Why So Serious?

Created as a fitting tribute to DC Comics’ villains, RJ reimagines the character watch with a mischievous glint in its eye.

The world of high-end watchmaking can often be a sober and serious place. But in the world of RJ, haute horology and a sense of wonder aren’t mutually exclusive. The brand’s playful timepieces have smiles built right into their DNA. 

The limited edition titanium RJ X Joker houses the RJ20142 self-winding mechanical bidirectional movement.

Founded in 2004, and relaunched last year under the creative direction of CEO Marco Tedeschi, RJ has made its mark on modern watchmaking thanks to surprising collaborations. These draw inspiration from pop culture iconography, ranging from Marvel and DC Comics superheroes to beloved video-game characters like Super Mario, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man. If you’re looking for a tourbillon with an artisan-crafted Pokémon dial, this is where you’ll get it. There is even a pavé diamond and pink sapphire-encrusted Hello Kitty timepiece.

“We attract a wide range of people who want something different and, most importantly, something fun,” Tedeschi tells Watch Journal. “It’s essential for me to have a product you can identify by the wrist. There is simply no way to mistake an RJ for anything else in the world.”

That is certainly true of the brand’s two newest pieces. The first is a colorful callback to Batman’s original nemesis, The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime made his DC Comics debut in 1940 and has been the arch-enemy of Gotham City’s crime-fighting bat ever since. The Joker’s distinctive look — purple-and-green clothing, exaggerated facial features — come through in RJ’s laser-engraved titanium tribute, which features hand-painting and is limited to 100 pieces. It’s a killer chronograph in every sense.

For those after a more conceptual homage, RJ is also offering a timepiece inspired by another one of Batman’s iconic foes: Two-Face. Calling on the villain’s conflicted nature, one half of the watch is pristine, while the other half is cleverly “burned away” (just as the character’s face was in the comics) to expose the skeletonized movement inside. It’s exactly the type of timepiece that attracted Tedeschi to RJ.

The RJ Two-Face represents the good vs. evil struggle of Batman’s former ally, Gotham City’s District Attorney Harvey Dent. Acid sold separately.

“I was interested in the brand for two main reasons,” he says. “The first was the main concept, which was the core product having a material that has a fascinating story incorporated within the watch, and, of course, the collaborations.”

For Tedeschi, leveraging those partnerships is the key to success moving forward. That means bringing more of RJ’s watchmaking in-house and starting to produce its own movements in Geneva. Here, he sees opportunities to make his company’s timepieces even more unique. 

“We are going to increase the collaborations, and the idea is to work on the character differently,” he says. “Before we used to have a dial…. We are now, being a manufacturer, able to incorporate the collaboration with the movement itself.”

The addition of in-house mechanicals will no doubt yield unconventional results. But diving into the unorthodox is simply a matter of course for RJ. In addition to the pop culture-inspired collaborations, the brand is known for its DNA Concept watches, which bring history-making material to the wrist. One such watch used steel from the Titanic; another contained actual moon dust. The RJ6919, released earlier this year, has pieces from the Apollo 11 spacecraft integrated into the bezel. 

The dial coloration is hand applied, meaning no two watches will have the exact same makeup.

(Tedeschi, on how RJ sources these fantastic materials: “It [the metal] was sourced from the original refinery, even from the same batch of steel they used in the Titanic. For the Apollo, we bought the various artifacts from different parties at an auction.”)

The CEO is staying tight-lipped about what surprises will be coming our way soon, allowing only that RJ is “currently following other sales to purchase additional unusual materials.” What Tedeschi can reveal is that the shape of the watch, with its distinctive case protective “bumpers,” will always remain the same. 

“The shape is quite simple, integrated within the case, we will never exclude having the case shape without the bumper in the future,” he says. “The essential thing is to have those four elements at 30 degrees from the primary axis. That’s how we define the RJ watch.”  

That faith in the DNA is a large part of the brand’s bright future under Tedeschi. It’s also a statement of confidence in RJ’s place in both popular culture and watchmaking. This is why Warner Bros and DC Entertainment are continuing to join forces with Tedeschi, bringing their most infamous characters to life as rare, limited-edition watches. Seeing the finished Joker product, it seems that faith is well-placed. For collectors with a comic-book bent, the only question left is this: Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

The Arraw RJ Joker comes with interchangeable straps in alligator or rubber with contrast stitching.

