Why Watch Collectors Went Crazy For Horological Art
From left: Ms Julie Kraulis, Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona, 2017. Photograph courtesy of Ms Julie Kraulis. Mr Ben Li, Inkdial for IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “IWC x Hot Wheels Racing Works”, 2021. Photograph courtesy of Mr Ben Li. Mr Bryan Bradd, Cartier Panthere de Cartier mini (Ref.WGPN0016), 2023. Photograph courtesy of Mr Bryan Bradd
One night, a couple of years ago, Mr Bryan Braddy was sitting at the kitchen table, his five-year-old daughter doodling beside him. With crayons scattered, she requested, in the way small children do, that he draw something. Whatever he liked. So he drew a watch.
“I was reminded of the simple joy of drawing,” Braddy says. After having so much fun with my daughter, I thought it might be fun to document the process with a silly Instagram page.”
That Instagram page, @badartnicewatch, has grown from a small hobby to a passion project, to a burgeoning business, with Braddy rendering charmingly wonky versions of iconic and cult watches in pen and watercolour, beginning with a single 1⅝in circle. His customers are, mostly, watch fans who commission pieces that signify a memory or a moment. A Cartier Panthère de Cartier mini, gifted by the recipient’s mother just before she died. A man whose immigrant father worked for 30 years to afford his dream Rolex, handing the watch down to him after graduation. Despite the often deep meaning of these pieces, Braddy’s playfully wabi-sabi style means his art stands out in the sometimes staid world of Swiss luxury horology.
“I think that people connect with the approachability of my work,” he says. “It’s not overly technical or detailed, with just enough style to differentiate it from others. The only message I hope to convey through my art is to have fun.”
It is a pursuit that attracts a certain kind of person with a certain kind of propensity towards collecting. As the global watch market has boomed in recent years, so too has a desire for artwork and ephemera that capture beautiful watches beyond the genuine article. To accompany the Nautilus, Crash or Polo on your wrist, why not add a custom painting on your wall?
“After working in the watch and jewellery industry for 15-plus years, it becomes a passion,” says Mr Ricky Dagia, a collector of watches and watch art. He owns pieces by Braddy, as well as the artist and photographer Mr Atom Moore, and is eyeing up a piece by Berd Vay’e, a New York-based company that makes one-off sculptures out of vintage watch parts. “It’s amazing how Bryan can help share that same passion, but in a different medium,” he says.
“Neither watches nor design are recent interests of mine – I’ve loved them both for ever – but art based on watch design is,” says Mr Thomas Lubeck, another collector. “As watch collecting has become somewhat more mainstream in recent years – people who don’t know much about watches all competing to buy the same things – a subset of the collector world has had a natural countermovement towards uniqueness and playfulness.”
“Watch art is a unique way of bringing the community together. We may have only just scratched the surface”
As that discerning subset of collectors has grown, so too has the demand for work by talented artists in the field. One of them is Mr Ben Li, who goes by @inkdial on Instagram. A former designer with a rigorous approach, Li started drawing watches in 2020 as a way to distract himself from you know what. Since then, he has worked with brands including IWC Schaffhausen, Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre and G-Shock, his hyper-detailed drawings capturing the full complexity of each piece. He has launched a fan drawing competition with Audemars Piguet and a workshop with IWC. Unsurprisingly, tourbillons are tough. “The trickiest watch so far would probably be the Audemars Piguet Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillion Chronograph,” he says. “Not just the name, but a timepiece with unique movement and material textures.
“I find watch art to be a new and refreshing genre for the watch world. It’s a unique way of bringing the community together and we may have only just scratched the surface.”
Another widely respected watch artist with a big following is Toronto-based Ms Julie Kraulis, one of the early pioneers of the genre. She started doing pencil drawings of watches in 2015, after stumbling on an article about iconic timepieces. Since then, her large-scale works have become big with private collectors and she has been commissioned by some of the industry’s most venerable institutions. “I always love the opportunity to work on pieces that take me to special events,” Kraulis says. “Like the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona piece for the Phillips Winning Icons auction in New York, or the Speedmaster piece Omega commissioned for the Lost In Space 60th anniversary at the Tate Modern.” Kraulis also worked with MR PORTER and The Watch Annual in 2021 to produce a drawing of the Hermès H08, our watch of the year.
“One thing I’ve learnt in the world of horology is that our love for detail connects us. My work captures detail in an intricate way”
“I love the magic of graphite,” she says. “It’s got great depth and a lively shimmer. It changes in different light and seasons. It captures all of the different watch textures beautifully. I love the idea of using a humble tool to push its boundaries and create luxury in elaborate drawings.
“One thing I’ve learnt in the world of horology is that our love for detail connects us, and my work captures detail in an intricate way.”
Another category of watch art that has been hiding in plain sight is its advertising. For decades, brands such as Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe have filled luxury magazines with ads that pitch their wares as tools to take you to the moon, or the bottom of the sea, strong enough to clamp shut a lobster’s claw, or as an immaculate heirloom to hand down to your tousle-haired, blond son.
“It was becoming harder and harder for me to acquire the vintage watches I’m most drawn to, so I got into hunting watch ads as an alternative,” says Mr Nicholas Federowicz, whose business, Ad Patina, sources and frames iconic watch and other luxury goods adverts. “At first I was sharing my finds on Instagram, but then a good friend encouraged me to sell the ads, that collectors would want them to go along with their watches,” he says. “In early 2019 I took a leap of faith and quit my job to pursue Ad Patina full time.
“Aside from being part of the story of their watch, a vintage ad is incredibly nostalgic, which is an aspect people certainly enjoy. The artistry and copywriting of vintage ads are equivalent to the design and nuances of a vintage watch. Vintage ads are appreciated for a lot of the same reasons people have fallen in love with watches, especially vintage. For their simple beauty, their rarity, in the case of some advertisements.”
Despite his expert eye and global network of contacts, there are still a couple of legendary examples that Federowicz is on the hunt for. “One, in particular, is a full-colour Rolex ad featuring a Red Submariner with a surfer in the background,” he says. “I have a good idea where to look, but even so, it’s eluded me so far.
“Watches shouldn’t be all-consuming. In addition to being a conversation starter, and having the power to spark friendships, watches can inspire you to learn more about history, culture, lifestyle and so much more.
“If you fully embrace watches and the people and stories that make them wonderful, it’s inevitable that you’ll find other areas to explore and discover. Other objects to purchase or start collecting. Furniture, rare books, fashion and accessories… or vintage ads.”