Last week, Drake wore a $750,000 watch that read “I’d love to kiss your pussy” to a basketball game. Few things in fashion are truly shocking anymore, but that one got a reaction. Partly because most people hadn’t heard of an erotic watch. Why would you put porn on a watch? But it turns out Drake’s watch, which was by Richard Mille, was actually pretty demure — it contained no actual imagery — plus it fit his love-lorn personal brand.
I had a mature conversation with Nate Borgelt, the head of sales for Sotheby’s watch department in New York. He explained in detail that for centuries watches have depicted people doing it … but not for the reasons you may think.
A warning: The interview below contains several truly X-rated watch faces, and many double entendres.
So Drake wore a $750,000 erotic watch to a basketball game. It was the first time I had heard of such a thing, but Richard Mille’s site says erotic horology has a long history. What is that history?
They came around the 1750s. They were primarily sold in France, England, and China. In France and England, they developed around the same period of time but for two separate reasons. In France the erotic watch came about because of Louis XV. His predecessors were morally strict and weren’t very open in their sexuality, but Louis XV was the opposite. He was very open with his sexuality and encouraged people in France to be open with theirs. This trickled down into the watches that were being developed in France, as well as in media and art.
In England, it was the flip side. There was still a very restricted moral view of sexuality and there was a lot of repression. [The erotic watch] was a hidden treat, something to ridicule of those in charge. So they used these hidden pieces, these erotic watches, to poke fun at those in charge, like priests, kings, anyone who was positioned as a moral authority.
Who was the client? Was it aristocrats?
Yes. A lot of traditional erotic watches are visual depictions, like enamel paintings or small etchings. The really complicated and expensive ones are the ones that feature automatons. Those have moving parts. (You can imagine how they’re moving.) Those were made for aristocrats and people who were on the outside of the higher echelons of society. So they wanted to make fun of their peers by having these watches that depicted priests and kings in these interesting positions.
Oh, so some of them were of specific people?
Well, I mean, they would show a nun and a priest engaging in a sex act. So it was not necessarily specific people, but the idea of these people who were imposing their strict moral laws on them.
Was their function satirical or pornographic?
I would separate it from pornography. It wasn’t used in that regard. It was satirical. It was also social. For example, if you had a gentleman at a party with an erotic watch, he may show it to some ladies and gauge their reaction, and then know who was interested based on that. It could show your political stances, but it could also be something where you’re showing it around at a party to gauge your night.
Interesting. Because my first question when I saw the enamel erotic watches was “Why would you put that on a watch?” It’s so public for porn to have it on your wrist.
Well, at this time people who had money had pocket watches. The common person would just look to the clock tower in town.
But you always had it on you. It was a personal expression. Especially for men. Women had jewelry; they could carry lockets to conceal images and messages. Men had one big piece and they would use that to conceal this personal expression.
It’s harder to pinpoint when a trend goes out of style, but do you know when these did?
I would say at the end of the 1800s. It’s a matter of how media changed, how people used watches, and the emergence of Victorian England. But in the last 20 years, it’s reemerged in watchmaking. You see the Richard Mille and a few other brands doing them as an art form and as political commentary. There’s a maker named Svend Andersen who is from Denmark, and he made a Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky erotic watch back in the ’90s. There are still aspects of that that are social commentary.
Is there a Mona Lisa of erotic watches, or a Leonardo Da Vinci of erotic watches?
There are definitely makers who are well-associated with erotic watches. One is Henry Capt out of Switzerland. Around the 1790s–1810s he combined music, automata, and erotic watches in ones. And out of London, James Cox — which is appropriate — he was actually very big in Asia as an importer. He would create the watches that would be imported into China as just watches, and have locally done erotic scenes put on them. There’s a long history of that happening as well.
Did erotic watches play a similar role in China as well?
Yeah, it was a similar function in China. There’s a much longer history of erotic objects in China than there was in Europe. So when Europe introduced their erotic watches and scenes, there was already a large interest in China.
Can you give me some context about the Richard Mille watch Drake wore?
Richard Mille is known for their use of materials, their avant-garde design, something that’s kind of mechanical. If you look at this particular watch — the reference number is RM69 — it looks simple but it’s very complicated. It has a tourbillon and the rotating columns with the phrases on them. The tourbillon is the circle at the bottom of the watch. It’s like the heartbeat of the watch. So the RM69 has a pretty complicated mechanism within this “simple” watch. I traditionally studied older erotic pieces, but when I look at this it’s a fitting, new way of creating an erotic watch.
Have you ever seen a celebrity wearing another erotic watch?
I can’t tell you, unfortunately. This is the one that people are focusing on obviously, because the brand is interesting, the price point is super high, which is a traditional aspect of complicated erotic watches because they aren’t easy to make. But nowadays, if you saw someone wearing your “traditional erotic watch” with a scene on it, it would be taken differently than one with text on it.
What else is important to know about Drake’s erotic watch?
It’s still a comment on how society perceives or reacts to eroticism and sexuality — it’s just a different way of going about it, with words rather than images. And with other erotic watches, the majority of people just see it as the visual depiction, and they think it’s silly and then move on. But there’s a lot in there telling you about the time period and what people were thinking. There’s always this sexual freedom that wanted to be expressed in one way or another.
This interview has been edited and condensed.