Robb Read: When Rare Is Not Enough

A bespoke timepiece is the ultimate for watch aficionados. One collector describes the long road from commission to big reveal.

By Mark Cho; Christian Klings Photography Nicolas Blandin; Mark Cho And Watch Photography Tsz Fung Chan 03/01/2022

What you’re looking at is one of the last watches that Christian Klings is likely to make. And, somewhat improbably, it belongs to me.

Christian, originally from East Germany, as it was known in his youth, is a watchmaker. He’s not a brand or a company or a team of craftsmen. It’s him, his two hands, some tools, synthetic ruby and lumps of stainless steel. This piece was designed by the pair of us, not chosen from a range of previous models. Christian has since semi-retired. Over a nearly 50-year career, he has made a grand total of 33 watches. Mine was the 30th. And it came into being through a fortuitous combination of connoisseurship, connections and not a little luck.

Back in 2018, Phillips auction house held a preview in Hong Kong that included an exhibition of independent watchmakers curated by Claudio Proietti of Maxima Gallery. The pieces were fabulous, brimming with beauty and ingenuity. One in particular caught my eye: a simple three-handed timepiece by Christian Klings. I asked to hold it and was struck by a sense of déjà vu.

My day job is cofounder of the Armoury, a men’s clothier in Hong Kong and New York. Part of my work involves representing and commissioning bespoke craftsmen from around the world—specifically Florence, Milan, Naples, Tokyo, Kobe and Osaka—for my clients. These artisans each have their own specialties, ranging from Florentine and Neapolitan tailoring to Japanese glasses and bags. What is common among all of them is extensive handiwork and the subtle imperfections that come with truly handmade things. I believe to own something lovingly crafted by hand is sublime. That day at the Phillips auction preview, Christian’s watch gave me the same awestruck feeling that I’d experienced so many times before when dealing with the best craftspeople for myself or my clients. I knew I was holding something very special in my hands. I have been collecting watches for 16 years, and while I have long entertained the thought of commissioning a timepiece of my own, I never felt the impetus to do so until I met Christian.

Christian was born in 1957 in Dresden, then on the Communist side of Germany. At age five he displayed the beginnings of the raw talent that he would later nurture: he amused himself by taking apart and reassembling alarm clocks and pocket watches. Fortunately for him, a friendly neighbour, who happened to be employed at a nearby metalworking factory, provided him with tools and guidance. Soon, along with a friend, he was dismantling, rebuilding and servicing motorcycles. (It’s a striking coincidence that motorcycles seem to be a shared interest among many of the watchmaking greats, including George Daniels and Derek Pratt.)

Upon completing high school, Christian became an apprentice watchmaker in Dresden, repairing and restoring countless complex clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches that had been brought into East Germany prior to the formation of the Communist state. He had a strong desire to see more of the world, and he eventually moved to West Germany and then California, where he lived for a decade and began creating his own timepieces while continuing with his by-then considerable and esteemed restoration work.

In 2000, a decade after the German reunification, he found himself back in his homeland, initially working almost exclusively with a single wealthy collector who commissioned a number of unusual and complicated timepieces. As always, Christian made them by hand. One of his passions within watchmaking is the escapement, the regulating organ of any timepiece, and he invented and realised several novel designs of this crucial element on his own. He settled in the sleepy town of Saalfeld, south of Weimar, and quietly made watches, signing them “C. Klings”.

Dealing with craftsmen is not always a straightforward matter, a stark contrast to how easy commerce has become in the internet age. A commission is an undertaking that is done together; it’s about forging a relationship and creating a product out of that connection. You reach an understanding of what can be achieved, but it can often be hard to predict what challenges may arise as the item is being made.

I initially met Christian over e-mail, introduced by my friend Jiaxian Su, who runs watchesbysjx.com, and we discussed ideas I had for my own piece at length. I’d taken some watchmaking classes at the Horological Society of New York, which helped with the process. Christian and I communicated almost exclusively via e-mail. While he speaks fluent English, it was sometimes a struggle for both of us to make ourselves understood. Thankfully, Christian drew a lot of diagrams, and I annotated a fair number of photos. It was also very useful to have a written record; otherwise, I would have forgotten some of the specifics that we’d previously discussed.

