An auction by Swiss watch maker IWC Schaffhausen saw its one-off Big Pilot’s Watch Single Piece, with a unique engraving, snapped up for $60,000.
The watch sold was worn during the broadcast of the 2019 Oscars last month by Bradley Cooper, star of such Hollywood movies as 2014's American Sniper and the hit comedy franchise The Hangover.
Cooper, an official ambassador for IWC since 2018, wore the piece to benefit the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation.
The Swiss firm said it will donate all proceeds to the foundation, helping it support the Association Arrimage in Nice France.
One of the association's major projects focuses on teaching visually-impaired children how to read drawings in two-dimensional relief through the sense of touch.
IWC expanded its Pilot’s Top Gun series with a new, jet-black Double Chronograph model whose case is made of Ceratanium, a patented composite material that combines the light weight and strength of titanium with the hardness, scratch resistance, and hypoallergenic properties of ceramic.
Also emerging from the Top Gun collection is the “Mojave Desert” edition, whose sand-coloured ceramic case, made from blending zirconium oxide with other undisclosed metallic oxides, evokes not only the landscape of the titular desert where the US Navy’s largest base is located but also the uniform colors of its pilots.
The one-off Big Pilot's Watch auctioned features an engraving of a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's famous novel, The Little Prince, on the back of its 18-carat gold case: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly".
The association was established by Dr Claude Garrandès, a blind French artist, teacher and publisher. For this project, the association uses the first-ever tactile art book of embossed illustrations of The Little Prince, accompanied by descriptions in Braille in both French and English. The book was created by Claude Garrandès Editions and Arrimage with the support of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation. Thanks to unique teaching tools created by Arrimage, blind and low-vision children also have the opportunity to learn how to draw themselves.
“Thanks to the generosity of the buyer, the Association Arrimage can continue their important and impactful projects for visually-impaired children and teenagers," said Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen.
Olivier d’Agay, Secretary General of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation said: “We are convinced that project Arrimage will continue to provide precious moments, unforgettable experiences and new opportunities for visually-impaired children and adolescents around the world.”
The auction sale comes at a time of mixed fortunes for luxury watchmakers. In January, Audemars Piguet, which had spent the past seven years designing a new family of wrist watches, heralded its most important product launch in decades as a bold move beyond the Royal Oak timepiece that the company has long relied on for the bulk of its sales. The online reaction was swift and brutal: it’s a dud.
The “Code 11:59” collection aims high, starting at 25,000 Swiss francs (Dh93,428) and going up to 295,000 francs. Audemars plans to make 2,000 watches in the first year and said it hopes the Code 11:59 will eventually make up at least 20 per cent of its portfolio.
That’s an audacious target, given the initial response from a stunned watch community, which had become accustomed to Audemars doing little more than churning out updates of the Royal Oak through the years, according to Bloomberg. The company’s Instagram feed overflowed with hundreds of comments that decried the design as bland and uninspiring. Before they had even seen it in person, critics likened the watch to cheap fashion timepieces that no serious connoisseur would let near their wrist. Turd emojis were in high demand, all-cap swearing was commonplace, and the puns (‘the Royal Joke’) flowed freely.
“At best, the dial on the new three-hander is sleek and modern,” reviewer Zach Pina wrote in a comparison of two models on the popular “A Blog to Watch” website. “At worst, neither dial design really challenges the viewer – they feel safe and trendy, and not the type of disruptive stuff that solidified AP in the pantheon of modern luxury watchmaking.”
While most watch brands have signature timepieces - think the Submariner for Rolex, the Speedmaster for Omega, or the Nautilus for Patek Philippe - no other high-end house is as closely linked to a single design as family-owned Audemars Piguet. The Royal Oak was conceived by famous designer Gerald Genta in the early 1970s, and it broke new ground with its unusual octagonal shape and its stainless steel case rather than the gold that was typical of watches in that price range. It became a huge hit for Audemars and spawned multiple variants as well as a chunkier sibling called the Royal Oak Offshore.
But the social-media onslaught for the Code 11:59 reveals the mixed blessing of the promotional channels available to companies today: while they reach a much larger audience, the backlash can also be far more ferocious and widespread than it was a few years ago.
“Social media has changed the way we speak to the consumer,’’ said Davide Traxler, CEO of rival watchmaker Parmigiani Fleurier.
“It’s great news, because you have to listen, and at the same time it’s challenging.”