Art and watchmaking have always gone hand in hand. For centuries, watchmakers have turned to craftsmen skilled in engraving, enamelling, miniature painting and other arts to beautify their timepieces. Over the years, this meeting of minds has evolved into a fusional relationship. Is it a coincidence that, at the time preceding the Covid-19, the watches preselected for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève were exhibited at the Museum of Art and History of the city, or that the exhibitors participating in the first editions of Dubai Watch Week been hosted by contemporary art galleries? Probably not, as watches and works of art engage in a mutually rewarding conversation. While this juxtaposition was the prerogative of brands with a strong artistic vision, recent developments reveal a less conventional side of this union of art and time.
Most people have heard of blockchain before, but what about non-fungible tokens (NFTs)? These units of data, which are stored on a blockchain and, unlike cryptocurrency, cannot be traded, authenticate a unique digital asset, such as a work of art, and provide proof of ownership. This is the path taken by independent Russian watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin who recently announced that on May 22, auction house Ineichen Zürich will present a watchmaker’s very first digital art project, namely NFT- Joker on the Ethereum blockchain. Konstantin Chaykin rose to fame with the Joker Watch, a cinematic pop art piece inspired by the DC Comics super-villain that displays the hours and minutes in his eyes and the phases of the moon with his tongue. For NFT-Joker, Chaykin is in the process of making 42,480 digital images: one per minute over 12 hours, every day from March 13 to May 11, 2021. They will be completed by a collage of 720 images from each of these 59 days. to form a digital image of 26,373 x 216,000 pixels. In printed form, the collage will measure 1.15 meters high by 14 meters long.
Proceeds from the sale of NFT-Joker – assuming, according to Chaykin, that they are sufficient – will be used to support young Russian watchmakers. The Swiss design studio Raphaël Lutz also relies on the proceeds from the sale of his Mechanical ribs, the first digital wall clock to be sold on an NFT marketplace, to finance the manufacture of the real physical clock. The purchaser of this unique digital asset will be able to play the animation, which accelerates from 12 hours in 30 seconds, on his television or in his personal digital environment.
Watchmakers who don’t moonlight as artists themselves are happy to call in professional artists to stage their latest watches. Especially when the timepiece in question is a new milestone in the brand’s production. Hermès did just that at the recent Watches and Wonders Geneva where it launched the H08, arguably set to become a mainstay of its collections. While the show was held entirely online, Hermès physically moved into the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, a magnificent industrial building in downtown Geneva, where he installed a streaming studio as well as a large-scale installation by Clément Vieille and Pierre Pauze, both graduates of the contemporary arts research workshop Le Fresnoy in France. Their scenography combines the architectural principle of tensegrity with digital to retrace the creation of the H08 in the typically poetic language of Hermès.
Similar staging can be found at Zenith, which last year handed over the facade of its factory in Le Locle to the artist Felipe Pantone, or at Jaeger-LeCoultre who collaborated with the American artist Michael Murphy as part of the celebration of one year of the 90th anniversary of the Reverso. As the brand explains, “Michael Murphy invented a whole new formula for rendering two-dimensional images in the form of three-dimensional hanging mobiles. These anamorphic installations include a multitude of objects suspended at different heights and distances. Depending on the viewer’s line of sight, they appear to change shape: from a seemingly random and chaotic jumble of shapes, they merge into a highly organized and recognizable image. This traveling installation, which represents the new Reverso Tribute Nonantième, will be presented in cities around the world during the year.
Aside from NFTs and installations, limited editions remain the most popular form for collaborations between artists and watch brands. Hublot, which has many partnerships to its name with Shepard Fairey, Marc Ferrero and Richard Orlinski, recently worked alongside Takashi Murakami, often referred to as “Japanese Andy Warhol”, on a Classic Fusion All Black. Bulgari has teamed up again with Tadao Ando for the Octo Finissimo which bears the famous architect’s name, unveiled earlier this year. The latest to take the plunge, Roger Dubuis works with the Urban Art Tribe formed by two creators of urban culture – Dr. Woo, a tattoo artist, and the graffiti artist Gully – on what is almost akin to a philosophical enterprise: ” Coming together to unite a larger community of daring minds, Roger Dubuis and the Urban Art Tribe hope to encourage people to question the way things are. Before watch brands began to question the fourth dimension, it was only a matter of… time!