Me and my favourite... watch

Bid for these timepieces in our charity auction, as chosen by an Oscar-winning actor, a style-setting entrepreneur and a leading industrial designer. Nick Foulkes reports. Portraits by Richard Grassie and Fabio Massimo Aceto

Colin Firth photographed at High Road House, Chisick
Colin Firth photographed at High Road House, Chisick | Image: Richard Grassie

** To bid for the watches pictured in aid of Save the Children, visit Christies.com/HTSI. Online auction ends December 11. **

Colin Firth

The British actor goes from the Golden Globes to helping Chopard source ethical gold for its LUC Tourbillon Qualité Fleurier Fairmined

Chopard 18ct rose-gold LUC Tourbillion Qualité Fleurier Fairmined with alligator strap, £93,300- one of a limited edition of 25
Chopard 18ct rose-gold LUC Tourbillion Qualité Fleurier Fairmined with alligator strap, £93,300- one of a limited edition of 25

“I had a problem with watches when I was younger; they stopped on me. I felt there was something spooky about that and abandoned them partly because of it. Then the digital watch came in and I didn’t have that issue any more, but who would want to wear one? And then I forgot about them again, especially as these days time shows up on all your devices. But watches have come back into my life in a big way since I started visiting the Chopard LUC watch factory in Fleurier, because of a project called The Journey to Sustainable Luxury, which Eco-Age, the company I co-founded with my wife Livia, undertook with Chopard to source Fairmined gold. Together we launched the first-ever Fairmined-gold watch, the LUC, in Basel this year.

I‘ve always wanted something rather simple. I’m not one for the divers‘ and aviators‘ watches and all that sort of thing. It’s not easy to find a piece that hasn’t been messed with to put a design spin on it, which is a pity because the joy of a mechanical watch is the purity of the invention. There is something beautiful to the point of perfection about it – I’m not just talking about aesthetic beauty, but the beauty that comes from knowing something is harmonious. We live in a digital, fossil-fuel and electrical age, so to see a piece of engineering that isn’t dependent on any of those things, and what’s more, to see it crafted by human hands, resulting in an object that is both exquisite and precise, is miraculous.

I didn’t expect to be so intrigued, but it just started to take my interest. I like the fact that Chopard is still a family-run business and has a small factory up in the hills, a place with all the romance of a handmade watch from Switzerland. It was a chance to engage with watchmaking just for the pleasure and the curiosity; it was a joy to learn about the process and to fall in love with the machine again. A watch is a story of hands: there are hands that mine the ground for gold, which passes through the hands of the craftsmen who make the watch, which passes into the hands of the person who’s going to wear it.

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We’re not claiming to have solved the world’s problems with this project. It’s a step in an ongoing process. There’s always a story behind everything you consume, and you can choose either to know or not to know what part you play in that story. But you can’t decide whether to be in the story or not. Seeing the steps in a supply chain is quite eye-opening, and you realise that this applies to everything you interact with. You wear the story of the people who made the clothes on your back in the same way that you drink the story of those who made your coffee. In fact, coffee was my first education because I got involved in Fair Trade coffee a number of years ago. I went to meet the growers in Ethiopia and visited the roaster in Glasgow and the bar where it was served. I even became a rather untalented barista. But beyond looking through a watchmaker’s loupe, I have not dared to pick up any watchmaking tools: however bad I was as a barista, I cannot imagine how terrible I would be as a watchmaker!”

Lapo Elkann

The entrepreneur and president and founder of Italia Independent Group has a love of Brazil and football, which come together in the Hublot 2014 World Cup watch

Lapo Elkann at his home in Milan
Lapo Elkann at his home in Milan | Image: Fabio Massimo Aceto

“The watch I am wearing is a special-edition Hublot that was made for the World Cup. I love football and I love Brazil because I lived there when I was a kid. I deeply and truly wanted this watch because it is in Brazil’s colours. It’s an amazing piece conceived around the tournament. Like many Italians, I am a huge fan of the sport, as is Hublot because it also made the official watches for Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and many other teams.

My first introduction to the world of watches was through Swatch. During my childhood the brand represented colours and energy and was affordable. But my love of watches may also be an inherited passion as my grandfather [Gianni Agnelli] had a big collection. Generally speaking, he bought pocket watches and transformed them into wristwatches. He was an inspiration to me because his timepieces were the quintessence of what is clean and beautiful.

