Robb Read: The Price Of Happiness

Our culture glorifies fortune building while warning that money won’t buy contentment (there’s always going to be someone, somewhere, with more). But must the two be mutually exclusive?

By Julie Belcove, Illustrations Nathan Hackett 21/12/2020

The late Edgar Bronfman Sr., the billionaire CEO of the Seagram empire, once said he prayed every time he boarded his private jet. Not particularly afraid of flying, he wasn’t imploring God to spare his life in this gravity-defying contraption. Rather, his prayer was an act of gratitude: he was thanking the dear Lord he didn’t have to fly commercial. “If I’m going to be miserable, I’d rather be miserable rich than poor,” he quipped.

Wealth, undeniably, has its benefits. It provides not just cool stuff and superior health care but also freedom, control, choices—epitomised by the en masse flight of affluent New Yorkers and other urbanites to their vacation homes when the coronavirus pandemic struck. It’s no coincidence that the number-one thing people think will make them happy is money. They are mistaken. More on that later, but consider that Finland, a nation with just six billionaires (and about that many hours of daylight in winter), has ranked as the happiest country in the world three years in a row. Still, the connection between wealth and happiness is more complex than one might think. The surprising murkiness of money’s emotional impact has led a growing number of academics—psychologists but also economists—to study the subject in depth, and many a therapist to specialise in the troubled psyches of the well-to-do.

Experts tend to define happiness in two ways: in-the-moment joy (“My team just won the World Series!” “This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had!”) and overall life satisfaction (“I love my career, family and home and feel content”). No one disputes that living in poverty is a significant obstacle to achieving either definition, for a host of reasons. But after basic needs such as housing, food, education and health care are met, experts differ on money’s role.

Many academics point to research that shows, yes, the richer, the happier, but also that the resources required to jump to each subsequent level of contentment keep increasing. A boost in joy still follows a raise or other windfall, but the climb slows the wealthier you get. In other words, Jeff Bezos most likely no longer feels much of a thrill each time Amazon stock has a good day.

Then again, maybe he does. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and one of the foremost scholars of happiness, says there’s definitely a correlation between money and happiness—“if you make a million dollars a year, you’re generally happier than someone who makes 500,000, and that person is happier than someone who makes 250”—but it’s a two-way street. “Whenever people talk about money and happiness, they’re always assuming that money causes happiness,” she explains. “But the other causal direction is really important. Research shows that if you’re happier, you’re more likely to get a good job and accrue more income over your lifetime.” As she posits, most employers are more likely to hire a smiling, upbeat job applicant than a sullen one.

Illustration: Nathan Hackett.

Lyubomirsky notes that wealth’s conferred “status and respect,” among other pluses, can be offset by negatives, such as the stress of running a company, the headache of spoiled kids or the failure to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. “You’d still rather the problems of too much money than too little, but certainly there are many problems associated with having a lot of money. They lower the correlation between money and happiness,” she says. “If money didn’t bring its own set of problems, richer people would be a lot happier, but they’re only a little happier.” Indeed, one remarkable study found that lottery winners were hardly more joyful than non-winners and only 33 per cent more so than people who had been paralysed in accidents. Moreover, they derived less enjoyment from quotidian activities—eating breakfast, chatting with a friend—than either of
the other groups.

Another respected scholar of happiness, Catherine A. San-der-son, professor of psychology at Amherst College, is sceptical of any correlation, noting that income has climbed steeply over the past 60 years but the proportion of people who are “very happy” has held steady. The issue, she says, is what social scientists call the “hedonic treadmill,” meaning, quite simply, that we get used to additional cash all too quickly. The buzz wears off. In addition, she asserts, people with higher earnings tend to spend less time on activities that bring them joy and more time in the pursuit of yet more riches.

One of the biggest reasons money fails to trigger more happiness, many experts agree, is that with a higher net worth come higher aspirations.

