Products need only last as long as a glimpse at Instagram, so what does good design mean now? For Dieter Rams, it has always been about purity, ever since he started his industrial design career during the mid-1950s. Rams, who recently turned 86, served as the Chief Design Officer of Braun from 1961 until 1995; his famed “Ten Principals of Good Design,” and its influence on everyday objects, especially technology and electronics, remains unparalleled. An upcoming auction at Wright in Chicago (July 12th) celebrates the German’s prolific career and continued legacy, sending more than 130 of seminal products by Rams’ and his Braun colleagues across the block.
Nearly everything in this collection, sourced from Los Angeles connoisseur-and-dealer JF Chen, is fascinating. Here, Watch Journal narrows the scoping, picking out a few favorite lots to illustrate Rams’s “Ten Principals.”
Dieter Rams: The JF Chen Collection, Chicago, July 12, 2018; wright20.com
You know the brand and the watches. But do you know the backstory?
In his new book Bulova: A History ofFirsts (Assouline Publishing, $195) writer and editor Aaron Sigmond gathers up a crew of luminaries and tastemakers to tell the tale. The result is an engaging (and beautifully presented) look back at an American watch company that took great risks in marketing, advertising, and design, all while pushing the technical boundaries of watchmaking. Divided up into eight chapters, this glossy tome features tons of archival material with over 100 photos and illustrations, showing us just how “America Runs on Bulova Time.”
Super-custom, highly collectible steel bikes that look (and ride) like works of art.
Here’s a little-known fact the cycling industry would prefer you ignore: the bulk of today’s carbon-fiber racing bikes are made in Taiwan, spit out in the same automated factory. Yes, even those beautiful Italian models steeped in all that history.
Pegorettis, on the other hand, are bikes of a different breed. Forged from steel, splashed in an array of colors befitting a Basquiat canvas, tailored to fit like a classic Neapolitan suit, every handmade Peg is—to those who still believe in the simple poetry of a bicycle—a timeless entity. So is the man who makes them.
“The first thing a bike should do is give the rider a sense of familiarity, second a sense of security, and third a sense of trust,” says 62-year-old Dario Pegoretti, his raspy Italian voice rising and falling like a sonata. “Then we can start talking about performance. Already the first three things are difficult to achieve.”
Dario should know. For over four decades, he’s been crafting the world’s finest bespoke bicycles. It’s something he likens to a love affair, one that began in 1975, when he apprenticed for legendary Italian frame builder Luigino Milani. Dario—then a university student—initially took the job because he needed money to go out on Saturday nights. It quickly evolved into his life’s calling. By the 1990s, he was secretly building custom bikes for that decade’s best racers, from five-time Tour de France champ Miguel Induráin to Italian climbing ace Marco Pantani, who slapped their own sponsors’ decals over Dario’s hand-welded frame sets.
Today, in a sport dominated by carbon-fiber construction, electronic gearing, and data-spewing fitness apps, Dario remains a throwback figure, a silver-haired savant who works in steel. Every day, he shuffles around his workshop in Verona—a concrete studio, housed in a former train depot—wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans and floppy Birkenstocks, listening to jazz and blues records, sipping espresso as he builds a few hundred bikes a year along with his small staff. His clientele has shifted from racers to cultish enthusiasts, who flock to Verona from all over the globe to get their hands on one of the man’s coveted custom rigs. (Notable among them, the late Robin Williams; at one point, he purportedly amassed the largest Pegoretti collection in world.)
Most customers fiendishly ride their bikes, marveling at its just-right fit, swearing that Dario’s steel can somehow read the road’s subtle textures and rhythmic turns. Others just mount their Pegs on the wall as art. Either way, these bikes are extensions of both builder and rider; a singular bond stems from the former’s dedication to the latter, and vice versa. One particularly besotted client even asked to have a few strands of Dario’s hair sealed into the bike’s clear-coat finish.
“In recent years, I’ve finally learned to say no,” Dario says. He seems confounded, almost—not only by the off-the-wall customization ideas, but at the sheer fanaticism of his devotees. “Now, when a customer’s request doesn’t match what I think I am able to do, I say no. This happens a dozen times each year.”
