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.