In the second of two essays, the co-owner of the iconic retro-futuristic Ikepod brand explains how his passion for fine art led him to fine watchmaking.
My penchant for collecting contemporary art and design is the roundabout way I actually ended up buying Ikepod and trying my hand at watchmaking. What I felt was missing in the world of watches was great design—not another pocket-watch complication for the wrist or one more short-lived gimmick. Little did I know what a challenge this would be, and the complexity of what I was getting myself into.
My interest in art was formed when I graduated from college, interested primarily in partying and meeting girls. My brother had introduced me to a great prospect who shared my interests and we hit it off immediately. At 20 she was already a veteran of New York nightlife and had done a lot of research, while I had been more focussed on higher education. Her best friend, Andy Warhol, was also out every night, at Studio 54 or wherever it might be happening.
My art collecting started when we were at Halston’s amazing Paul Rudolph townhouse at a dinner with Liza Minnelli, Steve Rubell and Andy. Halston’s majordomo, Victor Hugo, was doing some large Statue of Liberty drawings, and I bought three of them, to cover the windows in my law-school apartment at Yale. (I didn’t like too much light in the mornings.)
My one trip to the Factory was perhaps the most important of my early collecting influences. I was introduced to Jean-Michel Basquiat, crashed out on a sofa next to one of the new collaboration paintings he made with Warhol. I remember thinking he was very rude not even to rise from the sofa. Later that night we all went to a Michael Jackson “Victory Tour” concert, and I shared a cab with him. I tried speaking to him in French because his father was Haitian, then in Spanish because his mother was Puerto Rican, but he didn’t respond. What he did do was light a spliff the size of a corn cob and ask, “Want some?”
Years later, with some disposable income, I started buying the art I missed in my youth: works by Basquiat and a good Warhol or two as well as some of the geniuses of today, and I eventually wrote a book on the subject, Collecting Contemporary. Inevitably drawn into design and architecture, I wrote a second book, Collecting Design, due out this fall. At a brunch with contemporary-design dealer Didier Krzentowski I remarked on his Ikepod and realised that I missed mine, lost in the big surf of Costa Rica. I had always loved classic watches and the Italian cars of the 1970s, especially the Miura and the Ghibli Spyder. In the watch universe, my focus was vintage Rolexes, with nicknames like the Paul Newman or the Steve McQueen. That said, Ikepod remained unique and different in my mind from all other brands.
Ikepod was the creation of Marc Newson, a star of contemporary design. His iconic Lockheed Lounge had sold several times for over a million dollars, he had also designed airplanes and even a sub-orbital spaceplane—no wonder he is also represented by Gagosian Gallery. Marc had redefined what it meant to be a designer. He was stylish, inspired and electric, more Mick Jagger than Buckminster Fuller.
Time to go hunting for the brand and bring back this unique design/art vision to the entrenched and somewhat stuffy world of haute horlogerie. After navigating a number of Swiss roadblocks, Ikepod was mine and Marc was on board, so we were off to the races.
Not so fast. Contrary to the contemporary art and design worlds, where innovation and originality is valued, the world of horology is steeped in conservative traditions. Ikepod was different from anything else in the market; this was its strength, but also its weakness.
In art, collectors distinguish themselves by making prescient choices, but in my opinion this is not so much the case with watch collectors. When an independent company launches some-thing new, it’s often a new twist on flash and bling. Marc’s designs are never flashy. An Ikepod has a unique form and stands apart. Whereas the movement of a traditional watch is accessed from the back of the case, the Ikepod’s movement is accessed from the front. In addition, the bracelet has no buckle or deployant clasp: the Ikepod case and band are seamless, only a small metal nipple affixes it to the wrist.
We proceeded to relaunch improved versions of the Hemipode and Megapode and create a new model, the Horizon. This year Jeff Koons designed what has been a very successful special artist’s edition, with part of the proceeds going to benefit the Koons Family Foundation. Marc, in turn, has also created an all-new form, the Solaris, a fully reversible square watch. It features two dials on opposite sides of the case, with a reversible band—something no one in the industry had ever imagined. For art collectors an Ikepod is the perfect watch, but in the watch world Ikepod is still breaking new ground and trying things that have never been done before.
Watch collectors are too often attracted to gadgets—a watch with a piece of a sunken ship or a quadruple tourbillon that plays Mozart. Mechanical gadgets are fun, but mere gimmickry does not qualify as real innovation in design. The great classic brands do hold their grip on the broader market, and collectors pay a premium for the perceived value of their history and tradition. Some of these historic brands also make great watches, but an Ikepod is a whole different thing. What makes Ikepod worth pursuing is the challenge of bringing a new perspective to an industry that is often regressive. Horology will refine its vision because collectors are becoming more sophisticated and will inevitably differentiate between innovation and artifice.
This year in Basel we revealed a prototype for the Ikepod Hourglass, a borosilicate-glass chronometer containing 21 million low-carbon nanoballs. It’s the perfect Newson fantasy object, the use of a technology long obsolete, but reconceived with 21st-century materials and an eye for hermetic design. This object is futuristic and anachronistic at once, it is everything that Ikepod represents. The worlds of horology and contemporary design are bound to collide, and for those who can see it, we make Ikepods.