Starting with the dial, I wanted it to be similar to the original piece I saw in Hong Kong, but with chapter rings (decorative tracks under the markings for hours, minutes and seconds) that were slightly offset from one another. Pocket watches often have such a layout, whereas wristwatches rarely do because the rings might become illegible. My dial’s sub-seconds chapter ring dips slightly below the hours and overlaps with the minutes ring at six o’clock. Sometimes Christian would construct the same part twice, each with a slight variation to make it easier for me to visualise how it might look when the dial was complete. For instance, he presented me with two sub-seconds chapter rings, each in a different width; I chose the narrower.

Artisan watchmaker Christian Klings in his Saalfeld atelier on 26 Sept. 2021 © Nicolas Blandin

I specified Breguet hands. This style, named after its inventor, the great Abraham-Louis Breguet, is difficult to balance aesthetically. It requires an appealing, curvy shape to the main, long part, followed by a ring with a slight glimmer on its interior edge to catch the eye and, finally, a purposeful, sharp tip to identify the time precisely. Christian’s hands were initially a little too bulbous, so he carefully thinned them to pair better with the fine Roman numerals. The subtle, symmetrical texture on the dial, known
as guilloche, is carved by hand with the help of a lathe, akin to a very intricate spirograph. It’s incredibly arduous, slow and delicate work. I liked what I saw on the original piece and requested mine be done in the same way, a barleycorn pattern for the majority of the dial and a sunburst for the sub-seconds.

The dial is a distinct salmon colour and a rather last-minute addition. As it was being constructed in 2020, Christian and I were in frequent contact to make small design decisions. At this stage, the dial had no hue. The markings had not been filled in with ink, and the hands had not been treated to have colour yet, either. I wanted to explore a salmon dial and mocked it up in Photoshop, adding the shade to the main parts of the dial and creating a two-tone effect.

It generated an enthusiastic response from Christian, who e-mailed in his typically charming, if spell-check-free, manner: “Thanks for the design. It looks great. The dial with the slender chapter ring and outside section in rose gold looks fantastic. Exaxtly my taste. I did a similar design with Nr.6 with the powerreserve on my webside, and like to continue this idea. Makes me feel good.”

The colour was added by galvanic plating (a type of electroplating), one of the few things Christian cannot do himself. Imagine the anxiety he must feel when sending a dial with its completed guilloche off to a third party, hoping it comes back unscathed. I left it to Christian to select the precise shade of salmon and was quite pleasantly surprised to see it in the metal, with its bright pink-yellow peaks of the guilloche pattern but darker, more saturated pink-red in the troughs. I’m glad I trusted him.

The watch case is Christian’s own design, replete with gentle curves. It has a broad, very softly rounded bezel with short, downward-turned lugs that are widely spaced. The overall effect is slim and pebble-like, reminiscent of a pocket watch from a bygone era. Christian shaped the case by hand, which allowed him to continuously vary the radius of each curve in a very organic way.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movement was the greatest challenge. In Christian’s words, “It was as hard to make as a tourbillon.” I was always keen to have an “open-worked” movement. Typically, movements will be a combination of plates and bridges holding the wheels together. Plates are more stable but also hide a greater area of the technical details. An open-worked movement, which is visible on the finished watch, does away with most of the plates and instead relies primarily on bridges: small arms anchored by screws to secure all the wheels. It’s a tremendously difficult balancing act to fashion the bridges by hand with an aesthetically pleasing shape, to bevel and polish them to a beautiful shine and then install them perfectly parallel to the main plate. As you can imagine, the wheels of the movement need to mesh precisely—were the bridges to be even slightly askew, the watch would simply not function. There’s a reason most brands choose not to make their movements in this manner.

What compounded the difficulty for my piece was its size. I like smaller watches, typically 34 mm to 37 mm in diameter. I enjoy how discreet they are and how they feel on my wrist. In today’s world, there are only a handful of modern watches that are less than 38 mm. Indeed, Rolex is the only major manufacturer making 36 mm watches in any significant quantity. So it was a pleasure to be able to commission a “small” watch from Christian. Given my request for an open-worked movement, the watch could not be any less than 36.5 mm, as the movement parts simply could not be miniaturised any further. He worked at the physical limits of his eyesight and muscle control.

A friend asked me if commissioning a watch is like commissioning a suit, and yes, there are similarities. You start with a rough idea of what you would like and then discuss how it might be realised, keeping some plans and discarding others. Over the years, I have come to deeply appreciate other people’s taste and experience. I’m always happy to pay for that benefit. The finest artisans will give their customer a gentle nudge when an idea goes beyond the pale. It’s a comfort to know that when I’m in doubt about a choice in the detail of a commission, I can defer to them for sage advice. I have seen time and time again, with my own items and those of my customers, that the commissions that turn out the best are based on a good relationship with the craftsperson and a willingness to listen.

