It feels to me that Baselworld – the once raven-haired, blue-eyed star quarterback/student body president/drama club lead of the world’s watch and jewelry trade fairs – has recently been reduced to the smelly kid in class who brings tuna for lunch and occasionally chews his erasers. In other words, it’s become quite unpopular. And yet, many of us have been convinced that if we want to be successful in this industry, we need to get to know it better; to find the good in it, even if others don’t necessarily agree. And that’s exactly what I set out to do when I signed up for my third ever visit to the fair.
The City, Itself
This year I made the decision to get into the city a day earlier than I usually do and it was the best travel choice I’ve made in the last three years. Basel – two days before press day – was quiet and snowcapped and genuinely lovely.
What many don’t realize is that Basel is the third most populous city in Switzerland (behind Zürich and Geneva) and is historically significant for a variety of reasons, including that the first ever museum that showcased art to the public – the Kunst – happens to be located there. A word of advice, however: make sure you pronounce the name of the museum correctly to the local cab drivers. If not, well, it can be quite offensive. Or so I’ve heard.
And while I agree with many of my colleagues that some of the city’s restaurants raise their prices significantly while the fair is in town, I don’t find the rates to be all that different than touristy restaurants in San Francisco or on the strip in Las Vegas (how’s that forty-dollar martini at The Wynn working out for ya?). I’ve succumbed to the fact that Basel is pricey, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay once per year to be able to walk away with the information I’m given. Maybe it’s naïve, but I’m also still at the “you have to spend money to make money” stage of my career.
But first, Let Me Take a Wristie
Think about this for a minute… if you’re one of the handful of people who can afford to get yourself to Basel or who works for a company that will either partially or fully pay for your journey, you’re a rare breed, and Baselworld – for all of its quirks – can be quite an extraordinary experience if you allow yourself to get past the show’s lackluster Wi-Fi and lack of places to sit.
One click on the #Baselworld2018 hashtag on Instagram will pull up nearly 50,000 posts, with likely 90% of those being wrist shots, or “wristies”, which means you are amongst the watch-loving elite, and that means solid, interesting conversations, wristwatch comparisons, and potential selfies with celebrities like KISS drummer Eric Singer or Instagram sensation Anish Bhatt – aka @watchanish – who is always happy to take one.
It’s Like Living in a Benetton Ad!
The diversity of Baselworld is truly one of the show’s greatest attributes. Think of it like a trip to the United Nations but slightly less stuffy and with a lot more champagne and much nicer suits. The conversations being had leading up to the turnstiles alone are enough to make you think you’ve mistakenly woken up at the foot of The Tower of Babel, but that’s also the beauty of the show and proof that the world can come together in peace and harmony if we could just find something to love as a people; and in the case of Baselworld, that something just happens to be the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000.
Let’s Not Forget, “The Presence of Greatness”
I think the saddest part for me about some of the negativity I’ve read about Baselworld is that people out there are assuming what brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe want, or what they’re eventually going to do as it pertains to showing at the fair, and to be honest, I don’t believe anyone really knows. But as it stands right now, if you’re a retailer or a journalist or a collector, and you want to see the new releases as they come out from either of the aforementioned watch industry titans as well as many others, then finding a way to get yourself to Basel is what you’re going to have to do, at least, for now. If these brands aren’t complaining when they’re spending millions upon millions to be there, then why should we? They invite us out for dinners, let us hang out at their top-shelf-stacked bars inside of their beautifully-decorated booths and show us a grand ol’ time while showing us their brand-new timepieces (Pepsi GMT, anyone?), so who are we to say what they should do or what we would do if we were in their positions? I’m all for letting the big boys think for themselves, because after well over a hundred years of being in business, I’m fairly certain they know what they’re doing.
Come on… Admit it… There’s Nothing Like Les Trois Rois
You can go ahead and build Geneva up all you want, but there is just something about being in a bar where you can barely move, breathe, or hear yourself think with 350 of your closest international friends. For me, Les Trois Rois is like a family reunion; with a twenty-plus-year background in jewelry sales, marketing, and media, I know almost all of the American jewelry retailers and buyers personally. But that also means I can’t move three inches in one direction without being recognized (at 5’10”, I’m pretty easy to spot), and that’s usually when the hugs, stories, and drinks start flowing.
