel case, has a white metal dial, and really pretty blue steel hands. It has an anti-reflective, scratch resistant domed sapphire crystal, and is water resistant up to 100 meters, but if you’re not a tech geek, it’s just a damned fine watch for a woman who likes a side of history with her time telling.
The last watch I’m going to include in this post is one by luxury brand, Fabergé, but before I get into the details of the timepiece, I first would like to talk about how wonderful my experience was with them.
This Baselworld, as if you hadn’t already figured out, was my first. I am not new to jewelry or even watches, but I am new to having my own watch publication, and so I came to the realization that this year, for me, it was either Basel or bust. Fabergé was one of the first brands to confirm my appointment for the show, and they did so with willingness as well as with kindness. While many of the bigger brands didn’t have time slots available or did not respond to my appointment requests at all, Faberge treated me as if I had been the most seasoned of watch journalists, and that feeling carried over into our appointment. My dear friend Craig Danforth accompanied me as he – a veteran of the watch industry and collector, of sorts – wanted to see the new pieces as much as I, so we arrived at the booth a few minutes early to settle in and discuss what we hoped to accomplish. We were greeted with smiles, and Champagne, and breakfast treats. They let us walk around and allowed me to take pictures of their astounding Fabergé “Four Seasons Objets d’art collection” bejeweled eggs. And when it came time for Aurélie Picard to show us the goods, it was her positive demeanor and genuine attention that stuck with me long after the appointment was over. So, having made clear how much of a fan I am, I’m happy to now highlight one of my favorite watches in all of Baselworld: The Fabergé “Lady Libertine II”.
As many of you know, the merger between Fabergé and gemstone miner and distributor, Gemfields, happened in early 2013, and this past November, the Faberge “Lady Compliquée Peacock” timepiece won the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève – or, GPHG – award (think, the Oscars for watches) in the “Ladies Hi-Mechanical” category. When I asked Aurélie about Faberge’s position on quartz watches, her response was simple: “Every new watch starting now will be mechanical. No quartz movements from here forward.”
(And the female watch enthusiast crowd goes wild.)
The Lady Libertine II is 18K white gold, 36mm in diameter and is set with responsibly sourced diamonds as well as Gemfields’ emeralds mined from the Kagem mine in Zambia. It contains an AGH 6911 caliber movement with a 50-hour power reserve from a single barrel and Agenhor’s unique “AgenPIT” regulation system offering a simplified approach to balance wheel adjustment. But while mechanically it goes toe-to-toe with movements we’re used to seeing in men’s watches, aesthetically there were not many in Basel that could hold a candle to its beauty.
That ends my first report on Baselworld 2016 but I promise you there will be several more to come.
Don’t watch the clock, though… they’ll come… in time.