At the Baselworld watch fair in March, Buben & Zorweg, an Austrian manufacturer of luxury-watch storage, unveiled the Mark IV.
Priced at just over $100,000, it is a winder for five watches with a built-in clock, painted red and gold, modelled on the visage of Iron Man, blending pop culture with the ultimate in horological home decor. The Mark IV represents a tiny but growing niche of watch collectors who want to flaunt their treasures in displays that are as visually arresting as their tickers.
Collectors, or even casual enthusiasts, are typically faced with two problems. The first is where to store all those precious timepieces safely – an anonymous bank vault is the common answer – and the other is what to do with all the extravagant packaging.
Most of the boxes that watches come in are, unfortunately, useless. They are almost always designed to hold a single watch in plush style, meaning they can’t do much else. And they tend to be large – sometimes enormous – so a handful of timepieces means a closet full of empty boxes. Worst of all, such boxes usually don’t keep well in our tropical climate. Depressingly, there is still no solution to this.
Fortunately, there is plenty of choice when it comes to posh watch storage. Firms like Buben & Zorweg, Stockinger and Dottling specialise in luxuriously appointed cabinets for watches. Wood veneer, quilted leather, Alcantara and chrome are materials of choice, making them not unlike top-of-the-line automobiles.
Such storage solutions range in size from the portable – Dottling makes a bulletproof case that can be slung over the shoulder with a built-in GPS tracker – to million-dollar cabinets that fill an entire wall or line a whole room.
Typically, these cabinets are the fusion of two products – the watch winder and the safe. Winders keep an entire collection of watches running even when not worn, so that when their lucky owner decides to switch timepieces, nothing needs to be adjusted. Even manually wound watches have automated winders, a device equipped with tiny wheels that turn the crown on a regular basis, stopping when there is enough tension in the mainspring. Sometimes, such cabinets can also house other collectibles like pens, liquor or cigars. Think of them as convenient capsules for everything that’s good in life.
The reason for these extravagant boxes is sound: A million-dollar watch collection deserves an equally deluxe home that not only keeps the watches running, but also secures them.
So it is perhaps not surprising that most of the specialist firms in this field are German, as such cabinets are highly engineered and expensively appointed, making the automobile analogy even more relevant.
Some cabinets are remarkably high-tech, bringing to mind the ridiculous contraptions seen in films. Options include armoured glass, alarm systems and biometric locks. And most cabinets weigh nearly a tonne, or even more, meaning they are impossible to move (and, sometimes, a crane is needed to install them).
Admittedly, such cabinets are probably redundant, as whatever homes they are in will undoubtedly be secure enough to make security for the timepieces moot.
But that misses the point. The boxes are made to be showed off as well as to protect, perhaps becoming an attraction within the home itself, a destination in themselves during the house tour.
They turn what is generally a personal and solitary hobby – watch collecting – into something that approximates art, something that can be shared and enthusiastically displayed. Watches hidden away in a safe cannot be shared with friends; neither can timepieces arranged individually inside their original boxes. And taking out a tray full of watches from the safe might come across as boastful, but who can resist?
If, along the way during a house tour, the host stumbles upon his one-tonne cabinet and unlocks the bulletproof doors with his thumbprint or eyeball, revealing dozens of incredible watches mounted on spinning winders lit on all sides with LED strips, his “accidental” one-upmanship is forgivable. Well, almost.