How High Society Parties

By now, you’ve probably heard all about last Monday’s Met gala, a 43-year-old society tradition that’s transformed in recent years into a red carpet spectacle to rival the Oscars. An extravaganza of costumed celebrities and New York City glitterati, the fundraising ball is the fashion industry’s big night out. And if the number of tweets, Instagram photos, and stories generated by the soiree are any indication, next year is sure to feature television coverage.

I confess: I was only half paying attention. I spent Monday evening working late at JCK’s midtown office before heading back to Brooklyn Heights just in time to have a margarita (or three) in honor of Cinco de Mayo. I had my own society events to prepare for.…

Last week was a busy one for jewelry and watch aficionados. First, it was the fourth annual Madison Avenue Watch Week, in which 15 participating retailers opened their boutiques to collectors and members of the press for six days of cocktails and conversation about timepieces.

On May 6, I attended a breakfast panel at the Surrey Hotel hosted by Benjamin Clymer, executive editor of Hodinkee. The event featured the U.S. heads of four watch brands—Marc Hruschka, president and CEO of Chopard U.S.; Rafael Alvarez, president of Panerai North America; Pierre Halimi Lacharlotte, general manager of F.P. Journe; and Mike Giannattasio, president and CEO of Montblanc North America—talking about everything from their newest models to the philosophies that underpin their brands.

By far the most compelling part of the discussion was when the presidents got personal. An audience member—a young man in a suit—asked the panelists if they could cite the one timepiece from their past that turned them on to careers in the watch industry. And though these were all men at important Swiss brands, they spoke with reverence about the humble watches that gave rise to their horological fascination.

“My father loved Swatch watch,” said Alvarez. “I was a kid and when he put that watch on my wrist, and I felt more adult.”

Hruschka, the son of a bench jeweler, said he grew up in Seattle in a jewelry family that had a retail store in Caracas. “My dad’s a super-humble guy, and the first watch he gave me was a Casio,” he said.

I love these stories about fathers and the passion and interest in watchmaking they impart to their sons. It’s always inspiring to be reminded of the emotional ties that form the core of our business.

 

Marc Hruschka, president and CEO of Chopard U.S.; Rafael Alvarez, president of Panerai North America; moderator Benjamin Clymer, executive editor of Hodinkee; Pierre Halimi Lacharlotte, general manager of F.P. Journe; and Mike Giannattasio, president and CEO of Montblanc North America (photo courtesy of Madison Avenue Watch Week)

On Thursday, I had my own emotional experience as a guest of Vacheron Constantin at the New York City Ballet’s Spring Gala, which celebrated the company’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center. I knew it would be a memorable night, but I wasn’t prepared for how moving the performance would be. In addition to dancing a classic ballet by George Balanchine, the company performed a contemporary number called “Everywhere We Go” choreographed by Justin Peck, a hotshot young dancer with a brilliant style. Paired with original music by the Brooklyn composer Sufjan Stevens, the piece nearly brought me to tears.

When the performance ended, the audience—about 1,000 people dressed in black and white finery—retired to the second floor of the Daniel H. Koch Theater to dine and dance in a room teeming with socialites and celebrities. Alicia Keys and husband Swizz Beatz walked up the stairs in front of me!

After the New York City Ballet’s opening night performance on May 8, the audience dined and danced at the Daniel H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (photo courtesy of Vacheron Constantin).

I recognized a few media personalities at the tables next to mine—including Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, the New York Times’ Stuart Emmrich, and my personal hero, Bill Cunningham, the Times’ ubiquitous shutterbug—but it was the gala-goers, a uniformly spectacular bunch, who commanded my attention. The men wore tuxedos and the women wore gowns of tulle and lace accessorized with long silky opera gloves and the most exquisite diamonds.

The lucky ones, naturally, wore timepieces by Vacheron Constantin.

To honor the New York City Ballet on its 50th birthday, the brand displayed three new one-of-a-kind additions to its Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse collection. Inspired by the work of French artist Edgar Degas, the timepieces employ Grand Feu grisaille enameling to depict graceful images of ballerinas.

Dance Class III, a one-of-a-kind addition to Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse collection (photo courtesy of Vacheron Constantin).

As I looked around my table to the Vacheron collectors seated around me, I was struck by something very basic: For most of them, their passion for watchmaking had likely started with a simple gift from their father. It was a good reminder that despite the pomp and circumstance of society events like the Spring Gala, our industry’s relationship to them boils down to something of real substance, something to which we can all relate.