Jazz And The Syncopation Of Fine Mechanics
Rebellion takes on many forms – like jazz music, which at one time represented an extreme deviation from musical tables and conventional styles of music – perhaps even as much or more than rock and roll.
Today, both rock and roll and jazz are universally recognized forms of music, but there was a time when jazz players – like the icons of blues and rock and roll – were considered rebels and pioneers.
Jazz is the music of intellectuals who love the fight between harmony and counting time.
But what timekeepers do these musical giants prefer? And which brands pay tribute to them today and why?
Miles Davis: the Prince of Darkness expresses extreme emotion
Joy and grief: these are emotions the jazz world has been able to perfectly express. Perhaps the most spectacular example is Miles Davis‘ raw trumpet sound, one that causes goose bumps in those listening.
In 1957 Davis expertly transposed his feelings and thoughts of horrible grief, resulting in a melancholy soundtrack for the French film Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud.
The most important act of his career, however, was the Kind of Blue album, which was released a year after Louis Malle’s film, in 1959, completely changing the contemporary perception of jazz style.
The tremendous success of the new bebop style from which modal jazz evolved as well as difficulties in securing continuous work, led to the 30-year-old genius’ heroin addiction. Until 1954 when Davis’ success began to guarantee him a nonstop party in the luxurious fast lane. In times when he had no money he would work as a pimp, while during the times he was well booked he drove a Ferrari 275 or a canary-yellow 308 GTS Targa.
His wrist was beautified by a Breitling Navitimer Chronograph, which Davis wore from the 1960s all the way to the year 1991 when he passed away at the age of 65, in addition to others such as a diamond-encrusted Rolex Day-Date. It is therefore surprising that his loyalty to the famous pilot’s watch brand did not bring about any type of partnership, and that it was Oris who ended up honoring his contributions to the music world only in 2001.
This edition, however, was not a matter of calculus, but rather from a special line honoring the greats of jazz.
A limited edition Oris model housed in a round case was dedicated to the memory of saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker in 2003, famous for his jazz standard (musical composition) “Ornithology.” The Oris edition was limited to 1,355 pieces: the number “1” marking his position in jazz, “35” for the age he became; and “55” standing for 1955, the year he died.
Oris also honored the architect of modern jazz, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, with a limited edition – regardless of the fact that during his lifetime he only wore a Rolex GMT-Master with a Pepsi bezel on a Jubilee bracelet.
His wrist was photographed for the first time at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958 – which means he wore this timepiece for 35 years!
Jazz makes time
Jazz rode waves of success in the 1950s and 1960s. During these two decades pianist Dave Brubeck – known for his unusual time signatures – released among other disks Brubeck Time (1954), Time Out (1959), Time Further Out (1961), Time Changes (1963), Time In (1965), and The Last Time We Saw Paris (1967).
After recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane went on to solo heights. His Classic Quartet, where he played alongside pianist McCoy Tyner (who received his Oris in 1997), released one of the best jazz recordings of all time: A Love Supreme. Coltrane, too, was honored with an Oris edition in 2014.
Coltrane even managed to record a very successful album as well as perform with Duke Ellington (whose Oris limited edition arrived in 2002) – famously at Birdland, the renowned club in Manhattan, which was called the “jazz corner of the world.” Having opened in 1949, it remains a most important jazz shrine. Marking its 65th anniversary in 2014, Swiss brand Claude Bernard introduced the 650-piece Birdland Limited Edition with a transparent case back decorated with the silhouette of a saxophone.
Other brands using a jazz theme
Oris of course appropriated the jazz theme for creating limited edition watches for icons of jazz around the world for years. But, of course, other manufacturers looking for original cooperation topics have also surprised their audiences with unique watches.
For example, even though Oris offered a limited Frank Sinatra edition in 2005, one also appeared from Raymond Weil ten years later. The model limited to 1,212 pieces commemorates the date of December 12, 2015: the day the King of Swing passed away.
