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Christopher Lambert, watch fan and entrepreneur
Watch Stories

Christopher Lambert, watch fan and entrepreneur

Friday, 07 May 2021
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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8 min read

The son of a diplomat, born in Great Neck, New York, Christopher Lambert (and his kilt) charmed the world with Highlander, a tale of immortals that’s now a cult classic.

It’s been 35 years since Highlander’s release. Having cast Sean Connery, won over by the idea of filming in his native Scotland, the producers of this fantasy adventure movie and director Russell Mulcahy set out in search of the actor who could give life to Connor MacLeod. That actor would be Christopher Lambert, a French-American whose career was taking off after leading roles in Luc Besson’s Subway and Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan by Hugh Hudson.

It’s been 35 years since the release of Highlander, the story of an immortal Scottish swordsman that became a cult movie. How do you explain its success?

I don’t! As I see it, it’s first and foremost a romantic film. There’s something terribly romantic about the idea of immortality. Which it has to be said is nothing new. For thousands of years, we’ve been searching for ways to extend our lives, even cheat death altogether. This was one of the things that appealed to me about Highlander, all the questions it raises. How could we bear to watch our loved ones growing old and dying while we escape time’s grasp? Living one life is already hard enough, but imagine how terrible it must be to outlive your spouse, your children. And then what? Is there any way you could love again when the person you hold dearest has passed away in your arms? Immortality is a fascinating subject, regardless of age.

Maybe you collect swords, after Highlander, who knows, but what about watches?

If I had been a collector, I imagine I would have chosen F.P. Journe, a Swiss brand whose watches show remarkable creativity. In titanium or in platinum, they are truly magnificent. Otherwise, I would have loved to have a Breguet Tradition or the kind of watch tennis players and F1 drivers wear, like a Richard Mille tourbillon. But to come back to F.P. Journe, what I really appreciate is that they have a sporting personality that looks great at the wheel of a Ferrari but will never seem out of place at a dinner party, with a watch that weighs barely more than a few grams. They are the most timeless watches you can imagine, a combination of precision and craftsmanship one rarely finds in contemporary watchmaking.

Christophe Lambert © Guillaume Collet
Christophe Lambert © Guillaume Collet
What do you look for first when buying a watch?

I look at the front and the back. The more impressive the reverse, the greater the quality. That’s how I see it, anyway. The choice of metal is important, too. I tend to look for gold, titanium or platinum, anything rare. I don’t actually ask myself a lot of questions when choosing a watch. Nor do I need a salesperson to sing its praises! I’d rather they talk to me about how it was made, how it was crafted. At the end of the day, I listen to my heart more than my head.

How do you feel about smartwatches? Or do you prefer an old-school watch that needs winding?

I’m not a fan of manual winding. Automatic movements are far more practical. As for smartwatches, I don’t really see the point or the appeal. Actually, right now I’m wearing an IWC Top Gun on my left wrist and on my right wrist a smartwatch that was given to me.

In Un + Une, directed by Claude Lelouch, you played a diplomat, which was your father’s career. I imagine him as a distinguished gentleman who appreciated a good watch.

He wore a beautiful gold Jaeger-LeCoultre, which always fascinated me. I inherited it as a young man, and wore it until the day I was held up at knifepoint. I was in the subway, the only person on the platform, when I saw these two guys crossing the tracks towards me. Like an idiot, I stood there wondering what the heck they could want, and that’s when I found myself with a knife at my throat, handing over my watch. It was a grand complication, I absolutely loved it.

That was a watch that was gifted to you. What about a watch that you gave to someone? Does one in particular spring to mind?

Yes, a Rolex I gave my daughter as a gift for her baccalaureate. It’s an important exam, so I’d asked her what she would like if she passed, and her answer was a Rolex with a pink dial. I had the caseback engraved with a very personal message.

Are you a busy man always checking his watch?

Time isn’t something we control, it’s something we have to accept. Checking your watch a hundred times a day won’t change that! I’m not a stressed-out kind of guy but nor am I the kind who turns up late. Most of the time, I’m actually early, even if that does mean waiting!

Christophe Lambert and Alexandra Lamy
Christophe Lambert and Alexandra Lamy
Has there ever been a time on-set when you felt your life was about to change?

The only potentially life-changing moment happened when we were filming Highlander 2 and had to make an emergency landing on a salt lake in the Andes, at 6,000 metres altitude, because one of the passengers had been taken seriously ill. After he’d been rushed to hospital, the plane was supposed to take off again. Except there was a problem with the engine. All I could think was, “If we have to spend the night here, at this altitude and with no heating, we’re all dead!”. Having said that, people have survived far worse disasters. It’s all in the mind!

Listening to you, it’s as though you’ve lived several lives in one. I didn’t know you’d been into winemaking, for example, and mineral water.

I went into business with a friend, who was named world’s best sommelier in 2004. Originally we were to make wine together, me as an amateur and him as a professional, but it didn’t work out. We simply didn’t have time. He was working non-stop at the George V hotel in Paris, and I had my films. I learned that winemaking takes real devotion. There’s no way you can succeed unless you’re prepared to give it your all. It was a humbling experience. Back in my early 30s, there were so many things I wanted to try, one life would never have been enough! So I went into business. I started off with a food-packaging company, then changed lanes and got into property development. From there, I became interested in the hospitality industry and technology. It keeps me busy between films. At a very young age, I realised it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket, that I shouldn’t rely solely on acting. I adore cinema but there are other things in life, too, no?

I’ve also become involved with recycling. I learned we don’t always hear the truth about what happens to waste and how it’s processed and recycled. This got me interested in a French company that collects household waste and converts 90% of it into commercially viable products. Nature doesn’t need us but we do need nature. I’m not an environmentalist, it’s a word that has too much of a political connotation, but I do care about the environment. It’s an obligation we all have, even this late in the day. I’m just someone who’s trying to help the world in real time.

Have you considered investing in watchmaking?

No. If you intend to invest in a brand, you need to realise you’ll be putting in tens of millions. Manufacturing the product isn’t enough. There’s also promotion, distribution, growing the brand. It takes years. You don’t pull a watch out of thin air. It’s an incredible amount of work that takes massive commitment, both personal and professional.

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