WORDS: MING LUI
ILLUSTRATION: VIRGINIE MORGAND
The watch and film worlds have long been passionate bedfellows – and it’s easy to see why. There’s glitz and glamour, high visibility and showmanship, a shared bond over creation and craft. This love affair has taken various forms, from the Omega Seamaster’s life-saving cameos in Bond blockbusters to Chanel supplying pieces for Woody Allen’s latest flick, Café Society.Watches and movies have supported one another off-set on the red carpet, and off-duty – such as in post-war Rome, when Hollywood’s biggest names came to film at Cinecittà Studios. Audrey Hepburn, Anita Ekberg, Luchino Visconti, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were just some of the stars that patronised the house of Bulgari for watches and gems, discreetly accessing the Via dei Condotti flagship through a secret entrance. Beyond the flashbulbs, however, certain manufactures have taken the relationship to the next level – and actively invest in cinema’s future. Take Chopard, who, after 19 years sponsoring the Cannes Film Festival, is now helping to restore the aforementioned Cinecittà. ‘It was the natural next step for us,’ says Raffaella Rossiello, Chopard’s international communication director, who is closely involved in the project.
‘Cinema has given us huge visibility and greatly helped our business.We wanted to give back to an industry that we find so beautiful and fascinating.’ The Swiss house stumbled across the project purely by accident when, a few years ago, it was looking for a location to launch La Strada, a watch collection inspired by Federico Fellini’s film of the same name. Cinecittà couldn’t have been more destined – it was where the Italian director shot La Dolce Vita, after all. ‘Caroline [Scheufele] fell in love with the place,’ recalls Rossiello of Chopard’s co-president when she visited the storied studio also responsible for icons such as Ben-Hur and Cleopatra.
‘The then-studio president said the original façade of the main entrance, first built in 1937, was in urgent need of repair. We agreed to collaborate on the restoration – and with great pleasure.’ ‘It’s like a dream,’ describes Rossiello. ‘Today, the industry works with so much 3D digital animation, but here were entire sets made by skilled artisans. It was something we had to preserve, not only so the next generation could be inspired, but as watchmakers we are sensitive to human craft and métier d’art.’ Its most recent project was to restore the 1987 drama Dark Eyes – Chopard’s first such endeavour, and an eye-opener. There was the general retouching work, but also, ‘the original film had cut scenes, for whatever reason, featuring Isabella Rossellini, which we reintegrated,’ says Rossiello.
Meanwhile, the refurbishment of the 31,000sq ft Studio Five, the exact space where Fellini filmed La Dolce Vita, is next on the list. For Jaeger-LeCoultre, the watchmaker’s cinematic pairings are varied – from its 11-year union with Venice’s Mostra film festival to those in San Sebastián, Shanghai and NewYork – and reflect the brand’s DNA. ‘The way directors and artists work together captures the same spirit of collaboration,’ says Zahra Kassim-Lakha, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s director of UK and global strategy. ‘All our craft is done in-house. Whether you’re a materials expert, a sound engineer or an enameller, all the work falls under one vision.’
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s partnerships go beyond simply splashing its name on a photo wall. The marketing dollars are actually being put back into the film industry, as with a residency programme it created with NewYork’s Film Society of Lincoln Center that supports promising film-makers. Not all alliances are solely linked to cinema, either: preserving cultural heritage also underlines its six-year union with the Shanghai International Film Festival, where it’s helped restore Chinese classics. ‘In China, we found a growing interest in traditional films that billions of Chinese had seen growing up,’ says Kassim- Lakha. ‘To help keep these iconic films alive was an interesting twist for us.’
Rolex is another watchmaker with its eye set on cinema’s future. Since 2004, as part of its Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the house has paired an aspiring film-maker with an A-list director, such as this year’s Alfonso Cuarón (of Gravity and Harry Potter fame) with India’s Chaitanya Tamhane. Rolex’s programme is as serious as its roster of former mentors, Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu among them. Glashütte Original and IWC Schaffhausen are two houses also putting their money where their mouths are.The former has announced, for the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, a €50,000 prize for the director and producer of a documentary, supporting this often- overlooked genre. Meanwhile, IWC has shown a versatile and long-standing support of the industry. Partnerships span theTriBeCa, Zurich, Beijing and Dubai film festivals, the last of which it offers a US$100,000 cash prize to help Gulf film-makers bring their visions to the screen. IWC is also a staunch supporter of the British Film Institute (BFI), where, through a project called Luminous, it helps to protect the UK’s national film and TV archives. It recently extended its alliance by launching a groundbreaking £50,000 bursary for a first- or second-time writer or director showing at the BFI London Film Festival. And that’s perhaps the crux of it: film-making takes time.Time to create and develop a project, time to rally up money, time to preserve film. No wonder watchmakers find cinema such a rich pairing – and a marriage that will only continue to inspire.