Sanderson points to what she calls the “wealthy-neighbourhood paradox”: Having worked hard and “made it,” you move into that fancy neighbourhood you’ve fantasised about, only to feel dejected. “ ‘I have a house in the Hamptons, but I wish I had a beach house in the Hamptons,’ ” she says, though the trappings of envy can also be cars, vacations, private schools. “The challenge with money is that it’s never enough. There’s no end point.” Sanderson cites a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Surprisingly, the solution isn’t to compare “downward,” to those perceived as having less of something, as Lyubomirsky had assumed when she undertook her first research project at Stanford University, where she earned her PhD. “I was completely wrong,” she says. Interviewing Stanford undergrads, she discovered that the happiest ones compared neither up nor down, regardless of the qualities they were assessing. “They just didn’t compare. Unhappy people are constantly ruminating and comparing. Convincing yourself that other people are worse off is not a great strategy for happiness. Now, gratitude is.”

Judy Ho deals with both ends of the financial spectrum, studying low-income, marginalised and ethnically diverse populations as an associate professor at Pepperdine University, and treating extremely affluent patients, including celebrities and other public figures, as a clinical neuropsychologist in private practice. Depression and other mental illnesses, she says, are the result of biology, environment and life experience. The prosperous, she adds, are no less likely to be depressed than the unemployed. “Some people who are unemployed are not depressed,” Ho says. “Then there are people who have all the money in the world and are depressed because they feel inferior to their brother, who’s the CEO: ‘Everybody thinks I’m an idiot.’

Illustration: Nathan Hackett.

“No matter who you are, how much money you have,” she continues, “there is always an opportunity to compare yourself to someone better.” For some, trying to measure up can be motivating; for others, a cause of despair.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a one-of-a-kind research project begun in 1938, initially enrolled 268 Harvard sophomores (including President John F. Kennedy) and later signed up 456 adolescent boys from inner-city Boston, then regularly conducted medical tests and in-person interviews with the two cohorts through the decades and into the new millennium (it eventually added spouses and now, with most of the original subjects deceased, has graduated to their children). Over the course of 80 years, and contrary to popular assumption, the study found that more than wealth or social class, more than IQ or fame or even genes, the greatest predictor of happiness—and even of physical and mental well-being—was strong relationships, whether with spouses, children or friends.

Harvard’s conclusions about relationships could explain why other studies find that one of the most effective ways to extract happiness from dollars is by purchasing shared experiences (such as a family vacation) or shareable objects (like a boat for outings). They also might point to the reason some in the highest financial demographic are melancholy.

Though Lyu-bo-mir-sky says high achievers overall are more confident and secure, some clinical psychologists note that a subset of this cohort are extremely insecure in their personal lives, frequently worrying that their romantic partners, children or friends do not genuinely love them.

“Their deepest fear is, ‘The minute I stop making money, they’re going to leave me,’ ” Ho says.

If it offers any solace to those with such trust issues, San­der­son points to the results of another study: while straight women overwhelmingly preferred wealthy romantic partners, they selected men who’d sold a dot-com rather than won the lottery. Earned wealth, in other words, was seen as an indicator of brains, drive or other qualities they admired.

With our culture’s reverence for making money, the wealthy who seek help for depression or anxiety can develop a unique brand of shame, especially if they sense they’re living in a bubble and feel they don’t deserve to be sad. “They can be just as emotionally damaged or more,” says Darby Fox, a therapist in private practice in Manhattan, among other locations. “You have the expectation that if you have a lot of things, shouldn’t you be happy?”

But Gretchen Rubin, a popular happiness guru with best-selling books (The Happiness Project, The Four Tendencies), a podcast and video courses to her name, cites research that finds happiness is probably 50 per cent genetic. “Clearly some people are just more anxious,” regardless of circumstance, she says, but can work to change their mindsets.

“Maybe the way worry works is you have 100 worry points total, and you allocate,” says Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School with a Ph.D. in psychology. “When you get money, your worries change and you allocate differently. But you still worry the same amount.”

Anyone in doubt of our propensity for misery need look no further than the plethora of high-end in-patient treatment centres specialising in substance abuse and featuring pastoral settings, tasteful furniture and well-equipped gyms. At Milestones Ranch Malibu, where the recommended stay is 90 days, clients generally fall into three categories: CEOs and other accomplished professionals, celebrities and young-adult offspring of the very affluent. In addition to the internal demons they’re battling, some patients have to deal with dependent relatives and business associates who are anxious to get them back to work, according to Milestones CEO and executive director Denise Klein. The pressure on musicians or actors, who can feel responsible for the livelihoods of entire casts and crews, can lead them to abbreviate their time in treatment. “With cancer, you’re not going to cut chemotherapy short,” she says.