Summer Camp

“Be Prepared.” The Boy Scouts motto suggests that in order to avoid mishaps, you must be ready for any type of emergency that might arise. Designed for action, this selection of military-inspired watches truly are ready for anything—from the frontlines of Hollywood to a weekend of hunting, camping, and fishing. Never be taken by surprise again, and always remember to bring snacks.

Photographs by Junichi Ito
Styling by Stephen Watson
Prop Styling by Linden Elstran

Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk, $7,710; breitling.com
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Nightlum, $3,800; bellross.com
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Adventure Bronze with “Matrix” Calfskin Strap, $7,100; zenith-watches.com
TOP: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Quartz, $1,600; tagheuer.com
BOTTOM: Tudor Black Bay Steel 41 MM, $3,525; tudorwatch.com
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph Bronze Limited Edition, $5,000; montblanc.com
LEFT: Luminox Navy SEAL, $395; luminox-usa.com
RIGHT: G-Shock The Mudmaster Limited Edition, $380; gshock.com
LEFT: IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire, $4,350; iwc.com
RIGHT: Longines Heritage Military, $2,150; longines.com

The Witty, Wild World of Gucci Watches Online

Gucci hasn’t broken the internet, but it has cracked Instagram. And we can’t get enough.

Photographs by Martin Paar

For its new Instagram campaign, Gucci commissioned British photographer Martin Parr to capture its new watches at nine so-called Gucci Places—sites of brand inspiration, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Maison Assouline in London, and Gucci’s own Florentine garden. As with all of Parr’s work, the photos are hyper-saturated, acerbic, precisely observed. It’s the only luxury watch campaign this year co-starring a stale croissant, a pigeon’s gnarled claw, and a few spots of a tourist’s acne. #TimeToParr is as visually successful as it is ambitious. Which is saying something. 

ITALY. Gucci. Time to Parr. 2018.

The collaboration between Gucci, a brand that’s as Italian as bus strike, and Martin Parr, documentarian of British kitsch and quirk, was not self-evident. It owes its existence to one Roman Anglophile: Alessandro Michele, the visionary, maximally-coiffed creative director of Gucci.

Michele’s love of the British is foundational. His very first collections featured models that looked as if they were honey-dipped then dragged through the Elizabethan, Victorian and Edwardian eras; above the shoulders alone, accessories included ruffled collars, slips of tartan and silk scarves knotted under the neck, a look recognizable to viewers of The Crown. Another dream, realized in 2016, was a Gucci show staged at Westminster Abbey, the sight of all English coronations since William the Conqueror’s ascent in 1066. Cool, Britannia.

ITALY. Gucci. Time to Parr. 2018.

Now we have these Martin Parr pictures, which—not to put too fine a point on it—are about perfect. Timely, technicolor, absurd and charming. From the company that sells four-figure jackets embroidered with the Yankees logo, commissioning the former president of the Magnum photography collective to shoot an Instagram campaign makes a perverse kind of sense. It’s the full glory of high-low.

But there are many British photographers. What bound Michele’s cavalcade of prints, ruffles and horse-bit everything specifically to Martin Parr is a two-part epoxy: one part robust Anglophilia, one part dense, referential, mordant wit. Parr’s work is most often described as anthropological and satirical. What are Michele’s silhouettes, pulled from Renaissance paintings, if not anthropology? What is an interlocked-G Gucci logo the size of a focaccia if not satire?

Rather than flying in a phalanx of models, Parr cast subjects via their proximity to Gucci’s chosen locales and, in the case of one Chatsworth House groundskeeper, for the proximity of the green of his jacket to Gucci’s own trademarked hue. The man, gray and gentle, sweeps the pavement. Peeking from beneath the sleeve of his fleece: a 38mm G-Timeless, its band a perfect match to the worn broom handle.

GB. England. Gucci. Time to Parr. 2018.

