Artist Profile: Alexis Rockman

Alexis Rockman’s baroque, psychedelic paintings capture our eroding environment.

Portrait & Studio Photographs by Christopher Garcia Valle

“I have a lot of anger and anxiety and sadness and also love,” Alexis Rockman says. The artist is talking about the environmental calamity that fuels his complex work, an oeuvre of ominous, baroque, pop art–inspired wildlife paintings, which evoke John James Audubon, if John James Audubon liked to watch Godzilla movies and drop acid. Rockman’s sitting on a bench in Tribeca, outside the same sparse, utilitarian studio he’s been occupying for the past 30 years. “Oh fuck you!” he screams to a passing off-duty fire truck, whose driver leans on the horn a few excruciating beats too long.

Rockman, 56, has reason to be irritable. It’s a sweltering summer morning, a Monday, and last week he buried his beloved dog of 13 years, a pitbull-lab mix named Padme, after the Star Wars princess. Today, he’s running on fumes thanks to the one-two punch of a late-night Chicago opening of his “Great Lakes Cycle”—five sprawling tableaux depicting the ecological evolution (and subsequent degradation) of North America’s greatest bodies of fresh water—followed by a delayed flight back to New York. After this interview wraps, he’ll be playing a game of hoops—something the former athlete does almost daily—and then he’s off with his wife and two children to Ménerbes, a hilltop walled village in Provence, where the restless artist has produced some of his best recent work.

Alexis Rockman in his Tribeca studio.

“If you make stuff about ecology and you’re living in New York City, how can you not be inspired by travel?” says Rockman, a New York native. His deadpan is inarguably charming.

Indeed, travel encompasses a large part of Rockman’s painstaking process, one that begins with a journalistic hunger for facts and truths, and ultimately leads to him embedding with archeologists, anthropologists, and various locals during extended, Indiana Jones–esque field visits. Over the years, these have come in the form of everything from far-flung death marches to midnight hikes in Madagascar with lemur conservationists.  

Rockman took a similar tack for his Great Lakes Cycle series. He sailed across Lake Michigan, explored the area’s defunct copper mines. He even joined U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents dispatched to control sea lampreys, a breed of bloodsucking, eel-like fish that invaded the Great Lakes in the mid-1800s and have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem ever since.

Rockman’s “New Mexico Field Drawings,” a collection of 76 works, all organic material and acrylic polymer on paper, on view at Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York through August 3.

Each of the resulting 12-foot-wide, wood-paneled oil paintings unfurls like a horrific hyper-lapse of the eroding millennia. On the left, you begin with pristine glaciers, schools of indigenous fish, migrating caribou; on the right, the inevitable destruction of sunken planes and ships, armadas of floating timber, the toxic green runoff of factory farms and cities. And while there are no humans present in any of these works, the message is clear: Behold the death and destruction mankind wrought.

“As someone said to me last night in Chicago, ‘You’re not really making paintings about the good news,’” Rockman says with a sardonic laugh. Even he admits to often feeling empty and depressed after dealing with the cruel, unvarnished truths depicted. “And that’s kinda the point. It’s like I don’t see any good news. If you’re into ecology, you’re in fucking dreamland if you think that there’s good news anymore.”

The artist’s natural selection of souvenirs and ecological ephemera.

He talks about climate change, over-fishing, the cognitive dissonance he feels being an environmental activist who still eats meat. But while Rockman’s ecological anxiety is ever-present in his work, there are other influences in play, too. Having grown up a city kid, Rockman loved escaping to Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History, marveling at the dioramas and dinosaur fossils. Yet he was equally content losing himself in the darkness of a theater, watching monster movie matinees and sci-fi flicks. If you look closely, this is evident in his work, too.

“I’m so comfortable with my unconscious,” Rockman says. While field research is key to his art, so is forgetting everything he’s learned and allowing his subconscious—one bursting with russet, post-apocalyptic sunsets, ruined cities, and creepy-crawly things that go bump in the night—take over the process. “It’s all the same bouillabaisse of stuff.”

Alexis Rockman “Bananas,” 2013. Watercolor and gouache on paper. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater, New York.

It’s this equilibrium of the methodical and the loose-on-the-reins that begets Rockman’s distinct and deliberate style, something he describes as “almost taboo, like very seductive paintings about decay and mortality.” What you’re left with are beautiful and intricate series like “Rubicon,” vibrant oils of animals—some familiar, some grotesquely mutated—taking over vast, abandoned cityscapes. Or “American Icons,” a lucid series of rotting landmarks including Disney World and the Hollywood sign, which to Rockman represent ideas about “tourism and disgraced symbols of American imperialism and success.”

Alexis Rockman “Untitled (Cherry Blossoms)” 2013. Watercolor, ink and goache on paper. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.

But Rockman’s work isn’t all so ominous. In 2009, he collaborated with Academy Award–winning film director Ang Lee on the trippy aquatic visuals for Life of Pi; more recently, he produced New Mexico Field Drawings, a collection of spontaneous and lyrical drawings of the high-desert flora and fauna outside Santa Fe. For each, Rockman bagged and tagged unique soil samples, then used their pigments for his sketches. It’s a technique he developed some 25 years ago when his art supplies ran out while traveling in the Amazon. Not only does it lend his work a sense of organic authenticity, but the materials allow him to return to the place he’s painting. “When I do the field drawings, I’m using the place I’m longing for,” he says. “The work is literally made out of that place.”

Alexis Rockman “Common Black Hawk” from “New Mexico Field Drawings” (2017). Organic material and acrylic polymer on paper.

Unsurprisingly, places are a preoccupation for Rockman. He rattles off those he longs to see, or see again: Tasmania, Borneo, New Guinea, Antarctica, numerous locales in Central and Southern America. Then, just as quickly, his mind is back in New York City. “Did you know there are jackrabbits at JFK [airport] under the runway?” he notes. Apparently, there were walruses at Jones Beach 10,000 years ago. “I revel in the idea of life in unexpected places.”  

As if on cue, Rockman’s attention zeroes in on a dragonfly. He stares in genuine wonder, and you can see him mentally cataloging the insect’s otherworldly anatomy, its crepe-paper wings, its pixelated compound eyes. “Hey, check this out,” he shouts at a passing stranger on the sidewalk, a flood of enthusiasm cracking his cast of cynicism. “There’s a beautiful dragonfly right here!”

Watch This Space

Do you know the name of the last man on the moon?

The painter Michael Kagan does. This April, sitting in an a Williamsburg studio built one brackish spray away from the East River, he spoke about portraying men on the edge of other boundaries.

“Eugene Cernan knew he was going to be the last. He was up there, looking at earth—not religious at all—he said it didn’t really hit him. ‘There’s earth.’ And then he turns around and looks at the blackness of outer space. That was it. The profound thing was seeing nothing.”

Seeing nothing is an odd aspiration for a visual artist, especially one like Kagan, whose large-format oil paintings are predominately figurative, and often include real figures. His main preoccupation, and most fruitful artistic ground, is men like Cernan—the astronauts who flew during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s. Rendered in oil, his portraits combine the slickness and formal strength of their source material: old NASA publicity photos, with a bright palette of black, white, and only a couple of dabs of color. As seen most often, condensed into a square on Instagram—Kagan has more than 19,000 followers—the paintings are entirely sensible and compact, taking no more than the duration of a swipe to comprehend.

“Those Who Came Before Us” 2018. Oil on linen. 96″ x 72″.

As Kagan says, “It’s like—boom, astronaut.”

That consumable nature, a stylish repurposing of midcentury propaganda, caught the eye of Pharrell Williams—himself a man who makes serious coin tweaking material from the Space Age. (Williams’s 2014 smash “Happy” is both wholly his own work and a retread, in vocal style and sonic exuberance, of Curtis Mayfield’s 1970 hit “Move On Up.”) In 2012, having seen a profile of Kagan’s work, Pharrell purchased the rights to three paintings. A year later, they appeared on pieces from his streetwear line, Billionaire Boys Club. Half a decade on, they still trade above retail.

All of which is to say that Kagan’s paintings work great in miniature. On a screen, on a card, printed on T-shirts, the spacemen appear antiseptic and tight, with a geometry befitting the era of rocket science. This, the “seeing something” version, works very well.

“Moonwalk” 2018. Oil on linen. 36″ x 36″.

But sitting in the artist’s studio, an arm’s length from some canvases, you see how Cernan’s appraisal of oblivion, or at least of an indiscernible world, appears in Kagan’s work alongside all this order and shapeliness.  

