The (Not So) Complete Story Of Rock And Roll And Watches: Ramp The Volume Up To 11!
The mechanical watch works just like a metronome, with its isochronic balance maintaining a steady rhythm and the delicate tick-tock of its pallet jewels providing a rhythmic beat to our oft-frantic lives.
If we ramp up the power and swap the metronome for a drum kit and a few electric guitars we have rock and roll, which for many is an art form without compromise.
Here’s a far-from-complete look at some of the many times that these two apparently incongruous worlds overlapped.
Gibson SG Standard: one guitar to rule them all
The Gibson SG Standard guitar has gone through the hands of most rock and metal virtuosos from the 1960s to the present. This legendary electric guitar has had many rock music admirers across musical generations including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend of The Who, and Mick Box from Uriah Heep.
It’s easy to see that the Gibson SG Standard has been at the forefront of many historical milestones in rock history.
And it is precisely this guitar that is celebrated by the masculine Raymond Weil Nabucco Gibson.
Marketing, music, and watches intersect
We discover thrash metal icons Metallica in handmade Italian Brioni suits on the glossy advertising pages of magazines, glam rockers Kiss in John Varvatos attire, and social media flooded with photographs of HYT’s Skull Maori on the wrist of Axl Rose thanks to a surprisingly close cooperation (see HYT Watches’ Vincent Perriard Talks About New ‘Brand Friend’: Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Axl Rose).
HYT has an unexpected and eccentric hydromechanical watch with a giant skull on the dial that the Guns ’n’ Roses front man Axl Rose wore during the last AC/DC tour when he filled in for that band’s singer, Brian Johnson (who very often wears the Graham Chronofighter and Audemars Piguet Chronograph Royal Oak Offshore).
Rose, now an official friend of HYT, has even put his orange Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Volcano, Richard Mille, old Breitling chronograph, and his rather tasteless diamond-studded Anonimo back in the watch box in lieu of the limited edition HYT Skull Axl Rose created in his honor (see HYT Introduces Wristwatch Designed By Axl Rose Of Guns ’n’ Roses That Tells Time Using Liquid).
The HYT Skull Axl Rose was designed with Rose’s fondness for Damascus steel in mind, a material from which most of the knives of his personal collection are produced. And, who knows, maybe even guitarist Slash (now friends with Rose again after 13 years of not speaking to one another) will replace his aging Breitling Chronomat or Cartier Roadster XL Chronograph with an HYT or two?
Hairsprings vs. guitar strings
In the world of hard rock, Rose and his collaboration with HYT, a boutique brand annually producing fewer than 400 watches, is an exception.
Marketing departments of watch brands apparently choose their ambassadors according to criteria other than originality and eccentricity, generally preferring easygoing personalities and mutually benifical commercial interests over superior musical ability.
And given that the entire Swiss watch market relies on tradition, classical music concerts are likely to be more appealing than metal legends like Morbid Angel, Death, Slayer, and even Anthrax.
But here is a surprise: former Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz, nominated three times for a Grammy and selling more than 15 million albums with Anthrax over the course of his career, has broken the 53-year-old record of Bulova’s American School of Horology by completing the watchmaking course, including training on high complications, in record time, followed by a stint at the Swiss WOSTEP course in Neuchâtel (see Video: Dan Spitz Of Anthrax, Watchmaker).
However, after working on historical Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin models, he’s decided to go back to music after discovering that many watchmakers listen to heavy metal in their earphones, working with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth on the Red Lamb project.
Swedish virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen collects gold Rolexes; Jon Bon Jovi has a gold Hublot Unico King; Bruce Springsteen wears a classic Rolex Submariner; and Brian May, famed for his work in the band Queen – and who also owns a doctorate in astrophysics – has not taken his quartz Seiko Diver SKX007 off his wrist for about three decades.
John Mayer, whose name is now associated with pop music rather than the blues and rock and roll he started with, deserves special mention as he has built a great reputation in the world of watches thanks to his love of Rolex and Patek Philippe.
In addition to collecting guitars, Mayer likes to share his watch opinions with Hodinkee, a digital watch website that he has financially invested into heavily. And this even led him to a seat on the jury of the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2013.
It is interesting that Mayer bought his first watch in 2001 to celebrate the sales of 4.5 million copies of his album Room for Squares – a Rolex Explorer II. Over the past 15 years, his collection has expanded with incredible jewels such as the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph (Reference 5970R), Rolex Daytona (Reference 6263) – an exotic Paul Newman – IWC’s Big Pilot, and the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split in platinum.
