For Your Eyes Only

The name James Taffin de Givenchy carries a lot of weight. Not only is he the nephew of Hubert de Givenchy, the famous French couturier who outfitted screen siren Audrey Hepburn in most of her landmark films, he’s also amassed a loyal following of starlets, all of whom shimmer on the red carpet with his jewels that he seldom loans.

By appointment only, the Jimmy watch, first created over a decade ago by jeweler James de Givenchy as a wristwatch for himself. Photo by Cooper Naitove.

In an age when movie premieres and award shows are the purviews of behemoth jewelry brands, with their hefty marketing dollars, de Givenchy’s company, Taffin, has garnered renown through stealth, accruing a loyal base of customers through word of mouth. He lets his inimitable designs—from intricate clusters to vibrant solitaire stones—shine through. Scarlett Johansson’s engagement ring, comprised of a yellow pear-shaped diamond on a black ceramic setting, is just one example of his discerning taste. The way the juxtaposition of stones and materials play off each other, resulting in a design that is equal parts bold and effervescent, leaves little doubt why his reputation precedes him in certain circles.  

These qualities also apply to the under-the-radar watches that he offers to select clients in his salon on Madison Avenue. Titled the Jimmy, de Givenchy first created the timepiece over a decade ago strictly for himself. But after learning about the mechanics behind watchmaking, and the incredible—if painstaking—process it takes to get one made, he decided to debut a collection that would appeal to the men who would visit his appointment-only showroom. To whit, it follows the same attention to detail and one-of-a-kind mindset that was practiced by his uncle. 

Each numbered and personalized for the wearer, the Jimmy is an automatic chronograph that features a pronounced rounded case that bubbles up top. Whether it is made of gold, rose gold, titanium, or steel, every watch is water-resistant and has a scratch-proof crystal. The goal for de Givenchy was to create a timepiece that can be worn every day, that is, utilitarian in make but sleek and striking in look. For him, a great watch is akin to automobiles—machines that need to perform, while also having an exterior that turns heads. Indeed, with sensibilities such as this, it’s no wonder why he was once dubbed “the James Bond of the jewelry world.”  

Here, de Givenchy explains why his reputation and that of the Jimmy is as close to 007 status as it gets. 

Variations of the Jimmy watch, James de Givenchy's passion project
Variations fo the Jimmy watch, James de Givenchy’s timepiece passion project.

When did you first create the Jimmy Watch?

What I mostly do is woman’s jewelry. Watches are a whole different world, but I was curious. In 2005, maybe in 2004, I started working with a friend of mine in France and asked him what it takes to make a man’s watch. He then offered to help with the CAD work. But little did we know there was so much more behind it. 

How so?

Well, it’s not just about doing a shape of a watch that you want. We did a wax form first, and I brought the wax with me to Switzerland to the Basel watch fair. There, I realized what it takes. You have to pick a movement to go into a watch.  It’s like building your own car. Putting the outside drawing of the design is one thing, but the next step was putting an engine in there. Initially, I thought I was going to make just one—not to sell, but a watch for me. Ultimately, I decided that the best solution, rather than building my own movement, was to work with a company.

Who built your movement?

It’s an ETA movement. And at that time, ETA was just about to be purchased by Swatch. Now, it’s owned by Swatch Group. But when I was starting to look at ETA, it was still a small Swiss company that offered different models of movements that were available for purchase. The idea at that time was to buy one and do a chronograph. I always wanted to do a chronograph. I loved the Bubble Back from Rolex, and I wanted to make a slightly larger version with the same function, but with a bubble top instead of a back. I wanted something that I would wear every day that felt like a modern, practical watch with a very good movement.

Did you find what you were looking for? 

Not at first. Every watch that was in the market at that time was those one-inch, thick, complicated movements for men. It was the biggest watches you could find in the 1980s, and everybody was going away from flat watches, which now, apparently, is making a comeback. I didn’t want to have something too big, especially because the watch, the design itself, was supposed to fit the wrist, and be a comfortable, flat watch with a complicated movement. So, after looking at a few, I came across this chronograph movement. We took it and built a CAD model that actually worked for that movement. So everything is done around that single movement.