Take “Mercury 7,” an 8-by-8-foot canvas painted from a pre-flight still taken of the Mercury Seven, the name NASA gave its first class of astronauts. Initially, it seems quite heroic.

“These guys were the ultimate rock stars,” he says of Buzz Aldrin, Leland Melvin, John Glenn, and the others in NASA’s pioneering space programs. “People would clap when they walked into restaurants. They had huge parades down Fifth Avenue in New York. Everyone was behind it in a positive way.”

In the painting, the seven men are posed indoors, but washed, somehow, in the harsh, high-contrast light of the sun unfiltered by the atmosphere. With their visors up, you see that the figures are clean-cut pilots, handsome instruments against Communism. Their transgressions—boozing, speeding, and sexual opportunism—quashed by NASA’s press office, scrubbed from the official portraiture.

Yet, in person, you realize that the smooth convexity of those NASA helmets is rendered by Kagan in topographic daubs of oil paint, used as if its didn’t cost $200 a tube, applied with a squeegee as often as with a brush. The forms waver; the balance shifts. The strokes are dispersed, disordered.

“We Have Felt the Ground Shake” at Bill Brady Gallery.

It’s a small violence: To approach a Michael Kagan painting is to watch the pristine whites of a space suit disintegrate.

Kagan likes that conceptual wiggle—from seeing something, to nothing, and back again.

“Some people say I should take a side photo of my paintings with a raking light, but I don’t want to,” he says. “I like that it tightens up in the small Instagram format, but up close, it falls apart.”

It’s the touch of vertigo that swells between “something” and “nothing” that makes Kagan’s work about more than rockets and space. Where Eugene Cernan had an encounter with the void, we, the earthbound, have the opportunity to encounter art, in hopes of forcing a perspectival shift—to see our institutions as edificial and then, in three steps, dissolve into artifice.

The first watch on the moon? Not exactly. Kagan wears an unexpected yet sentimental Seamaster from Omega. (Photo: Christopher Garcia Valle)

“When you’re in space, you don’t see borders. You just see the globe. Everyone comes back and they question why there’s so much fighting and political strife. One of [the astronaut] goals was to see in the future if space travel could be a normal thing—could we take a bunch of politicians up? Could we take people up and see what good could come from that perspective and new way of thinking?” Kagan says.

From space, through a reinforced window that shares Instagram’s aspect ratio, the world is tidy, creamy, and perfect. Only on the ground, after the Command Module has plopped into the sea, do all the jagged divides make themselves visible, and the sense of unity collapse.

The Cult of Dario Pegoretti

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.”

The man himself. 

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.)

The workshop in Verona where Pegorettis are born.

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.’”

The Podfather

Working alongside Steve Jobs, a young watch collector named Tony Fadell helped create the iPhone. Ten years later, he reflects on the fallout—and shares his vision for building a better future.

By Oliver Franklin-Wallis
Portrait by Céline Clanet

It’s a crisp January morning in Paris’s 13th Arrondissement, and outside Station F, the former freight terminal that is the epicenter of France’s startup scene, twentysomethings climb out of cars hailed using iPhone apps. They approach the huge, glass-fronted concrete arches, heads bowed over screens, thumbs dancing out social media updates, pristine white earphones poking out from under beanies or from behind shoulder-length hair. The gates are activated by QR code, so they hold out their iPhones to get into work, where they’re probably building iPhone apps themselves, to connect our homes, cars, everything, to the device in our pockets.

This is the world that Tony Fadell helped build. Fadell is known in Silicon Valley as the father of the iPod, which, with its iconic wheel and those classic white earbuds, helped transform Apple’s fortunes from a struggling computer manufacturer to the most valuable public company in history. He played a central role in the creation of the iPhone, helping Steve Jobs and Jony Ive usher in the smartphone age. After leaving Apple, in 2010, Fadell founded the smart-home company Nest, which Google bought in 2014 for $3.2 billion. Few have played bigger roles in shaping today’s technological landscape. No iPod, no iPhone. No iPhone, no Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, or Pokémon Go.

But lately Fadell, like many in Silicon Valley, has been reconsidering the changes he and his colleagues have brought about. In recent months, several former engineers and executives from Google and Facebook—including the inventor of the “like” button—have spoken out publicly about the dangers of smartphones, in particular the design of apps that are intentionally addictive. In June 2017, Fadell told an audience at London’s Design Museum, “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, What did we bring to the world?” This January, after two of the largest investors in Apple called on the company to take action against smartphone addiction in children, Fadell joined in, publicly urging both his former employers to do more.

When I meet him, two weeks later, the subject is still on Fadell’s mind. To be clear: He doesn’t blame Apple—“We can’t say all iPhones are bad”—or even social media companies, although he admits there are “what some people judge as bad actors out there.” Instead, he believes that today’s shocks are a symptom of society reckoning with an unprecedented technological change.

We’re sitting on a bright yellow sofa in Station F, where he has set up his own investment firm, Future Shape. At 48, he is a lean, energetic presence, wearing a teal V-neck, cords, and black zip-up boots. “My first son was born three weeks before the iPhone was released, so my kids have never known a world without them,” Fadell says. He believes that Silicon Valley’s current crisis of conscience can be traced back in part to the architects of the mobile age having children and seeing the impact of their creations. “Your worldview changes dramatically when you have your first kid. You change from ‘me, me, me’ to family and community.” Fadell has three children and, although two of them have smartphones, the family imposes time limits, “screen-free Sundays,” and parental controls.

“When I think about digital well-being, I go back to packaged and mass-produced foods,” he says. “We have created a nomenclature around fats, sugars, proteins. What is obesity? What is bulimia?” Like food, Fadell argues, apps should be subject to their own health classifications. But our smartphones, he says, are just refrigerators. “They’re not going to cause you to be an addict or not. But they always stock themselves, and will give you the ability to buy anything you want.”


When Fadell stepped back from Apple in 2009, the family went traveling. They fell in love with Paris; the city suits Fadell, who has a taste for European culture and design. They later moved back to the Bay Area when Fadell was working on Nest, but when he quit Google in 2016 the Fadells moved to France for good, buying an apartment in the Seventh Arrondissement, and enrolling their children in school.

Station F might be downtown Paris, but it feels very Silicon Valley. It’s midmorning, and young startup workers are playing foosball over cappuccinos. There’s a “Creative Zone” complete with craft supplies; food trucks linger outside. Funded by the French telecommunications billionaire Xavier Niel, it’s vast, with space for a thousand companies. Facebook, Microsoft, and LVMH have already moved in. France’s high taxes and red tape have previously been seen as inimical to startups, but that’s changing: President Macron toured Station F last summer, and the government even has an office here.

Future Shape was still settling in when I visited. The space wasn’t much to look at: a few tasteful chairs and a conference table in a glass-fronted former shipping container. Fadell had ordered a clock—it currently hangs in London’s Ham Yard Hotel—but it hadn’t arrived yet.

Fadell began investing nearly a decade ago (he won’t reveal the extent of his personal wealth, but given Apple stock and Nest’s sale, it’s likely substantial) and has stakes in around 200 companies. They range from OpenROV, a manufacturer of underwater drones, to Grenoble-based Aryballe, which develops biosensors to detect smells and tastes, and Karius, a medical startup that claims to be able to diagnose more than 1,000 infectious diseases from a single blood test. “We get to put ourselves in two hundred different scenarios—in agriculture technology, food technology, financial technology, pharma, and drugs. For me, that kind of stuff is oxygen,” Fadell says.

Living in Paris has also given him time to work on personal projects, such as Ressence, the Brussels-based luxury watch brand, which has won acclaim for its blend of traditional craft and modern technology. Fadell met its founder, Benoît Mintiens, after buying a Ressence Type 3, which has an innovative oil-filled display. (He’d explored similar approaches when developing touchscreens at General Magic in the early 1990s.)

“When I saw it, I was like, ‘This must be a Photoshop.’ Because it was stunning. The dial was just so pristine,” Fadell says. “Then I started reading the description, and I thought: that’s genius! I need to get this watch. I went crazy.”

The week before we met, at the 2018 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch fair in Geneva, Ressence unveiled the “E-crown”—a mechanical movement that connects to a smartphone to regulate its own time, meaning it never requires winding. It’s being acclaimed as a breakthrough timepiece. Fadell, a longtime watch collector, whose tastes range from vintage Heuer and Ikepod to contemporary Panerai and Patek Philippe, consulted on the design.

The oil-filled Ressence Type 3 sparked Fadell’s obsession.

