“It’s a baroque concept, we have an artistic vision.” Cornelio de Bortoli is an IT consultant in Geneva. He is also an art lover, be this of the mechanical or painterly kind. “The two overlap,” he says. “If you appreciate complex watchmaking, very often you also enjoy great works of art.” Alongside watchmaker Vincent Calabrese – “we’ve been friends for a decade” – de Bortoli has launched Watch Museum. Neither a brand, nor a marketing gimmick, nor even a very lucrative business, it is a fusion of horology and painting. Using a configurator, the customer chooses a detail from a great artwork, or the artwork itself, which is then reproduced in miniature on the dial of Calabrese’s famed Wandering Hour. All for under CHF 15,000. Currently, customers can choose among twelve museum-class paintings with, de Bortoli assures us, “dozens more to come.”
A blank canvas
When Cornelio de Bortoli pitched his idea to Vincent Calabrese two years ago, the watchmaker had no hesitations. “We’ve never discussed money, except to decide on the price of the watch and that was only a couple of weeks ago,” says de Bortoli with a smile. Vincent Calabrese had every reason to embrace the project: it’s something he’d already experimented with, in a slightly different form, in 2017 with his limited-edition Kronos. On the dial: an original work by the Japanese artist Shinji Himeno depicting the Greek god of time. Here too, Calabrese opted to use his Wandering Hour complication which, by doing away with hour and minute hands (leaving just the seconds), creates a blank canvas for the painter. The hours are displayed in an aperture that rotates with the dial, making one rotation in one hour. As it turns, the position of the aperture indicates the minutes. A patent has been filed for this additional mechanism, which is driven by an ETA 2892A2 automatic movement.
Naturally, Cornelio de Bortoli has used his background in IT to develop the online platform. First of all, the customer chooses one of the twelve paintings that are currently available, from Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Henri Rousseau’s The Dream, Claude Monet’s Blue Water Lilies or Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There is even a scene from Michelangelo’s decoration of the Sistine Chapel. “These are personal choices,” says de Bortoli, “but most of all they are iconic works in the history of art.” When the customer clicks on a painting, the configurator displays it on the watch dial. They can then slide the painting around to show different parts, zoom in on a detail, even simulate an accelerated rotation to view the effect from all angles. “There are ways into every work,” insists de Bortoli. “The way into a painting is through the detail.”
A unique experience
Once the order has been placed, watchmaker and IT specialist hand over to a miniaturist who spends between 80 and 100 hours hand-painting the dial. The customer can also ask for a written message, dedication, quote or poem to be incorporated into the scene, in a place known only to them. “We work with three renowned artists, each of whom brings their own particular talent.” The entire process is carefully documented, right up to the final assembly of the watch, in photos and videos so that the future owner can live this unique experience first-hand. The result is an original work and reproduction. This is an important point for anyone concerned about the legality of the concept: the museums own the paintings they conserve but not the reproduction rights. “We can propose any painting provided the artist has been dead for more than 70 years and we have a high-definition photo.”
It’s thanks to this that Watch Museum is planning to extend the selection of paintings on offer. “Dozens more works, by Kandinsky for example, or Paul Klee, will be added in the future. The customer can even, within the limits described, pick a work of their choice.” There has been quite a show of interest in the couple of months since the project launched, and three watches are already in preparation. A 36mm diameter for women is also under review.
Case – Stainless steel / sapphire crystal
Diameter – 40mm
Back – Sapphire
Dial – Black or white
Movement – ETA 2892A2 – Automatic
Power reserve – 42 hours
Functions – Wandering hours, centre seconds
Strap – Leather, 6 colours
Water-resistance – 3 bar