Piaget: Keeping Time

Douglas Friedman and Bret Easton Ellis's Tribute to the Watchmaker's Birthplace in Côte-Aux-Fées

In 1874, in the Swiss town of La Côte-aux-Fées, Georges Edouard Piaget’s intricate watch mechanisms captured their first moment in time. Move the clock forward 136 years (or about 71.5 million minute-hand movements) and Piaget’s expertise continues in workshops at this same historic site—recently complemented by a hyper-modern factory on the outskirts of Geneva. Though Piaget is one of many watchmakers to have sprung from the Swiss Alps, it has a unique place within the history of horology: since 1957 (when it produced the 2mm-thick Calibre 9P) the brand has been famed for its super-slim watch movements, a tradition carried to this day in recent models such as the Calibre 600P (at 3.5mm, the thinnest tourbillon movement in the world). But this is not Piaget’s only innovation: due to the lightness and slimness of its designs the company became one of the earliest to transform the watch into a fully-fledged fashion accessory in the 60s, when Piaget placed miniature clock faces (in lapis, azul, turquoise and tiger’s eye) in a range of increasingly extravagant rings, cuffs, cufflinks and necklaces. Eventually Piaget used this experience to launch its first standalone jewelry line in 2002, but the watches themselves still have a dazzling status, and price (top-end pieces sell for as much as $2,700,000). For today’s story, photographer Douglas Friedman (a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Vanity Fair and Vogue) traveled to the Piaget facility in Côte-aux-Fées, where he captured its inner-workings in a hi-tech homage to craftsmanship. “It’s really calm up there. It’s very quiet and peaceful,” he says. “That atmosphere creates the perfect person for watchmaking—it’s a very introverted process, carried out at a microscopic level.” As a counterpart to this visual meditation, Friedman enlisted his friend, the acclaimed novelist Bret Easton Ellis (whose generation-defining novels include American Psycho and Less Than Zero) to contribute. Easton Ellis’s short story, written exclusively for NOWNESS, chronicles a seemingly doomed relationship, contrasting a watch’s unflinching precision with our own emotional and uneasy grasp of time:

“It’s my birthday,” was the first thing he said to her at the party in San Diego, and later that night in his motel room she talked about all the things that moved her. They dated for about a year, starting that summer. And, like he did in all of his relationships, he immediately noticed his suspicions and couldn’t let them go... Read the full story
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