“Two and a half years ago, Benoît sends a text message and says, ‘Hey I got an idea. It’s really secret, but I want to make a next-generation mechanical watch. We have watch winders today that are little robots. So let’s put [one] inside.’ That’s where the two of us started brainstorming,” Fadell says. “He had a whole list of things that he wanted. I had my list of things, both electronically and mechanically, that I wanted. We had to find and strike the right balance … The whole magic was, how do you make a better mechanical watch, not [just] a smartwatch?”

“We look at products in a similar way,” says Mintiens. “Tony is someone who is putting the user in the center. In the end, with watches, it’s about: How efficiently do you express time?”

For Fadell, user experience is everything. “If we look at the major Cambrian explosions of digital technology, it’s always come from a disruptive combination of cutting-edge technology with cutting-edge user experience,” Fadell says. Every detail should be intuitive and create delight from the moment of unboxing; it was this, he says, that drove Jobs to create Apple Stores and ship iPhones with pre-charged batteries. “When you get that experience right, you put that device in somebody’s hand and they go, ‘Wow.’”

The first time Fadell tried to create the iPhone, it was 15 years too early. Born in Detroit, Fadell picked up engineering from his grandfather, a lifelong tinkerer who helped Fadell buy his first computer. Fadell showed a prodigious talent for computing; in college, he even sold a new microprocessor design for the Apple II to Apple itself.

After graduation, Fadell joined General Magic, a now-storied Silicon Valley company (alumni include eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Android creator Andy Rubin) that was working on an early personal communications device. “We had email, we had downloadable games, downloadable apps, we had shopping, we had books,” Fadell recalls—in other words, the key features of today’s smartphones. General Magic built two devices, for Sony and Motorola, but neither took off, and the company folded. “It was too soon,” says Fadell.

Shortly afterwards, Philips appointed Fadell, then just 25, as its chief technology officer. It was at Philips that Fadell started thinking about digital music. “He had a vision for music being liberated from CD players—how music and portability could be reinvented,” recalls the designer Yves Béhar. The pair sketched out ideas for a portable MP3 player.

In 1999, Fadell formed his own company, Fuse Systems, to build it. However, as the dotcom bubble burst, the company struggled to raise money. Then, in 2001, Fadell was approached by Apple to consult on the design of an MP3 player—what would become the iPod. Steve Jobs hired him to run the new division.

Today, it’s easy to forget the iPod’s significance. “When I started, [Apple] had $25 million in the bank and $500 million in debt,” says Fadell. The iPod, with its navigation wheel and crisp white aesthetic, was far superior to anything on the market. But it wasn’t an instant success. “Steve was always saying the iPod’s going to help us sell more Macs, so the iPod can only work on the Mac,” says Fadell. Infuriated, he lead a skunkworks effort to make a PC-compatible version. “[Steve] said, ‘Over my dead body.’” It was only after Jobs relented that the iPod exploded, selling by the hundreds of millions. Mac sales also began to take off. “It was the gateway drug.”

When Jobs decided to build the iPhone, he initially appointed two rival teams to develop it. One, headed by Fadell, worked on integrating phone functions into the iPod’s click wheel design. The other, lead by then head of software Scott Forstall, attempted to slim down the Mac’s operating system to work on a touchscreen. Ultimately, the latter won out, but given Fadell’s experience with the iPod, he was brought in to oversee the hardware development. Inside Apple, Fadell had a reputation for being a troublemaker. He’d argue fiercely with Jobs, and occasionally quit or get himself fired. “His aggressive, combative style is what endeared him to Steve,” says David Bell, a friend who then worked for an Apple semiconductor supplier. “[But] he would sometimes be too argumentative, and that would piss people off.”

When Google bought Nest, in 2014, Fadell’s style caused conflict again, and although the products racked up design awards, the connected home didn’t take off as expected. After Google restructured in 2015, becoming Alphabet, Nest came under financial pressure. “When Google decided they wanted to sell Nest, I said, ‘Fine, I’m not staying,’” Fadell says. (Alphabet reportedly tried to sell Nest in 2016, but failed to find a buyer. This February, Nest was rolled into Google’s hardware team.)

In Paris, we talked about what Fadell has learned about mentorship. “When someone works for me, they say, ‘Tony pushed me harder than I ever was, and it was frustrating, but I did work that I never thought I’d do,’” he says. “That’s what people did for me. They pushed me when I wasn’t thinking properly, when I was being an idiot.”

“It’s difficult. You’re not always loved, and you’re not always liked.”

Recently, he’s started taking meetings in museums. “Steve Jobs and I would go on walks. You’d just walk and talk, and get to know somebody,” he says. In museums, “you get to be inspired, and also get to know the person. How do they think about that art? Can they look at things and think differently?”

He likes the notions of artists having creative periods. I ask if, after Nest, his own entrepreneurial period is over. “Maybe there’s something that pops up that’s like, ‘I have to do it,’” he says. “I’ve been close. But everything takes time.”

Today’s technology landscape is very different than when Fadell started. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook loom above everything, with near-infinite reach and financial capital, buying every promising startup—as Fadell himself experienced. I ask if it’s possible that the next big breakthrough could come from outside those companies.

“[If we thought] that you can’t unseat giants, we would have never made the iPod,” says Fadell.  “When we were doing that first iPod, I said ‘Steve, Sony is the number one in the world. They own every single audio category. How are we going to beat them?’ And he goes, ‘We will beat Sony. Watch me. If you guys build this, we’re going to put every single marketing dollar behind it.’ And where is Sony in audio today? Where is Nokia?”

His focus on “deep tech” companies at Future Shape—the portfolio includes new types of transistors and microscopic LEDs—is intentional, he says. “I’m doing the things that I know can unseat the big guys. If we get [the technology] right, we can build product companies around it.”

One area that particularly excites him is biotechnology. “Computational synthetic biology is a whole new world,” he says. “We can literally write code, like you would write code for a computer, synthesize it in DNA. We are at the cusp of making biological computers.” Future Shape’s investments include Impossible Burger, which makes lab-grown meat substitutes, and Modern Meadow, which has created a lab-grown leather alternative. “He’s been more than an investor,” says the latter’s founder, Andras Forgacs. “Tony really understands where design and technology come together to create great consumer products. That is not common among investors.”

Fadell is skeptical about the current hype around autonomous vehicles. “The self-driving cars world is making lots of progress, but there’s so much more to do. People don’t understand: They don’t work in certain weather, they don’t work in certain times of day, they don’t work in a fog.”

Robotics and artificial intelligence, Fadell thinks, are also further off than most people think. “We are so far away from being able to create real humanoid kinds of robots,” he says. “These robots are so fragile. And we’re not even talking about intelligence. We’re just talking about grasping and picking up and and walking.”

“The one thing I learned, especially from my General Magic experience, is sometimes the technology is not there, and sometimes society is not there yet.”

The Ressence E-crown mechanical smartwatch caused a stir when it debuted in January. Fadell consulted on the design.

Fadell is starting to think about the generation that will succeed him. In 2015, Fadell cofounded an electric go-kart company, Actev Motors, with David Bell. “I said: ‘What was the experience that I had that was formative for me?’ And that was being in a workshop with my grandfather, fixing things, building the soapbox derby racer, and learning about different technologies.”

Actev’s go-kart is designed to be taken apart and modified: Parents can set speed and safety limits, while kids learn about electronics and basic coding skills. “It gives kids some opportunity to do ‘do it yourself,’” says Bell. “It’s really a modern version of what he and his grandfather would do.”

I ask Fadell about one of the tech industry’s growing problems, planned obsolescence: the relentless cycle of waste driven by constant product updates. Apple has recently been the subject of global furor and ongoing lawsuits after it was revealed that the company intentionally limits the performance of older phones, supposedly to protect battery performance. “Everyone went really crazy with the iPod because it [had] a sealed battery,” he recalls. Today, he worries about the environmental impacts of devices. “Reuse is really important. We have limited resources on this planet. That was the reason for Nest,” he says, noting that the company’s products are designed to last decades.

Increasingly, Fadell thinks the next generation of technology designers should commit to a kind of Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. He has lobbied Apple and Google to introduce a “digital scale” function, to help us track our smartphone habits. “They’re tracking our physical well-being. Why don’t we have the same thing for our digital life?” At Future Shape, he’s pushing founders to think about impact early. “What is the purpose? How does it affect society?”

Fadell remains optimistic about the future. He often thinks back to his childhood in Detroit, building racers and taking apart radios with his grandfather. “What my grandfather would tell me is, ‘If a human made this—and they did—you can fix it,’” he says, his eyes shining. “‘And you can make it better, too.’”