The offspring of the well-to-do, Klein says, tend to be flailing, a result of too much pampering and too little responsible parenting. “At least 80 per cent of the time, money is a factor in that they have been protected from consequences,” she says. Some come from families in which the parents are self-made and think they’re doing their kids a favour by absolving them of work. Instead, “they just don’t develop.”

Klein offers a case study of one recent success story. Alex (his name and some details have been changed) had amassed three DWIs by the time he was 21. His parents’ solution for the first two: hire a pricey lawyer to get him off. “He would wreck a Range Rover; he would get a Tesla,” Klein says. “It was replacing vehicles instead of any accountability.”

After the third arrest, Alex wound up at Milestones, where he received counselling for over a year. Turned out Alex had a flair for food. He landed a job at a top restaurant—his first employment of any kind—and, having found his element, was promptly promoted.

In the sphere of adolescent issues, such as substance abuse and acting up, Lyubomirsky says, “you have the biggest problems with the very poor and the very rich.” But it’s the latter whose families can afford private therapy, making the problems of moneyed progeny practically a specialty in their own right. Fox says family issues typically boil down to “an inability to communicate and connect”. “People think, ‘I’m giving you everything. Shouldn’t that be enough?’ Well, no, it’s not,” she says, adding that while daily life might be easier, relationships are not. (And on the subject of giving, Lyubomirsky says that parents would be wise to emulate Warren Buffett’s estate-planning philosophy: leave your kids “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.”)

Fox echoes Klein’s emphasis that young adults find self-worth and resilience in employment. And while some parents are uncomfortable discussing finances at the dinner table, she strongly recommends starting at an early age by telling children what things cost and teaching them the difference between need (they’ve outgrown their old sneakers) and want (the latest sneakers are really cool), as well as demonstrating philanthropy. Most important, she adds, is to focus on character. “Turn the lens on who you are
as opposed to what you have,” Fox says.

In the same vein, Sanderson, the Amherst professor, advises accomplished parents to consider their kids’ personalities and passions and not push their own hard-charging career paths on them or hold up “wealth as a measure of intelligence”. She recounts a brunch at her eldest child’s elite prep school, where she mentioned to their table that she thought he’d make a great high-school teacher. One parent leaned over and opined, “Oh, he’s so bright. He could do so much better.” Sanderson was appalled. “For me, it was like, being a teacher would be so meaningful,” she says. (Not to mention he’d have summers off.) But, she laments, parents all too often let status and bragging rights get in the way.

What remains to be seen is how the psychology of money will change in the post-Covid world. Prior to the pandemic, there was already a yawning gap in the joyful experiences people could afford, but many of life’s daily irritants were equal-opportunity afflicters. Or as author Laura Vanderkam, who specialises in time management, puts it, “Whether you earn half a million a year or $50,000, you’re still stuck in traffic on your way to work.”

But the pandemic has cast a glaring spotlight on the stark differences, with the prosperous living what look to the struggling middle and working classes like vacations, in well-appointed homes with multiple freezers, ample outdoor space, swimming pools and live-in help. “When adversity hits—illness, divorce—people with wealth are buffered. That’s always been true,” Lyubomirsky says. “This is just a global example.”

Although most in the upper class are cushioned against economic downturns, Ho says some could be feeling the heat of business failures. “When there’s a threat that it might go away, it rips into their self-esteem,” she says. “ ‘Who am I if I’m not this person who makes a ton of money?’ ”

Gretchen Rubin, who blasts her followers daily uplifting quotes from Zora Neale Hurston and the like, says she has sensed more reflection and gratitude of late. “Some people feel they don’t have the right to experience personal loss given what’s happening,” she explains. “Wealth is like health. When we have it, it’s easy to take for granted and not think about it. These things matter much more in the negative.”


This piece is from our new Summer Issue – on sale now. Get your copy or subscribe here, or stay up to speed with the Robb Report weekly newsletter.