Another photo from Chatsworth is a portrait-of-a-portrait: two teens taking a selfie. They’re demure and apple-cheeked. The boy’s phone case, garish and worn, would give most art directors an aneurysm. But follow his hand down to the wrist and you see the juxtaposition: cheap plastic foregrounding Gucci’s Eryx G-Timeless, sitting as serene and golden as a sphinx.

Across the Atlantic, a different shot shows a woman head to toe in pink: clothes, nails, eyeglasses, jewelry, hairdo, notably taut face. Whatever she’s regarding is out of frame, but it could be one of LACMA’s Rodins—her hand clasps her chin in homage to the sculptor’s “The Thinker.” The watch, Gucci’s Le Marché Des Merveilles, is appropriately Pepto-Bismol, plus serpents, studs, and shoe-leather from one of Shirley Temple’s old Mary Janes.

HONG KONG. TOKYO. LA. NYC. Gucci. Time to Parr. 2018.

Was commissioning Martin Parr, famed for biting meta-portraits of the leisure class, to photograph luxury goods a wise idea? Can such a surfeit of irony—Gucci’s current retro-indulgence plus Parr’s wicked perspective plus The Internet—trick the laws of metaphysics, piercing through layer after layer of critique, parody and burlesque, and end up engendering the glamour that makes a buyer point to a bauble, and say, Mine?

And so one might wonder: Is this #TimetoParr campaign the best Anglo-Italian collaboration since Spaghetti Westerns?

Indeed, we say. Decisamente, si.

Raptures of the Deep

Photographs by Junichi Ito
Styling by Stephen Watson & Jared Lawton

Doctors call it nitrogen narcosis. Diving’s old guard call it Martini’s Law. Both mean the same thing: For every 15 meters of depth, the physical effect is equivalent to one drink. Euphoria? Hallucinations? All that and more. But you don’t need an underwater trip to see that modern sports watches are reaching higher levels of dry-land appeal. Slowly surface. It’s time to decompress.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph, $26,600; audemarspiguet.com
Cartier Calibre de Cartier Carbon Diver Watch, $8,950; cartier.com
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s, $12,700; blancpain.com
Hublot King Power Titanium Oceanographic 4000, $20,600; hublot.com
LEFT: Rado Tradition Captain Cook MK III, $2,550; rado.com RIGHT: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 5, $2,400; tagheuer.com
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Oro Rosso, $26,700; panerai.com
Rolex Sea-Dweller, $11,350; rolex.com
LEFT: Vacheron Constantin Overseas, $20,900; vacheron-constantin.com RIGHT: Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver, $3,700; bellross.com

New Wave

On the rich history (and promising future) of Seiko dive watches.

By Jack Baruth

Ku areba raku ari. This Japanese proverb is often equated to the English speaker’s “Every cloud has a silver lining,” but a more literal translation might be: “If you struggle through bitter effort, you will have ease.” In 1953, as Blancpain was fusing high style and high function to produce the Fifty Fathoms for recreational diving, then a burgeoning leisure activity, Seiko was still wading through the bitterness. It was the first year in which the company would match its prewar annual production record of 2.3 million clocks and watches—more than half of Japan’s entire output. This strong footing would leave Seiko free to reach for the stars. It did just that.

In short order, the brand developed an in-house standard for chronometer certification and, in 1960, a Grand Seiko luxury watch to meet that standard. When the Summer Olympics came to Tokyo, four years later, Seiko produced more than 1,000 precision timepieces for the event. It was, in many ways, a coming-out party for Japan in general and Seiko in particular—one in which all parties demonstrated not just a willingness, but an eagerness to compete on the global stage.

Seiko tapped conservationist Fabien Cousteau, grandson of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, as a partner for its latest collection, called Prospex. Cousteau and other marine specialists will document their activities, adventures, and discoveries by way of a dedicated Instagram account @seiko_prospex) this year.

The “62MAS” 150m Diver of 1965 was Japan’s first dive watch. Its bidirectional rotating bezel and non-screw-down crown, placed at the three o’clock position, serve as proof that there was not yet an agreed-upon feature set for this category. Yet it proved to be a commercially successful timepiece, rugged enough for use in Japan’s 8th Antarctic Research Expedition. Early examples are, of course, must-have items for committed collectors of the brand. So, too, is the Model 6159 300m Diver, powered by the 36,000 vph “Hi-Beat” Grand Seiko movement, released in 1968.