Mayer also owns a Rolex Sea-Dweller and Submariner 2000 in addition to the omnipresent Casio G-Shock.
Eric Singer: Kiss drummer and watch collector
Kiss drummer Eric Singer, deserves his own chapter; his obsession with watches is well known by many watch aficionados. Singer even tested the patented Ball Watch SpringLock during live performances while playing the drums (see Ball Watch SpringLock Shock Protection Tested By Kiss Drummer Eric Singer).
His collection, however, began to take shape far earlier, thanks to his father who bought a gold rectangular LeCoultre Triple Calendar back in 1951.
The Triple Calendar is now joined in Singer’s collection by more than 100 watches, including iconic models such as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Rolex Daytona, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and a whole range of chronographs by Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Heuer.
Among these I’d like to highlight a military Heuer chronograph (shot in the 1990s in Prague during an organized meeting with fans) with the following engraving on its base, “Lt-Gen. J. Vales dedicated Minister National Defense Arm. Gen. Martin Dzur – 31.5.1975.”
Another jewel of Singer’s collection is a Patek Philippe gold pocket watch originally worn by famous opera singer Tandy Mackenzie.
It is clear that Singer is a truly dedicated collector and fortunately for his fan base in the watch world a regular Baselworld visitor. After all, he helped promote Yvan Arpa’s guitar-shaped Son of Sound watch and established a collaboration with Zenith back in the days of former CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour (now CEO of Rolex).
Zenith has also joined the Kiss Army by adorning the wrist of bassist Gene Simmons, who alternates between that and a magnificent Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon. Paul Stanley also owns several Zenith models (including a big pilot’s watch), special U-Boat editions, and watches by Romain Jerome, Glashütte Original, Rolex, and (unfortunately) also the rebellious Gaga Milano Watch with diamonds among the hundreds of timepieces in his extensive collection.
But to my knowledge none of the Kiss members’ collections include the ArtyA Son of Sound featuring a guitar instead of a dial, created not only in tribute to the New York-founded glam band, but also to rockers like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson.
Can’t get no satisfaction
In 2014, Zenith also began to form a collaboration with the legendary Rolling Stones.
Few people, however, know that the band was also featured on the relatively extravagant Seiko Galante Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary watch (Reference SBLL017), where a giant protruding tongue dominated against the backdrop of a deep black dial. Like on later collections, the United Kingdom’s Union Jack made its mark on the sapphire crystal of a small window on the case back, allowing a view of Caliber 8L38 and celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones in 2012 in a more than dignified manner.
Zenith, however, chose to buck the rebelliously crazy case of the Galante, housing the band’s tribute watches within the more moderate El Primero collection.
The first Zenith Rolling Stones model was a 250-piece limited edition Chronomaster 1969 Tribute to Rolling Stones with a view of the silicon components in the famous cutaway at 11 o’clock and the Stones’ tongue discretely nestled within the chronograph’s hour counter at 6 o’clock.
The Zenith Rolling Stones edition sold out, and this first act on the wave of tribute success was followed by the haute horlogerie Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to The Rolling Stones, which retailed for “just” a quarter of a million dollars. A fusion of red symbols including the Union Jack and the band’s tongue logo occupies a great deal of space on the dial, sharing it only with the gyroscopic escapement beating at 5 Hz underneath the large crystal dome.
Rock fans have obviously had time to get rich since the band started in 1962, right? (See Paint It Black: Zenith (And I) On Tour With The Rolling Stones.)
The most recent tribute piece to the English rockers made its debut in 2016 as the El Primero Skeleton Tribute to the Rolling Stones, housed this time in a ceramic case, a first for Zenith. The skeletonized movement allows a view past the movement, whose decoration evokes the fret board of the famous 50-year-old Fender Telecaster guitar.
The band’s symbol based on lead singer Mick Jagger’s pronounced lips and tongue can be seen in the form of a rotor on each of the 250 watches in the limited edition.
You will not find Zenith watches on the wrist of the renowned band members, though. So what do they wear? Jagger stayed true to the Seiko from his youth, later replacing it with Heuer Autavia (Reference 11630P) and Carrera (Reference 1153N) chronographs.
Guitarist Keith Richards prefers an IWC Portuguieser Chronograph, while bass player Bill Wyman has a Rolex GMT-Master “Root Beer” (Reference 1675), and drummer Charlie Watts prefers an historical pocket watch.
