From Eric Clapton to Jay-Z, a host of successful musicians have transformed their royalty cheques into enviable watch collections
For me, this issue’s ‘Best of’ theme brings to mind musicians’ greatest hits compilations, like The Very Best of The Eagles. Sure, they’re desperately uncool, but you can’t help having a soft spot for Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s smooth Seventies rock combo. Come on, man. Hotel California is a karaoke go-to. And that flanged-out breakdown from 3:40 onward in Life in the Fast Lane? Epic. Fellow classic hits radio fave Eric Clapton named his 1982 ‘Best of’ album, Timepieces. So it should come as no surprise to learn that the legendary guitarist is one of the biggest watch collectors out there. Clapton’s passion for horology developed around the same point he was overcoming a prodigious substance abuse problem. In the late 1980s, trading one expensive addiction for another, he swapped cocaine and booze for chronograph tickers, building a vast collection with a focus on rarities from Rolex and Patek Philippe.
Putting his income on his wrist rather than up his nose proved a savvy move, and not merely from a health standpoint. Items from the watch cache Clapton accumulated over the years have frequently been auctioned for record sums, stretching into the millions. This has not only provided an excellent return on investment for Clapton himself; he often auctions timepieces to fund generous endowments to Crossroads, the addiction treatment centre he established in Antigua during the late Nineties.
Although Clapton was once rumoured to have been asked by an interviewer, “What does it feel like to be the world’s greatest guitarist?” and replied, “I don’t know. Ask Prince”, this has been denied. But he has expressed admiration, on the record, for John Mayer. “He’s extremely gifted. His facility is phenomenal. He is a master. I don’t think he knows how good he is,” Clapton has said. (Trust me on this, there’s video: look it up.)
See also: The Rolex Watch That Made Sean Connery
No doubt Clapton would give Mayer kudos for his incredible watch collection, too. The two possess an abiding passion for Patek Philippe and a deep love for Rolex chronographs, with both guitarists being big fans of the Daytona. Mayer has also purchased a number of Audemars Piguet’s boundary-pushing Concept pieces, a predilection shared by another of the biggest watch collectors in the world of music today, Ed Sheeran.
Perhaps having bonded over their mutual watch geekdom, Mayer made a guest appearance on one of Sheeran’s records and clearly respects the ginger troubadour. As a songwriter, Sheeran is “a star athlete”, says Mayer. “He’s also a phenomenal guitar player,” Mayer reckons. “His right hand is a monster.” But enough about the appendages of anodyne pop singers. A few cool musicians do like watches as well.
To wit, hip-hop heavy-hitter Jay-Z also has a longstanding relationship with Audemars Piguet and even collaborated on a signature edition of the Royal Oak Offshore model in 2006. He credits the watchmaker’s CEO, François-Henry Bennahmias, for sparking his interest in high-end timekeepers. When Bennahmias took Jay-Z on a private tour of the vault at AP’s New York offices in 1997, “That’s when it got in my bones, right there,” the rapper said.
Jay-Z may have it in the bones, but Dan Spitz has horology in the blood. In 1995, the lead guitarist of multi-million-selling thrash metal band Anthrax quit the rock star life to take up watchmaking, which had been his grandfather’s trade. After years studying the craft, including a stint on scholarship at the prestigious Wostep school in Switzerland, Spitz is now considered one of the best in the business by the cognoscenti. What Clapton and Mayer think of his facility as an axe-man and the comparative monstrousness of his hand is anyone’s guess.
See also: Tatler Insiders On The Best Of Watches In Hong Kong
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