And yet, despite his reticence to bend to buyers’ whims, despite his propensity to only work with those who trust his old-school methodology, despite the cancer that nearly killed him in 2007—a form of lymphoma that triggered a collective freak-out among his many fans—Dario is anything but standoffish.
His process, much like his persona, is laid-back. Tranquillo.
“He’s literally smoking a cigarette and has a tape measure and is jotting your measurements down with a pencil,” recalls Ian Harris, a 29-year-old former bike racer.
Four years ago, Harris made a pilgrimage from his native New York to get fitted for his first Pegoretti. Ian’s father, who’d ridden a Peg for years, sold his son on the idea of owning a bike that would last forever, rather than some trendy technology piece.
“I was a little worried,” the younger Harris admits. For him, the Dario Experience included a dog yapping at his feet and a bottle of single malt whiskey. “Here I am about to drop the most money I’ve ever spent on any single item and this guy seems to be eyeballing it.”
Harris’s misgivings faded as soon as Dario went to work. The craftsman begins with a conversation; invariably, it goes well beyond bike geometry, bleeding into food, art, music, charming even the most skeptical of skeptics. In the end, Harris even opted for Dario’s “Ciavete” paint job, one that gives the legendary builder carte blanche to cast your brand-new, one-of-a-kind machine in whatever color scheme he feels like on that given day.
“The paint scheme reflects my mood,” Dario says. He can be influenced by anything, from recent photography exhibits to a “lady’s magazine” he flipped through at the hairdresser. “If it’s not a perfect day, the black color will flow a lot along the tubes. In contrast, the white and yellow will flow if the day is okay. Sometimes, I think that a rainy or sunny day affects what I do.”
“The paint job, I told him, ‘You take care of that,’” says Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier at New York’s three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin. “I’m not going to tell Michelangelo how to paint the Sistine Chapel.”
Sohm, an Austrian native, was bitten by the cycling bug four years ago, and quickly began amassing a trove of high-end Italian racing bikes.
“It’s like buying watches,” he says. “You buy the first one, then you buy the second one, and you’re hooked.”
His burgeoning obsession eventually led to Pegoretti; he was fitted for a bike when Dario was visiting New York. The two met outside a barbecue joint in Brooklyn (Sohm suggested this, having heard about Dario’s love for meat and American cuisine, a habit that—along with his smoking—must grate his oncologist), and Dario measured him right there on the street. The finished product soon became Sohm’s favorite ride, outperforming all the modern bikes in his collection.
“When you descend on a Pegoretti, it’s like you’re sitting on a razor blade,” Sohm says. “It’s just so precise. And if you go over cobblestones, you just glide over them.”
Next on Sohm’s agenda is organizing a ride for local Pegoretti owners in New York City. Unsurprisingly, they’re a rare breed, which is probably what engenders such a feeling of clubbiness among them.
“What’s the expression?” Harris says with a laugh. “Game recognizes game?”
He says he’ll always get waves from fellow Peg Heads, the requisite nod and nice bike! Once, he was chased down the west side of Manhattan by a guy in a car, who rolled down his window to say that he, too, owned a Pegoretti.
“It’s like having a very obscure, vintage Tag Monaco,” says Harris. “If you see someone wearing it, you think, ‘This guy must know a lot about watches.’”
When Maximilian Büsser opened the original Mechanical Art Devices Gallery in Geneva, in October 2011, he never expected to sell any of the artworks on display.
They were simply meant to contextualize his watchmaking collective, MB&F, and its experimental Horological Machines line of timepieces—“to demonstrate our path of thinking,” he says. But the gallery proved an incredible success as a showplace for fantastical kinetic art. So successful, in fact, that it spawned two satellite locations: Taipei and Dubai, which opened in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
For Büsser, a veteran of the watch and jewelry industry, the M.A.D. gallery led to a second professional life, as a curator. It’s a role he never expected but very clearly loves. His newfound passion for fine art and fascination with machinery meet in “For the Thrill of Speed,” a rare static exhibition at M.A.D. Geneva. It encompasses a collection of auto racing photographs by the late French racing photographer René Pari, which were painstakingly resurrected from damaged negatives by artists Daniel Berque and Serge Brison.
