My Three-Watch Wardrobe: Design Museum CEO And Director Mr Tim Marlow

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My Three-Watch Wardrobe: Design Museum CEO And Director Mr Tim Marlow

Words by Mr Chris Hall

23 June 2022

In our My Three-Watch Wardrobe series, we challenge collectors to pick their three dream watches from MR PORTER, money no object. Fresh from hosting the Oak Collection – arguably the biggest and best collection of rare watches ever seen – we welcome Mr Tim Marlow, formerly director of the Royal Academy of Arts, and now heading up the Design Museum in London.

“On my ninth birthday, I was given my first watch, which was a Timex,” he says. “I remember the day before, borrowing my cousin’s watch, going to school and loving the sight of my hand put up in my air and seeing the watch on my wrist. The next day when I was given my Timex watch, what a joy that was. My son, who’s 12, is less bothered by watches. They have phones. But I think it’ll come later.

“When I was 21 my brother gave me a dress watch from Mappin & Webb, which I still have. He was younger than me, but he was earning money at the time, so he gave me this beautiful watch. It’s a really simple watch with a white dial, Roman numerals, leather strap, gold bezel, really simple. I really loved it and felt it was something to wear it for special occasions.

“Then when I had a bit of money, because I had always liked the sporty, diving watch, I bought a TAG Heuer Aquaracer Pro in the early 2000s. I went to Oman on holiday for four days with a couple of mates, and we took a Jeep into the desert because we wanted to explore, and we encountered a sinkhole. We went for a swim and then I decided, because it was so deep at the bottom, that I would go to the top and jump in. It’s quite high – I would say it’s got to be 40ft at least. I’ve got a great photo my mate took of me just before I hit the water.

“Anyway, I plunge straight into the sinkhole, with some force. And as we got out and drove off to find some coffee or whatever, I realised that I didn’t have my watch. My TAG had been ripped off. We went back to look, but it’s literally 300-400ft deep, because it goes out to the ocean. I posted on a local website for a diver’s club saying: ‘If anyone wants a diver’s watch, there’s one lying at the bottom of this sinkhole’. On that same trip, I decided I had to replace that watch, and I bought this Rolex Datejust, that was my upgrade to my diver’s watch. My wife said only I would lose something and spend more money upgrading it with a replacement.

“If you bequeath a watch from father to son or mother to daughter, the fact is it bears something of your history, and it’s borne witness, to the extent that any object can, to your experiences”

“When my son was born, I really wanted to invest in a Patek Philippe to hand down to him, but it was out of my reach. I went on a trip within about three days of him being born, and I bought – as my wife said, such a selfless act – another Rolex. I got his initials and his date of birth engraved on the back, and, I’m kind of old-fashioned about it, but I said, ‘When you’re 21, that’s your watch’. I wear it now, and it will go to him. But it all started with jumping into a sinkhole.

“If I came into an obscene amount of money, I’d definitely treat myself to a watch or two, immediately. I’d buy art, as I already do, but more, and I would definitely go deep into various wines – specifically red burgundy. It’s funny how you equate the two really, but watches, like wine, have this amazing precision. They’re a sign for some people of utterly unacceptable luxury, but actually the precision and what is required, they are in some senses at the height of human achievement.

“I would also be interested in a watch that’s owned by someone I admire. That’s the historian in me. I’m interested in provenance, and the history of taste – say if a work of art has been owned by another major artist, and so on. But it becomes a different thing; I think it’s more like a religious relic than a watch.

“As for whose watch, Nelson Mandela’s watch would be pretty good, wouldn’t it? I wouldn’t mind owning Didier Drogba’s watch from the 2012 Champions League because that’s a particular interest of mine. I’d love to own a watch by Alex Ferguson because he was constantly tapping it, probably put it through extra wear and tear. I don’t know. Churchill? The watches that have been there and borne witness to moments in history, that’s what it’s about. And that’s why if you bequeath a watch from father to son or mother to daughter or whatever it may be, the fact is it bears something of your history, and it’s borne witness, to the extent that any object can, to your experiences.”


Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

“If money was no object, I can’t say I’d be any more ostentatious,” Marlow says. “Even gold can be too much for me. This, in white gold is beautiful. That would appeal – it’s relatively simple and it’s about as distilled as it can get. Understated elegance. I think of watches as practical objects, of precision engineering as well as aesthetic beauty, and the form of the watch being so relatively stable for 200 years is a fascinating thing. Sometimes people try and overlay too much on that simple design – there’s something faintly ridiculous about trying to restore a maximalist aesthetic to something that has actually been distilled to its essence, and there’s not much you can add to a watch to really make it better.”


Cartier Tank Must

“I do see a watch as a design object first and foremost; I don’t have the wrists for big, chunky watches, but I really respond to the economy and the distilled form of a watch. For me, the Cartier Tank is a pretty beautiful watch. It’s elegant, it’s reduced, it’s small. Is that too obvious? I’m sorry for being so unoriginal. But it’s great. It’s modest as well. And it’s not expensive, either, is it, really? I love the story that Patrick Getreide, owner of the Oak Collection, bought his first Tank after winning on a horse race that came in 1-2-3. The Cartier would give my brother’s dress watch a run for its money, although would never quite replace it in my affections. I would, if possible, prefer it on a brown strap.”


Panerai Luminor Marina Tuttogrigio

“I like this shape – I enjoy it on the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, especially. The thing about Panerai is that I find the crown guard a bit too clunky. Of course, I’ve seen the Radiomir, which doesn’t have it, but then again, if you’re going to have a Panerai you’ve really got to do it properly. That’s quite elegant, it would stand out, but it’s still quite rough and ready. That could get me out of my comfort zone. I do want something a bit more outdoorsy. Along with wine, art and watches, the other thing I’m obsessed with is road bikes. This would be nice and light, so it would go with the bike I yearn to have – I’ve got a few carbon bikes, but I covet a titanium road bike, and a titanium Brompton, the new ones that are coming out soon. They’re phenomenally beautiful and light. It’s the peak of bikes at the moment; the problem with carbon is if you crash, or crack it, the whole thing can shatter or collapse. But titanium is so resilient as well as light, if you get a dent in it it can be fixed. The road bike, again, there’s so much tweaking goes on but the basic form is about 100, 120 years old – it’s established, and then it’s just about making things lighter and more efficient. There’s nothing better than the sound of a well-oiled, well-ridden machine.”

Which watch?