Pop stars and watches tend to make for a less-than-dynamic duo. All too often, when it comes to their watches, these celebrities make more misses than hits – usually choosing the gaudiest, most expensive timepiece (or its replica fake) they can find. That’s where Aloe Blacc stands head and shoulders above his peers. The dapper, staggeringly charismatic 35-year-old soul singer/hit songwriter might actually be coming up behind the likes of John Mayer as one of pop’s more horologically savvy hip cats.
That may be because Blacc (whose birth name is actually Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III) chose to align himself with one of horology’s most respected names in fine Swiss watchmaking: IWC. An IWC timepiece isn’t a mere status symbol, but a statement of refinement; if you choose an IWC for your wrist, it’s not a default fashion choice, but the expression of a true manufacture. Instead, an IWC watch speaks to a certain seriousness of character, an insistence on quality and innovation; there’s a certain classicism that runs through their halo models like the Portuguese and Ingenieur ranges, and the brand’s beloved pilot watches. IWC has had its ups and downs, and various successes and failures over the years; watch nerds like to endlessly debate their most and least favorite eras in IWC’s existence.
What is undeniable, however, is that today, IWC maintains its allure – a stellar legacy of tough tool-watch utility, luxury finish and refinement, and wonderful overengineering (see the 2000 meters of water resistance that IWC’s flagship diver, the Aquatimer Automatic 2000, boasts). Becoming an official “friend of IWC,” then, makes a perfect fit for Blacc’s persona, which, like his music, merges classic Mad Men/“Rat Pack” retro cool with a haunting soul swagger that proves utterly of the here and now. As such, in many ways, Blacc is today’s hip-hop savvy heir to the legacy of mavericks like Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. And when he’s on the red carpet, there’s no doubt Blacc is proudly sporting an IWC – most likely his current favorite, the IWC Portuguese Tourbillon – on his wrist.
Blacc’s association with IWC actually inspired his biggest hit to date, “Wake Me Up” – a worldwide #1 chart topper, both in the uplifting version made in collaboration with EDM superstar Avicii and the more acoustic, soulful take on Blacc’s latest solo album, 2014’s Lift Your Spirit. That triumph built on the success of Blacc’s breakthrough 2010 single, “I Need a Dollar,” which proved his first global smash.
Like “Wake Me Up,” “I Need a Dollar” scaled the pop charts in numerous countries, and became the theme song to the HBO show How to Make It in America. The song held universal appeal not only because it had infectiously catchy hooks, but because of its compelling message: it described a predicament that resonated with people and their everyday struggles – expressing something crucial and innate about life during recessionary times. A passionately soulful, bluesy economic lament, “I Need a Dollar” telegraphed the commitment and social consciousness that has come to define Blacc – both in his music and the wide range of philanthropic endeavors he’s currently involved with. Just this week, Blacc released a song, “Together,” to benefit global charities fighting AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in conjunction with “SHARE THE SOUND OF AN AIDS FREE GENERATION” – a consciousness-and-fund-raising campaign created in partnership between beverage giant Coca-Cola and the socially responsible, Bono-founded, marketing/fund-raising juggernaut (Red) that also includes contributions from superstars like Avicii, Queen, and Wyclef.
In their nearly three-year association, Blacc and IWC have found numerous synergies in their mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, Blacc wrote his biggest hit “Wake Me Up” as a direct result of his association with IWC, inspired by a 2012 trip to Geneva as IWC’s guest to experience the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Intriguingly, Blacc’s initial interest in IWC stemmed from the watch company’s commitment to socially and ecologically conscious altruism in its products and practices. In a candid exclusive conversation with aBlogToWatch – graciously hosted in the elegant confines of IWC’s Beverly Hills flagship boutique – Blacc details how he became a brand ambassador for one of watchdom’s most prestigious marques, and the effect it’s had on him – as not just a lover of elite watchmaking, but also as an artist, philanthropist, and global citizen. And oh yeah, we get to see his totally awesome collection of cream-of-the-crop IWC models… Read on, friends.aBlogToWatch: So, there was one key thing that made us want to learn more about you and your interest in watches. Celebrities can often sport the most atrocious timepieces imaginable. However, in your choosing to align yourself with a manufacture with real horological history and heritage like IWC, you seem to be sending a different message.
