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November 28, 2023

Partners in time: the luxury watch collaborations worth knowing

Watch companies are old hands at collaborating with other brands – but occasionally these alliances result in something memorable

By Timothy Barber

The news that the purchasers of the 10 most prestigious residences in the OWO development are to be ‘gifted’ lavish wristwatches by Bovet, the boutique Swiss watchmaker, puts me in mind of Withnail’s description of his uncle’s holiday cottage in Withnail & I: ‘Free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t.’

The OWO, of course, is the Hinduja Group’s conversion of Whitehall’s historic Old War Offices into a hotel and residential extravaganza, with the Raffles name above the door and apartments priced from £4 million to £30 million. 

[See also: Forget stealth wealth, Patek Philippe’s new women’s models are unashamedly opulent]

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Bovet, a historic marque whose theatrically opulent, highly artisanal watches are made in a 14th-century castle in the Swiss Jura, is in fact the ‘official timepiece of the OWO Residences’ due to what the development’s interior designer Shalini Hinduja (daughter-in-law of clan head Gopichand Hinduja) describes as ‘an abundance of synergy between the House of Bovet and the OWO’. Details found throughout the OWO buildings, such as an ‘egg and dart’ motif and a marble shell pattern, are hand-engraved on the gold cases of the 10 watches (I suppose it’s always nice to be reminded of home), while on the back there’s a quote from (who else?) former War Office incumbent Winston Churchill: ‘We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.’

Well, quite.

Watch partnerships: the good, the bad and the ugly

Roger Dubuis makes bespoke watches specifically to match clients’ Lamborghinis

As a journalist focused on the world of watches, the words ‘…has partnered with’ are liable to raise my hackles. Tie-ins with entities outside the watch industry are of course entirely normal and necessary, but they can stretch the boundaries of seriousness. It’s hard to know where to start, for instance, with the top-tier Swiss brand that’s been persistently emailing about the pastries it recently commissioned from a French chef, in order to celebrate the mathematical/design concept of the Golden Ratio. Whatever it is that’s supposed to tell us, it doesn’t say much about watchmaking.

However, when those all-important ‘synergies’ get explored in more imaginative and immersive ways, the results can be genuinely worthwhile. The world of the arts is an inevitably rich seam for brands to mine, Rolex being by a distance the prime mover, pouring its bottomless resources into classical music (it sponsors a roll call of the top opera houses, orchestras, festivals and performers worldwide) and a renowned mentorship programme that has seen names such as Martin Scorsese, Toni Morrison, David Hockney and Margaret Atwood working with up-and-comers in their respective fields.

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[See also: Audemars Piguet takes home coveted top prize at ‘Oscars of watchmaking’ in Geneva]

Other notable arts/watches partnerships include Audemars Piguet’s patronage of a variety of contemporary artists and exhibitions, and Breguet’s sponsorship of both Frieze and the Royal Albert Hall. They don’t tend to produce specific watches, though – but one exception is Vacheron Constantin’s ongoing involvement with the Louvre in Paris. 

Its ‘Masterpiece on the Wrist’ project is as exclusive as they come, starting with a private tour of the Louvre and ending with a one-off watch in which an artwork of the client’s choice is reproduced on the dial in grande feu enamel. That’s done under Vacheron’s Les Cabinotiers bespoke programme, which maintains workshops dedicated to creating wondrous unique pieces. The ‘Masterpiece’ watch can include Louvre artworks not on show to the public, and the museum itself will provide a certificate of authenticity. If that seems all a bit po-faced for the tastes of a younger, streetwise generation of watch collectors and enthusiasts, partnerships of a rather more hype-bound flavour have been gaining ground in the watch world, along with ultra-exclusive watches to match.

Not just child’s play

Out in front is Audemars Piguet’s tie-up with Marvel – something that would have seemed near-absurd only a few years ago but has so far resulted in Royal Oak tourbillon watches with micro-sculpted versions of Black Panther and, just recently, Spider-Man, adorning the dial. While controversial, these have been instant sellers according to the brand. The Black Panther watch, launched in 2021 with a price of around £118,000, currently changes hands online for around £380,000.

It’s far from the only brand playing in such waters. The idea of a ‘Super Mario Kart’ TAG Heuer seems barely less bizarre than a Spider-Man Audemars Piguet, but a £21,250 tourbillon edition of its Formula 1 chronograph, complete with a tiny sculpted Mario being chased around the tourbillon by Bullet Bill and the Blue Shell (if you know, you know), was an instant sell-out last year.

[See also: Watch auction ends in dramatic fashion as UAE collector wins both star George Daniels lots]

As a non-gamer, I’d never heard of Razer, which is apparently among the leading producers of hardware and various peripherals in the gaming space, until Panerai brought out a 500-piece co-branded limited edition with it, the Luminor Quaranta Razer Special Edition (it was launched at RazerCon, an online event with an audience in the millions).

Panerai offer a ‘Special Operations Experience’ to buyers of its Submersible Chrono Navy SEALs

I have heard, however, of the Navy SEALs, with whom Panerai is also in league. Launched this autumn, its Submersible Chrono Navy SEALs is an all-action boys’ toy of a watch, limited to 50 pieces, in which the watch itself may not be the only attraction. Coming with it is what Panerai terms the ‘Special Operations Experience’ – the chance to be put through a series of tactical special forces exercises designed to ‘challenge participants physically and mentally to gain a deeper appreciation of the unit’s heroic efforts’.

Does the watch come with the experience or the other way round? That’s just a question of perspective, perhaps; but the idea of rarest-of-rare watches as a kind of add-on to some other piece of luxury unobtanium seems to be on the rise. The Bovet/OWO collaboration is one example, but it’s something more commonly found in the car world.

Life in the fast lane

For instance, Roger Dubuis, the Richemont-owned maker of hand-crafted watches in a high-tech style, has an ongoing watch partnership with Lamborghini and will make you a unique watch specifically to match your Lambo: it says it works with clients directly to design colours, complications and look on a bespoke basis, inspired by their supercar.

Porsche Design’s Chronograph 1, meanwhile, is a watch that would normally set you back around £7,900. A new version, in grey titanium with a black and green dial, is only marginally more expensive (around £10,000), but with one precondition: you need first to have bought Porsche’s new 911 S/T, which starts at around £250,000.

[See also: The independent watchmakers you need to know about]

As with the Bovet/OWO tie-up, the watch becomes the membership card of a particularly exclusive club – though at that point I start thinking about Groucho Marx rather than Withnail. Still, there’s one such club of which I’d dearly love to be a member. If you compete as a driver in the rollocking jape that is the Mille Miglia, Italy’s legendary vintage car endurance rally (and one-time race), you’re also given one of Chopard’s ‘Race Edition’ Mille Miglia chronographs.

A friend of mine has three of these suitably handsome pieces, one for each Mille Miglia he’s entered; but there will be plenty of drivers with many more, since Chopard has been producing these since 1988. In the watch world, partnerships come and go in the blink of an eye, like marketing managers and trends – which makes this particular project that much more notable.


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