I am fortunate that Christian and I have quite similar tastes. At one point, he wrote me: “I would like to disguss something with you. I hesitate to fill the roman numbers with the same dark colour, like the hands. I think, it looks overpowering. I don’t like to loose the delikate look, graceful look of the dial.” I was glad he highlighted this issue to me. I had originally anticipated using black markings by default, but Christian suggested anthracite, which was a subtle but very welcome improvement.

People like Christian, who make every part of the watch bespoke, from scratch and by themselves, are exceedingly rare—he’s one of the last few who even attempt this extraordinary art. There are many outstanding watchmakers who, having come up with a great concept, will produce it in a small, limited series with little to
no deviation in the design and often with a team of artisans. And there are, of course, excellent makers who offer bespoke watches, but the individualised elements are restricted to certain fixed parameters: a change in colour on part of the dial or of the hands, for example. The watchmakers who choose to work in these ways are sensible and wise. Limitless possibility can result in a very confusing design and production process and potentially a dud of a final timepiece. Working by yourself can be lonely and stressful. Watches are delicate and unforgiving. A screwdriver tip in the wrong place or a part that’s one one-hundredth of a millimetre too thick will shatter weeks of progress. Why would anyone want to take on this sort of endeavour and also do it alone?

I posed exactly this question to Christian over the phone one day.

“This is a talent I have,” he told me. “I’ve been doing it since I was a small kid. I have a good, fine touch—I knew this all the time. I was raised by a very calm and gentle old lady, and she taught me a lot of patience and discipline. I spent quite a bit of time by myself, and working with my hands on mechanical things was a way to keep myself occupied. The way I do it, nobody else can do it for a long time. It’s too crazy.” I asked if that perseverance is useful in other areas of his life. “I am retiring because I have decided to spend more time doing social work with my church,” he replied. “Many years ago, when I was still in the USA, I joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and it became a big part of my life. Having great patience and discipline is so important in social work.”

What I admire most about Christian is his self-reliance. In his solitude, he reminds me of Olympic competitors toiling for years in preparation for a decisive moment that can define their legacy and that depends on their effort alone. The world is filled with wonderful things that came into being from the combined contributions of many people. The creation of a single product by an individual carries a very different energy. One person can never execute every detail faultlessly, but it’s thrilling to see them try. The best will come close to perfection, as if nearing the divine. If you look carefully at the photos on these pages, you might notice there are some flaws in the watch. How could there not be? Like so many of the truly finest things, it was made by hand.

This piece is from our new Car Of The Year 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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Escape from the Ordinary

Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean.

By Robb Report Team 19/02/2024

Not all cruises are created equally. Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean. From the stunning Amalfi Coast to the pristine Greek Islands, the narrow Corinth Canal to the picturesque Dalmatian coast, historic Istanbul and beguiling Malaga, each destination is a unique adventure waiting to be unravelled. With Ponant, these aren’t just locations on a map; they’re experiences that come alive with the intimate knowledge and insight that their expert guides provide.

Ponant’s luxury cruises are renowned for their individuality, with no two journeys the same. This is not by chance. Itineraries are scrupulously designed to ensure that each passenger is left with a feeling of having embarked on a journey unlike any other.

Athens-Venise. Photograph by N.Matheus. ©PONANT

In 2025, their fleet will set sail for a combined 56 departures from March to October, exploring the dreamy locales of Greece and the Greek Islands, Malta, Italy (including Venice and Sicily), Croatia, France, Turkey, Spain and Portugal. These European Journeys offer an intimate encounter with the Mediterranean, its people and culture. As you cruise in luxury, you’ll dive deep into the heart of each destination, exploring historic sites, engaging with locals, sampling scrumptious cuisine and soaking in the vibrant atmospheres.

The company’s small, sustainable ships, which can accommodate from as few as 32 to 264 guests, have the exclusive ability to sail into ports inaccessible to larger cruise liners, affording privileged entry into some of the world’s most treasured alcoves. Picture sailing under London’s iconic Tower Bridge, crossing the Corinth Canal, or disembarking directly onto the sidewalk during ports of call in culturally rich cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, Nice and Venice, among others.

Photo by Tamar Sarkissian. ©PONANT

This singular closeness is further enriched by destination experts who unravel the tapestry of each locale’s history and traditions.