Perhaps the greatest interest from the collectors was for the 2009 black-on-black Audemars Piguet Millenary in steel, whose dial in was personally designed by Quincy Jones according to the timeless appearance of the keyboard. All 500 pieces benefiting the Quincy Jones Foundation were sold out immediately.
Vulcain entered into cooperation with legendary composer and jazz pianist Herbert Jeffrey (Herbie) Hancock, whose name was immortalized on blue dials in 250 steel cases and 50 gold cases of the 50s President Herbie Hancock limited edition watch featuring, of course, a mechanical alarm.
And prolific trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has been a Movado brand ambassador since 1998.
Parmigiani Fleurier puts its marketing money on the Montreux Jazz Festival, and has done so since 2007. But this continues to baffle as the brand invests no further into the world of jazz (though to be fair, not only jazz is performed at this festival).
If you want a watch associated with the world of jazz, your first stop should be Oris. Previous president Ulrich W. Herzog loved the rhythms of jazz and was personally the initiator of the whole limited series project.
The Oris Artelier Jazz Collection has included 17 tribute watches including pianist Thelonious Monk (2015), bebop pioneer Dexter Gordon (2016), Chet Baker (2012), one of the best jazz pianists of all time, Oscar Peterson (2010), vocalist and drummer Lionel Hampton (1999), guitarist John McLaughlin (1998), and British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, whose tribute watch started the whole series in 1996. Interestingly, Oris’ partnership with the London Jazz Festival, which even bore the watch brand’s name for two years, began the same year.
Pop crossovers in the new age of jazz
In addition to classic techniques and harmonies, traditional jazz music and its offshoots have influenced many musicians whose names are widely known in the world of popular music. Some even wear great watches like multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller (who wears a Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso 1931 Rouge), Tony Bennett (who even posed for a Rolex magazine ad), and George Benson, who prefers the Rolex Daytona.
Seal, who wrote a romantic “Secret” in 2010, wore a Parmigiani Kalpa XL Tourbillon in the song’s steamy video beside supermodel and then-wife Heidi Klum. While the watch seems to have stayed with the singer, the woman unfortunately hasn’t.
The world of luxury watches is also linked to the charming Canadian singer of Czech heritage, Diana Krall. Gracing ad campaigns with “the crown” also used in the Czech Republic in 2012, she coincidentally performed at the Prague Congress Center that year – where it was possible to see that the thin wrist of the beautiful woman whose fingers perfectly control the keyboard of the Steinway & Sons was decorated with an 18-karat yellow gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust.
Krall also expanded into the De Beers jewelry collection, working with the Moments in Light project celebrating extraordinary women.
Her heart, however, does not belong to any brand, but rather British musician (and husband) Elvis Costello. While he does not perform wearing a watch, on his 2012 tour in Iceland he visited the small independent JS Watch Watch Co. in Reykajavik, where he acquired a Frisland God watch featuring a dial with a volcanic dust layer from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
Covering jazz and jewels
“La Vie en Rose,” written by French chanteuse Edith Piaf, has been covered many, many more times than by the jazz voice of Melody Gardot, who has been linked to Piaget jewelry.
It’s likely the most famous cover version was made by Louis Armstrong, but in conjunction with time it came up again in 1994 thanks to Elton John, who sang the song in a television commercial for Cartier, a brand he admired.
After all, he was wearing a Cartier Santos watch in 1983 in his video “I’m Still Standing,” which was filmed on the Cote d’Azur, where there just happened to be a Cartier boutique.
John switched brand loyalty when searching for support for his nonprofit organization, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has to date helped improve the quality of life for patients struggling with this incurable disease by raising more than $200 million.
And thanks to a partnership with Bulgari signed in 2016, the amount will certainly grow. A good example was the traditional fundraising black-tie dinner held in Windsor by Sir Elton and his husband, David Furnish, at their home art gallery, where a diamond necklace from the Diva line was auctioned for £225,000 shortly after the contract was signed.