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Watches & Wonders 2024 Showcase: Laurent Ferrier

We head to Geneva for the Watches & Wonders exhibition; a week-long horological blockbuster featuring the hottest new drops, and no shortage of hype.

By Josh Bozin 18/07/2024

With Watches & Wonders 2024 well and truly behind us, this week we look at Laurent Ferrier, a brand hailing from Geneva.


Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon

The 63-year-old, third-generation independent watchmaker continues the tradition of his Genevan ancestors. Since 2009, his namesake brand has thrived in an ultra-competitive industry thanks to his dedication to classical timepieces, assembled by hand, using the highest grade materials available.

The Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon builds on this storied heritage. The 40 mm dress watch (the brand’s first moonphase complication) is available in silver with a blue-ish dial, or rose gold with a brushed silver dial. It salutes the vintage dress watches of yesteryear with Roman numerals and baton-shaped indices; vintage-inspired date numbers; Assegai-shaped hour, minute, and date hands; a double moonphase; and a pebble-shaped case reminiscent of 19th-century pocket watches. 

The attention to detail continues with an attractive subdial made of Murano aventurine glass, engraved in moon and star motifs and hand-applied white paint details. The engraving is also hand-filled with Super-LumiNova, while the subdial is covered with a translucent disc in petrol-blue enamel.

At roughly a $116,000 starting price, it may deter those who would rather invest in a dress watch from, say, Patek Philippe. But the Classic Moon certainly captures the charm of this style of timepiece, and those willing to support the self-sustaining Swiss brand won’t be disappointed with the result. This a timepiece made to the highest levels of craftsmanship—and a fitting climax to a week spent in the horological heaven that is Watches & Wonders.

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Bay Watch 

After losing its lustre for decades, Sydney’s Double Bay is undergoing a renaissance. And with harbour views, lush parks and a friendly village feel, it’s no wonder luxury developments are flourishing.

By Horacio Silva 16/07/2024

The boarded storefronts on the strip of New South Head Road in Double Bay currently under construction near Cross Street are plastered with archival images of the harbourside suburb in its 1960s and 1970s heyday. In the grainy black-and-white images, passers-by dressed in their imported European finery inhabit the bustling streets and fashionable shopping destinations of the time, including Mark Foy’s department store on Knox Street and the chic boutiques of Claire Handler, Maria Finlay and Nellie Vida—three Hungarian expats who sourced the latest trends from the Continent for style-starved locals. 

The images serve as a reminder of an era when European designers dictated the style for modish Australians. They’re also a document of how much this prestigious enclave, located 11 minutes’ drive from the CBD and a snow-cone’s throw from some of Sydney’s best beaches, has changed.

The area’s once-thriving boutiques are a thing of the past, replaced by all manner of beauty-focused establishments. Gone too are the open-air dances in Steyne Park, the old Hoyts Theatre (an Art Deco gem of a building on the main drag that was the nexus of the community) and the illegal casino a few doors down from it called the Double Bay Bridge Club.

Which is not to say that this once-sleepy hollow, whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed in the last 50 years, has become the profligate relic that detractors, who pilloried it as “Double Pay”, predicted it would become after it fell from favour over the past few decades. Far from it. “There’s only one Double Bay,” says Angela Belle McSweeney, director of Australian Turf Club and a former public relations maven whose office was located for years on Knox Street, above the famed 21 restaurant.  “In terms of Australian glamour, it’s always been the benchmark and now more than ever.”

Joseph Hkeik, the owner of All Saint Clinic, which caters to the taut skin of the city’s high society, concurs. “There really is something palpable in the air,” says Hkeik, who is in as good a position as any to talk about the changing face of the place.

“A lot is happening, and everyone wants to be seen in Double Bay. It’s the hotspot of Sydney.”

All Saint Clinic

If Double Bay is once again the talk of the town, it’s in no small part due to chef and restaurateur Neil Perry. After stepping away in early 2020 as founder of the Rockpool Group, through which he created legendary restaurants such as Rockpool and Spice Temple, Perry resurfaced a few months later with plans to start anew on the prized willow-festooned corner of Bay Street and Guilfoyle Avenue. In June 2021, he opened his award-winning seafood restaurant Margaret, and soon after, the adjacent bar Next Door and the Baker Bleu bakery two premises along.