Roman Holiday

On a sunny Wednesday morning late last year, Fabrizio Buonamassa found himself behind the wheel of a sleek twin-turbocharged sedan, juking through traffic in downtown Palm Springs, making a beeline for the deadliest road in America.

Buonamassa, the 46-year-old head of watch design at Bulgari, had never been to California. The night before, he’d paced slowly across the rooftop at Chateau Marmont, taking in the Los Angeles skyline, seeming pensive. But when he arrived in Palm Springs, an unsuspecting publicist tossed him the keys to a new Maserati Ghibli. Buonamassa promptly set the navigation to Route 74, that infamous widowmaker of a mountain road running into Coachella Valley, and laid down two fat strips of rubber exiting the hotel parking lot.

“Police?” he said, slowing the Ghibli from felony to misdemeanor speeds, eyeballing a suspect black-and-white sedan in the opposing lane. When it passed, he shrugged, downshifted, and ripped into the throttle again. “Hah!”

Bulgari Octo Maserati GranLusso.

Ostensibly, Buonamassa was in town for the Los Angeles auto show, celebrating the release of the new Octo GranSport and Octo GranLusso, the latest Bulgari x Maserati watches. The collection brings together two titans of Italian design—the former company being Rome’s premier jewelry house, the latter Modena’s oldest luxury automaker. For Bulgari, which is now owned by Paris-based luxe conglomerate LVMH, it’s an assertion of the brand’s domestic sensibilities. For Maserati, which has seen sales increase tenfold over the past decade, it’s an opportunity to bake in an additional layer of exclusivity. (While the GranSport and GranLusso aren’t limited-run pieces, they will be available only to Maserati customers.)

Still, joint ventures between watch companies and automakers can feel contrived. Buonamassa brings a unique credibility to this one. He grew up in Naples and studied in Rome, worshipping at the altars of Bertone and Zagato and Pininfarina, the famed carrozzeria that coach-built bodies for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Before joining Bulgari in 2001, he actually served as an auto designer at Fiat Group, Maserati’s corporate parent. It was the realization of a childhood dream.

“If I have to make a choice, my heart is closer to the Italian vintage cars than the Swiss watchmaking heritage,” Buonamassa admits. “My father, he was working for Hertz, you know, the rental car companies. He would travel and bring me home books of cars from around the world. I was sketching them from the age of four or five, and this is what I enjoyed drawing first—the cars. But I have always loved designing product. This idea of making emotion from an object. I just love it.”

Bulgari Octo Maserati GranSport.

These two new watches are a testament to that fascination. Buonamassa’s design cleverly recalls a vintage sports-car tachometer; the standalone, retrograde hand sweeps a linear path to indicate minutes, which are displayed in single digits and underscored by a “MINx10” multiplier. The GranSport even has hash marks near the top “6” marker, aping a redline. Hours are shown through a crystal aperture at the three o’clock position, clicking off like an odometer.

The GranSport is DLC-treated steel, black to match the textured dial. It’s slung on a black perforated leather strap with electric-blue contrast stitching, mirroring a Maserati bucket seat. The GranLusso brings a more formal vibe, with an 18-karat pink gold case and gray sunburst pattern dial, hanging on a padded chestnut band. Both pieces measure 41.5 mm, house the same 33-jewel automatic movement, are assembled in-house, and offer a 42-hour power reserve. More important, both pieces look and feel as unimpeachably Italian as the man who designed them.

Back in Palm Springs, having crossed Route 74 off his bucket list, the lanky Buonamassa strode across the courtyard at The Parker hotel, hands in his pockets. Wearing an impeccably tailored blue jacket, Jacob Cohen denim, and purple Persol sunglasses, he stopped to admire a large bronze statue of a half-peeled banana, installed on a grassy patch next to his room. Astrud Gilberto’s “Portami con Te” played over a lawn speaker. He hummed along with the refrain, smiled, then checked his watch.

“Oh!” he said. “Time for lunch.”

Buonamassa in his Neuchâtel office (Photo: Lukas Wassmann)

***

In the beginning, I started to appreciate beautiful drawings. Design was a consequence, because it gave me the opportunity to make sketches. This is why I’m a designer. I’m lucky because my profession is to make drawings.

I’m a formative designer. In my career, I design a lot of different things. I think that a designer should be able to do this. Honestly, the process is sort of a small mystery, but the approach is the same for airplanes, for cars, for watches, for furniture. You have to solve problems. You have to know the problems and imagine solutions, and you have to do this in a beautiful and unique way.

Design is a compromise. Even the credit process. And if you do not trust your idea, it’s impossible to sell, even to the boss. So I have to imagine something, to start to make sketches, to tell you I think that this idea is correct. The sketch is just a skill, it’s just a tool because sometimes I need to fix the image that I have in mind. But I have to trust the idea.

My job is to turn technology into emotions. Bulgari is well known for geometry and color innovation. We were the first to use cabochon cut in jewelry. We were the first to use aluminum in couture watches, plastic in watches—we were the first to use porcelain, exotic material, and steel in fine jewelry. This is the case with the Octo Finissimo, the thinnest automatic watch in the world. I have to know the technology, and I have to be able to transform it into something that makes sense to the client. Otherwise, it’s just a movement. Yes, okay, it’s a fantastic movement, but this is the role of the designer. And I have to do this through the iconic signs, the codes of the brand, and the heritage of the brand.

We have a word in our vocabulary, sprezzatura. That means you can make something very complex in a natural way. The most important innovations are made by simple things. And the simplicity, like Leonardo da Vinci says, is the latest complication. [The Octo] is very difficult to produce, but it works very well. It’s strong enough for everyday life, and it looks absolutely simple. This concept of sprezzatura, for the first time you can find it in watchmaking. Because in Swiss watchmaking, you can find a lot of watches that are very hard [to produce], but also very difficult in terms of language. How can I read the time?

If a product is able to talk to you about its function, I’ve done a good job. Good design expresses itself. If I tell you the watch is this, this, and this, and that you have to use it this, this, and this way, maybe it’s not a good design. It’s another thing.

The retro trend, it is copy-and-paste design. For some brands, it’s easier to open the desk and say, ‘I want to make the new edition of this watch.’ This is not our approach. We make a lot of sketches on the wall and we say, ‘This is good. Wow, it’s fantastic.’ After five minutes, we see again the products and we say, ‘It’s not Bulgari enough.’ The octagon has a lot of different meanings in different cultures, different religions—eternity, friend, perfect balance between the heaven and the earth. It’s a shape that Bulgari started to use in the 1950s. When we decided to revamp, for Gérald Genta, sure, you have to make an Octo. But the Octo that you see today, it’s an Octo made by Bulgari. This [new] watch, it’s the same shape, but with different attention to the details of the faces. It still performs, but in a contemporary way. This is the signature of the brand. When you see this watch, you cannot make mistake it. But when you see this watch compared to a vintage one, it’s two different worlds.

We don’t have a creativity issue at Bulgari. We don’t just put the logo on a watch and say it’s a Bulgari x Maserati, because we have a lot of ideas. The idea [for the GranSport and GranLusso] was to tell you the time in a different way—to tell you the time as a rev counter, as in the dashboard of a car, thanks to our retrograde and jumping hour movement. The number on the watch dial, it is the same font on the Maserati dashboard. After that, it’s a matter of color. The GranSport is very dark. It’s a nod to the performer. The GranLusso, it’s more exquisite. It’s more elegant, more luxurious. This is the two faces of the Maserati, the brand that invented the gran turismo, the kind of cars driven not only by performance but also luxury.

Bulgari and Maserati have a lot of elements in common. Both Italian brands made by [families], the Maserati sons and Sotirio Bulgari with his sons, Giorgio and Constantino. Very strong entrepreneurial skills. The same attention for proportion, the same attention for beautiful things. [The Octo] is an impressive watch in terms of technical skills, let’s say ‘performance,’ but it’s not the first thing you notice. Maserati is the same. It’s engine technology, performance chassis. But when you look at a Maserati car, first of all you see that it’s beautiful.

Profiles in Style: Blueprints

New York’s architecture and design community is having something of a moment. Over the past decade, the city has played incubator to a fresh crop of talent, business-savvy collaborators and self-producers with an eye on the future and a healthy appetite for risk. They aren’t siloed by specialization. Buildings, interiors, graphics, lighting, product, branding—anything goes. They use 3-D printers, run pared-back studios and are sought after by premier European manufacturers. Basically, they’re making the job cool again.

Naturally, we wondered about their taste in watches.