The name of the legendary rock pianist often seen wearing Franck Muller or Hublot watches will probably forever be associated with Chopard in the world of watches, though. In his honor, Chopard even introduced a line including a few limited edition gold chronographs and diamond-studded timepieces that quickly sold out.
The Chopard partnership began in 2000 thanks to Caroline Scheufele, who was promoting her brand at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, Chopard has been the perfect partner for the charity White Tie & Tiara Ball in the gardens of Elton’s villa.
Playing with watches
The increasingly demanding modern and creative art of watchmaking allows manufactories the space to realize ideas that may have previously been taboo. Collectors have become more and more open to extraordinary editions and look for complications that their collections do not yet have.
The Chaumet Dandy Metronome, whose movement was created by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s Agenhor, features a retrograde second hand that looks and acts just like a metronome. That watch arrived in 2010 to commemorate the flawless rhythm of the 200th anniversary of Frédéric Chopin’s birth. The same anniversary drew the attention of Frédérique Constant, who issued a special limited edition introduced in Poland and shipped in a wooden box shaped like a grand piano.
Owning one of 18 platinum specimens of the Ulysse Nardin Jazz Minute Repeater is already a sign of refined taste and great contacts. Using jaquemarts – moving figures triggered by the repeating mechanism – on a black onyx dial, it rings the time in minute repeater fashion. The jaquemarts are in this case jazz band musicians made of white gold.
Another way to manufacture music within a watch was introduced by Ulysse Nardin in 2013 with the music-box-like Stranger. Either on demand, or automatically activating every hour, it plays the melody of Frank Sinatra’s famous “Strangers in the Night” for 15 seconds. For more on this see Music Boxes And Heartfelt Causes: Ulysse Nardin Stranger.
Jazz, has inspired many brands: Hamilton with its Jazzmaster collection; Auguste Reymond with its Charleston and Jazz Age models; and even Russian independent watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin with a mysterious moon phase watch called Levitas Jazz, featuring a gold case enhanced with keyboard themes. Piaget has released a line called Limelight Jazz Party using black and white diamonds emulating a keyboard.
And, last but not least, there is the unique piece Parmigiani Tonda Tourbillon Solo de Jazz in pink gold from 2015, which impresses with a trumpet on the dial made of wood marquetry.
This piece was part of a series of works drawing inspiration from music; it also illustrates the brand’s ties to the Montreux Jazz Festival.
And, no, we didn’t forgot about Satchmo and co.
Duke Ellington famously wore a Cartier Tank à Guichets from 1928. However, it wasn’t the noble Parisian jeweler who later honored him; it was – of course – Oris.
Though Ellington wrote more than 1,000 songs during his lifetime, the tonneau-shaped edition from 2002 was issued in 999 pieces. His engraved silhouette and signature are included on this watch.
During his lifetime (1901-1971) Louis Armstrong wore a gold wristwatch that was a gift from the famous swing drummer Ben Pollack and a group of white musicians with an engraved dedication reading, “Good luck always to Louis Armstrong from the musicians on Broadway.” The watch was presented to him in 1929 by the musicians, who had seen him perform and wanted to honor him.
As the anniversary of his one-hundredth birthday approached in 2000, Oris paid tribute to him in the form of two limited editions (250 and 500 pieces) in gold and steel respectively. These pieces feature trumpets on the case backs.
In celebration of Satchmo’s one-hundredth birthday in 2001, Oris then issued a collector box with a platinum chronograph, a silver chronometer with date, and a gold worldtimer powered by the Oris 960 caliber enabling the GMT function to be set forward and backward.
And in an early show of musical marketing savvy, Girard-Perregaux engaged American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Sidney Bechet as an official ambassador. Bechet wore the luxurious Reference 7317, an automatic watch with 39 jewels housed in an 18-karat gold case.
Jan Lidmaňský is a watch collector and journalist from the Czech Republic; follow him on Instagram at @watch_the_food.
Also published on Medium.