He has not looked back. The fat cats today may be younger than the potentates who used to frequent the area’s old stamping grounds like George’s and the Hunter’s Lodge, and the ladies who lunch are more “wind-swept” than their pre-Botox predecessors, but the Lamborghinis and Ferraris parked nearby suggest that this is once again where the elite meet to eat.

“It is definitely going through a renaissance,” says Perry of his new domain, “but I honestly think it’ll be more than a passing moment. Double Bay has the beautiful parks and waterfront, and for all the glitz it also has that village atmosphere close to the city that everyone wants. And there is so much investment in the place.” That’s somewhat of an understatement.

Originally earmarked to be the site of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens when it was settled in the 1820s, the suburb remains as green as ever, but these days it’s hard to see the trees for all the construction cranes. 

On Bay Street alone, real estate powerhouse Fortis has broken ground on mixed-use properties that are among the city’s most hotly anticipated new addresses. Of the new developments, perhaps the most eagerly awaited is Ruby House, a luxury five-storey strata office block on the corner of New South Head Road and Bay Street, due for completion in early 2025. A collaboration of luminaries, including Lawton Hurley as lead architects and interiors by Woods Bagot, Ruby House will offer a range of sun- dappled office spaces, ranging from 60–550 m², with starting prices around $3 million. The ground floor will feature retail spaces, as well as three best-in-class restaurants, adding more culinary heft to a street that already includes Bibo, Matteo and Tanuki.

Ruby House

“Our vision for Double Bay is to bring life back into this once-great suburb,” says Charles Mellick, director of Fortis, “and to create a vibrant precinct that is seen as the most sought-after neighbourhood in Sydney, if not all of Australia.” Big call, indeed. And yet take a stroll along the suburb’s verdant paths and suddenly Mellick’s words do not feel so hyperbolic. A few doors down from Ruby House, 24 Bay St is slated to open this August in the heritage- listed modernist masterpiece, Gaden House, designed by Neville Gruzman, a former Mayor of Woollahra and one of Sydney’s most influential 20th-century architects. Fortis is also teaming with architects Lawton Hurley on the building, which will house Song Bird, Neil Perry’s (does this man ever sleep?) new three-storey, 230-seat Cantonese restaurant. Underground will be the speakeasy Bobbie’s, helmed by Linden Pride of Caffe Dante in New York, voted best bar in the world in 2019. 

“Double Bay used to have two of the best Chinese restaurants in the city,” says Perry, referring to the defunct Cleveland and Imperial Peking. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with Song Bird so it’s going to be great to continue that tradition.”

Across the street at 19-27 Bay Street, the first flagship RH Gallery, formerly Restoration Hardware, is also under construction. A five-level commercial building, opening in late 2025, it will house bespoke luxury home furnishings and a rooftop restaurant not unlike the company’s jumping location in New York’s Meatpacking District. Meanwhile, a few blocks over on Cross Street, Ode—a luxury tower developed by Top Spring Australia—is slated to open in 2025 next to the InterContinental Hotel (itself recently sold and being reimagined to include top-floor apartments and retail). Designed by Luigi Rosselli Architects, Ode’s 15 spacious residences and penthouses, with shimmering harbour views, are being eagerly contested by the one percent, with two of the three penthouses already being bought off-plan for $21.5 and $24.9 million.

Ode, Double Bay

For all the positivity, and dollars, swirling around the suburb, there is no cast-iron guarantee that these new commercial opportunities will help rekindle the moribund boutique scene and return Double Bay to its former fashionable standing. It’s been a while since Claire Handler and her Hungarian cohorts made cash registers sing.

As such, not everyone is convinced about the suburb’s supposed rebirth. “The rents in this area are astronomical as it is,” says Tony Yeldham, the legendary menswear impresario who opened his Squire Shop for discerning gentlemen as a teenager in 1956. “It’s going to be near impossible for smaller players to stay alive, but I’ve seen this area go through so many ups and downs so I’m hopeful if sceptical.” For the most part, the locals remain sanguine about the area’s potential, with one proviso. As Joseph Hkeik explains, “We just need these lovely builders to finish up so we can all get some peace and quiet.”

