During last week’s Frieze art fair in New York City, the luxury watch industry’s long-standing preoccupation with the notion of mechanical timepieces as objects of kinetic art rose to the fore with newsworthy collaborations designed to highlight horology as fertile ground for artists. Below, we highlight three of the most exciting ventures at the intersection of watchmaking and fine art.
Hublot x Samuel Ross
On May 18, Hublot introduced its partnership and collaborative timepiece with the London-based multi-disciplinary artist and fashion designer Samuel Ross, founder of the menswear line A-Cold-Wall*. The brand has worked with the polymathic creator since 2019, when he was awarded the Hublot Design Prize, a part of the brand’s overarching, decade-old “Hublot Loves Art” initiative.
“I was grateful to win the prize, but it was about more than the prize money,” Ross tells Robb Report. “It was about what the future of design could encapsulate.”
The dialogue that Ross began with Hublot three years ago culminated this month with the release of the Big Bang Tourbillon Samuel Ross, a 44 mm orange wristwatch in a stylized case that hints at themes signature to Ross’ work, including his love of architectural forms, brutalism and color theory.
Ross, best known for his forays into material culture, started the process by hand sketching his ideas, then considering the materials he would use to execute them.
“Something this sacred shouldn’t begin on an LCD screen, it should really begin with pen to paper,” he says. “I was looking at shapes and forms and trying to understand the right curves. Having an athletic and sporting vernacular was really important to the design.”
The model’s most distinctive element is a titanium honeycomb-style mesh that appears on the sapphire dial, case, case back and strap. The lightweight, openworked design relies on a hexagonal motif that calls to mind an essential building block of nature—artistic, but also durable and ergonomic.
“Even the idea of the tourbillon—feeling lighter and having the optics of when you look through the watch, being able to see end to end through it and get the casting of shadows on the honeycombs,” Ross says.
“This idea of intricacy—by having a really rich, deeply saturated visual language—was at the forefront,” he adds. “It was absolutely clear that I wanted to develop a watch that would disrupt and bring opinions. It couldn’t be wasted on a safe or conservative design. It should be radical, especially coming out of Covid and lockdown. What I was trying to capture was the idea of possibility.”
Ross chose to render the watch in a vibrant orange color to represent energy and optimism. Used on the malleable rubber strap as well as the crown, tourbillon bridge and lateral bumpers that protect the case, the hue stands in sharp contrast to the sober gray of the satin-finished case and bezel.
For Ross, the watch—part timekeeping device, part sculpture—reflects his growing appreciation for mechanical watchmaking. “It’s an heirloom but it’s also technology of the time,” he says. “It’s like a piece of wearable history.” $116,000; hublot.com
Breguet x Frieze
Rather than working with an artist to co-design a timepiece, Breguet sought a broader partnership—with the global art fair Frieze. The relationship, which is slated to last through 2024, kicked off at Frieze New York, at The Shed at Hudson Yards, where the watchmaker also announced its collaboration with Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein.
Lauded for his 18thcentury-style architectural drawings and illustrations, the London-based artist will create custom art for Breguet’s lounge at each Frieze fair in 2022. The collaboration with a visual artist represents a departure for Breguet, which has up until now been more involved in the musical arts (through, for example, its relationship with Carnegie Hall).
To celebrate the new direction, the historic brand introduced the Tradition Quantième Rétrograde 7597, whose off-centered dial features the hand-engine-turned craftsmanship for which Breguet is known. $38,600; breguet.com
Zenith x Pantone
When Zenith introduced the rainbow-hued Defy 21 Felipe Pantone in March 2021, the ultra-contemporary watch represented the first time the brand teamed with a contemporary artist on a design. At the time, Pantone, an Argentine-Spanish artist known for his computer-modeled graffiti murals blending digital and urban aesthetics, said his goal was “to transform this spectacular piece of watchmaking into a wearable work of kinetic art, where time and light converge into a single object.”
Endowed with two regulating organs and escapements, one beating at 5Hz for timekeeping, and the other at 50Hz, offering a true 1/100th of a second chronograph display, the movement came packaged in a highly chromatic 44 mm ceramic case featuring bridges coated with a gradient of metallic rainbow tones, a signature of Pantone’s work.
According to Zenith, another Pantone collaboration is imminent. zenith-watches.com