In keeping with the spirit of our Design Issue, Watch Journal rounded up a selection of fine timepieces, an eclectic mix of classics and newcomers, all of them with blue dials. (Naturally.) Then we met with five of New York’s best young architects and designers, laid out the watches, and let them choose what went on their wrist during our photo shoot.

Consider this an introduction to the design bellwethers of the moment, a snapshot of their personal styles, and an insight into their horological leanings.


Name: Dror Benshetrit
From: Tel Aviv
Studio location: Chelsea
Known for: Architecture on Zaya Nurai Island, named the “World’s Most Luxurious Project” by Newsweek; designing the “Peacock Chair” for Cappellini, featured in Rihanna’s “S&M” music video; his signature line of home goods for Target; designing WeWork interiors
Picks: Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Quantième, Girard-Perregaux Laureato

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Quantième
Girard-Perregaux Laureato

Dror says: “My first important watch was a strange choice. It was a Hamilton Ventura, the famous one with the triangle-shaped case. Somebody gifted it to me, and it really got me into the culture of watches. Then I was wearing, for a very long time, the classic Bell & Ross and also a Hublot. I’m really not so used to small watches. So this one [the Jaquet Droz] feels very good. The Girard-Perregaux, I like the shape. I’m drawn to the elegance of it.”


Name: Stephanie Goto
From: New York
Studio location: Union Square
Known for: Designing three Michelin-starred restaurants in New York (Piora, Corton, Aldea); the homes of several notable chefs, including Daniel Boulud; selecting furniture for the Museum of Arts and Design; overhauling the project space at the Calder Foundation; editing the Journal of Architecture’s fifth volume
Pick: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin

Stephanie says: “I’m actually in the process of acquiring [a Royal Oak] right now, so this is sort of my test run. I met an Audemars executive at Art Basel a few years ago, and tried on the watch. It felt a little big, at least for me, but when they came out with the Extra-Thin, I was like, ‘Okay, this is perfect.’ . . . It’s just so classic, that Royal Oak shape, and the stainless band is very in line with the work I do. Understated, but detailed. I think there’s a real beauty in the design of the mechanics, too. It’s so beautiful. I love it! When is mine coming?”


Name: Marc Thorpe
From: Nashville, Tennessee
Studio location: DUMBO
Known for: “The Mark Table” and “Blur Sofa” for Moroso, featured at Salone del Mobile and in Vogue Living; creating retail spaces for Acqua Di Parma and Under Armour; the Ducati Project E electric motorcycle concept; Infiniti Pavilion at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Picks: Panerai Luminor Due, Patek Philippe Complications Annual Calendar 

Panerai Luminor Due
Patek Philippe Complications Annual Calendar

Marc says: “The Panerai is more my style. I like simple watches. Well, simple faces at least. IWC Portugieser, Rolex Explorer, Omega Speedmaster. I’ve got a little collection, you know, just six pieces, my go-to watches. One of them is a Panerai Radiomir Black Seal, which I really love. But the Patek is just so beautiful. If one of you doesn’t ask me to give it back soon, I’m going to walk out of here wearing it. Actually, wait. . . . [retrieves iPhone] Can I take a photo of it on my wrist?”


Name: Todd Bracher
From: New York
Studio location: Brooklyn Navy Yard
Known for: Serving as creative director at Georg Jensen; “Distil Table” for Herman Miller; “The Architect’s Chandelier” for Swarovski; creating 3M Architecture’s award-winning LED lighting installations; packaging for Issey Miyake fragrances; the SodaStream Fountain
Pick: IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII

Todd says: “I don’t like the Apple Watch, but it opened up my mind to the idea of getting a Garmin watch, which is really big, like 50 mm. It’s funny how dainty another watch feels after that. But the IWC, yeah, this is a proper watch. Quiet, introverted in some ways, while being fiercely precise. I like the [dial] color. The blues tend to be quite polarizing, and this one’s not the most obvious shade…. There’s something about the joy of going backwards, too. I’m in the process of dumbing down my phone, turning off push notifications, that kind of thing. The IWC captures a sophisticated simplicity. That speaks to me.”


Name: Joe Doucet
From: Terrell, Texas
Studio location: DUMBO
Known for: “Duet Task Chair” for Bernhardt; “Alba Decanter” for Nude glassware; “Minim” playing cards for Areaware; the bottle design for SŌTŌ sake; packaging for Hugo Boss bodywear; cofounding the 3D-printed premium household products brand OTHR
Picks: NOMOS Glashütte Metro at Work

NOMOS Glashütte Metro at Work

Joe says: “My first real buy was a Panerai. I got it when I made partner [at New York creative agency KBP]. It was my little treat to myself, you know? Now I’ve got a few watches. Got the vintage [Rolex] Submariner. But my daily go-to is an IWC Portofino. Simple, blue dial. I tend to go for things that look and feel quite understated. The NOMOS, I like the overall aesthetic, especially that little pop of color on the subdial hand. Plus it feels really light on the wrist. I know it’s not the most expensive, but it’s the one I’d go for.”

The Creative Godhead Behind Hollywood’s Must-Have Apple Watch Accessory

Close to the edge of a rooftop in Tribeca, Harry Bernstein struck a pose, the late afternoon sun filtering through his luxuriant curls.

Beneath him, in stacked glass conference rooms, sat dozens of employees, unaware that their boss was ably modeling a patchwork afghan, selvedge jeans, and a pair of fresh kicks, planted mere inches from the cold, upscale nothingness of undeveloped downtown airspace.

Indigo Patchwork Wrap, Rare Weaves; Indigo Shirt Jacket, Kapital; White T-Shirt, David Michael; Jeans, Double RL; Sneakers, Yeezy; Native American Bolo, vintage; Eyeglasses, Warby Parker

Here’s what they did know: This man on the roof is an advertising godhead, the reason Boost Mobile demanded to know “Where You At?”; the reason Shaquille O’Neal played an improbable jockey for Vitamin Water; the reason kids line up for Supreme drops; and, arguably, the reason influencer marketing exists at all.

Harry “Bee” Bernstein, founder of the groundbreaking digital ad firm Annex 88 (neé, The 88) and current chief creative officer at Havas Worldwide’s flagship New York agency, radiates the excitement of someone coming off two decades of really, really good ideas.

“Let’s have a roof party and just pay the fine! We have good insurance!”

For most corporate heads with “chief” and “officer” in their titles, alfresco photoshoots come as rare as Peter Luger prime rib. But the prolific Bernstein—who does not eat meat—looks nothing like your average exec. He has called his style “streetwear clown,” but that misses the glorious high-taste-hippie of it all, as if Jerry Garcia had lived to see Adidas x Pharrell.

Despite the globally sourced wardrobe of an Afropop Worldwide listener, Bernstein counts a local upbringing—Queens, New York—as the source of his remarkable sensibility.

Apples & Bolos from Bernstein’s personal collection.

“In pre-internet life, what was cool was subculture, the underground and true rarity. Now, the market is about having what everybody else has. You used to want to remain in the subculture. Now everyone wants to be famous … [consumers] buy things because other people have it. Hypebeasts, literally, they buy things on hype.”

So when it came to his own closet, Bernstein, the master of starting and disseminating trends via social channels, wanted something different.

“I want to find a reason to find and to buy things. I had a Rolex that my dad gave me from the 1980s. It’s supreme, but it doesn’t feel like my luxury trope. Whereas what I’m wearing today, there’s a meaning, and a point, and a singularity. I’m searching for singularity, and a unique perspective on the world. That’s my job as Chief Creative Officer. So if I do what everyone else does, I’ll produce what everyone else does.”

One expression of this ethos, worn exclusively by Bernstein and a few high-echelon celebrities, are the turquoise-inlaid, metal-worked bracelet ends that he retrofits to accept an Apple Watch. These two components, from wildly different ends of the American crafts timeline, represent Bernstein’s major preoccupations: the interplay of digital and analog, the singular and the mass produced, the inert and the dazzlingly dynamic. Some of the bracelets use stylized snakes fashioned out of nails, others classic Zuni geometric patterns. Among the stones, the beveled face of a sleeping Apple Watch looks like an enormous black obsidian.

The combination is bizarre, striking, covetable. The backstory is just downright funny. It goes like this: Bernstein, on vacation in Taos, New Mexico, with his fiancée, becomes transfixed by an enormous piece of turquoise, which he promptly purchases for $5,000. It sparks an obsession. Eventually, he gets hooked up with Fish, a turquoise collector from Austin, Texas.