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The Finer Things

Shimmering with gold, diamonds and precious stones, these women’s watches represent the pinnacle of haute horology. Just look at them…

By Belinda Aucott-christie And Josh Bozin 16/07/2024

Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Piaget, Chopard and Cartier were among the prestige brands to unveil women’s novelties at this year’s Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva. Here we review some of our favourites, including a new style from Bulgari who impressed via an artistic collaboration with architect Tadao Ando and Chanel whose latest bobbin cuff was inspired by a spool of thread.


Tadao Ando Serpenti

The brand’s collaboration with lauded Japanese architect Tadao Ando artfully remixes the enduring Serpenti Tubogas model. The collection celebrates the four seasons; pictured here is the Summer (natsu) with a two-tone, yellow-gold-and-steel bracelet and a green aventurine dial. $27,600. Availability on request;


Lady Arpels Brise d’Été 

The maison’s Poetic Complications novelties ensure that telling the time becomes a spectacle. On this occasion, the flowers on the dial blossom and close in a randomised pattern at the touch of a button. Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest lesson in horological theatre was four years in development, with the dial alone taking 40 hours to master. Price and availability on request;


Bobbin Cuff Couture

Playing on the vintage “secret” watches of the 1920s, the Bobbin Cuff Couture was inspired aesthetically by a spool of thread. The idiosyncratic jewellery-watch is crafted entirely in 18-karat yellow gold, set with rows of brilliant-cut diamond “threads” and a 17-carat emerald-cut sapphire that hides the watch face. Price and availability on request.


Limelight Gala Precious 

At 26 mm, a timepiece that captures the poise and elegance that has come to define Piaget’s jewellery watches. Now, with the inclusion of 38 brilliant-cut diamonds, the 18-karat rose gold “Decor Palace” dial and matching bracelet, this Limelight Gala is arguably the best of a collection that interweaves art, design and jewellery, with an emphasis on beauty. Around $118,500. Availability on request;


L’Heure  Du Diamant Round 

Chopard showcases its smarts in the art of diamond setting. Here, the maison’s artisans have orchestrated an amalgamation of contemporary design and alluring precious stones. The green malachite dial is a standout feature, as is the Chopard MD29 hand-wound mechanical movement. Price and availability on request;


La Panthère de Cartier

From one of the brand’s most symbolic collections, this iteration of the Panthère de Cartier watch is designed in a rhodium-finish white gold case set with 136 brilliant-cut diamonds, and a rhodium-finish white gold panther head set with 297 brilliant-cut diamonds. The striking, pear-shaped eyes are crafted from emerald. Price and availability on request;

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Marc Newson Has Designed Everything from Pens to Superyachts … Now He Wants to Go to Space

On the heels of a new career-spanning book, the industrial designer and Apple alum shares his ultimate design project.

By Lee Carter 16/07/2024

Sporting shades, Marc Newson reclines on a sunny terrace of his Greek island retreat. If he appears exultant, he has every reason to be. Devoting his life’s work to elevating everyday objects into items we covet, Newson has become one of the most sought-after industrial designers in the world.

Case in point, Newson has just returned from Salone del Mobile, the sprawling design fair in Milan, where he launched a colossal book about his equally colossal career, signing copies for devoted fans barely able to lift it.

Over 400 pages, the monograph chronicles Newson’s nearly four decades in design from his start as a jewelry major at Sydney College of the Arts to producing avant-garde furnishings to now crafting luxury speed boats for Riva and even a concept plane in an art project for the Fondation Cartier. All told, Marc Newson: Works 84–24 (Taschen) is a testament to his tireless pursuit of perfection.

Asked to reflect on 40 years of soaring success, the Australian designer all but blushes—or perhaps it’s the Mediterranean sun. “When I look at my own work,” he says, “particularly in the context of a document that begins and ends, it almost feels like I’m reading about someone else.” After all, he demurs, he’s only doing his job. “The core of my occupation is troubleshooting [and] problem-solving. I apply the same rigor, process, and rules to every project, whether it’s a pen or a mega-yacht.”