Onboard their luxurious ships, every guest is a VIP and treated to refined service and amenities akin to sailing on a private yacht. Whether at sea or ashore, their destination experts guarantee a fascinating experience, immersing you in the rich cultural and historical diversity of each region.

Indulge in the finest gastronomy at sea, inspired by none other than gastronomic virtuoso and Ponant partner, Alain Ducasse. Each voyage offers an expertly crafted dining experience, from a-la-carte meals with perfectly matched wines by the onboard Sommelier at dinner and lunch, to a French-inspired buffet breakfast, featuring all the favourite pastries, fresh bread and quality produce.

Chef Mickael Legrand. Photograph by NickRains. ©PONANT

For a more intimate discovery, consider Le Ponant, with its 16 high-class staterooms and suites—perfect for private charter—sailing eight exclusive routes between Greece and Croatia, offering guests unparalleled experiences both onboard and ashore. Ponant’s commitment to crafting unforgettable experiences extends beyond itineraries. Aboard their ships, the luxury is in every detail. Unwind in opulent cabins and suites, each offering private balconies and breathtaking views of the azure water and destinations beyond.

Ponant’s upcoming European Journeys are more than just cruises—they’re your passport to a world of cultural immersion, historical exploration, and unrivalled luxury. Don’t miss this opportunity to embark on the voyage of a lifetime: the Mediterranean is calling.

To book European 2025 sailings visit au.ponant.com; call 1300 737 178 (AU) or 0800 767 018 (NZ) or contact your preferred travel agent.

 

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Saint Laurent Just Opened a New Bookstore in Paris. Here’s a Look Inside.

The chic new outpost is located on the city’s arty Left Bank.

By Rachel Cormack 14/02/2024

Saint Laurent is taking over even more of Paris.

The French fashion house, which only just opened an epic new flagship on Champs-Élysées, has launched a chic new bookstore on the Left Bank. Located in the 7th arrondissement, Saint Laurent Babylone is a mecca of art, music, literature, and, of course, fashion.

The new outpost is a tribute to the connection that Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé had to the Rue Babylone, according to Women’s Wear Daily. (In 1970, the pair moved to a 6,500-square-foot duplex on the street.) It is also inspired by the house’s original ready-to-wear boutique, Saint Laurent Rive Guache, which opened in the 6th arrondissement in 1966.

The exposed concrete in contrasted by sleek marble accents. SAINT LAURENT

With a minimalist, art gallery-like aesthetic, the space is anchored by a hefty marble bench and large black shelves. The raw, textured concrete on the walls is juxtaposed by a soft blue and white rug, a wooden Pierre Jeanneret desk, and sleek Donald Judd stools.

The wares within Saint Laurent Babylone are the most important part, of course. Curated by Saint Laurent’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello, the collection includes everything from photos by British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey to books published by Saint Laurent itself. Some tomes on offer are so rare that white gloves are required for handling.

The store also offers an enviable selection of records that are no longer being pressed. Highlights include Sade’s Promise, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and the debut studio album of electronic band Kraftwerk.

Other notable items on the shelves include Leica cameras, chocolates made in collaboration with pastry chef François Daubinet, prints by Juergen Teller, and brass skull sculptures. You’ll also find an assortment of YSL merch, including pens, lighters, and cups.

To top it off, Saint Laurent Babylone will double as an event space, hosting live music sessions, DJ sets, book readings, and author signings over the coming months.

Saint Laurent’s latest endeavor isn’t exactly surprising. With Vaccarello at the helm, the Kering-owned fashion house has entered new cultural realms. Only last year, the label established a film production company and debuted its first movie at Cannes.

The space is fitted with a Pierre Jeanneret desk and Donald Judd stools.
SAINT LAURENT

Perhaps Saint Laurent film reels and movie posters will soon be available at Babylone, too.

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The Best Watches at the Grammys, From Maluma’s Jacob & Co. to Jon Batiste’s Vacheron Constantin

Music’s biggest names sported some outstanding watches on Sunday evening.

By Rachel Mccormack 08/02/2024

Weird yet wonderful watches punctuated this year’s Grammys.

The woman of the moment, Taylor Swift, who made history by winning Album of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, wore an unconventional Lorraine Schwartz choker watch to the annual awards ceremony on Sunday night. That was just the tip of the horological iceberg, though.

Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma elevated a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds, while American musician Jon Batiste topped off a stylish Versace ensemble with a sleek Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon. Not to be outdone, rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a rare Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for the occasion.

There was more understated wrist candy on display, too, such as Jack Antonoff’s Cartier Tank LC and Noah Kahan’s Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo.