Before the grand opening of “For the Thrill of Speed” in Geneva, Büsser spoke to Watch Journal about the origins of the gallery, what he looks for in an artist, and why he prefers co-creation to inspiration.
What was the genesis of the gallery concept?
Most retailers didn’t understand what we were trying to do with our Horological Machines. They’d look at our pieces and say, ‘This is not a watch.’ I thought maybe our pieces should be presented in art galleries, so I went to see some art galleries, and they said, ‘Well, this isn’t art, it’s a watch.’ Clearly, something wasn’t working.
I realized I needed some sort of hybrid concept. It had to be an art gallery which was specifically catering to mechanical or kinetic art, so people would understand what we were trying to do. Initially, it was like a decoding machine. If you understand Frank Buchwald and his incredible machine lights, then maybe you’ll understand our Horological Machine. If you want a motorbike, you go get a Ducati, or a Harley Davidson; if you want a work of art, you get a Chicara Nagata. By the same token, if you want the time, you buy a Samsung or an Apple Watch. If you want a piece of art, you buy an MB&F.
What do you look for in an artist and where do you find them?
Initially, we were scouring the internet. Remember, we had a blog, “Parallel World,” on the website, and every week for ten years we had a post always talking about things that amazed me—things that I wanted to share. In doing this, I bumped into a lot of incredible creations and creators. We were very active at the beginning looking for artists we’d be proud to showcase; now we have a certain amount of artists who contact us.
I always say the M.A.D. Gallery is an orphanage because virtually all of the artists we showcase are either misunderstood or shunned by traditional galleries. Because traditional galleries are usually interested in paintings, photos, mixed media. Kinetic art is something ninety-nine percent of galleries don’t understand or want to deal with.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Definitely Damien Bénéteau, who does these incredible light sculptures. There is of course Bob Potts, the American artist who does these flying machines, which are so beautiful—real kinetic art. There is this incredible Turkish artist, Server Demirtaş, who had a solo show last May. He does these android robots who come to life and they’re mind-boggling. And we introduced an English kinetic artist called Ivan Black who created what looks like a lamp, which is actually a kinetic art piece that starts moving, and does incredible choreography. And I’ll finish with Nils Völker, who does choreography—we’re very much into choreography these days. Artists who create pieces that are beautiful to look at but when they start moving, they’re like a ballet.
Do you find yourself inspired by the artwork when creating timepieces for MB&F?
I’m sure I am, but it’s not something very blatant. It’s not like I love Frank Buchwald’s machine lights, and then say, “Let’s do a watch that captures his style.” I wouldn’t have much pride in copying something that exists from someone who’s created something incredible. It actually infuses me. There are times when we’ve co-created, as with the LM1 Xia Hang, which has the little alien who falls asleep as a power reserve indicator [a collaboration with Chinese sculptor Xia Hang]. So we will sit down and say, “Why don’t we create something together?”
How do “co-creations” work?
The first co-creation we did was with Reuge, the music box company. It happened because we had some Reuge boxes at the beginning of M.A.D. Gallery; I loved them but they didn’t speak to me. So I went to them and we made MusicMachine 1 [an unconventional music box]. Then we started doing the clocks, the Caran d’Ache pen [known as the Astrograph]. All these clocks, music boxes, and pens very much have in mind creating 3-D kinetic art for the galleries. So it’s sort of, what goes around comes around. The gallery was there to make people understand MB&F and now MB&F is creating objects for the gallery.
We have drawn all the venom from the phrase, painful drop by painful drop. We have applied it to presidents, cardiologists, weathermen. Crammed it into every help-wanted ad for a barista or programmer or call-center employee.
It’s easy to forget that there was once truly such a thing as a “rock star.”
