Last night here in Los Angeles I was invited to view the traveling roadshow which is the Only Watch 2011 timepiece collection. On an arduous trip around the globe the 40 or so watches up for auction later this month in Monaco will have made only two stops in the United States before being bid on by those interested in acquiring these one-of-a-kind pieces.
I began my coverage of Only Watch 2011 here where I logged each of the entrant pieces. The every-other-year event asked brands to "play the game" as they call it. Which entails brands offering totally unique watch creations donated to be bid on for charity. Collectors and those with a lust for wrist candy eagerly await the event now operated by Antiquorum.
The venue selected to show off the pieces was Westime Beverly Hills. At a special evening event I was able to view collector's eying the pieces and showing off their own wrist treasures. Packed tight, the boutique store was brimming with a welcome energy that has been absent from the industry over the last few years due to rough economic times here in the US and abroad.
It is possible that I have now been involved in the watch industry too long. Events such as this bring familiar faces but the personalities I recognize most are the watches themselves. Ulysse Nardin's Freak Diavolo - which comes in a special blue version for the auction - is like an old friend that I've known for a decade. The black and white Only Watch version of Girard-Perrgaux's ww.tc Chronograph feels like someone I've been going to class with. Each of these brands is gaining a distinct personality for me, one that includes a complex relationship that is comprised of their marketing campaigns, employees, and design choices. In this room I am among an odd group of friends, silent save for the sound of an escapement churning incessantly.
A man and lady companion come in and are interested in a rare limited edition Bell & Ross watch limited to around 250 pieces. It does surprise me a bit that his interest is so high given that he is also in a room of totally unique watch creations. The watch that will likely go for the most is a Patek Philippe minute repeater tourbillon. It is the only watch there kept in a secure sanitary bag with the brand's name printed on it and is likely the least exciting piece visually. Impeccable in execution no doubt, the Patek feels like a watch from another era being very small and demure compared to its auction lot colleagues.
There is also fun in these creations. Those who choose to participate in Only Watch can decide whether they wish to simply change a dial color on an existing piece or making something totally new. There are of course a number of solutions in between these extremes. Those like Hermes and Montblanc prefer to keep it simple like Patek Philippe. A bit more edgy and you get case material and color changes in those offerings by brands like Glashutte Original, Hublot, and Chopard. From there you can peripherals on top of existing watches like on the MB&F HM4 "Panda Rider," or totally new creations such as those from DeWitt and Tag Heuer. I admit that the selection of watches is tantalizing enough - but it does surprise me that much of the time the largest brands who play this game offer the least creative offerings. Probably because they don't need it.
While I don't know the logistics of the Only Watch deal with brands, I think they donate watches in exchange for the wealth of marketing and PR Only Watch attempts to get for the event. The smaller guys are more interested in that type of benefit. Audemars Piguet for example likely doesn't care too much. Their offering for the auction is a modest color mix up in an existing piece, yet the brand most well represented by the people attending the auction preview event was in fact Audemars Piguet.
If I were a brand making watches I don't how I would react to the prospect of making a single watch to donate for charity. On the one hand it is fun. You can design and develop a watch without much regard for marketability. On the other hand, you still need to built the watch. Designing a new case, dial, etc... is expensive. For this reason you rarely see brand new movements in watches here. I think that only DeWitt offered such a creation. Making a new case is expensive and time consuming enough. People sometimes don't get how much work and expense goes into just the machining necessary for a new case design. None of that matters this night though.
People keep asking me what my favorite pieces of the event are. This feels a lot like when people ask me what my favorite watch brand is. I have no favorite - it isn't possible. There are too many days in the year to choose so few things to love. One of the most striking watches is the Tag Heuer Monaco Mikrograph. This might be overall the watch I'd want to wear the most. Not only it is totally novel, but it is a great looking piece of contemporary design. Artistically the MB&F is an enduring design. Subtle in its expression, the little golden panda just adds so much personality to a watch with already so much personality.
This collection of images from the event is by no means a full account of what I saw, nor the pieces for auction at Only Watch 2011. As I linked to above, this article here has all the unique creations. It saddens me that I will not be at the live auction in Monaco to see just how this all plays out. There are some truly awesome timepieces here and I am sure there will be a war over more than one of them. The next step is learning what people end up spending - at least there is a tax write-off opportunity. You can travel to Monaco or bid with Antiquorum online if you so wish.