Marc Newson’s Horizon luggage, designed for Louis Vuitton, and his Orgone chair demonstrate the importance he puts on curves. Taschen

The Newson look is aesthetically niche, but touches almost every sector, from fashion to household goods. It’s bold yet pragmatic, sumptuous yet futuristic, reverential yet iconoclastic. A transparent timepiece for Jaeger-LeCoultre, a sensuously curved cognac bottle for Hennessy, and a sleek aluminum luggage collaboration with Louis Vuitton (the latest of which just appeared in Pharrell Williams’s spring 2025 collection) all point to a singular, forward-looking vision. Or how about the katana sword he created in 2019 with a ninth-generation master swordsmith in Japan? He calls the tradition and sophistication required to execute that work “unfathomable, almost alchemical, practically spiritual.”

Two decades ago, in 2004, he created the Zvezdochka sneaker for Nike. Modelled entirely on a computer and made from a single piece of injection-molded resin, the footwear—named after the 1961 rocket-riding Russian dog—was intended for astronauts to wear during their daily exercises in zero gravity. As Newson notes, “Where else would you need the perfect sneakers but running on a treadmill in space?”

Newson’s groundbreaking Lockheed Martin Chaise.

From the beginning, Newson—who helped lead Apple’s design department, and the development of key products such as the Apple Watch, for five years—has always possessed the unusual ability to bend ideas about design to his will. His Lockheed Lounge, a shapely chaise pieced together from curved aluminum panels, became an instant phenomenon with its 1988 introduction. Named for its resemblance to the early aeronautical stylings of Lockheed Martin, the furniture piece bucked the reductive ethos of modern design at the time. In 2006, it broke the record for the highest price paid at auction for the work of a living designer, topping that price 11 years later in 2015, going for $3.7 million at Phillips London.

Around the turn of the millennium, Newson—a vintage sports car enthusiast who once flew to the U.S. to purchase a 1959 Aston Martin DB4 with the entirety of a paycheck—shifted gears to focus his energies on the transportation sector. Asked by Ford to jot down some concepts, he came up with the 021C in 1999. A radically simplified three-box configuration, the model had a main cabin, hood, and trunk; the latter two sections were mirror images.

The Ford 021C, which Newson claimed caused “a lot of head-scratching” at the American car company.

“It was utterly ridiculous and childlike,” Newson says of the design with a laugh. “There was a lot of head-scratching [at Ford], but I reasoned that since I’m not an automotive designer, I don’t want to and can’t play the typical automotive games.” Thanks to the support of Ford’s “brilliantly curious and open” top brass, the cartoon of a car became a drivable reality and a beloved Newson fan favorite. Soon after the release of the 021C, the Australian airline Qantas came knocking, seeking Newson’s design eye for a variety of projects, including the interiors of its airport lounges and, more challengingly, the invention of a fully horizontal bed for its premier passengers on long-haul flights. No small feat of imagination, this triumph led to his appointment as the company’s creative director.

The Qantas Skybed, designed for the Australian airline’s long-haul flights. Qantas

As Newson’s fame ascended, so did the demand for his work—in the design industry and beyond. New York gallerist Larry Gagosian was quick to add the maverick designer to his roster of art stars, such as Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, and Michael Heizer, and in 2007, he mounted Newson’s first solo exhibition in the U.S., featuring a limited-edition, experimental furniture series. “The stuff I do with Gagosian is not exactly mainstream design,” Newson says. “They’re these sort of rarefied follies [or] crazy experiments that I concoct. I don’t have to answer to anyone except myself—and perhaps Larry.” One object in the exhibition was a nickel surfboard with a storied lineage. “I wanted the prototype to be tested by [professional big wave surfer] Garrett McNamara,” Newson recalls. “He took the board to a Pacific island notorious for its huge swells on top of a coral reef. He actually lost the board in the waves and was driving back to his hotel when he saw a local with this tangled mass of metal under his arm. The story goes that the Mir space station had plummeted into the ocean the day before, and this guy thought he had found pieces from the crash. He had no idea it was a crushed surfboard.”