This year I surprisingly stuck to a “one drink at the Three Kings” rule for myself and it worked out beautifully. That rule allowed me to be at the bar long enough to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, have a brief conversation with collector Gary Getz about what happened when I tried to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, and network one end of the bar to the other before bidding my friends a fond “auf wiedersehen/au revoir”. Regardless, it’s moments like those had at Les Trois Rois that separate our industry from so many of the others. We love watches, sure, but we mostly like the camaraderie that comes along with our love for watches (um, hello, RedBar anyone?) which is why the social aspect of Baselworld is just as important as the business one.
In closing, I have no crystal ball, and I haven’t been doing this long enough to feel strongly enough one way or the other about whether or not Baselworld will be around in 2020, or 2030, or 2050. For now, what I do understand is that despite the cost, I come back from the fair knowing more than I did before I left for it, and as a writer who is learning as she goes, that – to me – is worth the price of admission.
Like it or not, one cannot dispute the fact that we as a country continue to make history through our willingness to adapt, our desire to make change, and the tolerance and acceptance once thought to be impossible. We are no longer just the sons and daughters of our forefathers because let’s face it, complacency isn’t what has ever made this country great. We have taken their ideas of freedom and prosperity and over long and hard-fought decades (not to mention a Civil War), added our own humane idea of equality. Equality for all races, all religious backgrounds, all sexual preferences, and yes, even all genders.
This summer we collectively watched – as a nation – one more historical milestone be reached. For the first time in the two-hundred-and-forty-year history of this extraordinary patch of Earth we call “home,” a woman was named by a major political party as their nominee for President of the United States, and I believe I speak for many women in this country when I say now with all puns intended…
It’s. About. TIME.
Over the last few years, the American history lover as well as the watch lover in me has on occasion researched which presidents wore what watches. The most famous watch (or rather, infamous) likely being the adoringly inscribed gold Rolex Day-Date supposedly given to Jack Kennedy by Marilyn Monroe on his 45th birthday, shortly after her sultry rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” (which, as legend goes, he quickly gave to an aide with instructions to “get rid of it”… ah, gotta love men.) Abe Lincoln used a Waltham William Ellery pocket watch, FDR wore a Tiffany & Co. wristwatch containing a movement by Movado (though it was not his only watch), Reagan wore a stainless steel Rolex Datejust, and our current president wears a Jorg Gray gifted to him on his birthday by his Secret Service team. The list of pocket watch-carrying and wristwatch-wearing presidents goes back to our first – George Washington – and can be found on most highly respected watch blogs like the piece written here on WatchTime.com. But with the times a-changin’ both in horology and politics, I’ve been thinking a lot about which types, brands, and styles of watches a female president would wear, how often she would wear them, and of course, when those watches would be appropriate. Here is what I came up with should the history books, once again, need an update and maybe some new drapes.
Inauguration Day (January 20th, 2017)
A watch worn on Election Day becomes a historic watch for any president, but for the first female President of the United States, the timepiece would have to have an even deeper meaning. On this, I contacted a friend who I know to be a bit of a watch historian and we went back and forth about watches that might potentially work from both a significance angle as well as from a style standpoint. Two watches that stood out were the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso owned by Amelia Earhart that was engraved with the itinerary of her first flight (to New York [where Clinton was a Senator] from Mexico [where there will now be no wall built]), as well as the yellow gold Omega wristwatch worn by President John F. Kennedy (a fellow Democrat) at his inauguration. Both watches signify change and greatness. Both graced the wrists of rule breakers and risk-takers, but yet it is the associated histories of each of those pieces that I was having trouble with as my choice for this possible president. If Hillary Rodham Clinton is to take the oath of office, then her watch will need to be something that represents her history alone, so with that in mind, I chose a 1928 white gold “Piping Rock” wristwatch by then-American made watch company, Hamilton.
