"Absolutely. Guilty as charged," Aldis Hodge says when I ask if a person's watch is the first thing he notices about them.
Hodge, 32, is best known as an actor, having starred in films such as Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Die Hard with a Vengeance and A Good Day to Die Hard, as well as popular TV programmes including Black Mirror, Leverage, Underground and Turn: Washington's Spies. But the star is also an artist and avid watch-collector, as well as a self-taught horologist.
“I came out of the womb drawing on everything; I used to draw on my mother’s white furniture and her white walls with her red lipstick and my pencils. Little did she know that would later materialise into me doing what I do now – I’m a painter as well and a micromechanical engineer,” the ever-quotable Hodge once said.
The first watch that Hodge ever bought for himself, at the age of 12 or 13, was a blue steel Fossil with a full metal band. “It’s not the first watch I owned, which happened to be a Mickey Mouse watch when I was like 5 years old, but it’s the first one I remember getting for myself,” he tells me.
His collection has matured somewhat since then, and he currently counts an Arnold & Son Golden Wheel and Bulgari Daniel Roth Papillon Voyageur as his go-tos. He is definitely not “a smartwatch guy” and has a penchant for pocket watches, citing vintage pieces by Breguet, Hebdomas, Elgin and George Daniels, as well as Bovet’s more modern examples, among his favourites. “Pocket watches are just so awesomely classic, yet refreshingly new at the same time. I mean, how often do you see someone rocking a great pocket watch these days?” says Hodge.
His mother always impressed upon him the importance of presenting himself properly, with good shoes, a good suit and a good watch, and this instruction stuck. Hodge grew to appreciate that the watch he wore was a representation of who he was – of his culture, his tastes and his aesthetic. So what does he think his current collection reveals about him?
“My collection says that I’m avant-garde. My taste is uncommon, rare and aesthetically innovative. I like to experience art in new ways and I want to be able to share that with people. Some say I’m outside the box. I say there was never a box to begin with.”
Having moved on from using his mother’s walls as a canvas, Hodge attended the ArtCenter College of Design in California. At the age of 19, as part of a product study course, he “randomly” began designing watches. “Originally, I wanted to be an architect, but wouldn’t be able to pursue that and my acting career simultaneously,” he explains. “So, I chose watchmaking because I could teach myself at my own pace. I fell in love with the intricacies of movements, and was quite enamoured with the possibilities of creativity in reference to design and composition.”
More than a decade later, Hodge (whose full name is Aldis Alexander Basil Hodge) is in the process of creating his own watch company, Basil Time Piece. Last month, he participated in the first International Horology Forum, hosted by Dubai Watch Week in partnership with Christie’s, in London. The event featured a series of panel discussions addressing key issues for the watch industry. “Honestly, I was quite shocked and honoured to have been included. Especially to join The Soothsayers panel, alongside Suzanne Wong, Hamdan Al Hudaidi and Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi.
“During our panel, we discussed current interest in the market regarding the millennial generation, the digital age verses the mechanical age, stabilising and maintaining future interest in the mechanical horology field, etc. I had a riveting time.
“It was as equally awesome to share the stage with my fellow panellists as it was to see who was in the audience. Some of the best watchmakers in the world were in the room.”
Hodge’s ultimate hope is to join their ranks by “presenting time-telling in irregular ways that are palatable and easily adaptable to the eye, but are unique in composition, aesthetically and materially”, he says. “I’m building up to a point with designs that offer people new experiences in time-telling – sort of like a sensory experience.
"I'm not sure how to describe my style just yet, but the best I can do is say that I believe I offer the traditional mechanical foundation of Breguet or George Daniels along with the modern fabrication execution of Greubel Forsey, while providing an innovative horological education to the wearer, such as MB&F or Vianney Halter."
Hodge is currently looking for funding to begin research and development for Basil Time Piece’s flagship design (either “a chronometer with offset hours/minutes with an exposed balance” or a “jump hours in an irregular case with exposed movement”). If all goes to plan, he hopes that he will be releasing his first watches by 2021.
And the most crucial skill he has learnt along the way? Patience. “Making ‘time’ takes time,” he says.