Aloe Blacc: You know, I plan to be in the music business for a long time. Therefore, when I engage with any kind of brand, it says something about me, and what I do. So when it comes to quality, I look around for the organizations and companies that have been around long enough to have a track record that proves they’re worthy of everyone’s attention. IWC has that history – that legacy.
aBlogToWatch: Have you seen Fake Watch Buster?
Aloe Blacc: No, I haven’t.
aBlogToWatch: They take photos of celebrities caught wearing horrible fake replicas. But things seem to be improving in celebrity culture: seemingly whenever anyone gets money for the first time, the impulse is buy the most expensive thing. But I’ve noticed that now, the cool thing in regards to watches is to actually have taste – like LeBron James associating himself with Audemars Piguet.
Aloe Blacc: I think Jay Z is responsible for that; he gave everybody a sense of what real luxury and class was. There were other artists, though, who’d market products within their lyrics, down to the names of brands that they’re wearing. IWC just isn’t that way: they’re not an overt, in-your-face brand – they’re understated, and respected because of that. That really is cool.
aBlogToWatch: You’re officially a “friend of IWC,” which seems like being a brand ambassador of sorts. So how did this association come about?
Aloe Blacc: It started in summer 2012. The first actual meeting with them was in Lausanne, Switzerland, around my performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I have a very good friend from Stuttgart, [innovative businessman/entrepreneur] Alexander Osterwalder who introduced me to IWC. I had to scope out the company first: after I had an opportunity go to a few events and meet Georges [Kern, IWC’s CEO] and the people behind the brand, I felt like IWC was the right fit for me. What really sealed the deal for me with IWC was their limited edition Portuguese model benefitting the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation charity. Laureus offers sports programs for youth in economically depressed areas – not just in the U.S. but worldwide. That made me recognize that, as a company, IWC had heart and were thinking beyond profits – they were thinking about how to give back.
aBlogToWatch: So you made a pilgrimage to this tiny, isolated little town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in the middle of nowhere, where IWC is based and learned about these amazing things from them. But what did you teach them about your world – about music, about Hollywood?
Aloe Blacc: I did a festival in Schaffhausen, and there were many different energies – different artists and styles of music. For me, it was just an enjoyable experience to be able to share soul music amongst what everyone else was doing. And even beyond that, I found the watches to have soul, too. Working with the executives at IWC, and especially getting to know the CEO personally, I came to understand not just Georges’ love for quality in watches, but also in music and the arts. His son is a musician too – all of that really made the relationship even stronger. Having such a great relationship with the company and executives makes it that much more of a great experience. Since then, I’ve done events at film festivals that IWC works with throughout the world – Cannes, Beijing, Tribeca. For the launch of IWC’s flagship store in Rome, I performed at the top of a beautiful hotel right off the Spanish Steps.
aBlogToWatch: So are you going back to Geneva this coming January to represent IWC at the 25th anniversary of The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie?
Aloe Blacc: I’m still putting my calendar together for next year. I recently had a baby, and she really is the one who determines my schedule, so I’m not sure yet about SIHH. But IWC is a Grand Prix sponsor, so I’ll definitely be going to Monaco, along with some more film festivals; Dubai is probably next, and we may be going to Turkey. My wife is half Turkish, so we’ve made good friends with IWC’s Turkey office.
aBlogToWatch: I understand your biggest hit to date, “Wake Me Up,” was actually inspired by your relationship with IWC. What was the connection and inspiration?