Why? Well, first, the watch was made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the time of its production. Pennsylvania was a crucial swing state that went blue (hypothetically) for this election so selecting this watch is a nod to PA voters. Also, in 1947 – the year Hillary Clinton was born – Hamilton Watch Company produced a nifty twenty-minute video called, “What Makes a Fine Watch Fine?” which shows (several times throughout the video) American women not just working in the watch factory but also holding more highly-paid positions such as inspectors. The name of this watch, Piping Rock, was an homage to a resort built in New York state in 1911 (also the same year California gave women the right to vote) and the watch itself was released in 1928, which was the same year that the Representation of the People Act was passed in the United Kingdom, giving British women electoral equality with men.
Now, let’s break it down a little more by connecting the name “Hamilton.”
The company was incorporated in 1892 (the same year Olympia Brown founded the Federal Suffrage Association) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While it would be fitting for this blog post that the name come from Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury, and star of his own award-winning musical (which, by the way, raised millions for Hillary Clinton’s campaign this year), Alexander Hamilton, the company was actually named for a lawyer by the name of Andrew Hamilton (no relation) who once owned the piece of property in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that the Hamilton watch factory was built upon. Since I’m having fun researching connections, however, I’ll add a couple more fun facts just to come full circle: Andrew Hamilton was Attorney General for the colony of Pennsylvania from 1717 until 1724, which is when he travelled to London to formally oversee the will of Pennsylvania founder William Penn. For his legal work, Hamilton was awarded land in Philadelphia by Penn’s family which, when combined with additional land he purchased, became a 153-acre estate known as Bush Hill (oh, the irony). BUSH AND HILL, PEOPLE! But wait! There’s more! Years later, Bush Hill became a temporary home for the vice president of the United States (who happened to be John Adams at the time) when the federal capital was moved to Philadelphia during George Washington’s presidency. And one last association between this watch and its potential inauguration day wearer: the year before the Piping Rock model was produced, Hamilton Watch Company purchased the Illinois Watch Company (keep in mind that Hillary’s home state is Illinois), which was co-founded in 1870 by a man also by the name of John Adams. I can’t make this stuff up, gang. All signs point to this being the perfect watch to wind up in her presidential library one day.
In my mind, Potential President Clinton (I may refer to her as “PPC” from here on in, so, take note) would have purchased the watch for herself at some point, maybe from an online auction or from a private dealer. She’d wear it on her left wrist underneath her wool coat, which will be the same hand she places on the bible (assumably), while raising her right to take her oath of office as the first female president of these United States.
Inauguration Night & Inaugural Balls (January 20th, 2017)
Hillary Clinton knows that she’s no Michelle Obama when it comes to fashion, nor does she try to be. But it is my hope that if she does win the election, she will be comfortable selecting a gown for her Inaugural Balls that she won’t be scrutinized in (highly doubtful), or criticized in (ain’t happenin’), or, at the very least, one that will reflect the type of leader she might be. In other words: all business. If I were she, I’d go with a basic black number simply because color choices are the easiest thing for society to pick apart, so why not go with black at that point? I mean, technically every U.S. President before her has, right? This is her “tuxedo” so to speak, so black with a dash of white in the form of loaner diamonds could speak volumes. I’m thinking something classic with three-quarter sleeves accented with a muted design like a lace applique on the bodice would be the perfect style of gown to go with that stunning Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Secret watch in white gold and diamonds that she borrowed from longtime Washington, D.C. jeweler, Tiny Jewel Box. Will she get roasted for not wearing an American-made watch? Probably, but at this point what won’t she get roasted for? This is a watch that was born to be worn to events such as these and being that she would now be president of the United States, staying on schedule will be of the utmost importance. The rhodium-plated floral appliques on the mother-of-pearl dial would not only match the gown’s bodice, but her daughter Chelsea gave birth this past June to Hillary’s grandson, Aiden, and June’s birthstone is pearl, making Chelsea a “mother of pearl”… okay, that connection might be a stretch, but I’m on a roll here. Don’t kill my vibe.