What makes it elegant? The shape, the material?

It’s really about the balance and the proportions. I wanted to keep the face not too big. When clients come into the shop and they see the watch, they’ll buy it. I have a very small amount, and I’m limited to the number of watches that we made. One of my favorites, actually, is the rose gold with the black dial. It’s a great watch with a deploying buckle. Another favorite is the lizard bands that we have. The band we made can only fit the watch, so we have other bands made specifically in France. That was a complicated thing to actually have a comfortable band with an insert that was not built out of metal but built out of a soft rubber that goes into the watches. It keeps the aerodynamic feeling.

James de Givenchy working with signature coral
Threading signature coral, James de Givenchy working behind the scenes.

You’re known to create pieces with bold color and material, so how does the design of the Jimmy tie into the Taffin brand? 

As a man, I don’t wear jewelry. I only wear a watch and a signet ring. Most of the jewelry I design, though large in size, has a purity and simplicity in their forms. And the watches were made with the same idea. I didn’t want anything else than a shape that was pretty, functional, but also masculine. The only thing that jazzes it up a little bit is the ring around each watch. Now, we can offer a personalized color on the rim of any size with a ceramic. Without wanting to be commercial, I always felt that the guy was just gipped at the moment he came into my store. We’ve had cufflinks for a long time, but it is nice to have something else to offer when women asked me if I have something for their husbands.  

It just makes sense that you keep these watches rare, and not make more.

I think it was never intended to be a commercial venture. I lost more money in making the watch, but it was never about that. We probably broke even today, but it’s never really about making money. It was really about making something and just enjoying the fact that I have some clients who live with this watch. They just wear them all the time. God forbid something happens to the watch and they bring it back. Though, I have so many movements left that if there’s an issue with a watch, I just put in a brand new movement. I don’t go through trying to fix and to send it to Switzerland. I don’t want them to wait.

So it’s really a passion project?

Yeah, it was about making my own watch. I think over time, in 30 or 40 years, it’ll become a collectible because there were just a few made. That’s good enough for me. I think that’s a great achievement.

A look at the inner workings of The Jimmy watch by James de Givenchy for Taffin
The Jimmy watch by James de Givenchy for Taffin.

One Hundred Shades of Blue

“You’ve got a famous last name,” Norah Jones once sang, “but you’re not to blame.” In an industry where millions of francs are spent trying–and failing–to create iconic and memorable designs, Hublot has done it twice. The brand’s 1980 debut was a scientific and aesthetic triumph; when the Big Bang arrived in 2004, it reimagined the rubber-strap luxury watch as a hugely popular fashion statement. In the decade and a half since, Hublot has updated the Big Bang with a flurry of manufacture movements while reconstructing its case in everything from zirconium to white gold with black baguette diamonds. Yet the firm’s greatest strength–the instant recognition of its core product–is also a significant challenge. How do you keep the Big Bang fresh without losing what made it popular in the first place?

Limited to only one hundred pieces, Hublot reveals the first in a trilogy in collaboration with Lapo Elkann’s Garage Italia. Expressing “Sky,” future editions will represent “Earth” and “Sea.” Photo by Atom Moore.

Lapo Elkann, the artistic director of Garage Italia, knows all about the challenges of fame. Born into Italy’s dynastic Agnelli family, Elkann would eventually become a marketing director for FIAT, the firm founded by his ancestors in 1899. Yet he was not content to labor anonymously in the family fields; Elkann’s outrageous choices in both style and lifestyle put him both on tabloid covers and in Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed Hall Of Fame. He would eventually leave FIAT and start a number of firms devoted to promoting and advancing a uniquely Italian approach to design. 

Lapo Elkann
The dashing Lapo Elkann at his Garage Italia headquarters.

In retrospect, therefore, it seems obvious that Hublot and Elkann would eventually collide–a firm considering how to evolve a famous name and a fellow who had already done so on his own account. The resulting Classic Fusion Chronograph Garage Italia exists in that narrow space where flamboyance meets tradition, to the benefit of both. “You don’t have to shout to be noticed,” Elkann states. “We pride ourselves to be both serious and playful at the same time.”

