Currently, thousands of watch buyers, sellers and makers have congregated in Basel, Switzerland, for BaselWorld, the annual watch exhibition which is on till 31 March. It is the biggest event of its kind. Some luxury brands often book orders for up to 85% of their entire annual sales at the event.
For journalists and watch enthusiasts, it is a good opportunity to gawk at the latest timepieces. Are watches getting smaller? Bigger? Shinier? Basel is also a chance for fringe brands to get noticed with novelties and new collections. These smaller brands, often relegated to secondary halls and spaces in the vast BaselWorld exhibition complex, sometimes surprise with their creativity.
Unlike the Pateks, Rolexes and Breguets, they don’t have the weight of heritage on their shoulders. They can, and often do, think out of the box.
A few days ago, I received a press release from one such watch brand. Jorg Gray, a 13-year-old watch brand based in Tustin, California, announced that it would be exhibiting products for the first time at BaselWorld this year.
Jorg Gray has a collection of approximately 150 watches and some accessories such as pens and watch straps. They make watches for both men and women. While the company does make a few diamond and gold watches that can cost up to a few thousand dollars, the bulk of its collection is moderately priced at $250-800 (around Rs 11,500-36,100). Most of Jorg Gray’s watches come with sober, classic dials and some of their best pieces have aviator-style dark dials with light numerals.
Political: Obama wears the 6500 Jorg Gray steel chronograph. Jason Reed/Reuters
According to the brand’s website, Jorg Gray began as a supplier of speciality private-label watches. In other words, they made good quality watches that could be branded and sold by other organizations (such as museum gift shops). But recently, the brand’s fortunes changed dramatically. It has begun developing the Jorg Gray brand in its own right.
This change has been due to the dramatic success of Jorg Gray’s “6500” family of watches. Currently, the 6500 collection comprises 14 pieces, all of them chronographs with round faces. It is a handsome, versatile collection but not a distinctive one.
So why is the 6500 so popular?
It is the Obama watch.
US President Barack Obama frequently wears a 6500 Jorg Gray steel chronograph with a black dial and black leather strap.
Now, much like most watch connoisseurs, heads of state and other celebrities also use their timepieces to convey messages. Bill Clinton, for instance, used to wear an ordinary Timex Ironman as a symbol of solidarity with the man on the street (since leaving office, however, Clinton is believed to be a discerning collector of expensive pieces).
Vladimir Putin wears Patek Philippes and BlancPains. In 2009, Putin made headlines when during a factory visit he gifted a worker the £5,500 (around Rs 4 lakh now) BlancPain he was wearing.
Italian Prime Minister-cum-compulsive playboy Silvio Berlusconi has been spotted wearing a platinum Vacheron Constantin minute repeater masterpiece.
A year or so ago, I convinced one of my colleagues to go find out what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wears. After a week she reverted: Dr Singh has a collection comprising a Longines and several Titans. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, doesn’t wear watches at all.
Sachin, of Tendulkar fame, can be spotted wearing spectacular Audemars Piguet timepieces. But then he is an ambassador for the brand.
In Obama’s case, there is more than personal choice or brand endorsement involved. In 2007, when still a presidential candidate, Obama was gifted the watch by members of his Secret Service retinue. At the time, Jorg Gray supplied watches to the Secret Service gift shop inside the White House. The piece Obama wears has the Secret Service insignia on the dial.
As the Obama train picked up speed, the watch became a hot seller. Today, you can buy the same model online for $350. The watch does not have the Secret Service insignia any more. But it does have a special Obama engraving on the back and each piece is numbered.
The Jorg Gray 6500 is a simple, clean watch at a decent price that can be worn to meetings or a tennis match. But it gets elevated to symbolic greatness by virtue of association.
There are several reasons to fork out wads of cash for a watch. Buying one because Obama wears it is by no means the worst one.
Write to Sidin at email@example.com