First Speech Given to the Joint Sessions of Congress (February, 2017)
There will likely be no State of the Union address shortly after the next president is inaugurated, simply because newly elected presidents in recent decades have opted out of official SotU’s, instead addressing a joint session of Congress during their first few months in office. Giving a speech to a body that large, that powerful, and that important to what she’ll be able to accomplish in her presidency won’t come easily, nor do I believe she will take it lightly. As mentioned previously, PPC (aka HRC) is pretty much all business and the House chamber is no place to be flashy, but just because the president doesn’t want to look “showy” doesn’t mean she has to go for something as inexpensive as a Boccia, (à la Angela Merkel) or a Timex (à la Dubya). I’m thinking the Longines Agassiz 23mm in 18K yellow gold will do the trick as it’s the quintessential “I’ve got bills to sign and pantsuits to wear” women’s watch. Time only and with a quartz movement, the Agassiz is also water resistant up to 100 meters just in case Hill wants to go for a dip in the White House North Lawn fountain immediately following the Congressional brouhaha.
First G-20 Summit Meeting, Hamburg, Germany (July, 2017)
When one and a bunch of one’s allies (oh, and Russia) get together to discuss initiatives aimed at international coordination of economic policy, it’s not exactly like a meet-and-greet prior to the 2017 season premiere of SNL. If one is planning on being in a room with Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the entirety of the EU, one is probably going to want to make some sort of an impression, especially while in the country of one’s fellow female badass, Angela Merkel. My suggestion for PPC here would be to go with a watch that is made where the Summit itself is taking place…. that’s right folks, we’re talking a Montblanc. The “Bohème Day & Night” in stainless steel contains the MB 24.10 caliber movement in a 34mm case as well as a guilloché dial with black floral Arabic and diamond numerals. It’s reasonably priced enough not to make the French look at her like she’s the next Marie Antoinette, however, still made nicely enough to make Putin want to (wo)manhunt her for it while perched atop a soon-to-be-mating Karabakh horse.
First State Dinner at the White House (August, 2017)
The United States, dating back to when Herbert Hoover was President (as that is the earliest Presidential State Dinner listed on Wikipedia), has not had an official State Dinner in modern times with the country of Switzerland. Why that is, I have no idea (though I will refrain from my usual jokes about the Swiss being Swiss here because, you know, #watchevents), but since this entire blog post is based on a hypothetical presidency, I figured I may as well close it out with a hypothetical State Dinner of my choosing, and because of that, I decided to choose Switzerland.
The formal invitation, printed on the finest card stock, will be sent out to President Johann Schneider-Ammann and will read, “We’re having a great party in your honor. It’s going to be great. We’re going to make it so Swiss it’ll make your clocks spin. There’s going to be Schnitzel, too. There’s going to be so much Schnitzel, your watch hands are going to spin. You’re going to get tired of eating Schnitzel there’s going to be so much Schnitzel. And it’ll be the best Schnitzel, too, because my chefs at the Trump Towers make the best Schnitzel in the world. And everyone’ll get a Trump watch as a door prize. This is going to be the best Switzerland party in my honor, ever. RSVP to my wife, Melania, by the 15th. I don’t know or even care what ‘RSVP’ means but many people tell me it’s Swiss.”
Oh. Wait. Wrong election winner. Sorry.
An event as extravagant as a State Dinner calls for adornments as extravagant as an event like a State Dinner, which is why – as an homage to Switzerland – I’m suggesting Potential President Clinton wear a watch that is made in the horological mecca that is Geneva. In this case, something from Chopard will do. The L’Heure du Diamant Oval Vertical in 18K white gold is as elegant as it gets without looking overly frilly or delicate. After all, no president wants to come off as a lover of doilies and macramé, although I often wondered about that Chester A. Arthur. As the great Robert De Niro would say… “I’ve heard things.”
Only time will tell (see what I did there?) whether or not we get to watch that sky-high and final glass ceiling get shattered, and with months left to go and twenty-four-hour news networks left to be turned off in a violent rage watched, anything can happen, which also means anyone – ANYONE – could wind up being president.
