Robb Read: When Money’s Not Enough

How scarcity informs luxury beyond cost.

By Lucy Alexander 30/09/2020

About a decade ago, with the world economy beginning to recover following the global financial meltdown, a budding art collector flew from New York to the Art Basel Miami Beach fair to buy a painting. “In my head I was the dream person, the up-and-coming collector that they want,” he recalls. “I was a decent-sized collector but not well-known. Not a banker who wants to flip. Someone who would buy as a long-term investment.”

An admirer of the hyper-realist artist Karel Funk, the collector, armed with a budget of approx. $583,000, inquired at the 303 Gallery booth about buying one of Funk’s paintings, then priced around $58,000, “but of course there was no price on display,” he says. The gallerist’s curt response: “There are some in the Whitney you can go and look at.” Recalling the dismissal today, he says, “I now know that most of the art is spoken for before the fair and that it’s a game that it’s open to the public to buy.”

The gatekeepers of the high-powered contemporary art scene are an elite unit whose mission, it seems, is to deter the general public. Of course, this zealous exclusivity is not confined to the world of art. Across many categories of luxury objects or experiences, access to the most hotly contested trophies is restricted to a select few, and the conditions of entry are about more than money. You cannot walk into a Rolex dealership, a New York power gallery or an Hermès boutique, ask for a Daytona, a Jeff Koons or a Birkin and expect to be allowed to buy it.

The shop where nothing is for sale is a well-established marketing strategy. “The notion of scarcity is a really fundamental principle in psychology,” says Kit Yarrow, PhD, a consumer psychologist and professor emerita at Golden Gate University, San Francisco. “We want what we can’t have. When we are denied, it feels like a challenge to overcome and we are more psychologically invested.” For the affluent, the desire provoked by denial is acute, says Yarrow, “because it’s boring to have anything you want. We all look for ways to bolster our egos, and for some, it is the acquisition of the unobtainable, the love of a person or a product, and in some ways products are easier.”

That rejection—and the challenge to reverse it—is part of what drives the desire. “Luxury goods resolve people’s insecurities about their place in society,” says Luca Solca, a luxury analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “I have, therefore I am. These things set us apart from the crowd and make us special, in our eyes, and our peers’ eyes.”

The aforementioned would-be Art Basel Miami Beach buyer, rather than giving up in the intervening years, says, “I have since spent millions of dollars on art, but I had a similar experience with Hauser & Wirth only last year. I went in and asked about Mark Bradford, and they laughed and said, ‘Before we’ll even consider you, send us a list of the artists you collect.’ I humoured them and sent it in, and they were like, ‘Okay, come in tomorrow.’”

From the gallerists’ perspective, this tactic is meant not as a brush-off but as a method of safeguarding their artists’ reputations. “If a collector walks in who we don’t know, yes, they need to introduce themselves [and tell us] what they have done and why,” says Marc Payot, a co-president of Hauser & Wirth. The Swiss multinational gallery, which represents Louise Bourgeois and Glenn Ligon, among other superstars, is not “a shop where you buy art like a commodity, first come first served”. Instead, the gallery is merely “the business card”. It aims to place art ultimately not with members of the public but with prestigious museums, because “the long-term success of an artist is directly dependent on the presence in institutions.” The gallery’s role, says Payot, is not so much to sell as to “put the artists we represent into the context of art history”.

In the face of this ambition, novice collectors often turn to art advisers. “We are a bridge between client and gallery,” says Suzanne Modica, cofounder of Modica Carr Art Advisory. Gallerists “are looking for an intellectual curiosity” in would-be buyers. “They want to know that the client is seeing the artist as more than just a bunch of dollar bills that are attached to the wall.”

Illustration: Ben Wiseman

Brett Gorvy, cofounder of the Lévy Gorvy gallery and a former international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, explains the pecking order
for art placement: “There is definitely a hierarchy—museums, private foundations, collectors with strong affiliations to museums, then prestigious collectors who lend to museums.” Only after this illustrious roll call will more quotidian collectors be considered.

