Pepsi or Coke? Marvel or DC Comics? James Bond or Star Wars? Hulk, Paul Newman, Jumbo, Mickey and Pikachu, Tintin’s red and white rocket or Hello Kitty… Only a hermit, or a voyager from another planet far, far away, could be excused for not recognising their names. They’re part of the landscape, part of a universal heritage whose appeal hasn’t been lost on watchmakers or their customers. Far removed from the sometimes overblown traditions of the profession, horological cool has found its home in icons that engage everyone, irrespective of culture or, more importantly, generation.
The name game
A rose by any other name… Several well-known designs have been given nicknames borrowed from popular culture. Rolex fans have proven particularly inventive at finding unofficial designations for their favourites. The Rolex GMT-Master, for example, is affectionately known as the Pepsi because of its red and blue bezel insert, in reference to the soda company’s logo. And for those on the other side of the fizzy drink fence, the Rolex GMT-Master II is dubbed the Coca-Cola, thanks to its red and black insert. Then there’s the Rolex Submariner Date, a.k.a. the Hulk because of its all-green colour scheme. And who could forget the Paul Newman Daytona, the ultimate grail watch? To a lesser extent, other brands tap into popular and film culture, and defining moments in world history to distinguish their iconic creations. Jumbo the giant elephant puts in an appearance at Patek Philippe, a reference to the Nautilus’s curved case sides and, at that time, imposing 42mm size. Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov lends his name to one of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oaks, while the legendary Omega Speedmaster is known to all as the Moonwatch, ever since its role in the Apollo 11 mission.
Slightly more regressive and just as colourful, characters from classic arcade games have lost none of their appeal.
Calling all heroes
Buoyed by the power of the internet, social media might and brands’ determination to win over a younger, hipper clientele, popular culture has infiltrated the watch market with its fictional heroes. Where would Rolex or Omega be without James Bond? Swapping Q’s gadgets for superpowers, Romain Jerome partners with arch-rivals Marvel and DC Comics to put Batman and Spiderman on its dials. Because a superhero is always on time.
Slightly more regressive and just as colourful, characters from classic arcade games have lost none of their appeal. Romain Jerome shows it’s not yet game over for Pikachu or Super Mario. Even Hello Kitty, the undisputed Queen of Kawaii for more than 40 years, has put her pawprint on one of the brand’s dials. Master Yoda at Seiko; Mickey Mouse at Chopard or Parmigiani, which had a fling with the wonderful world of Disney; Popeye flexing his spinach-fuelled muscles on a Bamford-customised Rolex… references to childhood and its attendant characters aren’t lacking. It’s a world where Maximilian Büsser feels most at home. One of his latest creations, a table clock by the name of Destination Moon, bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain young reporter’s red and white space engine.
At a time when haute horlogerie is breaking out of its mould and cosying up to the icons of popular culture, the watch is making its mark as a generational object. Now that television series garner cult followings, how long before a Game of Thrones dial? But will today’s icons, or earlier ones, stand the test of time? Will Paul Newman still be remembered in a hundred years’ time? Will that small step for a man be the exploit it was fifty years ago?