In the meantime, thank you for reading. God bless our troops. And God bless ‘merica.
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.
“Why… why watches?”
My father wore drugstore watches. He’d buy a watch at the local Rite Aid that had a leather-like strap and take it home, only to immediately replace it with a Speidel band. He never wore a watch of value, or even a watch of substance, regardless of its price tag. He wore cheap, gold-plated watches that never lasted more than a few months and hung in plastic cases from metal rods on rotating counter displays. Then he’d throw them away and start the process all over again and probably still does it to this day.
But… my father always wore a watch.
I started working in the watch and jewelry industry in 1996 and vowed that year that I wouldn’t let the men I cared for go through their lives wearing drugstore watches. In 1999, as a wedding gift to my first husband, I presented him with a Baume et Mercier Hampton – which he in turn also bought for me when we celebrated our first anniversary. In 2005, when my eldest brother turned forty, I flew home to Philadelphia and surprised him with a Movado Chronograph in stainless steel. And so far, the man I’m married to now is the proud owner of three very not-drugstore watches, all of which I’ve given to him on important days in our marriage. But while these stories tell you a little about my background as well as my experience with watches in general, they don’t quite tell you why I’m starting this blog.
This, however, will:
Shortly after the 2015 GEM Awards I found myself reading some of the watch blogs that I had only brushed over a few times prior. I started to become more and more interested in watches not just as adornments, but as future heirlooms and frankly, machines. My job back then put me in a different jewelry store in a different city week after week, and during those visits or trunk shows or events I’d find myself gazing at the product, taking pictures of the displays, and if I was lucky, getting to ask questions about the watches. I remember so vividly listening to Burt Wilkinson at Blakeman’s Fine Jewelry in Arkansas as he single-handedly schooled me for twenty-five minutes on the watch brand, Tudor. And I recall picking poor Ben Simon’s brain about Ulysse Nardin, Nomos, and IWC – just three of the names carried in his store, Windsor Jewelers. I listened intently as Mark Hendricks of Lee Michaels in Baton Rouge explained Patek Philippe’s fascinating diamond setting process to me, and I smiled widely as Mike Shields with Moretti’s let me try on his store’s various Rolexes. But the more I saw, and learned, and asked, the more I realized I was alone. Where were the women to teach me about watches? And who were the women who wanted to learn more?
As I set out in search of additional information I found that my favorite watch blogs were also largely written by men, as were most print publications (with a few talented exceptions), newspaper articles, and watch collector forums. This didn’t mean I was learning any less, mind you. On the contrary, I probably understand the difference between a perpetual calendar and an annual calendar because websites like Hodinkee exist (so, if I haven’t said it in the past, thanks, Hodinkee). But after a while, it’s kind of like having your women’s health issues debated in Congress by a bunch of old guys in suits; meaning, yeah, they may know the Constitution and every amendment like the back of their hand, but do they really know what’s right for me?
Later in 2015 I began an Instagram series highlighting Fifty Powerful Women in the Jewelry Industry, and that’s when I realized that there wasn’t a ton of information out there about women holding executive positions in the watch circuit. They hold them, don’t get me wrong – and if you’re one of the women who does hold an executive position and you’re reading this, please don’t be offended – there just isn’t a plethora of information available if you’re someone who isn’t in the watch world who needs to find out about women who are. It was tough, let me tell you, and at the end of the day (thankfully because a couple of the women were recommended to me) I did add a few, but out of fifty, there were not many, and that’s when the gears in my brain started turning.
On October 25th I wrote a piece on my jewelry blog titled, “Girl Time: Desperately Seeking Women in the Watch World” and the response the post received was extraordinary, even making one of JCK Magazine’s Top Articles for 2015 that Didn’t Appear on JCKOnline. The time, pun entirely intended, had come to take this to the next level, and by January, after much deliberation, many conversations with trusted friends, a text or twelve with fellow writers, and the support of my incredibly patient husband, I decided not only to go the route of being a full-time blogger, but to also go forward with my idea for a second blog. One that would focus on women’s watches, men’s watches from a woman’s point of view, women holding executive positions in the watch industry, and women who take their watches very seriously.
