The watch world’s enthusiasm for selling products by linking them with dangerous sports is well known — diving, driving, flying, caving, skiing, sailing and motorcycling are all activities that have had timepieces designed for the job. But if your interests are of a more cerebral nature, don’t despair, because there are plenty of watches on offer with a cultural bent. Here are eight worth having a long, hard think about.
LE PETIT PRINCE
Back in 2006 the International Watch Company (IWC) announced its intention to combine literature with its long-standing reputation for making high-quality watches for pilots by supporting the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an organisation set up in memory of the French author and aviation pioneer whose most celebrated works include The Little Prince and Night Flight.
IWC and the foundation have since worked together on a string of projects focused largely on aviation, including the creation of the ‘Espace IWC-Saint-Exupéry’ at Le Bourget airport near Paris. In early November a one-off platinum-cased ‘Le Petit Prince’ Pilot’s Watch made to mark the 70th anniversary of the book sold at Sotheby’s for 173,000 Swiss francs (£118,482), all proceeds being donated to the Saint-Exupéry Youth -Foundation.
A limited edition of 270 red-gold, perpetual-calendar ‘Le Petit Prince’ watches are on general sale at £36,500, together with 1,000 of the Pilot’s Watch MK VII, ‘Le Petit Prince’ at £3,900. iwc.com
Ulysse Nardin’s ‘Stranger’ was developed in conjunction with Dieter Meier, vocalist and front man of the electronic band Yello. The high-end watch brand has adapted the design of a classical musical-box mechanism in order to create a timepiece that plays ‘Strangers in the Night’ on demand. The tune also sounds automatically on the hour. (We assume it can be made to stop doing that, too.)
The first in what is set to be a series of musical watches from Ulysse Nardin, the Stranger is limited to 99 pieces in rose gold and costs £82,000. ulysse-nardin.ch
TEMPLE OF FLORA
Vacheron Constantin’s ‘Métiers d’Art’ collections have included watches inspired by everything from African tribal masks to the Japanese art of Maki-e lacquer work. In a similar vein, the Florilège range of women’s watches features intricately engraved and enamelled dials portraying images of exotic plants.
These timepieces are based on plants illustrated in Robert John Thornton’s magnificent Temple of Flora of 1799, a weighty tome for which the English physician and botanist engaged the finest flower painters of the era to replicate some of the world’s most remarkable and interesting plants in large-scale colour plates with backgrounds of romanticised landscapes.
The Florilège pieces have three designs, respectively based on the Temple of Flora images of a white lily, a China Limodoron and the extravagant Queen plant (above left). Just 20 of each design featuring bezels set with round-cut diamonds will be available (from £97,100 apiece) and five with baguette-cut diamonds (£119,400).
Undoubtedly among the most technically impressive pieces unveiled in 2013, Bulgari’s Commedia dell’Arte watches (above) will be made in three series of just eight pieces each. Each of the three designs features a famous figure from the 16th-century Italian street theatre as its centrepiece — Brighella, Pulcinella or Harlequin — situated in front of a palazzo. When the cathedral gong minute repeater is activated, the articulated figures come to life, demonstrating a remarkably sophisticated repertoire.
The repeater sounds the hours, quarter hours and minutes in different tones, which resonate through a case made from white gold mixed with a material called ‘Magsonic’ designed to enhance the clarity of sound. The complex trompe-l’oeil dials were created for Bulgari by Vaucher. Price is on application. bulgari.com
CHINESE LACQUER ART
Among the latest additions to the ultra-high-end Mademoiselle Privé collection is this one-off watch which is said to have been inspired by the Chinese lacquer screens in the drawing-room of Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment on rue Cambon. Three designs have been created, each in a unique piece. One version depicts a ferryman and his passengers crossing a river — the ‘canvas’ for the image being a yellow-gold dial which has been hand-engraved and finished in grand-feu enamel. The trees and foliage are made from 24 carat gold while the 37.5mm, white-gold case is paved with 524 snow-set diamonds — and 65 more decorate the crown. From £120,175. chanel.com
Wooden dials are nothing new — indeed, there was once a Siberian company which used wood for all the components of its watches as it was less affected by the extreme cold than metal. Parmigiani’s Tonda Woodrock tourbillon doesn’t exist for any such practical reason. It has been made to celebrate the Gibson guitar. The marquetry design uses 50 pieces of dyed wood and takes ten days to assemble. Each unique piece is priced at around £150,000. (parmigiani.ch)
Greubel Forsey has taken the art of micro-engineering to a whole new level with its ‘Art Piece One — Golden Sails’. Look closely at the exquisitely finished dial and you’ll see only an immaculately smooth sea of blue lacquer. But take a peek through the magnifier mounted in the winding crown, and all is revealed in the form of a fully rigged, three-masted galleon carved from solid gold.
The minuscule ship is the creation of the Birmingham-based micro sculptor Willard Wigan, who once recreated Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ on a grain of sand and fashioned a train of nine camels within the eye of a needle. The watch is on sale for more than £1 million.
If you like watches and you like jazz, you’ll probably know about the association that Oris has established during the past 18 years with some of the world’s most celebrated musicians. Since the brand sponsored the London Jazz Fair in 1996, it has produced regular ‘tribute’ watches inspired by artistes such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Chet Baker.
The latest in the Oris ‘Culture Collection’ line is the John Coltrane limited edition, a sober, 1950s-style watch with a black dial, highlighted by a blue minute track, a nod to Coltrane’s celebrated 1957 Blue Train album. Just 1,000 examples of the watch will be available worldwide, each one numbered on the back and presented in a special velvet-lined box based on a musical instrument case. £1,350 oris.ch