When it comes to watch auctions, Julie Kraulis is a demographic aberration. She is not a millennial billionaire with a multimillion-a-year Richard Mille habit; nor is she a 60-odd-year-old collector with 100 Rolex Daytonas under the bed; nor, for that matter, a fast-talking West Coast watch dealer with a celebrity-rich contacts list. You certainly won’t catch her in the cashmere sports jacket and Loro Piana Open Walk uniform of the international watch auctioneer.
Most obviously, she bucks the trend by not being male. With her wholesome smile and athlete’s build (she runs, plays tennis and is a keen supporter of her hometown basketball team the Toronto Raptors), she looks exactly like the children’s-book author and illustrator that she was before she discovered wristwatches and became the world’s leading – perhaps only – watch portraitist. It is a new métier she has in effect invented, and then embraced with an enthusiasm worthy of that arch-heroine of children’s literature, Eleanor H Porter’s Pollyanna. “It’s pretty extraordinary,” she says. “It’s cool to have found this niche. It’s so serendipitous and I love it.”
Once upon a time, Kraulis was supplementing her meagre income as the author of Whimsy’s Heavy Things and An Armadillo in Paris with a wide variety of freelance illustration work. “I was doing any project that came my way and a little bit listless,” she says. “Then I came across an article about the most iconic timepieces. I’ve always been intrigued by design and what makes something timeless, so the watch was a perfect place to poke around.”
And so the new métier, watch portraiture, was born. Like any newcomer to the field, she started by focusing on the classics: Cartier’s Tank, the Zenith El Primero, the Calatrava from Patek and, of course, the Rolex Daytona. And it struck her almost immediately that scale was the key. “I wanted to go really big,” she explains. “When you play around with the scale, scope and size of a piece, you start to see the object differently. We normally see watches as very small on our wrists, and when you distort that context, you start to see the design aspect, the line, the form, the balance and whatnot. I knew that I wanted to draw them really big, echoing their legendary status. I think that’s the thing that people found really interesting.”
Having put her drawings on Instagram, Kraulis did not have to wait long before she received her first inquiry from a quintessential watch and car collector, Peter Goodwin, who commissioned drawings of his favourite Rolexes – a vintage lightning-hand Milgauss, a 6200 Big Crown Submariner and a Paul Newman Daytona – for his garage walls, so he could appreciate his vintage metal all at once. In the three years since then, with an annual output of between eight and 12 full-size pieces, she has been unable to keep up with demand.
Just as Upper Paleolithic man adorned the walls of the Lascaux caves with representations of aurochs and deer, so 21st-century Homo rolexus and patekensis adorn the walls of their man caves with Kraulis’s graphite drawings of their timepieces. Her works hang alongside Rembrandt etchings in a California collection and in Hong Kong, where they share wallspace with works by Futura 2000, a contemporary of Basquiat and Keith Haring.
But these days, private collectors have to compete with the brands for her work: her two-sided drawing depicting both the dial and movement of A Lange & Söhne’s Datograph is hanging in the brand’s boutique on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And when Omega celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landings with a party at Tate Modern, Kraulis was one of the special guests, along with Brian Cox, George Clooney and Buzz Aldrin on a zipwire.
However, it is Tag Heuer for which she has worked most consistently, after being brought on board by the brand’s archivist Catherine Eberle, who, like Kraulis, is a strong, whip-smart woman in a largely male world. Commemorative Kraulis prints were issued to celebrate a carbon-cased Monaco, Tag’s first official collaboration with Bamford Watch Department. She has also created the cover for the history of the Heuer Autavia, and at the end of last year produced a limited-edition print of the movement of the Monaco, sold by Phillips to celebrate the model’s 50th birthday.
Indeed, Phillips was an early endorser of Kraulis’s work: she had just embarked on her life as a watch artist when the auctioneer asked her to do a residency during the pre-auction viewing of Paul Newman’s Daytona in 2017. The watch sold for $17,752,500, but under-bidders were at least able to console themselves with a $1,200 print of Kraulis’s drawing of the fabled watch. She sold out in under an hour.