Native American Bolo, vintage; Indigo Patchwork Jacket and Indigo Scarf, Rare Weaves; White T-Shirt, David Michael; Eyeglasses, Warby Parker

“I went to Fish’s house and I didn’t know if I was buying speed or jewelry. There was a parrot and a guy in a La-Z-Boy. One room had flat files full of necklaces, rings. I tell him I was looking for bolos, and he takes me into the bathroom. He puts the seat down, I sit on the toilet, and there are drawers of different pieces.”

Bernstein received a crash course in the foyer. There’s little centralized information on turquoise jewelry, and widespread forgery makes expertise a necessary tool in finding the best pieces. Now, he’s deep into eBay auctions, message boards, ancient websites, hunting for quality stones and bits of history. Which is how, somewhere outside Austin city limits, 1,800 miles from Queens, our man finally found his subculture.

Back inside the Havas offices, after an impromptu piece of performance art—what does it mean to use a glass-walled office as a changing room?—Bernstein leapt barefoot onto his desk. Adorned in bangles, he struck another pose, half-yoga, half-Amy Cuddy, before settling for a Talmudic shrug.

Surveying the small group of employees below through discontinued Warby Parker frames—turquoise, of course—Bernstein murmured, “I’ve done this one before, but it works.” 

Yoga Top and Native American Bolo, vintage; Printed Camouflage Silk Pants, Advisory Board Crystals; Eyeglasses, Warby Parker.

Photos by Christopher Garcia Valle. Styling by Dylan Hogelin.

Three Questions: Marc Berthier

The famed architect (and watch designer) sounds off about Hermès timepieces, the evolution of inclusive luxury, and why he’s “never belonged” in the world of design…

You designed the Hermès Carré H eight years ago, then redesigned the dial for a special re-release this year. When you conceptualize a new timepiece, do you have an idea of what you want, or do you start from scratch?

The initial brief [in 2010] was very open. It was by Jean-Louis Dumas, the former CEO of Hermès, who since passed away. He was just like, “What would an Hermès mens watch be for you?” The idea of the square wasn’t even there. It was supposed to be a chronograph.

I’d never done a watch before, only architecture. I told Jean-Louis Dumas, “I think that when it comes to a men’s watch, it’s always an incarnation of your hero, like an actor or sports star.”

To me, the hero for Hermès would be someone who inspired you to do new things, this kind of character, like an explorer. We started trying to define this person. It felt like a mission. We used to joke about Saving Private Ryan. Like we have to save Hermès by finding the identity of this watch.

So who’s idea was it to revisit the Carré H?

I started to have discussions with [Hermès artistic director] Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the son of Jean-Louis. We had a conversation about bringing back this watch, making it more consensual. The first one was maybe, at least in the shape, a little bit edgy. This one is more easy to approach, more seductive, and in 2015 we began work on it.

When you renew a model, the first solution is to follow the trends. I was really interested in looking at it [in terms of] evolution, an evolution of the world and society in the wider sense, which brings us back to the explorer. The world is getting more and more diverse; people are traveling, exchanging. I experienced this through my architectural office and my own creation, but also through my family. I come from a long line of “perfectly French” people … I now have a grandson who is mixed race.

The new Carré H watch; like the original, it was designed by Berthier. (Photo: Carl Kleiner)

The first [Carré] was for a small group of initiated people. The second incarnation … it’s a wider expression for people connecting to it. It’s [still] this man who travels, who is curious, who will cross cultures, but [now] he doesn’t have to be from such a small group.

As an architect, do you ever have the desire to go back and change a building?

This has happened to me, yes. I was in charge of the architecture for Galeries Lafayette [department stores], the French equivalent of Saks Fifth Avenue. To go back and move an escalator, just to move these mechanical stairs, was more complicated than being at war. I’m a very technical architect and very passionate about [protecting history], but at the same time [open to change], due to my career path, because I went from architecture into design. Especially in France, we’re like, “You’re a doctor, and you’re going to be a doctor. You did this kind of study, and you’re going to follow it.”

The fact that I switched, I never belonged completely. So when I’m with technical people, they consider me a poet, because I have this designer side. And when I’m on the side of the designer, I’m also not enough, because I’m an architect. It’s like I passed from one world to the other my entire life.

What Drives Michel Parmigiani?

The backstory is the stuff of horological legend. In the mid 1970s, as the Swiss watch industry teetered on the brink of collapse, Michel Parmigiani decided that somebody should be protecting the country’s old-world relics. The finicky pocket watches and fragile objéts d’art seemed particularly precious and vulnerable. So he opened a workshop in Fleurier, Switzerland, and he started fixing them.

The move proved cathartic—“Restoring antique timepieces saved me from nihilism,” Parmigiani says—and it allowed him to amass a singular wealth of knowledge. Partial backing from the Sandoz Family Foundation, an artistic-leaning venture capitalist outfit, turned Parmigiani’s once-modest operation into a full-blown manufacture, dubbed Parmigiani Fleurier, in 1996. The brand’s first in-house movement was rolled out two years later.

The new Kalpa resurrects the brand’s first in-house movement. 

Known as PF110, the inaugural calibre was a manual-winding marvel, brimming with artisan details and boasting an epic eight-day power reserve. Watch nerds swooned. Collectors did the same when the movement debuted inside Parmigiani Fleurier’s flagship wristwatch, the Kalpa, in 2001.

This year, that iconic piece will enjoy a renaissance of sorts, as the company introduces three new creations under the Kapla banner. Each offers a clever reimagining of the original watch’s signature styling, incorporating the classic tonneau-shaped case and teardrop-shaped lugs. The Kalpa Hebdomadaire even uses an updated version of that original PF110 movement, making it a surefire hit with brand devotees.

On the eve of its premiere, we sat down with Michel Parmigiani to discuss the virtues of independence, finding inspiration in Southeast Asia, and the future of his namesake manufacture.

“Restoring antique timepieces saved me from nihilism,” says Michael Parmigiani, world-renown horologist and founder of Parmigiani Fleurier.

You’ve spent your life making and restoring luxury watches. What keeps you going?

Curiosity. Curiosity, and the desire to discover this noble work.

Why is it noble?

It’s a vocation that requires mastery of your own hands, mastery of your actions. And before you can do that, you must first master your mind. It is a life discipline, similar to that of a surgeon. One must learn how to use tools, while maintaining complete control over them.

I’ve read that you initially wanted to be an architect. Is this true?

Architecture has always captivated me—building houses and bridges, the ability to measure and produce a certain form. It is a source of inexhaustible inspiration, and horology is very similar. At first, I really hesitated between these two professions. But there was a watchmaking school fifteen minutes from my place in Fleurier. So I enrolled there.

You launched your brand in 1996. The watch world was a very different place then—we barely had the internet. What’s different now?

The simple parts of watchmaking have become industrialized, and computers certainly help us achieve more, and more rapidly. But in the end, a fine luxury watch must still be made by hand. Take our 1950 Tourbillon, for example. Its creation requires a very high-end process that we’ve been developing for twenty years. You need both machines and experienced watchmakers to deliver it. There is no other way to compose this work of art but by patience and experience.

Why did you choose the Toric Memory Time as your debut watch?

Before we launched, I was walking on a beach in Malaysia and picked up a shell with a striking shape. It was thick in front, but if you turned it just forty-five degrees, it gave the impression of being very thin. I said to myself, When I launch my first watch, I’m going to capture this optical illusion. Toric Memory Time also displays a second time zone for travelers. For the launch, it was important to demonstrate my know-how, my savoir faire. This watch is particularly complex, and I’ve been developing different models of it ever since.

Back in 2011, you created a movement based on the Hijri Calendar, which tracks the lunar cycles of the Islamic year. Why did that interest you?

The moon has great importance in our lives, and we don’t pay much attention to it. So I wanted to create a perpetual lunar calendar, which meant I had to be able to measure it. The lunar year is faster than the solar year, with difference of about eleven days. It’s not religious symbolism. It’s a scientific instrument that depicts the lunar cycle in mechanical form. When you look at it, you can see the days, months, and years of the moon.

This took years to develop. Did your colleagues call you crazy?

I’ve always been considered crazy for doing this job in the first place! When I started in watchmaking, the industry was in a quartz crisis. But, for me, it is very important to develop new projects and new ways of thinking—which allows the industry to evolve.

You also spent a great deal of time restoring a 200-year-old gold-and-pearl pistol that fires a chirping mechanical bird. Why?

It wasn’t working. Before launching my brand, I was known for restoring old timepieces, including pocket watches. When you see what has been created in the past, it’s very humbling. As for the pistol, and it took a year and a half to restore. I ended up restoring three of them for our collection.  

