Helping hands: watch brands and philantrophy

As increasing numbers of high-end watch brands partner philanthropic initiatives, we take a look at the ways watchmakers give back

Watches & Jewellery 1 Jan 2018

Tudor’s Black Bay Bronze One, as a lefthander
Patek Philippe’s Triple Complication took six times its estimate
Sales of this Blancpain timepiece aid ocean conservation
In black ceramic, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak
Bremont’s retroaviation inspired DH-88 chronograph aids preservation of vintage planes

There’s a timepiece charity event that has become a firm fixture on the horological calendar. The Only Watch auction started in 2005 and aids the funding of research for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The condition, which affects one in 3,500-5,000 children, causes muscles to gradually weaken and leads to disability. The auction is the brainchild of Luc Pettavino, a former CEO of the Monaco Yacht Show, whose five-year-old son was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in 2000 – and whose personal passion for understanding and battling the disease eventually led to the watch-only auction where brands create and donate one-off timepieces. Ninety-nine per cent of proceeds go to support research for Duchenne – and the cause has raised over €30m to date.

Last month’s auction, held in Geneva, was proof that the event has gone from strength to strength. At its launch 12 years ago, 34 brands raised more than €1.9m and on 11 November 2017, a total of 50 brands raised €9.3m from a room of more than 350 auction-goers from 45 countries. This seventh edition was also especially poignant: it was dedicated to Pettavino’s son, Paul, who recently died.

Sales of this Harry Winston timepiece go towards AIDS research
Sales of this Harry Winston timepiece go towards AIDS research

John Reardon, international head of Christie’s watch department, who presided over this year’s auction said: ‘Only Watch means many different things to many different people. For some, it represents a way of giving back. For others, it represents a way to channel their passion for watches into something much greater than the watch they wear.’

It’s also a chance to own a timepiece that he says, ‘has never been made before and will never be made again’. The sale room echoed this spirit of creativity as collectors bid on lots such as the Patek Philippe Triple Complication watch that, after an initial valuation of CHF1,100,000 sold for CHF6,200,000, more than half the takings on the day. The Ref 5208T-010 features a minute repeater, a monopusher chronograph and an instantaneous perpetual calendar, all powered by a self-winding movement and further adorned with a geometric hand-guilloched blue dial that matches a blue Cordura strap. But most notably, it’s the only model available in titanium, a material the Geneva watchmaker rarely uses.

Another banner lot was the Tudor Black Bay Bronze One, based on a cult model that earned even higher status last year when a bronze finish was introduced. For Only Watch, Tudor upped its rarity factor by creating the watch for a lefthander – the crown is on the left – and further accenting it with a co khaki green dial. Estimated at CHF4,500-CHF5,500, it eventually hammered down for CHF350,000, with the lucky winner also receiving an all-expenses paid trip to Tudor’s HQ in Geneva, a first such invitation for a watchmaker who keeps its doors tightly shut.

Chopard continues to donate profits from this piece towards leukaemia research
Chopard continues to donate profits from this piece towards leukaemia research

Other showstoppers included an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, a first in black ceramic, offset by a striking ‘skylight’ blue Grande Tapisserie dial with a moody orangetinted moon; it realised CHF800,000 from its estimate of CHF120,000. Also blowing its estimate was FP Journe’s 44mm Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante Bleu, a punchy orange-strap-blue-dial combo crafted from tantalum, a high-tech, super anti-corrosive material. Never made before, the watch sold for CHF1,150,000, nearly three times its estimate.

You don’t need to be a deep-pocketed watch collector, however, to get involved in horological philanthropy. Giving back is very much part and parcel of doing business for some marques, such as Chopard. In addition to having participated in every Only Watch auction to date (this year’s was a motorsport homage – a collaboration with racing legend Jacky Ickx and Porcshe – expressed in a super high-frequency movement watch), Chopard is committed to several social endeavours. For over two decades the house has supported the José Carreras Leukaemia Foundation, and in recent years issued a special LUC XP for the tenor’s 50th birthday. The Geneva house has also worked with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, from fundraising for the White Tie and Tiara Ball and the Academy Awards Viewing Party, to creating dedicated watches where a portion of sales go to the charity.

Another Only Watch veteran is Harry Winston, which last year also unveiled its Countdown to a Cure timepiece to mark its second year collaborating with the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). The watch is based on the house’s classical Midnight collection, with an understated design and a countdown motif on a blue sunburst dial. Twenty per cent of the watch’s retail price goes to benefit amfAR’s goal to develop a cure for HIV by 2020. Continuing the theme, only 20 men’s and 20 women’s watches are being made. Furthermore, Harry Winston’s transparency in relation to how donations are calculated and used is especially commendable.