Shortly thereafter, the company received a letter from a Hiroshima-area professional “saturation diver.” Seiko watch crystals, he complained, were prone to cracking during ascent, due to accumulation of the helium gas used in SAT diving. (He also pointed out their inability to endure accidental strikes on rocks and other underwater objects.) Seiko’s response was to devote seven years of research and development to one goal: Create a nearly indestructible diver’s watch.

When the Professional 600m appeared, in 1975, it featured a variety of cost-is-no-object solutions to that lofty challenge. It was antimagnetic, shock-resistant, and highly luminous. The case was made of titanium, a material that at the time was sourced primarily from the Soviet Union and was far more expensive than it is today. And while Swiss competitors of the era used helium relief valves to address the problem of cracking crystals, Seiko chose the more difficult and elaborate route of preventing helium entry in the first place, scrutinizing everything from case design to gasket compound. More research. More development.

Soon, the dive watch became Seiko’s showcase for technological advancements. Quartz movements arrived in 1978, followed by special ceramic coatings, a low-battery warning feature, and a 1000m rating for new variants of the Professional. When dive computers replaced wristwatches for most commercial and deep-water divers, Seiko responded by creating function-over-form quartz watches, which incorporated all the features of a dive computer (including depth sensors).

At the same time, the firm continued developing its everyday-use dive watches by fielding variants with Kinetic and, eventually, Spring Drive movements. Today, there are Seiko dive watches for nearly every taste and budget, including the SNZH55 and its sibling variants of the Seiko 5, which are often modified in the aftermarket to create “Fifty-Five Fathoms” tributes to the Blancpain original.

The Prospex SLA019 is a modernized mean, green machine.

This year, Seiko is releasing a collection of six Prospex-branded divers’ watches, an homage to—and developments of—its distinguished lineage in this area. The S23626 and S23627 are recreations of the landmark thousand-meter 1978 quartz Professional, with titanium cases and an optional Cermet ceramic/metal composite coating in violet gold.

The remaining four are derived from the 1968 300m Model 6159, which has maintained an evergreen popularity with collectors. The SLA025 is a highlight. Limited to 1,500 pieces, each priced at $5,400, this piece uses Hi-Beat 36,000 vph movement and, in terms of design language, is the most faithful to the original. (Note the monoblock case and excellent silicone strap.) Customers wanting a more modern interpretation can choose the SLA019, which features a green ceramic bezel, a metal bracelet, and the 28,000 vph Caliber 8L35 which is an undecorated and unregulated variant of a Grand Seiko movement. It retails for $3,250 and, appropriately, is limited to 1,968 pieces.

The new Prospex SLA025, limited to 1,500 pieces, is a slick (and faithful) tribute to Seiko’s 300m dive watch from 1968.

But most pertinent for the majority of American Seiko fanatics is the “1968 Automatic Diver’s Modern Re-interpretation SPB077 and SPB079.” These are modern watches, powered by the hacking and hand-wound 6R15 caliber, and scaled to current tastes at a 44 mm case diameter. The SPB077 features a metal bracelet and black bezel, but our eyes were drawn to the silicone-strap SPB079 and its steel-blue bezel. It pays honest tribute to the look of the Model 6159 while also providing a few contemporary changes, such as an arrow hour hand and slightly smaller luminous markers. It retails at $850—sound value for a Japanese-made diver’s watch with ties to both past and present.

By providing everything from a by-the-numbers re-creation to a spirit-of-the-thing modern everyday watch, Seiko is displaying its ability to connect with customers and collectors on their own terms. They’re attracted to the brand because of its endearing ability to be both serious and playful, all while maintaining (and growing) what has become an enviable legacy. It has always been a substantial effort. But, in creating these new Prospex pieces, Seiko has never seemed so unencumbered. Ku areba raku ari. If you struggle through bitter effort, you will have ease.

1 2 3 5