For the rest of the best watches we saw on the Grammys 2024 red carpet, read on.

Maluma: Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon

Maluma busted out some truly spectacular bling for this year’s Grammys. The Colombian singer-songwriter paired a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds. The sculptural wrist candy sees a four-arm movement floating in front of a breathtaking dial adorned with no less than 257 rubies. For added pizzaz, the lugs of the 18-karat rose-gold case are invisibly set with 80 baguette-cut white diamonds. Limited to just nine examples, the rarity is priced at $1.5 million.

Asake: Hublot Big Bang Essential Grey

Nigerian singer-songwriter Asake may not have won the Grammy for Best African Music Performance for “Amapiano,” but did wear a winning Hublot Big Bang at Sunday’s proceedings. Released in 2023, the Essential Grey model is made purely of titanium for a sleek, uniform feel. The 42 mm timepiece was limited to just 100 pieces and cost $37,000 a pop.

John Legend: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding

Multihyphenate John Legend wore a legendary Audemars Piguet with silky Saint Laurent on Sunday evening. The self-winding Royal Oak in question features a 34 mm black ceramic case, a black grande tapisserie dial, and striking pink gold accents. The watchmaker’s signature is also displayed in gold under the sapphire crystal. The piece will set you back $81,000.

Jon Batiste: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

American musician Jon Batiste received four nominations but no wins at this year’s Grammys. The “Butterfly” singer can take solace in the fact that he looked ultra-sharp in Versace and Vacheron Constantin. A tribute to the spirit of travel, the Overseas Tourbillon features a 42.5 mm white-gold case, a bezel set with 60 baguette-cut diamonds, and a blue dial featuring a dazzling tourbillon cage inspired by the Maltese cross. Price upon request, naturally.

Fireboy DML: Cartier Santos

Fireboy DML’s outfit was straight fire on Sunday night. The Nigerian singer paired an MCM wool jacket with a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet, several iced-out rings, and a sleek Cartier Santos. The timepiece features a steel case, a graduated blue dial with steel sword-shaped hands, and a seven-sided crown with synthetic faceted blue spinel.

Noah Kahan: Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo

Best New Artist nominee Noah Kahan wore one of Panerai’s best new watches to Sunday’s festivities. The Luminor Quaranta BiTempo features a 40 mm polished steel case and a black dial with luminous numerals and hour markers, a date display at 3 o’clock, and a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The timepiece can be yours for $14,000.

Busta Rhymes: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Legendary rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a chic Audemars Piguet for this year’s Grammys. The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in question is distinguished by a 42 mm rose-gold case and a matching pink méga tapisserie dial with an outer flange for the tachymeter scale. The face is fitted with three black subdials, large black numerals, and a black date display at 3 o’clock. You can expect to pay around $61,200 for the chronograph on the secondary market.

Jack Antonoff: Cartier Tank Louis Cartier

Producer of the year Jack Antonoff took to the red carpet with a stylish Cartier on his wrist. The Tank Louis Cartier in question appears to be a large 33.7 mm example that features an 18-carat rose-gold case, a silvered dial with black Roman numerals and blued steel hands, a beaded crown set with a sapphire cabochon, and a brown alligator strap. It’ll set you back $19,900.

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This 44-Foot Carbon-Fiber Speedboat Can Rocket to 177 KMPH

The new Mayla GT is available with a range of different powertrains, too.

By Rachel Cormack 03/02/2024

We knew the Mayla GT would be one of the most exciting boats at Boot Düsseldorf, but a deep dive into the specs shows it could be downright revolutionary.

The brainchild of German start-up Mayla, the 44-footer brings you the blistering performance of a speedboat and the luxe amenities of a motor yacht in one neat carbon-fiber package.

Inspired by the go-fast boats of the 1970s and ‘80s, the GT sports an angular, retro-futuristic body and the sleek lines of a rocket ship. Tipping the scales at just 4500 kilograms, the lightweight design features a deep-V hull with twin transversal steps and patented Petestep deflectors that help it slice through the waves with ease. In fact, Mayla says the deflectors decrease energy usage by up to 35 percent while ensuring a more efficient planing.

The range-topping GT can reach 185 kph. MAYLA

The GT is also capable of soaring at breakneck speeds, with the option of a gas, diesel, electric, or hybrid powertrain. The range-topping GTR-R model packs dual gas-powered engines that can churn out 3,100 hp for a top speed of more than 100 knots (185 kph). At the other, more sustainable end of the spectrum, the E-GT is fitted with an electric powertrain that can produce 2,200 horses for a max speed of 50 knots. The hybrid E-GTR pairs that same electric powertrain with a 294 kilowatt diesel engine for a top speed of 60 knots (111 km/h/69 mph). (The GT in the water at Boot sported two entry-level V8s good for 650 hp and a top speed of over 70 knots.)

