By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST June, 2023
Four of us were heading off an after dinner drink in La Goulue on East 61st when we saw a flurry a block ahead. Moments later we heard a man, yelling Help me! Help me! David Richardson, a marine colonel turned artist, and I headed for the hubbub and three bikers roared off as we approached the scene.
It was another modish eatery, Fleming by Le Bilboquet on East 62nd and we heard that the bikers had been robbers who had zeroed in on two male customers, knocking them to the ground. They were now shakily on their feet. Richardson asked one if he was okay? Yes. Had he been robbed, Richardson asked? Only then did the man realize that a mugger had grabbed his watch.
What make of watch, I asked? A Patek Phillippe, he said glumly.
Debbie Dickinson, curator of the group show we had been celebrating at La Goulue, called the cops and the squad car arrived as we were leaving.
There had been a reason for my question. I have been looking at the way artworld practices have entered the field of luxury goods, the watch market and that of celebrity sneakers in particular. Both will sometimes put out limited editions, for instance, and the watchmakers delight in advertising copy which suggests that possession of a specific timepiece will enrich your life.
Often it is suggested that a watch will sweep you into a zone of adventure, as with Omega’s Speedmaster, which was the first watch on the moon so is now called the Moonwatch. Another Omega is described as Mission To The Sun and the end-note runs: Only available in selected Swatch stores. Other watch ads connect their wearers with street level thrills, such as the Richard Mille, which is described as A Racing Machine On The Wrist and the Tag Heuer Carrera, of which the copy observes that it is Worn By The Greatest Drivers. Worth The Wildest Chase. The motor trade hitched a lift on this train of thought when Aston Martin put out a recent full-page ad for the DBX707, their new SU, describing it as 707 Times More Exhilarating Than A Gold Watch.
Watchmakers also like to attach themselves to the art world, focusing on the craft in what they do. There is tradition here. George Balanchine, the choreographer, a co-founder of New York City Ballet, popped into Van Cleef & Arpels on Fifth Avenue in the early 1940s while producing a ballet at Lincoln Center, and was entranced by the display. This led to a discussion and ultimately the Lady Arpels Ballerines Musicales, three watches which use musicbox tech and a carillon to play melodies based on the Balanchine ballet. Jewels.
Raketa, a St Petersburg-based watchmaker, recently announced production of A work of art in ceaseless motion, the Raketa Avant‑Garde offers a play of geometric forms and striking colors that are constantly morphing in composition with the passage of time and the shift between light and dark. The avant garde it is basing itself on is of course the one which was smooshed by Stalin. Raketa only made fifty of these watches, by the way. Seiko, the leading watchmakers in Japan, only made twenty of their recent masterwork, the Grand Seiko Koda, so it truly is a Limited Edition.
Other watchworld/artworld connections are institutional, as when Rolex announced its involvement with this year’s Venice Architectural Biennale, This was part of the Rolex Perpetual Arts Initiative, which has used artists on a mentoring program for over twenty years.
Interesting stuff, all, but our near brush with the bikers was thought provoking. Women who own expensive jewels seem seldom to make them their everyday wear nor, of course, will an art collector walk a Basquiat on the street. But we do wear watches. In London last December two robbers were jailed for using drug-laced cigarettes to steal a Patek Philippe Aquanaut and two luxury Rolexes. On May 8 a fellow picked up a girl in The Dirty Rabbit, a trendy bar in the Wynwood district in Miami, and took her home. There she drugged him and made off with a haul which included a $456,000 Daytona Rainbow Rolex and a $46,000 Sky-Dweller Rolex.
So do we have the makings of a specialized crime wave here? On May 26 a man was arrested in Times Square for several watch robberies and it seemed that he specialized in Rolexes. Watch-wearers appear to be taking note or perhaps they are just fearful of dinting or scratching a pricey timepiece because the luxury watch market is reported to be softening and a recent piece in the Financial Times indicated that many individuals who once flaunted luxury timepieces are now going for black plastic sports watches. I wear an Apple watch and it’s a looker, but I shall be startled if it attracts the attention of an evildoer. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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