Women. Watches. Words.
That’s the tagline for this – my new blog – aptly named, What’s On Her Wrist. As you can see, “women” come first, which is why I chose today – International Women’s Day – to introduce it to the world.
It is my opinion that the jewelry and watch sectors of our industry will become more and more integrated in the near future, and with this, we’ll be seeing more female faces in varying genres within the field. Last year the Women’s Jewelry Association added a watch category to their Awards for Excellence. This year, Jewelers of America also added a watch category at the GEM Awards. As I type this, a Watches & Women advisory group is being formed ahead of Baselworld. These are all good things that signify good change, and hopefully this blog will not only play its part, but also a significant role in the continuing developments we hope to see down the road, as well as in the present.
As part of this inaugural post I reached out to six strong, powerful, successful, and well-known women with some connection to the jewelry world and asked them what was on their wrists. I’m honored to say that all six were happy not only to share what they wear, but also to share with me images of their watches.
Ruth was given this Rolex 18K Everose gold and diamond Oyster Perpetual DATEJUST by her husband as a gift this year after announcing that she would be retiring from her executive position at the AGS. When I saw her at the GEM Awards she said to me, “I have GOT to show you my new watch,” which is why she was the first person I thought to ask about appearing in this piece.
Kara purchased this vintage Bulgari Serpenti in 18K yellow gold, enamel, and diamonds for herself at an auction and wears the watch at least once per week. The watch has inspired some of the pieces in Kara’s new Diamonds Unleashed collection, which donates 100% of its net profits to the women’s empowerment initiatives, “Girls Who Code” and “She’s the First.” The diamonds used in that collection are responsibly mined by CanadaMark in the Northwest Territories, and are tracked from place of origin to polished stone.
Marie Helene wears what only Marie Helene can wear: a Hello Kitty watch! When I contacted her about this post, she said, “I have to figure out which one to choose. I go from Apple, to Cartier, Corum, Rolex and Kitty” and promised to get back me to in a couple of days with the one she chose to highlight. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw this picture. It brightened my day just as the woman’s words do, daily.
I remembered seeing an Instagram picture of Marion in a watch, so I reached out to her to tell her about this project and see if she’d be willing to talk about what she wears. Marion replied with, “The one and only watch I wear is my Bulgari Serpenti. To me the timepiece is a statement jewel with the added bonus of telling time. When I put it on, suddenly I feel like Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra. It does everything a good piece of jewelry should do. It shines. It is a conversation piece. I literally think of the whole history of the design every time I put it on.” For those unaware, Marion wrote a book in 2013 on the history of Bulgari’s Serpenti collection.
My guess was that someone who had been named one of the most powerful people in business by The Financial Times and Fortune Magazine, as well as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, wore a watch. Thankfully, I was right. Mindy Grossman was kind enough to get back to me with a picture of a stunning Piaget diamond watch bought for her by her husband, Neil, after initially telling me, “My biggest challenge will be deciding which watch to pick. I love watches and agree that a lot of focus is on men.”
I sent Debra a message yesterday letting her know about my new blog and asking her if I could use a picture I had found of her wearing what appeared to be a pretty nice watch. She replied with, “That’s a costume watch. I’d rather it be one of my personal ones.” She then included this picture of herself with her diamond Maurice Lacroix. When I thanked her for taking the time to send it she said, “I love watches. An obsession of mine. Wanting a deGrisogono with the stingray strap next!”
I hope you enjoyed what you just read. Stay with me as I travel to Baselworld next week to bring you the best in women’s watches with a little side of fun. This may prove to not be your typical watch blog, and the technical details that are found on other sites might initially take a back seat to my quirky world view, but I promise it will at least fill a void and hope that you’ll join me as I learn more on this journey.
As one of my favorite literary characters exclaimed…
“I’m going on an adventure!”