There are tricks of the trade to get your foot in the door, according to one well-connected art adviser: “If you are extremely well-off you can become a trustee at a museum, which gives you cachet.” Sitting on a museum committee also enables connections to curators. At an art fair, “if you’re seen within proximity of curators, that can have a positive impact on your access.” But museum relationships are generally predicated on the expectation that, in addition to monetary donations, at least some of the works you acquire will eventually find their way to the museum in question, as a gift or bequest.

Many serious galleries—along with some sports-car marques—include language in sales agreements prohibiting buyers from flipping the objects at auction. Watch companies do not put such bans in writing but nevertheless keep careful track. Those who disobey in any of these categories risk being blacklisted. But new pieces by in-demand artists are often priced well below the sums they could fetch under the hammer, making the practice all too tempting for some. “When there is a big gap [in price] between the primary and secondary markets, we ask clients to give us a right of first refusal,” says Payot. “We have never sued, but access will be difficult in the future. The strongest protection is the relationship, but you can’t put a relationship in a contract.”

When it comes to art, there’s only so much an artist can produce, but even in the case of manufactured luxury goods, a tight supply translates to a ranking of buyers. Sports-car marques, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti, reward their most loyal clients with first dibs on invite-only releases of special models. David Lee, a Ferrari collector who has appeared on Jay Leno’s Garage, says that access used to be “down to who you knew at the factory,” but a new tracking system tells Ferrari “exactly what cars you have, so they know whether you’re passionate or playing the game.

I have bought every car they released in the last few years, including ones that were not so popular. That data determines that I am a top client.”

Yet even favoured clients can have their privileges taken away. In 2017, Lee, who owns 30 Ferraris, was denied the chance to buy a LaFerrari Aperta, which had a run of only 210 models. His mistake, he believes, was discussing Ferrari’s secretive selection process with the Los Angeles Times. “Ferrari had told me I was in the running, but they had not yet decided,” he explains, so he told the newspaper he had not been offered one. The way Lee tells it, the resulting headline—basically, he owns a dozen Ferraris and has loads of cash, why can’t he buy the elusive $3.1-million LaFerrari Aperta?—didn’t go down well at Ferrari HQ.

“They read it over in Italy and thought I was using the media to pressure them to give me a car,” Lee says. “So for a few months we were on shaky ground. My relationship with Ferrari is very important, so it was really upsetting to me. They did not offer me a car.”

Quest for the Rolex Daytona: A Cautionary Tale

The hunt for a Rolex Daytona is the watch collector’s equivalent of the quest to find the Holy Grail. Despite their presence at major auctions, Daytonas remain near-impossible to find outside the secondary market. Though they’re relatively inexpensive by the standards of luxury watches—an entry-level steel-and-gold version retails for approx. $25,000—the Daytona’s mystique remains baffling.

I embarked on a mission to a Rolex boutique on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to see what the brush-off would be when I tried to buy the elusive model.

“I’m here to buy a Rolex,” I proclaimed to the doorman, who ushered me into a side room and into the care of a sales associate. I’ll call him James.

“I need to buy a birthday present for my husband, and I don’t know what to get,” I confided in James, who directed me toward a case containing Submariner watches. A steel-and-gold model would cost about $24,000, he said.

“I hear the Daytona is a good one,” I ventured. James looked a little sceptical. “We don’t have any in the store,” he said. “They’re very rare, and they all go to special clients.”

“Wow, do you have to go all the way to Switzerland to get one?”

“It’s even worse there,” he said. “You can’t just let anyone walk in and buy one. And that’s the right way to do things. Imagine if you saw someone wearing one and you asked where they got it and they said they walked in here and just picked one up. How would that make you feel if you’d been buying watches from us for years and had never got one?”

“Bad?”

