“It was in about 1990 or 1991 when I first started to notice watches,” says Adam Clayton, the bass player with supergroup U2. “They’re not something you notice particularly as a young man, but while recording the album Achtung Baby in Berlin, there wasn’t much to do during the day – lots to do at night, but not much in the day – and I was foraging around the shops when I found this little second-hand store that had some watches that looked interesting.”

“I didn’t know very much about them, but I found a really nice Rolex from the 1950s, really round and soft, and I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s a peach!’ I also found an Omega, again from the 1950s. My instinct was that these were the kind of shops where a lot of people traded-in what they had, so the vintage shops had a lot of material and they weren’t buying it in.”

But even before the bug bit, Clayton was predisposed toward wristwatches. “I think I’ve always liked the analogue-mechanical aesthetic. I’m a bass player: it’s four strings, four fingers, two tone controls. I know how that works. I know how traditional amplifiers work. I know how the electricity works. Once everything got digital and you could get any sound you wanted on a computer, it just got less interesting for me. I like moving parts.”

On the record

On the music front, Clayton is delighted that we’re in the middle of a vinyl revival. “It would be nice to think that we could save the LP,” he says. “But unfortunately, there’s two sides to that argument. There is no doubt that vinyl is better. And in the era up until the advent of digital and people listening to computers, a lot of technology was designed to make vinyl sound good, so you had bigger speaker systems, you had better speaker systems, you had better amplifiers – the whole business was orientated toward quality of sound.

“Now what’s happened is it’s orientated toward convenience. That’s what digital has done, and it’s done it in every industry. You can cut-and-paste anything nowadays, for convenience. And I think that’s what happened in the audio world – we now have access to so many more records. The difference between me and a youngster growing up now is that they know everything, they have a library of music that goes back to the 1940s, whereas I grew up able to buy one album a week.”

Today the proud owner of a H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue, Clayton’s affinity for analogue makes him a natural candidate to be a lover of mechanical watches. But how did he know of the existence of H. Moser & Cie, asked Editor Llewellyn when the three of us met – along with Moser CEO Edouard Meylan – in Geneva in early 2016, and what was it that brought them together? Clayton laughed. “Actually, it was my marriage!” He laughed again. “It so happens that my wife is Brazilian, and her grandfather is a collector of lots of things, and he was the one who knew of H. Moser.

H. Moser & Cie

“One of her best friends is married to a Geneva-based lawyer and, over the years, he and I got close. He started to say to me: ‘You’re interested in watches – I noticed you’ve got a couple of things there. Have you ever heard of Moser?’

“Of course, I hadn’t at that time because they’re so very rare, and very discreet, unless you know what you’re looking at. He said: ‘Well, you’re going to. You’re going to hear a lot about them. My friend Edouard has taken over the company and he’s getting it into shape. I think you should go and look at what he is doing.’

“So I started to look at the watches. I’ve always been impressed by people and when I met Edouard I could tell he had that rock ‘n’ roll heart. He wants to get his watches and his brand to everyone, but without compromise, without selling out.”

Edouard Meylan

The devil in the detail

Prior to discovering Moser, Clayton already had a clearly defined attitude toward watches. He describes his preferences as: “Very classic – I am not bling in any way. I always like the detail of the hands, the face, the figures, because that’s what you end up looking at. I learned early on who were the real watchmakers and who were the jewellery makers.”

His taste has been consistent over his two-and-a-half decades as a connoisseur. “I never had weird complications, but I confess that I did scoot around Cartier, and there was a slight brush with Bulgari, and then I was gone again.” His choice among the Mosers is the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue. “This is the most versatile, in terms of what I wear between my work look and my personal look. I like watches with dates. It’s so simple.

“I don’t wear watches on stage. It’s not too safe. I don’t even like taking good watches on tour because they’re so easily left behind. I haven’t lost a watch yet, and I did wear the Moser on the last tour, but as the watches become more valuable, it doesn’t really make sense. I’m a careful soul. To be honest, I have a weird feeling about wearing a watch to play live. I feel that being on stage is the one place where time shouldn’t matter. I actually don’t even like seeing other people playing while wearing a watch because I’m thinking: ‘Why do they need to know the time?’”

H. Moser & Cie

Rock time

Because H. Moser & Cie has form with rock musicians designing their own timepieces – Revolution has also reported on Bryan Ferry’s love of and collaboration with the brand – and because Clayton has a warm relationship with Moser, would he like to provide input into a watch?

“That’s an aspiration, definitely in terms of expressing myself, and my relationship with Moser. I think there’s definitely something that could happen there, but that is very much a decision for Edouard and maybe a question for him.”

Meylan smiles. “It’s a discussion – we’ll see where it goes. We are a small brand, and we don’t have the budgets for brand ambassadors, so for us it is about relationships and friendships. We hope we can benefit one another. All I can offer is to work together on what is a beautiful journey, hopefully building a product one day. I hope to find a way to collaborate.”

“We’re ‘dating’ on that matter,” laughs Clayton.

Does he still look for watches during his travels? “I keep my eyes open, but although it’s a passion, it’s not an obsession. There’s a fine line between the two, and it’s nice when you’re at that point.”

Bryan Ferry

Bass instinct

Clayton is being slightly coy because, as a professional musician, he cannot avoid amassing instruments. So, how many bass guitars does he own? “I have what I guess you would call ‘a collection’,” he confesses. “Something approaching 100 pieces. But I really operate between the Fenders and the Warwicks.

“Fender defined the bass. The Fender Precision Bass was invented in 1951 and it hasn’t really been improved upon. The only thing that may be better is the Fender Jazz Bass, invented in 1960. For me, it’s a superior instrument, a smaller neck, it’s very much designed for real guitar players to play. And once you know your way around a Jazz, you can get a big range of sound on it. But the Precision is one of those things that’s got such a fat midrange that it’ll just sit in a track, it’ll sit in anything. That fat mid – it’s really punchy.”

Fender Precision Bass

Clayton exhibits remarkable restraint for a watch collector, admitting to little more than a dozen pieces. But now that he’s discovered Moser, he admits to flirting with some other models. “I suppose it’s part of knowing the subject, but I find myself going: ‘Oh, I haven’t seen that one before!’ Or: ‘I like that one!’”

Within two notes being played, Clayton knows whether or not a bass guitar is right for him, so I ask if it’s the same with timepieces. “With the Moser watch, I said to Edouard, after I had put it on and worn it for a couple of hours, wound it, looked at it, I was completely hooked. I love it. I love the tiny month hand – it’s so simple, it works. It’s so uncompromisingly mechanical. I love that you can go backwards and forwards over the date – again, for me travelling across time zones, is always so messy. It’s almost – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – it’s almost like a diesel engine: you know it will work and do all the heavy lifting.”

Thanks to its manual movement with 7-day power reserve, Clayton gets one more joy from his Endeavour Perpetual Calendar: “I like the fact that I have a day when I wind it. It’s my Sunday ritual.” As for the other members of U2 being watch guys, Clayton shrugs. “I’m afraid the rest of the band is a little more digital. I’m afraid I’m the sole Luddite.”

Clayton’s love for music and watches inadvertently melded in a bass guitar Warwick designed for the Adam Clayton Signature Bass family. It’s called the “Reverso”. Clayton might tell you it’s purely coincidental. Revolution likes to think it’s the subliminal act of a genuine watch lover.

Adam Clayton