The greatest love of watches in this band seems to be had by guitarist Ronnie Wood, who collaborated on a unique piece Armin Strom watch with painted dial and bridges in the movement for the charity auction Only Watch 2011.
The guitarist-turned-artist has completed a similar project for British brand Bremont with two editions of its B-1 Marine Clock embellished with original paintings by the Rolling Stone (see both in Worth The Wait: The Second Bremont B-1 Marine Clock With Dial Painted By Ronnie Wood Of The Rolling Stones).
Not surprisingly, Wood’s wrists are adorned from time to time with a mechanical lucky charm by Bremont – a brand that singer Roger Daltrey was also seen wearing on tour with The Who in 2016.
Ring in the nostalgia: Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, and watches
It was Warhol who, during this time, initiated recording the band’s first cult album with singer Nico (one of Warhol’s “superstars”), the cover of which was a giant yellow banana. This became a famous work of art, which, together with Campbell soup cans and the colorful portrait of Marilyn Monroe, subsequently defined American pop art and influenced many other artists.
Warhol’s influence has firmly taken root in the world of watches, although surprisingly not at Hublot, even if the brand often works with famous artists.
In 1987, Warhol proposed a watch to Movado: the Andy Warhol Times 5 watch with five cases, each of whose dials offers a different time zone with the graphics of a specific part of New York.
Warhol was close to the watch world. Of his personal collection of 300 watches, the most famous was a gold Rolex from the 1940s, a truly unique Patek Philippe Reference 2503 from the beginning of the 1950s, and a Cartier Tank.
Songs for Drella, which was recorded in 1990 by the former members of Velvet Underground, dedicated a song cycle to Warhol. In the song “Open House,” John Cale played keyboards while Lou Reed sang, “My hair’s silver like a Tiffany watch” – obviously in reference to Warhol’s watch tick.
What can I add to this? Perhaps only that Lou Reed bought a Glashütte Original watch in a small second-hand shop run by Martin Lain when he visited Prague.
Icons and personalities
Welsh musician John Cale became famous for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which was also covered by Swiss musician Bastian Baker, an official Omega ambassador) and certainly not thanks to his participation in Velvet Underground. It is therefore obvious that hits make names unforgettable to the public.
Bob Dylan, an icon of his generation and holder of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wears Oris watches. With his many poignant texts and unmistakable hits, he remains a perennial public favorite.
A slightly older king of rock and roll is Elvis Presley, who is closely associated with the Hamilton Ventura – although he also wore many other watches, including some by Corum, Omega, Hamilton, and Elgin. See much more about this in Elvis Is In The Building: In Honor Of The King And His Watches.
And then there is Iggy Pop, who became more famous for his solo hits “Lust for Life” and “The Passenger” than his work with The Stooges. He loves his Rolex Submariner Reference 16610.
Masters of classic rock also wear nice watches: these include John McLaughlin (Oris), Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits (Omega), Roger Waters of Pink Floyd (Rolex), and David Bowie, who even posed for Louis Vuitton’s advertising campaign wearing the brand’s watches.
Not to forget the former singer of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, who even proposed a special limited edition of the Endeavour Small Seconds for H. Moser & Cie in 2016.
Eric Clapton is one of the greatest collectors of watches in the world of rock, writing about them in his autobiography and even naming his greatest hits album of 1982 after them: Timepieces: The Best of Eric Clapton.
And what does Clapton’s heart desire? His collection consists mainly of contemporary and historical Rolex and Patek Philippe, which he has on several occasions (in addition to his guitars) sent to auction, sometimes with proceeds going to the internationally renowned addiction recovery center he founded on the island of Antigua, the Crossroads Center.
The center’s work has been backed by the sale of rare watches owned by Clapton, including a Rolex Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino, which was auctioned in 2015 at a record $ 1.4 million, and one of the two existing Patek Philippe 2499 platinum editions combining a chronograph with a perpetual calendar, which Christie’s auctioned for $ 3.6 million. (If you’re interested, the other platinum piece is owned by the Patek Philippe Museum.)
What does Slowhand normally wear? In essence, the Rolex Milgauss (Reference 11640GV), Rolex GMT-Master II (Reference 116710LN), and a gold Patek Philippe Split-Second Perpetual Calendar Reference 5004J. Recently, however, most of all he has been seen wearing the Patek Philippe Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Reference 5970P in white gold.