“You need to put blood, sweat and tears into forming a relationship with the brand. You need to be a really loyal customer, and then we see it as a reward. So I can get you whatever you want, but it has to be realistic and not a Daytona.”

I left empty-handed but pleasingly reassured that money, liberally and strategically deployed, would do. LA marque’s signature red and has 1.1 million followers—says the relationship has since been repaired, and he is expecting delivery on five Ferraris this year.

The year before Lee’s dust-up, Preston Henn, an American flea-market mogul and two-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner, went so far as to sue Ferrari for damages, alleging the marque told his friends he was rejected because he was “not qualified” to buy a limited-release LaFerrari Spider. His qualifications were, according to court papers, the 18 Ferraris he had owned and the $1.46 million cheques he had mailed to Ferrari’s then-chairman, Sergio Marchionne (who had returned it). Henn accused the marque of “harming [his] reputation in the universe of Ferrari aficionados” but dropped the suit shortly before his death in April 2017.

Ferrari, which declined to comment about its specific allocation policies or criteria, is perhaps the best example of a company that successfully inspires in its devotees feelings not only of admiration but of identity. Lee, who is chairman of Hing Wa Lee, a watch-and-jewellery business outside Los Angeles, recognises the status anxiety in his Rolex customers: “For the client, it becomes an identity crisis. Where do they fit? How do they compare in this world? If they are able to get these very limited products, it shows they are considered to be at a certain level.”

Ferrari does not hide the fact that it deliberately keeps its production low to ensure demand is never satisfied. “The company was founded on one simple principle,” Marchionne told CNBC in 2015. “You only produce one car less than the demand for the vehicle.” To meet demand, he said, would “destroy the exclusivity of the brand”.

Yet Ferrari’s honesty about its artificially induced scarcity has not diminished the brand’s allure to its collectors, such as Barry Beck, cofounder of Bluemercury, the luxury beauty retailer. “With Ferrari, it has never been about money,” says Beck, who owns three Ferraris and collects Patek Philippe watches. “Many who have had the privilege to drive these cars or wear these timepieces have become devout, evangelical disciples and the brands’ best marketers.”

Similarly, even though the fabled waiting list for Hermès Birkin bags was exposed as a fiction by Michael Tonello in his 2008 memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin, the ardor of the brand’s fans has not dimmed. Tonello would ask for Birkin bags while shopping for scarves to flip on eBay and says the Hermès sales associates would tell him, “There’s a list, and there might even be a waiting list to get on the waiting list.”

Yet one day, after spending a large amount in an Hermès store, Tonello was offered a Birkin. “I realised that there was no waiting list,” Tonello tells Robb Report. He promptly switched to flipping Birkins. “They all have Birkin bags in the back. A Birkin is a reward for being a good customer. They don’t care who you are. You just have to spend money, and you have to know the formula.”

The same is true, he says, of watches: “Rolex won’t sell you a Daytona until you’ve spent a certain amount on other watches. Then you qualify for the private sales. It’s all a game.” Patek Philippe adds another layer, requiring clients to submit a formal application for special models. Beck recalls being told that a certain watch was “an application piece” (he initially thought this term had something to do with applied enamel). He included a Forbes profile to “grease the wheels” which, he says, ensured “near-immediate approval”.

Michael Hickcox, an avid watch collector and CEO of executive search company Expedition Partners, says that Patek Philippe allocates lesser models to new customers. “They want to hook you,” Hickcox explains. “People who try to go to the top straight away, they tend to be the ones who exit the hobby soon afterwards. They got what they want. They don’t spend 15 years saying, ‘I can’t wait until I have this one thing.’ Patek Philippe is going for the person who spends millions on watches.”

Illustration: Ben Wiseman

The flipping ban is an additional burden, particularly when sought-after watches from several prestigious makers can command twice their original prices. “I knew a dealer who sold a special watch [for a client] and that brand found out,” says Hickcox, adding that the dealer told him how the brand, in an apparent attempt to uncover the culprit, invited everyone who had bought the watch to a dinner. “The client had to call the dealer and ask to borrow it back. He did and wore it to the dinner, and the folks from the watch company never knew.”