Is there a project he has yet to tackle? “Every time I think I’m at the end of the list,” he says, smiling, “I think of something new.” Space, for instance. “I would love to work more extensively in the area of space exploration. That is something I continue to find compelling and fascinating. It ticks all the boxes for me in terms of engaging with technology, incredible processes, and modern materials. And, of course, I would love to go to space. That’s the end game.”

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Piaget Just Dropped a Colourful High-Jewellery Line with 1970s Style

“Essence of Extraleganza,” a fusion of the words extravagance and elegance, is a tour de force of haute joaillerie that celebrates Piaget’s 150th year.

By Victoria Gomelsky 16/07/2024

Long before Piaget was a jeweller, it was a watchmaker. The luxury brand traces its roots to La Côte-aux-Fées, a village in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel where Georges-Édouard Piaget founded a movement-making company in 1874.

In 1959, the maison introduced jewellery for the first time, showcasing its creations at the new Salon Piaget in Geneva. Almost immediately, the brand established itself as a trendsetter across both realms.


Proof that the watchmaker-turned-jeweller continues to occupy the most rarefied precincts of the luxury trade arrived last month, when Piaget unveiled its “Essence of Extraleganza” high jewellery collection. The third and arguably most spectacular of the brand’s 150th anniversary product introductions (following the reboot in February of its Piaget Polo 79 timepiece and the April unveiling of the thinner-than-thou Altiplano Ultimate Concept Flying Tourbillon), the collection of 96 jewels and bejewelled timepieces is a tour de force of craftsmanship and gem-setting that bears an explicit connection to Piaget’s roots in jewellery.

“Of our three major launches this year to date, none of them have just been a launch — each and every one of them has hinged on a product, a story, a saga bringing the past and present together,” Benjamin Comar, CEO of Piaget, tells Robb Report.


“So of course, this high jewellery collection had to bring more density than a regular collection. And this is why it’s called ‘Essence of Extraleganza’ — because through these 96 pieces, Piaget’s artistic director, Stéphanie Sivrière, went back to the Piaget DNA, to the moment when Piaget evolved from watchmaker to jeweller, to the decisive moment where this Swiss maison decided to revolutionise the watch world by imagining a new avant-garde vocabulary, filled with colours, textures and gold: the 21st Century Collection.”

That collection, introduced in 1969, included an array of jewellery watches that reimagined how to wear time. From metal bracelets with a fabric-like texture to swinging sautoirs, the pieces were bold, colourful and utterly of the moment.


Three years ago, when Sivrière began working on what would become Essence of Extraleganza, she took her inspiration from those heritage designs of the 1960s and ’70s. The result is a stunning lineup of bold, cheerful and wildly original jewels, including highlights such as a necklace featuring a fiery cascade of trapezoid-cut carnelians set in rose gold and centered on a 21.23-carat cushion-cut spessartite garnet; a cuff watch loaded with 26.11 carats of baguette-cut Colombian emeralds; and a suite of blue-on-blue designs including a V-shaped necklace set with sapphires, tourmalines, and marquise-cut aquamarines surrounded by opals, turquoise and diamonds, along with a matching ring and pair of mismatched earrings.


“Stephanie chose to highlight the couture inspiration of Piaget and paid homage to our chainmaker skills as a golden thread throughout the collection,” Comar says. “This was very impressive to witness unravelling in front of our eyes week after week. The carnelian necklace, for instance, was created like a never-ending puzzle: first the mesh structure completely hand-woven, then every hue and piece identified by a number and patiently assembled to create this mix-and-match yet balanced effect.”

The throughline that connects the 2024 collection to the one introduced 55 years earlier is, undoubtedly, Piaget’s willingness to embrace modernity while employing traditional techniques in service of timeless designs.

“Piaget’s jewellery style is still coherent and that’s the beauty of it,” Comar says. “When Valentin Piaget asked his Swiss designers in the early Sixties to go to Paris in order to attend a couture show and get inspired by this fashion revolution (think Cardin, Courrèges, Twiggy) this was so incredibly new for the time. And today, when we look at their past gouaches where they would create the swinging sautoirs directly on the glossy pages of the fashion magazines to really picture what this woman would be wearing today, it’s so modern. And still has the same effect today: timeless yet modern. That is the Piaget paradox.”

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