Bulgari models
Anne Hathaway, Zendaya and Priyanka Chopra for Bulgari.

No sex please, we’re Swiss

Given the formality and accustomed snobbery of the horological world, Robin Swithinbank asks the question: ‘Wouldn’t a little sex go a long way?’

Given the formality and accustomed snobbery of the horological world, Robin Swithinbank asks the question: ‘Wouldn’t a little sex go a long way?’

Some opinions are best shared by other people, so here’s one from the Jedi-mind of Robert California, he of the US version of The Office.

In his interview for the position of regional manager at Dunder Mifflin, James Spader’s nerveless guru offers this: “There is no such thing as a product. Don’t ever think there is. There is only sex. Everything is sex. You understand that what I am telling you is a universal truth.”

Without intending to test the theory, I recently found myself in Venice for the launch of Bulgari’s Mediterranea high jewelry collection.

Not a bad lot, this one.

Some 400 and more unique pieces; necklaces, bracelets, watches and such, set with an array of colourful super-stones.

Apparently 90 of them were priced at a $1 million and up. Good golly.

After these had been paraded up and down a specially commission mosaic catwalk on the loggia of the Palazzo Ducale on St Mark’s Square (shocked emoji face) by some of the most beautiful women ever to walk the earth (oh my, it’s Eva Herzegovina), there was dinner.

I sat next to a woman of no particular accent who introduced herself as Stella, one of the models from the show.

Fashion show finale scaled
Bulgari Mediterranea High Jewelry event at Palazzo Ducale (Photo by Pietro S. D’Aprano/Getty Images for Bulgari)

As one does, we talked about her background, which involved living all over the world, culminating in a six-year stint in LA.

Her nomadic life, made more transient still by the responsibility-light role of warm-blooded traveling mannequin, gave her that rootless ambivalence that’s at once thrilling and also rather jarring to those of us prone to a more routine existence.

Consciously disconnected from the world of high fashion as I am, it was only on reading the post-event press release that it dawned on me I’d been munching three-Michelin-starred grub with the supermodel Stella Maxwell, whose 8.6 million Instagram followers lap up her party lifestyle and hazy sideboob shots.

I Googled her. I doubt this was reciprocated.

Eva herzigova in rene caovilla cleo
Eva Herzigova at the Bulgari Mediterranea High Jewelry event. (Photo by Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images for Bulgari)

In the 20-odd years I’ve been in the business of attending fancy dinners at luxury brands’ expense (I know, I’m hardly one to talk), I’ve sat next to all sorts of interesting people (and plenty not so interesting).

Charlie Duke, Gary Player, Gerry McGovern and Sir Clive Woodward come to mind.

But this was the first time I’d been paired with a supermodel.

To a watch guy, this felt significant. In the Swiss watch game, the talent focus remains squarely on the conventions of old-school attainment.

There’s a snobbery about the sort of ambassadors and dinner guests watch brands go for.

See that list above. Astronauts, sports and movie stars, creatives and musicians have a far stronger hold over fine watchmaking than, well, sex.

I mean, thinking back over these past two decades, I don’t ever recall seeing side boob in a Patek ad.

This creates a paradox. Or at least, it does in my mind.

Because I’m an attainment snob, too. I’ve done men’s fashion shows in my time and been left stunned by their vacuity.

Good looking man-boys floating about in properly ironed clothes to a pumping soundtrack and some flashing lights and then – wham. All done.

Very sexy, sure, but where’s the story? Where’s the detail? Make my brain work, yeah? Certainly not the place to ask, ‘how long’s the mainspring on that?’

Watchmaking by comparison has typically appealed to the sort who like to think of themselves as more sentient.

As it might.

The crafts and engineering required to conceive and build a mechanical watch are hard to grasp and therefore harder to appreciate, compared to a pair of trousers.

Bulgari Mediterranea high jewellery watches. More complicated than a pair of trousers.

But then, let’s not forget the words of Mr California. Wouldn’t a little sex go a long way?

Well, it might. And you could argue the brands are at it, sort of, already.

The barely concealed subtext behind a lot of watch brand campaigns is sex, isn’t it?

Those Type A ambassadors are compelling not simply because they’ve achieved nice things and have nice wrists, but because at a subconscious level, we consumers recognize them as good (if improbable) potential mates.

These are people we either want to be like or be with.

The question is more why conservative watch brands aren’t dabbling in a bit more obvious titillation.

No sex please, we’re Swiss?

It’s holding them back.

Look at the watch industry over the past quarter century, and alongside the rise of the mechanical watch from the abyss of the electronics boom, the most spectacular development is the emergence of high-end fashion and jewelry brands as serious watch players.

Robin swithinbank journalist scaled
Robin Swithinbank.

Not just Bulgari; Chanel, Hermès, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and even Dior are now regulars among Morgan Stanley’s authoritative top 50 list. Why? Sex.

Perhaps an interesting comparison is Montblanc, another luxury player with a short track record in watchmaking.

Now nearly 30 years in the game, the German company has never quite stirred the loins in the way those French and Italian marques have for one simple reason: it doesn’t do sex.

If anything, it’s even more conservative than the Swiss, impressed by super-products and super-achievers far more than by supermodels.

But then whether it’s Montblanc, Patek or the perpetually sexless Rolex, if the fashion brands have taught the watch industry anything, it’s that sometimes you’ve got to recognize a watch for what it is.

Not a product, but sex.

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1 Comment

  1. Robin,
    Always enjoy reading your articles, especially this one!!! Keep them coming.

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