The world’s top watchmakers enlist your company—which employs roughly 400 watchmakers, in five separate manufacturing houses—to make parts for their products. How do you explain what sets you apart?

We’re masters of the tools we use. We’re nimble, efficient, and a hundred percent Swiss-made. Not many houses can say that.

How do you see Parmigiani Fleurier evolving?  

We don’t plan to buy anything, or expand. We just want to make beautiful mechanical watches and remain independent. Over the past twenty years, we’ve invested in a strong staff that has truly mastered the tourbillon and chronograph. Of course, we won’t stop there. For me, it’s simple: I want to break the rules and making something you cannot find anywhere else.

Depth Perception

The conceptual artwork of artist Charles Lutz takes on luxury, consumption, and ego.


By Rachel Felder

The artist Charles Lutz at his Brooklyn studio. (Photo: Christopher Garcia Valle)

Inside an imposing industrial building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, near a noisy stretch of highway, there’s something you might not expect to find: images of vintage Rolex watches, silk-screened on canvas and transformed into artwork that’s provocative, assertive, and unconventionally beautiful.

In one piece, a detail of a vintage advertisement for a stainless-steel Rolex Explorer has been blown up onto a canvas that’s shaped like a curvaceous number seven from a slot machine. Another painting features a magnified image of a gold Submariner appropriated from an old Rolex brochure; the canvas’s surface has been deliberately retextured to resemble the guilloché detailing on a watch dial. A third painting simultaneously recalls the bezel of a Submariner and a roulette table; the six-foot canvas even features a cut-out circle where the spinning wheel would be.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYwTsmkHM2Q/?taken-by=charleslutz

The pieces are by conceptual artist Charles Lutz, the 35-year-old provocateur who burst onto the New York art scene in 2007 with a series of paintings that duplicated Warhol silk screens. Now, with these new pieces, which Lutz has dubbed his Transaction paintings, the artist continues to explore issues of value, appropriation, and originality, as well as the nature of luxury and consumerism. For Lutz, a Rolex serves as a symbol of affluence. “Even though it’s a Swiss watch, I feel like it’s kind of the American idealism of what luxury watches represent,” Lutz says.

Lutz sporting his recent Rolex acquisition. (Photo: Christopher Garcia Valle)

Dressed in a low-key outfit of jeans and a leather jacket, the boyish-looking artist could almost pass as a current student at his alma mater, Pratt Institute, an easy stroll away. And he talks about his paintings, which also include appropriated images from Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey and tulips from Dutch still life paintings with a youthful enthusiasm. “The Submariner is printed the same exact way as the Dutch still life,” Lutz says. “They’re both derived from digital files. You have this skim of content that is talking about the same thing, and the process is what ties them together, in a way. The idea of value is within each of the images, but the process is the way of conveying the correlation between the different subject matters.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Lutz, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, points to the work of hometown hero Andy Warhol as his earliest inspiration. He was about 8 years old when he was first introduced to the pop master’s work at the Carnegie Museum of Art; when the Andy Warhol Museum opened in 1994, Lutz, then in high school, spent hours in the galleries. “Being able to get that exposure was really transformative,” he says.

 

Ten Minutes With Alexandre Peraldi

An interview with Baume & Mercier’s brilliant Design Director.


Peraldi, who joined Baume & Mercier in 2001. (Photo by Magali Girardin)

Do you remember your first watch?

Yes, very well. It was square plastic Casio with a calculator and a lot of small push buttons.

Are you sentimental about any personal watches?

Yes, about nearly all of them. Each has a special story and sentimental value. For example, one of my first luxury watches came from my uncle. He had decided to leave it to me because of my love for watches and but also the engraving on the caseback: 1967—the year he purchased the watch and also my birth year. Another important watch for me is a Classima chronograph gifted to me by my previous boss. I received it one year after the launch of this model and commemorated the strong success of the design.

What makes a beautiful watch?

First, the pleasure you have to wear it! Second, the perfect quality of its finishes and the importance and time spent on all of its details.

What is your favorite complication or watch feature?

I like the moon phase. It is very simple and a bit poetic. I also like the minute repeater. It is so complex inside and really amazing to hear.

How did you become part of the watch world?

After finishing art school, I took the chance to join the Cartier design team for accessories. After two years, I began working on designing watches for Yves Saint Laurent (at the time, Cartier had the license for their jewelry, accessories, and watches). After some success with these collections, I started to design watches for Cartier…. The rest is history.

How does the watch industry attract the next generation?

That is difficult to answer today, as many young people do not wear watches. Yet, there are constantly new watch brands and designs created for this young clientele. They are very creative, very cheap, and certainly a good way for the next generation to discover the watch universe. As for traditional watches, we need to communicate differently to the younger consumer and even change our mindset in terms of design. We are working on it!

What is your favorite time of day?

Early morning. When the day is just beginning, and everything seems possible, yet nothing has been done. When you are alone at the office, and you have time for you. It is time for reflection and time for creation. I need this part of the day.

Baume & Mercier Capeland Cobra

What is your favorite Instagram account?

There are a lot…. A few of my favorites are @hirozzz (Hiroaki Fukuda), a great Japanese photographer. @sebmontazstudio (Sebastien Montaz), another cool photographer from our mountains. And @indianmotorcycle, with our new partnership.

What is your favorite place to visit?

Japan. Definitely! I love the kindness of Japanese people, the beauty of their arts, the vast tradition of craftsmanship, the spirit of nonstop learning, and the beauty of all the different landscapes.

Who is your favorite artist? Museum?

What a difficult question. There are a lot! If I had to choose, for example, to take a single book of artwork with me to an isolated island, Leonardo da Vinci would be the one. In a totally different field, Alexander McQueen is another genius. And for the museum, I love the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.

If you could turn back time, where would you go?

Far, far, far away in the past. Perhaps before the presence of humans on the earth. Wild and pure!

What is your favorite design object?

The Chaise Longue of Le Corbusier and the Panton Chair of Verner Panton.

What do you collect?

When I was young, a lot of different things. Now, nothing. It is too time-consuming.

Which watch brand do you most admire?

Vacheron Constantin. And also François-Paul Journe.

Who is currently the most influential person in watches?

The younger generation: Millennials.

Is there a dream watch you would like to own someday?

Yes, a minute repeater, but perhaps this dream has to stay a dream.

How do you define style?

A mix of elegance and confidence without extravagance.

 

The Tinkerer

An original watch design fueled by passion.


By Jonathan Schultz

Jonathan Ward

When Jonathan Ward loves something, he tears it apart. The deeper the genuflection, the greater the desire to disembowel. But something happens when Ward is elbows-deep in viscera. Bloodlust gives way to a custodial kind of attachment. As months pass, the object’s infirmities are stamped out and replaced by robust sinew and bone. Lax tissue is regenerated and pulled taut. The object emerges stronger and more magnetic than ever. Old religion gets a new verse, and an icon is born.

That’s not to say Ward’s an iconoclast. His shop in Los Angeles brims with reverence for the vintage Toyota 4x4s parked there, despite their various states of gutting. Rather, it’s what he does with these machines—and has done for more than 20 years—that feels so deliciously heretical.

ICON, the business he runs with his wife, Jamie takes decades-old Toyota Land Cruisers, replaces and reinforces virtually every moving part—engines included—and fits them with bespoke hardware, upholstery, and climate systems. The resulting vehicles are priced around $250,000 and are, for all intents, indestructible. The Wards’ wares once caught the attention of a Toyota executive, which led to a commission for three prototypes that ultimately inspired the Toyota FJ Cruiser of 2007. Jonathan’s cult is global, and he’s revered as an unequivocal car guy’s car guy—but maybe not for long.

The ICON Duesy.

“Anyone who knows me just as the dude who works on old four-by-fours might be surprised by this,” he says.

Surprise would be warranted if you didn’t know Ward—or his Instagram. But even absent his 100-plus collection, Ward’s first wristwatch under the ICON label would be an outlier: an onyx-faced jump-hour called the Duesey.

The name derives not from some beloved hunting dog or mud-flecked Cruiser in Ward’s garage, but from a 1930s Duesenberg SJ—one of the fastest and most elegant cars of its day. The SJ’s array of dashboard dials left an impression on Ward. “That tachometer,” he says, sounding like a man longing for other softly contoured objects. “The first time I saw one, I thought, Man, that would make a great jump-hour.”

Casebook of the ICON Duesy.

Ward is a lifer. His childhood fixation was a Seiko Data 2000. A restless tinkerer, he values a craftsman’s vision above all else. “If someone has the balls to do things by themselves, and not hire a marketing agency,” he says, “I’m in.”