Before Clapton started his solo career, he performed in many bands. One of them was a long-forgotten project in which he accompanied George Harrison (whose wife, Pattie, he later married and divorced after 11 years), while another was the Plastic Ono Band formed by John Lennon just after the breakup of The Beatles.
Naturally there is a watch also dedicated to the Beatles, though I doubt it is part of Clapton’s collection: the Maestro Beatles by Raymond Weil was created in a limited edition of 3,000 pieces. Aside from the Beatles logo, a cool element is the unusual hour markers, which are represented by the 12 names of the Beatles albums, with the iconic Help! replaced by a pictogram not unlike the Roman numeral “IIII” that is often used in watch design at that position.
Also interesting is the fact that this is the only Maestro model on a stainless steel bracelet. The reason for this was Paul McCartney’s everlasting memory of his wife, Linda, who adamantly fought for animal rights before her death in 1998.
But what do the individual Beatles wear? John Lennon liked to sport a Patek Philippe Chronograph Triple Date Moon Phase 2499 in yellow gold (yes, the ultimate chronograph, which Eric Clapton also loved for its rarity of only 349 pieces made only about ten times a year between 1951 and 1986).
The rest of the band also loves the Geneva manufactory. For example, Paul McCartney constantly wears the Aquanaut Reference 5167, which is currently also possible to identify on the wrist of Ringo Starr. On portraits from the past, however, he has been photographed wearing the Omega Time Computer LED and even the elegant Patek Philippe Reference 3448, which was the first perpetual calendar with an automatic movement.
Not surprisingly, at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles in 2015 the sale of Starr’s Reference 3448 climbed to $179,200, almost double the estimated amount, with the funds going to the drummer’s nonprofit organization The Lotus Foundation. So it seems that the Beatles had a feeling not only for harmonious melodies and seductive lyrics, but also for rare watches.
Fashion wave: Depeche Mode and Hublot
On May 24, 2017, Prague’s Eden Arena was rocked by the familiar melodies of an English alternative band that still benefits from its original concept of neo-romanticism. Explosive music typical of the New Wave movement, Depeche Mode’s success began in the early 1980s; today it remains one of the world’s leading electronic music bands.
A jewel for fans of the synthesizer sound that still keeps a dark edge, Depeche Mode’s music is in sharp contrast to the many representatives of electronic music based on rock and punk styles who were not able to succeed in the same way (like the extravagant hardcore techno band The Prodigy, whose front man Keith Flint became the face of Graham for a while).
Depeche Mode has created a timeless repertoire animated by new material from the long-awaited studio album Spirit on its recent Global Spirit Tour, promising a highly emotional show. Before that, the Delta Machine Tour of 2013 spawned 250 limited edition ceramic watches called Big Bang Depeche Mode with Hublot.
Interestingly, a portion of the sales revenue of each watch went directly to the non-profit organization Charity: water, which ensures water supply in developing countries. A massive chronograph with a pyramid pattern on the strap replicating rock-and-roll studs, it was introduced along with the campaign.
This 2013 campaign was already based on the previous collaboration that took place in 2010, when the band raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust. During the concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a unique auction took place for which just 12 Big Bang chronographs were created, each dial adorned with the theme of one of the band’s albums. Along with the successfully bid-upon watch, the new owner received a digital version of the album, a gold-framed CD, and signed photos.
The marketing department of Hublot, of course, profited greatly and, along with Depeche Mode, prepared several other charity projects. Already in January 2014 there were ten special chronographs with a red central hand and the engraving of ten different locations around the world that have special meaning for the band. These were delivered in a metal case along with a signed guitar by Fender Squier.
But perhaps the most interesting of these collaborative watches was a colossus called the MP-06 Depeche Mode Tourbillon, which contributed $1.4 million to Charity: water.
The latest project in collaboration with Charity: water took place in 2017 and spawned another 250-piece limited edition. Find out all about it in Hublot Big Bang Unico Depeche Mode: A Cool Watch For A Charitable Cause.
Jan Lidmaňský is a watch collector and journalist from the Czech Republic; follow him on Instagram at @watch_the_food.
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Video: Dan Spitz Of Anthrax, Watchmaker
Paint It Black: Zenith (And I) On Tour With The Rolling Stones
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Elvis Is In The Building: In Honor Of The King And His Watches
Drum Roll, Please: Drummers And Watches, Two Natural Timekeepers
Hublot Big Bang Unico Depeche Mode: A Cool Watch For A Charitable Cause
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Also published on Medium.