In some ways, Alex Trochut is an unlikely candidate for a Jaeger-LeCoultre collaboration. Speaking over Zoom from his adopted home in Brooklyn, the Barcelona-born graphic artist is politely evasive when asked if he’s a “watch guy”. “I’m quite Spanish, so I don’t manage to get things on time all the time,” he says with a smile. “But I’m getting better, especially here in New York — the land of immediacy.” Conscious that he’s dodging the question, Trochut claims he does wear a watch and that, in fact, Jaeger-LeCoultre kindly gave him “the latest model”. But he concedes “there was a period in my life when smartphones were kind of questioning a little bit the idea of watches”.
Doesn’t sound much like a watch guy to me. Then again, why should he be? Trochut, after all, was not commissioned by Jaeger-LeCoultre for his horological nous but his artistic vision, which has landed him a range of clients across the worlds of advertising, music and editorial. The award-winning artist/typographer/illustrator has designed covers for The Rolling Stones’ “Rolled Gold” and Katy Perry’s “Roar”, while also creating artwork for the likes of Apple Music, Nike, Coca-Cola and Audi. “His creative work is avant-garde,” the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Catherine Rénier, says of Trochut. “And, like our maison, he uses his heritage as a foundation, harnessing that legacy in order to express the present and future in new creative ways.”
The love affair between watch brands and artists is nothing new. A famous Polaroid self-portrait shows Andy Warhol studiously avoiding eye contact while his left hand grips his right shoulder in order to make his Cartier Tank the picture’s main focus. Given Warhol’s enthusiasm for watches, this emphasis was unlikely to have been accidental. Aside from his beloved Tank — which he claimed to wear unwound — the Pop Art innovator had an impressive collection filled with the likes of Patek Philippe, Piaget and Rolex.
Warhol also had a crack at watch design. In 1988 he helped to create the Movado Times/5, a quartz timepiece consisting of five watch cases interlinked to form an articulated bracelet. The backdrop to each dial was a black and white image of New York that was meant to give five different views of the city for five different time zones.
Pablo Picasso, another artistic watch lover, was often snapped wearing Jaeger-LeCoultre and Rolex. But his best-known watch was the one that he inspired: the Michael Z Berger Picasso. Sold last year at a Bonhams auction in Paris for €219,050 ($AU342,948), this steel timepiece has one very distinctive feature. Instead of hour markings, a series of letters run around the dial from 12 o’clock to read: “P A B L O P I C A S S O” — happily for Berger, there are 12 letters in the artist’s name.
Trochut’s work with Jaeger-LeCoultre continues the interplay between the art and watch worlds, except his contribution involves the creation of a brand new typeface (I would make a font joke here, but I’m not bold enough). The relevance of this is that Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most iconic model is, of course, the Reverso, the rectangular watch with a unique swivel case that can be flipped around to shield the dial (developed in 1931 for polo players to protect their watches). Part of the Reverso’s appeal today lies in its scope for personalisation, with the caseback offering a canvas for custom engraving. Trochut was charged with designing a typeface that could be used for this — essentially a custom-made alphabet in JLC’s stylistic language. “It’s like putting clothes on text,” he says of the typographical challenge. “You’ve got to choose what to wear in every occasion — you don’t want to put flip-flops on for a wedding.”
Interpreting the dress code for this union, Trochut landed on a modified take on Art Deco, a visual mode that combines the progressive nature of Modernism with Classicism’s timeless appeal. The decision makes sense, given that the Art Deco movement informed the Reverso’s identity with its onus on straight lines, geometric shapes and hierarchy of function over form. For Trochut, Art Deco’s appeal lies in both its emotional connotations and intergenerational pertinence. “Back then it was luxurious, powerful and futuristic,” he says. “Today it feels classic and still luxurious, but over time it’s become remixed in a way that’s more gentle and approachable while keeping that rigidity that makes it so unique and stylish.”
The resulting typeface, which will be used for Reverso engravings and a host of brand collateral, melds decorative linear details with rounded shapes in varying widths. Each letter comprises an interlocking series of modular parts that synchronise into a cohesive whole, just like the mechanical innards of a wristwatch. “Letters are a mix of emotional and rational decisions, with a big internal logic that ties all the decisions into one alphabet or lettering form, like a puzzle,” says Trochut. “While I consider watchmaking to be another level of complexity, both disciplines embody a devotion to the little things that need to work in harmony inside a system.”
Trochut isn’t alone in seeing these cross-disciplinary connections, with a number of watch brands recently taking inspiration from artists — often with eye-popping results. Zenith has teamed up with the Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone; Bulgari worked with the Chinese painter Wang Yan Cheng; and Baume & Mercier produced one of the most fascinating dials of the year with a miniaturised painting by the abstract French artist Pierre Soulages. But the watchmaker that has mined this creative seam most vigorously is Hublot.
The brand’s “Art of Fusion” tagline is intended to convey the company’s willingness to combine materials in innovative ways. Over the past decade, however, Hublot riffed on the phrase in a more literal manner, resulting in a series of collaborations with a range of artists. “There are many parallels between watchmaking and art,” Hublot’s CEO, Ricardo Guadalupe, insists. “Both worlds require creativity, ambition and audacity. In the 10 years that we have been partnering with artists, we have seen how the two worlds can fuse together to create exceptional watches.”
In the past two years alone, Hublot has worked with France’s bestselling artist, Richard Orlinski, to bring his multifaceted style to watch dials in coloured ceramic. There was the collaboration with Shepard Fairey — the American artist best known for the portrait “Hope” (2008) he created for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign — that felt less like a watch and more like a strange, mandala-engraved sculpture. Meanwhile, the cult Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has also got involved in wrist-bound art, taking his smiling flower motif and bringing it to life with black diamonds and ceramic.
The results of these various collaborations range from the unorthodox to the cheerfully deranged. But, Guadalupe explains, that’s really the whole point. An artist’s role, at least in part, is to view the world from a fresh perspective and to expand our horizons with novel insights. In an industry that can feel a little conservative and overly reliant on the past for inspiration, this jolt of imagination is very welcome, as Guadalupe readily accepts. “It’s about bringing together the expertise and savoir faire of different worlds — high watchmaking and art — to bring to life innovative and audacious designs.”