Since then I’ve seen and worn beautiful watches. At auction I have bought a Rolex “Coca Cola”, some Patek Philippes and some vintage pieces by Jaeger-LeCoultre and Breguet. But more than wearing them, I deeply love to work on watches. I designed myself a camouflage Rolex Daytona. I did it with the help of the automotive industry; they painted it and made it in the specific materials I wanted.

Hublot ceramic Big Bang Unico 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil official watch, €20,300- one of a limited edition of 200
Hublot ceramic Big Bang Unico 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil official watch, €20,300- one of a limited edition of 200

I try to make everything unique; I don’t like to have what everyone else has. That’s not only with watches but also cars, suits, eyewear… everything. For instance, there are thousands of customisations available in our Italia Independent glasses. I’m curious about each and every object. It is only by delving into the culture of things that you can begin to understand them, and watches are an industry – one with interesting characters. And there can’t be many industries that have anyone more interesting than Jean-Claude Biver. We met three years ago in New York, at a dinner in a museum, and since then there’s been a true friendship and a lot of respect. Almost as soon as we got to know each other, we started looking forward to doing things together, the first of which was the Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold watch.

Now we have decided to work jointly on a project that will come out in 2015, and it’s been a great inspiration walking around the factory with Jean-Claude, seeing his know-how regarding the materials that go into an Hublot. I have always loved the world of watches and I’ve visited fairs in Geneva and Basel to see what’s going on, but I have to say that the level of innovation I have encountered in what Jean-Claude does gives me the most enthusiasm. There are many beautiful and many great watches, but few bring something totally new to the market. Plus Jean‑Claude is always looking for what could be better, and it occurs to me that there is something that could be better about my World Cup watch: I wish that Italy had done better in the tournament. But even Jean-Claude can’t do anything about that.”

Marc Newson

Marc Newson at home in London
Marc Newson at home in London | Image: Richard Grassie

While his digital heart may lie with Apple, the award-winning industrial designer finds his love of mechanical complexity reflected in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Memovox

“I have designed both mechanical and electronic watches, and they are completely different objects; about the only thing they have in common is that they are worn on the wrist. What’s wonderful about a mechanical watch is that it’s this little universe of pieces; the more complex, the more universe-like it is. And when they contain other functions, such as an alarm, like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox I’m wearing, they become slightly more magical.

However, my earliest memory of a Jaeger product is of the instruments, speedometers and things it developed for old cars that I love. In the same way, it is interesting for me that Jaeger owns the Atmos clock brand. It has historically been involved in different functional aspects of the object in a way that is relevant to the world of mechanics in that it comes from a utilitarianism – the little alarm on this watch is utilitarianism personified.

Jaeger-LeCoultre stainless-steel Master Memovox with alligator strap, £7,250
Jaeger-LeCoultre stainless-steel Master Memovox with alligator strap, £7,250

I understand that this alarm was used by divers to remind them when their dive time was coming to an end and I suppose that is something I will test out during the summer; indeed, my all-time favourite Memovox watch is the Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea, with its characteristic black face, that I customised with red for the (RED) Auction in aid of The Global Fund to fight Aids.

But then I have long been fascinated by watches; when I was growing up in Australia, I was forever tearing pages out of magazines with pictures of Patek Philippe watches and I was obsessed with ultra-thin Piaget movements. This was long before I’d considered what I was going to do and where my career path would lead – in fact, I did not even know what a career was. But at a very early age I was interested in mechanical things. Watches were objects that really captivated me and were among some of the very first things I designed.

For me, watches were about the mechanics and the idea that they were really and truly complex mechanical pieces of craftsmanship. As a young boy, I couldn’t conceive of anything more intricate or exciting. They were far more interesting than cars or bicycles. It was their scale that really attracted me, the fact that these things were so small. Like the concept of the ship inside a bottle, the idea that somebody had to make all these tiny parts and then put them together in such a compact space was completely compelling.

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I fell in love with watchmaking lathes and things like that. Unfortunately, where I grew up I didn’t have a lot of exposure to this stuff. But I went to school in London for a year in the mid-1970s, and one of the first things I did was seek out a watchmaking supply store, somewhere in Farringdon. I was barely 12 years old and I went there by myself, not knowing the city very well; I bought every little screw I could find and all sorts of watch hands, not for any other reason than to have them and put them in a tin, along with little tweezers and screwdrivers.

It’s funny because one of the very first objects Jony Ive and I chose for the (RED) Auction was a wonderful set of watchmaking tools. They are gorgeous things. You’d just want them sitting on your desk because they’re so beautiful.”

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