Watch brands like to think of themselves as being ahead of the curve. Where collaborations are concerned, however, they are following in the footsteps of the big fashion houses for which celebrity pairings are a means of capturing the attention of millennials eager to lay their hands on one of these limited editions. Who hasn’t heard of the unexpected partnership between Louis Vuitton and ultra-cool streetwear brand, Supreme, in 2017. Or the media frenzy over the bags and accessories it created with artist Jeff Koons. These and similarly disruptive partnerships by other fashion brands have paid off: love them or hate them, they’re still being talked about today. It’s thanks to collaborations such as these that luxury brands are growing awareness among new and younger audiences.
This is all music to the ears of watchmakers who have yet to completely resolve the problem of how to interest affluent millennials in a product that has so far tended to emphasise legacy and tradition. A well-chosen collaboration is one way to dust off an image. The right partnership, expertly relayed on social media, can pay off many times over as it enables the brand to enhance its street cred, benefit from its partner’s fanbase and give a modern edge to its image. It also injects fresh creativity as the chosen athlete, artist or musician becomes part of the creative process, working with the brand to design the product. In 2017, for example, Chopard teamed up with Rihanna for two jewellery collections while Corum asked rap artist Booba to customise its Bubble watch. A year earlier, Richard Mille surfed the street art wave when it collaborated with graffiti artist Cyril Kongo. TAG Heuer, meanwhile, introduced Alec Monopoly in the role of “Art Provocateur” for the brand. “For the past forty years, it’s been my philosophy to be first, to be different, to be unique,” declared Jean-Claude Biver, then CEO of TAG Heuer and President of LVMH Watch Division. “With Alec as Art Provocateur in the TAG Heuer team, it’s my intention to go on connecting the brand with younger buyers and millennials, as well as open new areas of expression from products to marketing, communication and distribution. Alec’s unconventional creativity and enthusiasm are impossible to resist!” Message received.
The artist's vision
Many of the first ventures into collaborative terrain were with world-class athletes, building on shared associations with performance. Watchmakers then started looking to artists for their next deals. While the link between art and horology isn’t new – watch brands are longstanding patrons of the arts – creative collaborations offer a new way to express these affinities. Think of it as “feat.” with a horological twist. One of the most notable examples of late is the Rebellion x RocketByz collaboration. For the 24 Hours of Le Mans race last June, the artist and the up-and-coming watch brand jointly presented a “very bright, very cool, very rebellious 360° branding” in the form of racing liveries and watches in neon colours. “Tomyboy – aka RocketByz – has his own signature style, using fluorescent colours that invite everyone to enjoy art,” commented Alexandre Pesci, president and owner of Rebellion. “It’s bright, it’s flashy and it has positive vibes!”.
Before his death in July last year, Carlos Cruz-Diez, a major figure in kinetic art who wrote extensively on colour theory, had time to work with Hublot.
Transposing an artwork to the wrist is the avowed objective of Hublot which has been ramping up its collaborations with artists. After sculpting the Classic Fusion with visual artist Richard Orlinski and twice asking tattoo artist Sang Bleu to customise the Big Bang Unico, the brand led by Ricardo Guadalupe unveiled a new collaboration with Carlos Cruz-Diez at the recent LVMH Watch Week in Dubai. Before his death in July last year, the Venezuelan artist – a major figure in the Kinetic movement who wrote extensively on colour theory -, was able to work with Hublot on a limited-edition Classic Fusion Cruz-Diez in titanium, King Gold or black ceramic, in two sizes. “We are very excited to present this project,” said Guadalupe. “It is the culmination of developments made since our first collaboration with Carlos Cruz-Diez in 2015, and a tribute to his work. Kinetic art is a disruptive art form that places the spectator’s perception at the centre of the piece in order to question the purpose and status of a work of art. Together, we have created a working piece of art that can be worn on the wrist.”
While the transition from artist to wrist isn’t as obvious when working with a musician as opposed to a visual artist or a street artist, this hasn’t prevented brands from seeking out creative partnerships in the music industry. After Hublot and Depeche Mode, HYT and Axl Rose, it’s Zenith’s turn to keep the beat alongside techno DJ and producer Carl Cox, the latest “Friend of the Brand”. Launched last week in Dubai as a 200-piece limited edition, the Defy Carl Cox is a special execution of the 1/100th second chronograph whose carbon fibre bezel, like the stitching on the strap, glows in the dark. Another clever nod to Cox’s DJing are the small seconds, measured by a rotating disc in the shape of a vinyl record against an openworked dial.
Watch fans waiting for the drop in 2020 were already treated to some top musical pairings in 2019 courtesy of Richard Mille and Pharrell Williams, both well-versed in slick collaborations. After high-profile co-creations with Adidas, Moncler, Ladurée, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, the singer-songwriter-producer has brough his innovative take on the RMš52-05 Tourbillon. Engraved and enamelled in a red-orange gradient, the dial shows Earth seen from Mars, reflected on an astronaut’s helmet. In William’s words: “With the RM 52-05, we’ve looked at Mars from a different angle, an unexpected first-person point of view. In doing so, we’re breaking the mould. We have the best timekeeper in the world. We have Mars. And we have an African-American man from Virginia, all connected.” Enough to make everyone “Happy”.