Think back to the barbaric yawps of Robert Plant or Axl Rose, when the rock star occupied a particular apex not seen before or since in human society. Rich as Rockefeller, famous as any actor, and more desirable than either because he answered only to his own fearsomely rebellious and youthful self. He blazed fiercely but briefly, then he was replaced. Anybody could be next. All you needed was a guitar, preferably an electric one that could be cranked into an overdriven scream by a stack of Marshall amplifiers.
The first electric guitars appeared shortly after World War II, but the apogee of development and craftsmanship was realized in the latter half of the 1950s. “I opened my shop forty-eight years ago,” says George Gruhn, “and the guitars that I’m looking for now are the same ones I was looking for then.” Gruhn, widely considered to be the dean of the guitar-collecting hobby, operates Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, ground zero for the stratospheric high end of vintage-guitar deals.
He says that management and ownership changes at major American guitar makers, coupled with skyrocketing demand that could not be fulfilled building instruments the old-fashioned way, effectively killed the quality of guitars during the 1960s and 1970s. Musicians like Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield responded by walking into pawn shops and buying sunburst-finish Gibson Les Pauls made from 1958 through 1960. A blurry photograph of a “Burst” Gibson on the back of the 1964 album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton launched the vintage-guitar craze.
By 2007, speculators had raised the price of those guitars into the low seven figures. The book Million Dollar Les Paul by Tony Bacon tells stories of cash-only transactions in dimly lit parking lots and a shadow industry devoted to the counterfeiting of Bursts. The market correction that occurred afterward returned some sanity to the hobby, but prices are still high enough to daunt all but the most committed players.
It only takes a few minutes with a genuine vintage Gibson to understand why. They were made with wood from old-growth forests, seasoned in open-air workrooms for decades. Give the body of a 1959 Les Paul a rap with your knuckle, and you can feel the sympathetic vibration at the top of the headstock. According to Gruhn, the guitars made today have largely returned to the standards of assembly quality found in the 1950, “but the wood isn’t there.”
“This is all newly grown wood, heavily restricted by import regulations, dried artificially in a kiln,” he says. “The tone isn’t the same.”
Unlike a vintage automobile or a piece of antique furniture, an old Les Paul is still capable of rocking as hard as it did in the hands of Keith Richards or Jimmy Page. Stored and handled correctly, that should be just as true fifty years from now as it was fifty years ago. Perhaps that explains why Gruhn is seeing sales increase, despite the fact that many older baby boomers are no longer actively adding to their collections.
Interested in getting one of your own? Guided by Mr. Gruhn, we’ve picked three top-shelf vintage electric guitars, covering the spectrum from classic to glam. All of them would be fine additions to an existing collection, or investment-grade pieces for the budding connoisseur. And any of them will make you feel like a rock star, regardless of your day job.
George Gruhn recommends…
THE STANDARD-BEARER: 1959 Les Paul “Burst”
Approximately 1,400 Sunburst Les Pauls were made between 1958 and 1960. Fewer than 650 of them were 1959 models, which had bigger, more playable frets than the 1958 “Lester” but a more comfortable neck than the 1960 version. Even the roughest examples now fetch well over $100,000, and convincing fakes outnumber originals, so take your time and find one with a few decades’ worth of ownership history.
THE ARTISAN: D’Angelico New Yorker
From 1932 to 1964, John D’Angelico made the world’s finest archtop guitars in his Manhattan shop. While archtops are not considered rock-music guitars, they were often used in the fusion-jazz that paralleled rock’s development in the 1970s. Figure $15,000 for a decent one, though some of D’Angelico’s more elaborate efforts can sell for significantly more.
THE WILD CARD: 1982 Charvel Van Halen
Guitar dealer and builder Wayne Charvel was the source of Eddie Van Halen’s touring guitars during the band’s salad years. He sold the name to Grover Jackson, who built high quality “Superstrats” in the 1980s before cashing out and sending production overseas. Gruhn estimates that a Charvel by Jackson could be worth as much as $20,000, but beware: As with Bursts, counterfeits abound. And if you want one actually played by Mr. Van Halen, however briefly, expect to pay up to five times more.