The Duesy reflects Ward’s maniacal attention to detail. “The crown, the clasp, the band, the bezel, the typeface—every single detail. And I CAD-modeled it myself.”

The project emerged after a potential partnership went south. Ward has long admired Bell & Ross, and modeled his reimagined Land Cruisers’ gauges on the BR01. A watch collaboration was discussed, but Ward says that after a while, the line grew quiet.

Crown of the ICON Duesy.

“But I realized that I would have a lot more fun, and be able to control the vision more, if I just went it alone.”

A meeting with Svend Andersen disabused him of the idea of seeking a build partner. “We discussed a one-off, but each would have to be priced at like fifty, sixty grand,” he says. (The Duesey is priced from $11,500.) In his sketches, Ward envisioned “a chamfered and sloping bezel in Vantablack, this kick ass aerospace material,” but that too didn’t prove feasible.

“Ultimately I went with onyx,” he says. “It has lots of gloss and reflective value, but also a ton of depth.”

Being a renowned craftsman has its advantages. Looking for a proven movement, Ward met with a major Swiss company “that supplies complications to lots of brands that would rather you not know it,” where he was quoted a minimum order of 500 units—a galaxy removed from the Duesey’s proposed 50-unit run. “And the meeting was over,” he says. “But then, the CEO of the group came by, I gave him my card, and he was like, ‘Oh, ICON! My friend in Moscow has one of your trucks!’ And that was that. He made an exception.”

The ICON Duesy on the wheel cap of a Duesy.

Serendipity, globalism, craftsmanship, a good yarn—they’re all forces that fuel Ward’s passion. On his wrist this day is a Heuer that once belonged to a World War II pilot. “He crashed in North Africa and literally built a lean-to in the fucking sand, and got rescued,” Ward says. “The seller told me, ‘The family I bought it from may have a photo album of the guy wearing the watch.’ And he sent it to me. And sure enough, there’s the pilot at a bar. There he is in the desert. It’s amazing.”

Having sold half the Dueseys’ run, Ward hopes that more designs will follow, and beget their own misadventures. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Peking to Paris,” he says, referencing a motor race initially run in 1907. “These dudes with no planning loaded shit into a chitty chitty bang bang and went for it. My ideal buyer is hopping in his patinated, unrestored Duesey SJ and just going for it.”

An iconoclast, in other words.

 

Interview: Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert

The elements of great watchmaking-precision, ingenuity, beauty, surprise, delight—are all found in great food, and no one knows this better than chef Eric Ripert.


By Mark Rozzo

Eric Ripert by Nigel Parry

Chef Eric Ripert is a Vacheron Constantin ambassador, free-ranging watch collector, and zealous advocate for the high art of horology, the man who made New York’s Le Bernardin into the most sophisticated seafood restaurant in the world (with three Michelin stars) certainly knows his oysters—on the plate and on his wrist. He spoke with Watch Journal about watches, cooking, his undying regard for Swatch, and the mystery of time itself.

So how did you get hooked on watches?

I was very young, fourteen or fifteen years old, and my mother gave me a Cartier Santos, my first real watch. It’s a rare one. It was not a limited edition, but they didn’t do many of them. The dial window is sapphire; stainless-steel-and-gold bracelet. A very simple watch—a beautiful watch for a young kid. I still have it here in New York. But I think my wrist has grown a lot since I got that watch!

I hear you are quite fond of Swatch.

Yes! I still have a Swatch that says, “DON’T BE TOO LATE.” Swatch does a fantastic job. They reinvent themselves all the time, with artistic ones and some that look like luxury pieces. The coolness of Swatch doesn’t go away. I really started to be knowledgeable about watches in the late nineties, early 2000s. I got my first Vacheron Constantin and started to understand how you value a watch, which is not necessarily about the name itself or diamonds or gold. The value of the watch is about the complications. I had no idea about that.

So I started to enter that world through Vacheron Constantin, who actually mentored me. I went to Switzerland to visit the factory, and they taught me a lot. I didn’t know that every piece in each of those watches is decorated in a different way. And then the complications—the way they calculate the time and the moon and the sun, the rhythm of the planets and everything else.

Why was it that Vacheron Constantin became so important for you as a watch wearer and collector?

I like their philosophy. It’s about simplicity, not about having something flashy. The design is always very sober. It’s about the beauty of the details that only a collector will recognize. And, for me, what is interesting is that it has a lot in common with the craftsmanship that we have in a kitchen. There are a lot of similarities.

What I like most about watches is the fact that time—it’s not tangible, right? Time, the way they calculate time, to me, is still a mystery—exactly like the way we put flavors in a sauce. You cannot really measure the flavors that go to into a sauce. But we still do that. So we have that in common. And when I met with an artisan at Vacheron, I had a lot of discussions with him about that. So that created a lot of respect and friendship for the brand. I had that bonding with them, which creates loyalty.

What is it with chefs and watches? Thomas Keller loves Vacheron and Panerai. Daniel Humm has been an Audemars Piguet ambassador. Daniel Boulud likes his Rolex. Do you guys trade notes on watches the way you might talk about wine or Michelin stars?

First of all, they’re all very good brands, fantastic brands. Audemars Piguet is fantastic. I have some Rolexes at home also. You can take one of those from 1956 and put it on your wrist today. They’re totally timeless, in a sense. But when I talk with those guys, it’s usually more about drinking and eating! It’s sometimes about watches, but not so much.

Which one are you wearing right now?

A Vacheron Overseas, stainless steel. Some collectors put watches in a vault or in a safe and admire them. I like to wear them. My problem is that I am in a kitchen! But the Overseas is very strong and can be with me in a kitchen. I also have a Vacheron Constantin Patrimony in platinum. I wore it in the kitchen and within one month I was three times at the store. In the end, I was so embarrassed. I said, “Okay, I’m not going to wear it in the kitchen! I’ll just wear it outside.” I broke the glass. I got the bracelet—crocodile—drenched and stained with sauce and oil. I even burned one bracelet once. I was working by the stove, and I don’t know what happened. Instead of burning my wrist, the watch protected me. So it was burned. And again I was embarrassed. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I cannot call them and tell them about this—they’re gonna be, ‘How can you burn a bracelet?’ I did that with my Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921—such a great watch.

Owning these watches—and you have more than 20—implies responsibility, stewardship. Do you ever think about this in terms of passing down your own watches?

So my son is fourteen years old. He’s definitely not getting any watch from me now! [laughs] However, when he is more mature—and if he has an interest—I will obviously share with him the knowledge and the pleasure of having watches, along with the importance of supporting the craftsmanship that goes into creating those watches. To me, it’s about preserving the know-how of those artisans. It’s not about showing off. It’s a philosophical statement: I’m helping artisans who are carrying on generation after generation of incredible craftsmanship and precision.

Speaking of artisans, I know you don’t like having tech gadgets in the kitchen. You prefer to do things by hand.

I’m a guy who likes knives and a spatula and a whisk, and that’s it. I collect knives, too. I have some beautiful knives. But it’s the same thing, whether it’s about the art of cooking, the art of making a knife, the art of making a watch: It’s about the connection we have in common among artisans.

Filming his PBS TV series Avec Eric in Korea.

Do you always buy new, or do you sometimes do vintage?

Sometimes I do vintage. And in that case, I go to Tourneau. And I know a couple of collectors who’ll find you the watch that you want if you have something specific in mind. All those ultra-experts, the amazing collectors, they have something eccentric, something very unique-slash-crazy about them, in a good way. Anyone who’s really knowledgeable about watches has something crazy about him!

Are there any particular details you look for in a watch, like favorite complications, a certain kind of dial?

I like to know what is inside the watch, what nobody sees. I always look inside. They open the watch for me, and I look at all the pieces. They are all engraved with a different design. And that, for me, it’s like, “Wow.” Those pieces are so tiny and the precision is crazy. Not even a computer does that. It’s man-made.

And I’d guess you’ve bought watches for people in your life.

Yes, of course. For my wife, Sandra, mostly. She likes a lot of the designs that Cartier does. She has five or six watches she wears regularly. She has also an old Hublot, from about thirty years ago. The kind with a rubber bracelet. I got her that one. It’s so simple and gorgeous.

I like when I see you and you’ve got your prayer beads on one wrist and a Vacheron Overseas on the other. It seems like a healthy, elegant yin and yang, to mix religious metaphors.

At the end of the day, I think it represents part of my personality, right? It is what it is. Watches—they represent us, in a way. They are part of who we are.