Inside the inner circle, competitiveness does not diminish; it just becomes less purely financial and more about connections. At the dinners held by watch brands, executives toast their clients, who in turn make their cases for yet more coveted purchases. According to one watch-industry insider, the North American president of a renowned watch brand told the insider that at one such dinner he turned down a well-known entrepreneur’s plea to buy a special piece, even though the man had bought several other models in order to qualify. Only after the entrepreneur offered to speak at the graduation of the executive’s son did he relent.

Sometimes the dinners and events become as coveted, maybe even more so, than the items themselves. Lionel Geneste, a luxury-goods consultant, says the world of high jewellery is now dominated by an arms race of ever-ritzier events. “At the Paris shows Chanel did a dinner, Dior was at Versailles, Dolce & Gabbana now bring clients twice a year to Milan and Capri, Bulgari flies everyone to Rome and Van Cleef goes to the South of France,” he says. “It’s not that people are competing to be allowed to buy jewellery—they buy in order to be invited to these events.”

Jewellery produced by fashion houses is easy to acquire because it does not hold its value, says Fiona Druckenmiller, founder of FD Gallery, a Manhattan jewellery boutique. The same is true of contemporary pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and Cartier, she says. Since they were acquired by large public companies, “you can get anything if you can afford it.”

Druckenmiller specialises in work by prestigious independent designers such as Hemmerle, Viren Bhagat and Joel Arthur Rosenthal, known as JAR, whose unique creations are much more difficult to obtain. To buy from these designers, she says, “it makes a difference if they like you.

This is a relationship in the true sense of the word, not just one based on money spent on collecting.”

With JAR, the only living jeweller to have had a solo show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (in 2013), “it’s hard to get in the door to begin with. You need an introduction,” Druckenmiller says. “And even then, if he feels like the woman is not a good ambassador for his pieces, he will say, ‘Nothing is available.’”

Independent watchmakers are similarly discriminating, selling only to collectors they deem worthy. “It’s somewhat a snob thing,” says Michael Hickcox, citing Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen and Roger W. Smith, the latter of whom makes only 12 pieces a year. “You have to pay a £3,000 (AU$5,400) deposit to have the option to get on the waiting list. Several years later you get an e-mail saying, ‘Congratulations, you’re now in our production queue.’ You are not told what the price will be.”

Such treatment is bound to unnerve people unaccustomed to feeling powerless. A similar sensation has struck countless souls forced to face Manhattan’s most fastidious co-op boards, whose probing can be invasive and whose decision-making is shrouded in secrecy. Although the rise of Billionaire’s Row interview-free apartments has tempered some of the pickiness, for “old-school fancy buildings” a buyer has to have the right sort of money, says Lisa Chajet, a second-generation broker at New York’s Warburg Realty. Boards will want to know, “Did they make their money at Goldman or in casinos?” she says. Most favoured is “old money, a family trust that’s reputable and solid”. And if you come with a trail of paparazzi (Madonna) or a whiff of scandal (Richard Nixon), you’re probably better off bidding on a new apartment or a single-family townhouse. Once a co-op contract has been signed, Chajet’s approach is to get hold of the board list and call anyone who might have a connection with her buyer: “Maybe they both went to Yale, or they’re partners at law firms.” The most popular applicants? Doctors. “They don’t have the money that hedge-fund people have,” says Chajet, “but they have prestige.”

The preference for old money—and a WASPy family tree—is also alive and kicking in the notoriously exclusive world of private clubs in the Hamptons. While no one talks on the record for fear of being blackballed, insiders say the membership of several high-profile clubs in the enclave is largely comprised of elderly representatives of formerly illustrious Protestant families, who want to keep it that way. Membership is hereditary, according to those in the know; non-WASP new members are admitted rarely, and only in return for large donations to the upkeep of the club in question.