Aloe Blacc: In 2013, I was invited as a guest of IWC to come to Geneva for the SIHH. And when you’re a guest of IWC, you’re treated like… rose gold. [laughs] So my wife and I stayed in a beautiful hotel, with drivers everywhere available to take us anywhere we wanted to go, anytime. And IWC flew us everywhere first class. You don’t know it until you fly first class, but there’s an entirely different process of checking in, going through security, an entirely different lounge. You don’t walk to the airplane: they drive you on the tarmac, straight to the door that leads to your seat. We really felt like we were being treated like royalty. Flying home, I sat in my seat and just thought, “This has to be a dream” – and immediately I wrote the words “wake me up when it’s all over.” That’s when I really began writing the song.
aBlogToWatch: It’s funny where inspiration comes from, isn’t it?
Aloe Blacc: I take inspiration from a lot of life experiences. Because I’m a singer, I want to connect to the human experience. With “Wake Me Up,” I wanted to communicate this first-class treatment in a completely relatable way that everybody could feel, without being overt and gaudy about it. It wasn’t taken for granted. I wrote it because, being there, I felt like I was living in a dream. This was a brand new experience – but one that comes from years of hard work and struggling as an artist.
aBlogToWatch: Life as a celebrity inherently involves discovering things that just aren’t within the reach of most people.
Aloe Blacc: There are hidden worlds in celebrity, and in the luxury world as well. Of course, they come with the barrier of entry, which is money. But it’s interesting: you find there are cultural differences even within the world of luxury. But living a life where you can enjoy the spoils and reap the rewards of your labors, that comes from finding the things that have the quality you think you deserve.
aBlogToWatch: So what was the first IWC model to make it to your wrist?
Aloe Blacc: The Laureus Ingenieur. I chose it because of its connection to charity: I was really excited that IWC has a charity, and actually donates proceeds from the sale of the watches to it. They hold a competition where young kids submit drawings, and the winner has their design engraved on the back of the watch – I thought that made it really special.
aBlogToWatch: You’ve since acquired other IWC timepieces. Is there a particular focus to your collection?
Aloe Blacc: I just happen to love the Portuguese watches more than anything! [laughs] I’m trying to collect as many of them as possible. There’s the Perpetual Calendar, which I believe is white gold. I fell in love with the face, and I also wanted to have a watch that felt really big. And this is the Portuguese Tourbillon. [holds up his wrist] Again, I loved the visual interest of the face. I like just the right amount of gadgetry on the dial: the open face really drew me to it, and shows the craftsmanship that goes into making the watch.
aBlogToWatch: It’s amazingly intricate. It’s funny: tourbillons used to be hidden, and then around twenty years ago, they started exposing the mechanism on the dial. It was a really controversial thing to do at first, but then it became the standard. People wanted to see the tourbillon and what it does.
Aloe Blacc: I just enjoy seeing the intricate design of the inside movement as it keeps time. It’s just such a beautiful piece. I had an emotive response to it – from the way it looks, to how it’s never going to fall out of time. I find I just wear the Portuguese Tourbillon all the time. My Perpetual Calendar Dual Moonphase is still stuck in 2013 because haven’t been wearing it enough ever since I got the Tourbillon!
aBlogToWatch: It seems like a sport watch might be a natural place for your collection to go to next.
Aloe Blacc: I don’t have a sport watch yet. The Ingenieur is as sporty as I get; everything else is a dress watch. I thought about the racing watch, but I wasn’t sure. I don’t know if I have the right outfit for it! [laughs] And when I start yachting, I’ll think about getting a Yacht Club. Actually, I think the sportiest I’ll go is a pilot watch. In honor of my dad’s birthday, which is November 30th, I want to find a great way to surprise him. Therefore, I’ll probably gift him the Pilot Watches for Father and Son double edition – they’re really nice. Hopefully, one day I’ll have a son that I can leave my watches to. My Perpetual Calendar will be his one day; my wife has a few IWCs – a men’s Da Vinci and a Portuguese – that are definitely going to be heirlooms for my daughter! We’re quite nascent in our celebrity status, so my wife was completely awestruck by the price of these watches. But once we started to learn more about IWC’s production, development, and history, she completely understood it.