An original watch design fueled by passion.
By Jonathan Schultz
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,” he says, 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.” An iconoclast, in other words.