Rolex’s iconic Oyster lends inspiration for their awards for those who make the world a better place
Rolex’s iconic Oyster lends inspiration for their awards for those who make the world a better place

So too is Blancpain’s. The Swiss watchmaker’s link with diving watches dates back more than 60 years, and for each of its latest Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe flyback chronographs Ocean Commitment II, which are limited to 250 pieces, it will donate €1,000 to support ocean conservation projects. The all-blue ceramic case watch is part of Blancpain’s Ocean Commitment program, which has seen €250,000 donated, ten expeditions funded and three million sq km of ocean protected so far. And awareness recently got an extra boost: in October, Laurent Ballesta, marine biologist, photographer and friend of Blancpain, won the National History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, in the Earth’s Environments category. His atmospheric image of a colossal, submerged iceberg in Antarctica was taken on a mission that saw Ballesta brave the depths in sub-zero temperatures. In order to survive underwater for four hours, he donned five layers of clothing that was especially integrated with electric heating. ‘But I still returned with toes that remained numb for seven months,’ said Ballesta.

Bremont is as mad about philanthropy as it is aviation, and all its limited-edition watches have a charitable element. Last year’s handsome, vintage-style DH-88 chronograph, for example, saw a portion of proceeds go to support Bedfordshire’s Shuttleworth Collection. The museum is home to more than 50 unique airplanes, including the 1909 Blériot XI, the world’s oldest flying aircraft, and the DH88 Comet, the watch’s namesake, which broke records in 1934 when it flew from England to Australia in under three days and with just one engine during the final leg due to a faulty oil-pressure reading.

“Giving back is very much part and parcel of doing business for some marques

But it’s not all aviation for Bremont: its stylish Codebreaker aids the ongoing restoration of Bletchley Park, site of Britain’s Second World War decryption efforts and the setting for 2014’s The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Furthermore, its Victory incorporates parts of HMS Victory, with a portion of sales supporting her preservation.

with the Special Forces continues with this piece to aid RAF veterans
Breitling’s partnership with the Special Forces continues with this piece to aid RAF veterans

Breitling has long created bespoke timepieces for the Special Forces – available only to its members and customised with their unique squadron emblems and crests. But as the only official timekeeper of the Royal Air Force centenary next year, Breitling will create a series of limited-edition watches available for all to buy, across its Colt Skyracer, Aerospace, Avenger GMT II and Navitimer 01 46 lines. An extra-special Navitimer 01 46, complete with the RAF100 Appeal and RAF100 crest logos on the case back and dial, will also be auctioned in aid of raising money for the RAF100 Appeal.

It is not the first time Breitling has supported the organisation’s charitable efforts. In 2015, for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the Swiss watchmaker created a limited edition commemorative Navitimer, with a portion of sales donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund that offers both financial and emotional support to RAF members. The eye-catching pilot’s watch featured the 75th anniversary crests on the 3 and 9 o’clock sub dials, and an in-house developed, COSC-chronometer-certified, self-winding movement, complete with navigational specs.

A chronometer – specifically the Rolex Oyster and the world’s first waterproof watch – has also lent inspiration to doing good. To mark the watch’s 50th anniversary, Rolex inaugurated the biannual Awards for Enterprise that support groundbreaking projects that aim to make the world a better place. In 41 years the initiative has awarded 140 inspiring pioneers in three categories: the environment, applied science and technology, and exploration, with each winner receiving CHF100,000 and a watch.

The 2016 laureates include Joseph Cook, a 31-year-old glacial microbiologist who is studying Greenland’s microscopic ‘frozen rainforest’, to see how this relatively unknown ecosystem can help us better understand changes in the Earth’s climate, nutrient and carbon cycles. Former NHS eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous, meanwhile, is on a mission to help the 285 million visually impaired people living in poverty-stricken countries, via an innovative mobile-phone powered eye-test kit that helps people in remote areas to screen for common eye diseases, and transmit results to trained ophthalmologists for treatment.

Others this year include NGO conservationist Kerstin Forsberg’s project to save the Peruvian giant manta ray and Christine Keung’s enterprise to tackle contaminated rivers in China’s Shaanxi Province, through training the local community.

And to think, it all began with a humble waterproof watch.