Whenever a new technology arrives, it frees the old one to reinvent itself. Radio ain’t what it used to be, before there was TV. TV ain’t what it used to be, before there was the internet. Traditional watches ain’t what they used to be, before there was the smartphone and smartwatch. The trad watch is evolving. The Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Shepard Fairey Limited Edition shows us the future . . .
The first thing to notice about this 45mm watch: legibility isn’t a thing. While the date window is as clear as day, the hour, minute, seconds and chronograph hands are all but completely obscured by the dial design, which extends to the bezel. If you rely on a watch – and only a watch – to finish something on time or be somewhere on time – this Hublot is not for you. And? Gauging the passage of time isn’t the watch’s raison d’être. At all.
The simplest way to think of the latest Hublot Shepard Fairey: it’s a work of art.
The watch’s fifty buyers are free to interpret the mechanical timekeeper’s “meaning” any way they like. Just as observers are free to draw their own conclusions on the owner’s willingness to wear a big bold horological oxymoron, complete with a grumpy star at its center.
There’s no need to get too deep about it. The Hublot Shepard Fairey is a piece of [mostly] non-functional jewelry. “It’s pretty” is sufficient analysis.
Of course, that’s not sexy enough for Hublot’s marketing mavens. The watch’s mandala “symbolizes the natural cycles of life and the unity between different cultures.” How woke is that? The artist offers a trippier view.
I wanted to integrate the art of the mandala into the piece as, for me, this evokes the connection between the inner self and the outer world. A powerful concept to consider when looking at a watch and thinking about time.
In the video above, Mr. Fairey’s claims the mandala “almost always conveys the idea of harmony, of unity, wholeness, spirituality.” Wikipedia has a dozen interpretations.
Regardless, the Hublot Shepard Fairey symbolizes something. It’s more than a standard traditional watch. It has meaning. A message of one sort or another.
If the mandala had been created by anyone else – a not inconceivable prospect given the large number of mandala watches on the market and the even larger number of available mandala stencils – the Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Shepard Fairey Limited Edition would not have the same appeal.
I reckon Hublot will sell all 50 of these, grossing $1.5m. The need to kick back cash to Mr. Fairey – not to mention marketing expenses and free watches, travel and swanky dinners for the artist – leads me to believe the project isn’t a huge money spinner for Hublot.
But the Hublot Shepard Fairy points the way for the future of the traditional watch. They will be more beautiful than functional, more about a designer than a brand (collabs aplenty, Rolex excepted) and they’ll have some sort of message, whether that’s an activist cause or an artistic statement.
Those of us who appreciate the combination of mechanical excellence, beauty and legibility will still have plenty of choice, but it will be a pure nostalgia play. Thanks to the smartphone and smartwatch, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Nor will it ever be, again.