The GT is suitable for more than just high-speed jaunts, of course. The multipurpose cockpit, which can accommodate up to eight passengers, features a sundeck with sliding loungers, a wet bar and BBQ, and a foldaway dining table for alfresco entertaining. Further toward the stern, a beach club sits atop a garage with an electric transom door.

The garage has an electric transom door. MAYLA

The GT is even fit for overnight stays. Below deck lies a cabin with a double bed, sofa, wardrobe, vanity, and en suite. You can also expect a high-tech entertainment system with TVs and premium audio.

As for price, the GT with the entry-level powertrain will cost between $2.7 million and $2.9, depending on the final configuration. (You can fine-tune the layout, hull color, and interiors, naturally.) Interested buyers can set up a sea trial with Mayla, with test-drives set to begin this spring in Europe.

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Red Centre

First Nations artist Shaun Daniel Allen joins forces with Chopard to create a timepiece inspired by the Australian landscape.

By Horacio Silva 29/01/2024

Shaun Daniel Allen does not look like your typical collaborator on a prestige watch. For one, Shal, as he prefers to be known (“There are many Shauns but only one Shal,” he explains), is more heavily tattooed than your average roadie. His youthful appearance, bad-boy ink and all, belies his 38 years and leads to a disconnect. 

He recounts being recognised on the street recently by a journalist, who, unable to remember his name, shouted out, “Chopard!” “I was with a friend,” Shal says, holding court in his apartment in Sydney’s inner city, “and he’s, like, ‘What the hell? Does that happen to you often?’”

Perhaps because of his body art, he reasons, “People don’t put me and Chopard together.” It’s not hard to understand the confusion, Shal adds; even he was taken aback when Chopard reached out to him about a potential collaboration a little more than a year ago. “When I first went in to see them, I was, like, I don’t know if I’m your guy. I’m not used to being in those rooms and having those conversations.”

He’ll have to adapt quickly to his new reality. Last month Chopard released Shal’s interpretation of the Swiss brand’s storied Alpine Eagle model, which in itself was a redo of the St. Moritz, the first watch creation by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (now Co-President of Chopard) in the late 1970s. 

Previewed at Sydney’s About Time watch fair in September, to not insignificant interest, and officially known as the Alpine Eagle Sunburnt, the exclusive timepiece—issued in a limited edition of 20—arrives as a stainless steel 41 mm with a 60-hour power reserve and a burnt red dial that brings to mind the searing Outback sun. Its see-through caseback features one of Shal’s artworks painted on sapphire glass.

When the reputable Swiss luxury brand approached Shal, they already had the red dial—a nod to the rich ochre hues of the Australian soil at different times of the day and gradated so that the shades become darker around the edges—locked in as a lure for Australian customers.

Shal was charged with designing an artful caseback and collectible hand-painted sustainable wooden case. After presenting a handful of paintings, each with his signature abstract motifs that pertain to indigenous emblems, tattoos and music, both parties landed on a serpentine image that evoked the coursing of rivers. “I have been painting a lot of water in this last body of work and the image we chose refers to the rivers at home,” he says, alluding to formative years spent at his grandfather’s, just outside of Casino.

It says a lot about Chopard, Shal points out, that they wanted to donate to a charity of his choosing. “Like everything else on this project,” he explains, “they were open to listening and taking new ideas on board and it actually felt like a collaboration, like they weren’t steering me into any corner.”

In another nice touch, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the watch will go to funding programs of the Ngunya Jarjum Aboriginal Corporation—an organisation, established in 1995 by Bundjalung elders, whose work Shal saw firsthand after the 2022 eastern Australia flood disasters ravaged their area. “Seeing Ngunya Jarjum suffer from the floods,” he says, “and knowing how much they do for the community on Bundjalung Country was heartbreaking. I want to see Bundjalung families thriving and supported.”

So what’s it been like for this booster of Australian waterways to be swimming in the luxury end of the pool? “I’ve done a few things with brands,” he offers, referring to the Louis Vuitton project earlier this year at an art gallery in Brisbane, “but nothing on this scale. It’s definitely fancier than I’m used to but I’m not complaining.” Neither are watch aficionados.

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