For many people, the effort required to obtain a supposedly exclusive object, be it an apartment or a wristwatch, is worth it, says Tonello, because it signifies success. “If you keep hearing about how hard something is to get, and how even famous people can’t get it, and then you get it, you feel like you are a master of the universe. I was in an elevator with a woman carrying a Birkin, and all these other women got in and saw her Birkin, and I could see them wonder who she was. She must be someone, a VIP? With guys, it’s the same with a watch. They send secret subliminal messages to others in the know. It says, I have arrived.”

Remember that art collector on a quest for a Karel Funk painting? The same gallery that rebuffed him at Art Basel Miami Beach finally offered him one several years later, for approx. $80,000. “I bought it,” he says. “Begrudgingly.”

This piece is from our new Design 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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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.

BULGARI

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; Bulgari.com

VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

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; vancleefandarpels.com

CHANEL

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. Chanel.com

PIAGET 

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; Piaget.com

CHOPARD 

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; Chopard.com

CARTIER 

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; cartier.com

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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.
Taschen

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.
Taschen

“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.

Piaget

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.

Piaget

“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.

Piaget

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.

Piaget

“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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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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Parmigiani Fleurier Just Dropped 3 New Perfectly Sized Tonda Watches

The growing demand for smaller watches isn’t slowing down, and these new models from Parmigiani are on trend.

By Cait Bazemore 16/07/2024

For the past several years, we’ve seen a growing trend of smaller watches. According to veteran dealer Matthew Bain, 36 mm to 38 mm is the ideal watch size, and it seems many collectors agree as the demand for smaller watches continues to grow. The trend goes beyond proportions and is part of a bigger movement toward more accessible and inclusive watches for all wrists, regardless of gender. This push reflects a growing prominence of female watch collectors like Lung Lung Thun who told Robb Report this week that she desires more watches in the 34 to 37 mm range. In response, countless brands have been reimagining some of their most iconic models with smaller proportions, from Chopard’s 36 mm Alpine Eagle to Breitling’s 36 mm Navitimer. At this year’s Watches & Wonders, it was even a tiny Cartier Tank measuring just 24 mm x 16.5 mm that stole the show.

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF 36 mm in Rose Gold with Sand Gold Dial and Diamond Accents. Parmigiani Fleurier.

Parmigiani Fleurier is a brand who is no stranger to creating more modestly sized timepieces with consideration for all wrists and all genders. The brand first launched its Tonda PF collection in 2021 with a larger 42 mm model. A year later, they updated the line with a 36 mm Tonda PF, which went on to win the Women’s Watch Prize at the GPHG. This smaller version was so successful, Parmigiani added a 36 mm two-tone variation for the first time just last year. Now, we get three new 36 mm versions of the Tonda PF Automatic in new dial and metal combinations and with the addition of gem setting.

Tonda PF 36 mm in three new distinct styles.
Today, Parmigiani has unveiled three new takes on it’s perfectly proportioned Tonda PF: one in rose gold with a sand gold dial and diamond accents priced at $125.400, one in rose gold with a warm grey dial and diamond accents priced at $101,471, and one in two-tone stainless steel and rose gold with a white citrine dial and a more subtle touch of diamonds just on the hour markers priced at $50,662.
Tonda PF 36 mm in Two-Tone with White Citrine Dial and Diamond Accents
Parmigiani Fleurier

For each version, you get the classic curves of the Tonda PF you know and love with sweet-spot 36 mm sizing, and it’s loaded with Parmigiani’s automatic PF770 manufacture movement with a 60-hour power reserve. For the rose gold iterations, there’s a bit more bling with diamonds on the indices, bezel, and bracelet for the sand gold dial and diamonds on the indices and bezel of the warm gray dial. With each of the new 36 mm Tonda PF watches, the brand has used fully traceable and ethically sourced gold and diamonds.

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