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.
In case you missed the design’s extra-horological “importance,” the fact that the fairly odd Hublot was designed by the same artist who created the Obama Hope poster drives it home.
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.
Do you have the time?
Fuck if I know!
While not really my style, I can sort of appreciate this. The illegibility factor makes is a nonstarter for me, not that I was going to get a Hublot anyway. And I’m not going anywhere near the creepy pagan stuff. But I’m not opposed to the embellishment.
Damned by faint praise!
If I wanted to be snarky, I’d say that I’ve seen (pics of) adorned Rolex models and it generally detracted from the original design but, you know, no such issue with Hublot.
I still think a watch will always have to have some practicality overall. These watches have their place, though they’ve made these for some time, you usually get them from Buccellati, Boucheron, Chopard and other jewelry houses not from traditional watchmakers. This may be a way forward, but it’s more for brand diversity than the way of the watch.
I like it. Watches as art that can be worn on a wrist.
Hublot has always been looked down on in the watch world as making Royal Oak Offshores, except without the positive attributes.
It has gotten even more awkward for Hublot now that its LVMH sister brand Bulgari has a proper Genta watch in the Octo Finissimo, which is getting strong reviews for its technical achievements.
However, my understanding is that Hublot has a core following that buys every edition, kind of like an expensive G-Shock.
“Hey cool watch”
“Oh yeah let me tell you about it. See, it’s designed by Shepard Fairy and it’s a collab with this Swiss compa—“
“Sorry man. Rice cooker’s on. Gotta go” (mental note to never mention watch again)
I always think of Onassis’s whale foreskin upholstered yacht barstools for things that seem to be more valuable as a story than any intrinsic worth or use. I should read up on the “bougie crap” term that usually is applied to more hipsterish items, but the intended projection seems largely the same.
Frank 👍👍👍. Funny vignette and definitely will, and probably has, happen(ed).
Please excuse me while I reserve “thetruthaboutbracelets.com” to sell to RF in 2024.
More seriously, if the art — i.e., the jewelry — is the future, then why should I pay for all the miniaturized steampunk clicky clicky bits?
It’s like bondage. If you don’t understand it it’s not for you.
“miniaturized steampunk clicky clicky bits”
This phrase has summed up my general opinion of high end mechanical watches to a tee. If you can muster up more on this theme of the primary purpose of a watch being demoted to an obligatory vestige, you can have my regular stipend.
The real answer, of course, is that the market generally refuses to pay much beyond three figures for a quartz watch. And I guess it has to technically tell time at all because men find watches acceptable but not bracelets, less those funny little colored string friendship ones for some reason.
Ok fine. Nothing to complain about here, this is a great piece of writing and an interesting take.
“Art on the wrist”, “watch as jewelry” or similar concepts/phrases have been around for a while. The beauty of the watch (note, I didn’t say time piece) is that in its creation one might try to achieve the highest level of “manufacture” in many disparate arenas. Telling time is one…we can make atomic clocks on the wrist and satellite supported timing devices are widely available. Mechanical and engineering prowess is another…fit the smallest and thinnest movement into the smallest space available and achieve the longest reserve power with the highest accuracy with (see Grand Seiko spring drive) or without electricity or with alternate ways of generating, releasing and storing energy. How about chemistry, materials science, metallurgy? Jewelry for sure. Art, indeed. I agree with Farago. I often enjoy looking at my wrist and being DISTRACTED FROM telling the time to enjoy the pleasure of haute craftsmanship, design or art even. Continuing to push the artistic element will surely happen and will continue to evolve, as will the elements of watch making. You decide which and what combinations are important, just don’t bullshit me about what you have.
*as will all the other elements of watch making