Not safe for work
Best known for its avant-garde styling and a preference for using 21st-century materials, Richard Mille’s watches might typically be referred to as sexy in the colloquial rather than the literal way. But when he launched his RM 69 Erotic Tourbillon, it was deﬁnitely the latter interpretation of sexy he had in mind. Designed in collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi, the 505-part movement displays, on the dial, three revolving rollers. Press a button and an ‘erotic’ phrase – one of 216 possible combinations – is generated, with each roller forming one part of the phrase.
Richard Mille’s horologist Theodore Diehl says, “There are suggestions to be kissed in certain places, but I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where. The real excitement here is perhaps the fact that you don’t know what this watch is going to say next.”
While erotic watches may form a small niche within an already rareﬁed market, there are enough around, and often from some of the most respected and traditional of makers. Take, for instance, a Blancpain Carrousel Repetition Minutes unique piece – on one side a conservative minute repeater with a cathedral gong, on the reverse banging of another order entirely: a relief scene engraved in red gold, depicting a bewigged and distracted cellist demonstrating his power reserve with a naked lady.
Other modern makers have been drawn more to wandering hands too: the reverse of independent maker Antoine Preziuso’s Sailing Dream does not depict fair winds and calm seas but an altogether different kind of jolly rogering. Jacob & Co’s Caligula piece – and any watch named after the famously rapacious Roman emperor has a lot to live up to – keeps its sexual animation hidden under an aperture until a dedicated crown is turned.
The big reveal is all part of these watches’ attraction, of course. “It’s something to show off to your friend – depending on your friend,” as notes Julien Schaerer, managing director of watch auction house Antiquorum Geneva.
As Schaerer has it, while demand for such pieces may be consistent, “there’s no real erotic appeal to these pieces — it would be hard to get a kick out of them. It’s more about taking pleasure in the excellent mechanisms, especially with the automata pieces.”
But this casual attitude has not always been the norm. Erotic watches date back to the 1700s. The representations on the earlier commissioned pieces would often be those of wives or lovers, from whom separation as a result of long-distance travel might mean months or even years apart. Sometimes the imagery proved too explicit, and invited government intervention, resulting in the censorship and conﬁscation of pocket watches.
Beyond graphic representations, the modern erotic watch demonstrates superlative mechanics, used more to express having a good time than the time of day. Watchmaker Svend Andersen, for example, has built a reputation for his automata pieces. In 2005, his Eros pieces broke world records by having its libertine love scene come alive via 11 different movements, a record he subsequently broke himself with a 15-movement variant.
Indeed, this is one aspect of the watchmaking world in which ‘movement’ takes on another connotation entirely. It’s a joke that Andersen Geneve — which has made some 171 erotic watches to order to date — chooses to run with, too, ﬁnding double entendre everywhere: among the three Eros cases available are the Eros XL and the Eros 69 (it’s reversible). Bill Clinton featured in the President’s Pleasures model. The operative word here is ‘joke’. Erotic watches may be mechanically serious, but they should be taken mostly in good humour. “After all, erotic watches may not be well-known as a genre, but they have been a watchmaking tradition for ages and every brand likes to do them — well, all but a few,” explains Tristan Boyer de Bouillane, the CEO of Perrelet, which four years ago launched its limited-edition run of Turbine Erotic watches, where the dial opens likes the blades of a jet engine to reveal a manga-style sex scene.
“An erotic watch is one of those things you would say you’d like to try some time,” he adds. “So we did. For us it was an exercise in a style and not about being provocative. It was an expression of watchmaking skill, rather than about being crude for its own sake. It was about being entertaining rather than shocking.”