THE CONVERSATION: CAUSE CELEBRE
World of Watches|Autumn 2021
WOW Singapore and Thailand editors voice their thoughts on the long-running biennial charity watch auction programme known as Only Watch
ASHOK SOMAN AND RUCKDEE CHOTJINDA

Fine watchmaking marketing usually includes some cheerful message about rarity and exclusivity. The tagline ‘one of not many,’ comes to mind, but this is certainly not the only one. Only Watch takes that narrative and ups the ante, with brands offering unique pieces, hence the name of the auction. Of course, brands have been making one-of-a-kind pieces since the very beginning so this is not that special, in and of itself. Only Watch though is a story, with each watch in that story a unique character. In very real ways, it is a tragic tale, but it might yet have a happy ending sometime in the future.

The amazing watches to have graced Only Watch over its 16-year history should not distract from their singular purpose: striving towards a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The disease, which primarily affects boys, causes muscle atrophy from the age of four. It is currently incurable. Most who suffer from DMD are unable to walk by age 12, effectively paralized from the neck down by 21; life expectancy is estimated to be between 25-26. Luc Pettavino started Only Watch as a way to help those diagnosed with DMD, like his own son.

In 2003, Pettavino established the Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophy to find a cure for DMD. A veteran of the yachting scene, he not only won over His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, but also performed the neat trick of getting 34 watch brands to come together for this cause. For some context, there is nothing even remotely close to Only Watch in fine watchmaking, and this is not because the auction has been unsuccessful in its mission. In total, the previous eight editions of Only Watch have raised more than EUR 70 million for DMD research. This year, Only Watch announced that some of its efforts are paying off, with clinical trials for new DMD therapies planned for 2022. Especially now, it is worth remembering that the fight against a disease is a long-term struggle that requires diligence, patience and resolve.

WOW has of course been covering Only Watch from the start, and the editors are certainly pleased that it has been an example of a sustainable charitable venture in watchmaking. It is also especially timely, given that this issue contends with the issue of sustainability in watchmaking. The editors of WOW Singapore and Thailand compare notes about the new watches, and crack a few jokes at each other’s expense.

What’s most exciting about Only Watch is how the different brands address the challenge of making something unique that is entirely not for profit

RC: Looking back now, I consider myself fortunate to have known Only Watch since its premier edition in 2005, before I became a full-time watch journalist. At that time, a good friend of mine (who has since retired from watch collecting) asked me to join him for the Bangkok stop of the Only Watch world tour. I’ve been actively following the auction ever since.

AS: Me too, although I didn’t really cover Only Watch until 2007. I confess though that I do not follow that closely. What I find most exciting about the Only Watch project, aside from its transparent and long-term commitment to a single cause, is how the different watchmaking brands address the challenge of making something unique that is entirely not for profit. I mean, you have such a strong diversity of brands - from Maurice Lacroix and Tudor to Breguet and Patek Philippe. I guess the brand mix is also interesting, depending on the year.

Anyway, since you have been on the Only Watch story in such a personal way, what do you think of its origins?

RC: I’m not sure if “romantic” is an appropriate word for this whole endeavour. But like the movies or series you watch growing up, you develop some sense of a bond; you see how they evolve and you appreciate the outcome over time. In this case, with the goal of research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, I read that they are moving to the trial phase already in 2022. I did think at one point that over a decade has passed and nothing concrete happened.

AS: Right you are about the start of the trial phase...it was a bit poignant to be honest because I read that founder Luc Pettavino’s son actually passed away a few years ago. Pettavino’s son’s diagnosis spurred him to create Only Watch, and it is sad that any benefit to all of this will not have helped him.

Did you actually meet Pettavino? Never had the pleasure myself. All I know is that he was not in the watch trade, rather in the yachting business; this is actually how I learned of Only Watch, because Pettavino was President of the Monaco Yacht Show. Since I covered general luxury, some associates asked me what the connection was between the yacht show and this (at the time) developing auction story. It turned out to be much more interesting than just an auction story of course.

RC: To answer your first question, no, I have not had the chance to meet Pettavino. But deep down I believe he established this program with the long-term goal, for the better chances of other children. As you said, he was in the right position to bring the auction to the attention of affluent people. And I was very happy to see that so many brands took the time to create unique pieces as contributions. I think they serve many purposes at once. It is a win-win-win situation for the cause, the makers and the buyers. I mean, there are not so many ways watch collectors can get their hands on a unique piece, right?

And sometimes it is more than material ownership — you may recall the Tudor Black Bay Bronze One watch offered at Only Watch 2017? It came with an official invitation for the winning bidder to come visit the Tudor manufacture in Geneva. That privilege made the piece even more appealing.

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