The appeal of erotic watches doesn’t seem to correlate with anything else that’s going on in society right now. Yet, in recent years, they have seen a marked up-tick in their production numbers, and have been seen out in public, sported by celebrity watch fans such as Drake, who owns a $750,000 Richard Mille RM-69 Erotic Tourbillon that has a series of three mechanical panels that allow you to display a series of interchangeable erotic phrases such as ‘I’d Love to Kiss Your Pussy’.
However, it’s not just the new timepiece brands on the block who are promoting X-rated watches. Blancpain and Ulysse Nardin both produce models with explicit faces, continuing a history of the genre that can trace its roots back to erotic enamel dials painted onto some of the world’s first watches in the 17th and 18th centuries. This history is sometimes referenced in the time period of scenes themselves. The man engraved onto the caseback of the Blancpain Erotic Les Brassus Minute Repeater Carrousel watch wears the wig and breeches of the Classical period. The woman he is behind is naked, her tumbling curly hair tossed back over her shoulders as she seductively strokes his cello bow with an animated arm.
So what does it say about society that their popularity is on the rise? According to Pierre-Alexandre Aeschlimann, the President of independent watchmakers Andersen Genève, social change has been good for business. ‘Even with the #MeToo movement, we still have collectors asking for such timepieces, maybe even more.’ But before we jump to conclusions, Aeschlimann is quick to point out it’s not just men buying these watches. ‘You find female watch collectors wearing the Andersen Genève Eros Automaton. They are wonderful “ambassadrices”.’
‘At a flick of the minute repeater, the man on the caseback starts to thrust’
While Andersen Genève is open about having made 173 erotic watches since its first commission in 1996, other brands are far more secretive about their figures. So with a shortcoming of quantitative data, I thought it best to speak to a man who owns an erotic watch in the hope that they could illuminate this relatively niche and mysterious corner of the watch world.
Mr Itch is a Beijing-based collector who, among his other luxury timepieces, owns a couple of erotic watches made by Andersen Genève. His first was a custom design in the Qing dynasty painting style depicting a couple fully dressed on the dial. On the reverse the woman’s legs are open, and the at the flick of the minute repeater switch, the man starts to thrust.
‘Beijing has one of the biggest collector communities of erotic watches in China,’ he says. ‘But most of them are more interested in what’s on the back than inside the watch.’
However, Mr Itch doesn’t just use his erotic watches as a toy. In his experience, men find the back of these explicit watches so interesting that he can actually use them as a networking tool.
‘When I’m at parties and I meet a gentleman who I want to have a private conversation with, showing this watch can be a great way to initiate that.’ This is a rather problematic reflection of how some men still view the world, where business and women are discussed in the same breath.
The further you dig, the more problematic erotic watches become. It’s fairly easy to deduce the audience for these watches from the scenes depicted on them. While Aeschlimann assures me that Andersen Genève is always open to requests as to the kind of vignettes and pictures animated on its dials, as a genre these sexualised scenes are always man-on-woman, woman-on-woman or man-on-multiple-women – and all very much positioned for the heterosexual male gaze. Collectors of other genders and sexualities might exist, but they’re certainly not the target market for these timepieces right now.