Indeed, this Hublot is relatively serious, with an ETA-based HUB1143 column-wheel flyback chronograph movement. The look, however, is playful, featuring six titanium screws holding down the first-ever sky-blue ceramic bezel on a 45mm “Garage Italia blue” ceramic case. Elkann’s logo appears at 3 o’clock, polished, and color-neutral like the crown and chronograph pushers. The strap, of course, is rubber–there’s only so much change the customer base will accept, and would it really be a Hublot otherwise? The deployant buckle is titanium.

At Garage Italia, bespoke elements can be added to anything on wheels, water, or wings.

The application of color to high-end watches is still rare enough to be noteworthy, even in what is increasingly looking like an age of near-mandatory ceramics in horology. Carlo Borromeo, Garage Italia’s designer, notes that it’s also a challenge: “When you work with specific colors, there’s a bunch of complications involved in translating a digital idea into a physical object. In particular, it’s really hard if you’re trying to obtain the same colors on different materials and with different processes. Thankfully Hublot has mastered this art, and they were very receptive to our ideas from the very start.”

What keeps the Garage Italia Chronograph from looking like a fashion watch? The fineness of detail helps–but in the end, it’s a matter of proportion and material. Nobody’s idea of an everyday-wear piece, the sky-blue Hublot would be the finishing touch for a truly over-the-top Elkann-style ensemble from Kiton, Brioni, or the tailors on Savile Row. 

Hublot's Classic Fusion Chronograph collaboration with Lapo Elkann's Garage Italia.
A tribute to exceptional motors, design, and creativity. The pale blue ceramic bezel is a hallmark of Garage Italia with its distinctive “I” logo at three.

Launched in May and limited to 100 pieces, this watch is already selling for above retail in the secondary market, suggesting that the firm could have moved a few more than it did. Frustrated would-be purchasers can take heart in knowing the chronograph is merely the first of a three-piece collaboration between Hublot and Garage Italia, titled “Sky, Earth, Sea.”

Elkann is positively ebullient regarding future collaborations: “Garage Italia is defined by Italian excellence and traditional expertise in a contemporary style which is often disruptive. With Hublot, I have found the same hunger for innovation and exploration topped with an unprecedented timeliness for technological prowess.” Will the next two Hublots from the partnership be conventionally shaped takes on the Big Bang? Will they stay near the Classic Fusion Chronograph’s retail price of $14,100? Lastly, will future series-production Hublots benefit from Garage Italia design? Neither Elkann nor Borromeo would provide specifics, but neither would they rule out the prospect of expanding the partnership beyond their limited editions.

Regarding the temptations of fame, Norah Jones sang that “I needed to stand in my own shoes.“ This newest effort from Hublot and Garage Italia does just that, benefiting from its well-known progenitors and designers without relying on nostalgia or retro appeal–and there is more to come.

Hublot's Classic Fusion Chronograph collaboration with Lapo Elkann's Garage Italia.
The automatic chronograph houses the Hublot calibre HUB 1143. The movement runs with at 4 Hz/28,000 A/h with a power reserve of 42 hours. Photo by Atom Moore.

Photo Essay: Robots vs. Skeletons

In the impending age of automation and artificial intelligence, the Swiss carry out aesthetic experiments on a most human device:
the wristwatch.


Bell & Ross BR-X1 Black Titanium
$18,600; bellross.com


Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon
$20,900; ulysse-nardin.com


Hublot Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph
$15,100; hublot.com


Piaget Altiplano Ultra-Thin Skeleton
$57,000; piaget.com


Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Double Tourbillon
$322,000; rogerdubuis.com


AG Heuer 45 mm Heuer 01 Chronograph with Skeleton Dial
$5,450; tagheuer.com


Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 Squelette Steel Sapphire
$22,500; parmigiani.com


Vacheron Constantin Malte Tourbillon Openworked
$305,000; vacheron-constantin.com


About the photographer: Junichi Ito was born and raised in Tokyo. Based in New York since 2005, he has photographed major commercial campaigns for Armani, Barneys, Estée Lauder, Moët & Chandon, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. He has also shot original editorial content for Allure, Fast Company, Real Simple, Vogue Japan, and Wallpaper. His Instagram is a must-follow.