The conceptual artwork of artist Charles Lutz takes on luxury, consumption, and ego.
By Rachel Felder
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.
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.
An interview with Baume & Mercier’s brilliant Design Director.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.