The Unlikely Watch Collector: Andy Warhol
Unlikely Watch Collector

The Unlikely Watch Collector: Andy Warhol

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol, 1975

By Liam O'Donnell

Andy Warhol was an avid collector of curiosities throughout his life. Much like a magpie, he had a penchant for beautiful, shiny objects. He was even known to adorn the inside of hs Perfecto jacket with vintage diamond brooches, something that only he could admire. 

So, it is not surprising Andy was often photographed wearing a watch – most famously his Cartier Tank Louis. However, it was a total surprise when his secret collection of some 300 watches (hidden from public knowledge in dresser drawers) was sold by Sotheby’s during a 10-day auction of the Warhol estate in 1988 (read HERE).

Cartier Tank Louis

Once quoted as saying, “I don’t wear a [Cartier] Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear,” the Cartier Tank Louis is easily the watch most often associated with Andy Warhol. Perhaps even more than the one worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

This iconic watch was inspired by the Renault tanks on the front lines of the Western Front in World War I and has remained virtually unchanged since its inception over a century ago. The watch’s design is a rectangular prism in either stainless steel or 18K gold, with lugs that look like an extension of the case. These lugs have come to be known as “brancard-style” lugs, which means “stretcher” in French. The Tank Louis also sports Cartier’s signature Roman numeral dial and crown capped with a sapphire cabochon.

Connection With Piaget

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Warhol’s death, Piaget collaborated with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to host a ‘Time Capsules’ event in London.

Hidden deep in Warhol’s archives were 600 boxes filled with letters, memorabilia, personal items, and more than a few historic Piaget timepieces. It’s no secret that Warhol was a fan of precious metals, and the Piaget timepieces in his collection speak to the style and funk of the 1970s.

Warhol’s connection to Piaget runs so deep that the brand still produces an ‘Inspiration Watch’ which features an 18k rose gold 45mm rose gold case and a beautiful lapis lazuli dial.

Other notable pieces in Warhol’s Piaget collection included 18 and 24 carat yellow gold ingot watches. These remarkable pieces date to 1974 and are powered by Piaget’s 9P Ultra-Thin movement. Being that Warhol was also a style icon, various Piaget cuff watches adorned his wrist, most notably, an intricate mechanical version with tiger eye dial.

Based on the sheer volume of Piaget timepieces in Warhol’s collection, his relationship with the Swiss watchmaker is one that's still being celebrated.

Rolex Chronograph Ref. 3525

This fascinating Rolex chronograph (read our profile HERE) was seldom photographed on Andy’s wrist. It’s quite possible he never even wore it and just enjoyed the aesthetics of the watch.

Warhol's Rolex ref. 3525 is an important watch for the venerable Swiss manufacturer. It was the first time Rolex used its patented hermetic “Oyster” watch design with a chronograph movement.

While it may seem like a unique looking Rolex today, this reference was produced for about nine years (1939-1945) in numerous metals and combinations of metals. This particular reference has a pink gold bezel, crown, and bi-metal rivet style bracelet. However, the bracelet is not original to Warhol’s watch and was fitted with a leather strap before being auctioned.

It doesn’t need to tell the time, but it’s nice when it does

Other notable watches in Warhol’s collection included a Patek Philippe ref. 3448, Patek Philippe ref. 2503, and a Patek Philippe ref. 2526. While it may seem like he had a penchant for leading luxury watch manufactures, Andy also had an affinity for mass-produced and inexpensive watches that had cartoon characters on them. It is believed that it was less about the technical prowess or isochronism for him, and more about how it looked on him, and how it felt in his hands.

A Collaboration with Movado

Despite being an avid watch collector and pop art icon, Andy only ever designed one watch of his own. The Movado Times/5 was a bracelet-style watch with a highly recognizable design, featuring photographic contact sheets, similar to the ones Andy would have used, as the basis for the bracelet.

Each link in the bracelet was a photo of a different New York City building, and every link was its own watch. Additionally, all five watch links could be set individually. And with five separate watches, you could easily keep track of just as many time zones. Now that’s a world timer!

At the time of Warhol’s unfortunate death, production of the Times/5 had yet to be completed, and his final selection of dial images were unknown to Movado. However, in a fortunate turn of events, shortly after his passing, an envelope was discovered with his final choices. The Times/5 was released a year later, with only 250 pieces being created. This collaboration laid the groundwork for the Movado artist series that still exists today.

The Ripple of Pop Art Continues

Andy Warhol is arguably one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. His work created a lasting ripple effect that is still influencing art, advertising, and even social media. His prolific work in all mediums continues to serve as inspiration for new generations. Moreover, his approach to watch collecting exemplifies a simple truth: Whatever it is you decide to collect, do so because you enjoy it.

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