Okay, flash back four thousand, seven hundred and forty-five days – or thirteen long years. Now let’s borrow a scene from an archetypical American high school movie. It’s the first day of school. The new student enters the cafeteria he is immediately confronted by the table of “cool kids”. They of gleaming teeth, perfect hair and an insouciance born of constant positive reinforcement from birth. In 2004, I noticed an exact parallel when I would walk into a book shop or up to a magazine stand. The first rack would invariably display the lifestyle magazines – a rich cavalcade of beautiful people doing evocative things in enviable locales, that made your life feel totally inadequate. In the high school context progressing to the next table you would find the intelligent yet still socially viable table and again in the book shop I found an exact parallel with the next rack displaying, magazines like Time, Newsweek, Architectural Digest and Wallpaper. Finally, all the way against the far wall of the cafeteria you would find the social outcast table, a locale I was familiar with as this was my dining destination for the majority of my high school career.
In the bookshop context, it was precisely the same, placed in the very last rack, on the lowest and dingiest shelf were the magazines that comprised the “Hobby” periodicals, dedicated to stamp collecting, model train building and the macabre art of macramé. And there to my horror you would also find the watch magazines. To be fair the presentation, design and tone of these horological tomes did little to dissuade the perception of their insular, anachronistic nature. But to me this was a massive disservice to the watch industry and the flashpoint of inspiration for my magazine Revolution, which is now 13 years old and published in 13 countries and created with the sole mission to take watches from the loser table and to place them on the cool kids table, without losing an iota of their technical creditability. This could only be done by re-positioning watches as the intersection point for all that was relevant, provocative and thrilling in contemporary culture from fashion to cinema to sports to motoring to art. Revolution took its name not just from the motion of hands around the dial, time but also for a way of re-imagining, re-telling and re-connecting watches to the world we lived in. It was iconoclastic by design.
Little did I know that in 2004, this impulse to reshape an aspect of popular culture was shared by two extraordinary men — Jean-Claude Biver and Hiroshi Fujiwara — and by the time my magazine launched the following year both had plunged headlong into their own pursuits that had a game-changing impact on contemporary consumer culture. For Biver it was to forge the connective tissue between Swiss watchmaking and every dimension of popular culture. For Fujiwara, it was to take the clothing style born from the hip hop scene that emerged from New York City in the 80s and elevate it into a vision for luxury apparel the world had never seen. Each man would go on to reformat, refract and reprogram the world around them to align with their unique perspectives. And for that reason, when they finally met this year, their first collaboration was one of the most hotly anticipated of all time.
But let’s first back up to examine the extraordinary lives of these men. First there is the legend that is Jean-Claude Biver, who has single-handedly done more to enlarge the audience for contemporary Swiss horology and connect it with the next generation than anyone that has come before. In 2004, he had just finished the concept of fusion as it related to the re-launch of Hublot, a watch brand that married the traditions of Swiss watchmaking with the design impulses and materials of the modern world. Hublot under his helm would go on to be the most provocative and avant-gardiste of Swiss watch brands in its chameleon-like ability to shape shift and connect with a seemingly infinite number of new realms. From the music of Depeche Mode, to football teams like Manchester United, to boxers like Floyd “Money” Mayweather, it created a language so pervasive that it became one of the most visible brands on the planet.
Biver said: “For my brands I have a king and a queen. The king is my customer and the queen is my product and my job is to make them fall in love. And so anywhere my king goes, I will bring my queen.” This strategy was also perfectly implemented when Biver took over the helm of TAG Heuer bringing about a revolution on three fronts. The first was with his connected watch, which suddenly demonstrated that the Swiss could also play in the high-tech world that had been previously dominated solely by mobile phone companies. Ever the genius, Biver even flipped the equation on its head and promised any customer a future upgrade of his smart watch into a mechanical watch to ensure its perennial relevance. He also caused a veritable Wu-Tang Clan sized ruckus by creating watches such as his US$15,000 COSC-certified tourbillon chronograph that smashed the entire price positioning of lofty complications in the Swiss watch industry along the way provoking the boss of Patek Philippe to say, “Mr. Biver your tourbillons are too cheap.” But what Biver did was create the perception of an unparalleled value proposition at TAG Heuer. And third he gave his brand an all new relevance to a younger audience with the use of social media savvy brand ambassadors like Cara Delevingne, legitimising uber-cool modifiers like Bamford and partnering with men like the father of Japanese streetwear Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment.
Japanese streetwear has become the most societally relevant and energetic form of fashion today, and it is conceivable that it never would have happened if Fujiwara did not begin life in an idyllic rural environment that was, by own account, extremely boring. Fujiwara was born a ten-minute stroll from Ise Jingu, one of Japan’s sacred shrines, but for him holy pilgrimage happened in 1982 when he visited the birthplace of punk, namely 430 Kings Road in London. It was at this boutique, really the back part of a record and vintage shop – re-christened SEX by punk’s first and most lasting impresario Malcolm Mclaren – that Fujiwara’s world was rocked to its core. It is impossible to overstate the importance of fashion and style, which were as much a part of the punk movement as its music. It is no coincidence that Mclaren’s partner was soon-to-be design legend Vivienne Westwood and that the members of the Sex Pistols first met at the shop. And it was the clothes and style born out of a legitimate expression of cultural phenomenon initially as a uniform and then eventually elevated into luxury garments that fascinated Fujiwara.
Following his stint in London Fujiwara made his way to New York. And in the early 80s Fujiwara fell hard for hip hop culture the biggest and most impactful musical revolution of the late 20th century and was eventually inspired form his own DJ crew Tiny Panx. Through DJ-ing, and a constant stream of articles in magazines such as Popeye, Fujiwara single-handedly introduced Western, hip hop influenced streetwear to japan. And when the culture for this style had reached a critical mass in Japan, Fujiwara launched his streetwear brands Good Enough and Fragment. Garments made by the companies soon achieved cult status and would sell out instantly upon launch. It was through the clothing that expressed this musical style that Fujiwara truly became an innovator, eventually mentoring streetwear legends Nigo of A Bathing Ape and Jun Takahashi of Undercover to create their brands. In the interim Fujiwara cult streetwear God status had him designing Nike’s HTM collection as well as innumerable collaborations. He has also appeared in the film Lost in Translation and designed guitars for Eric Clapton. In 2017 Fujiwara created a pop-up Louis Vuitton store in Tokyo that sold garments born out of a collaboration between him and Kim Jones.
Fujiwara has always been something of a horophile, with a focus on Rolexes. This led to him collaborating with George Bamford for several years, yielding appealing Bamford x Fragment modified watches including one take on a modern Newman dial blacked-out DLC-treated Daytona, as well as a blacked-out Explorer dial, red writing Submariner. His collaboration with Zenith, where Bamford is the factory-authorised customiser, brought about one of the most highly coveted timepieces of 2018, the Bamford x Fragment Zenith El Primero. This in turn led to the designer meeting Biver, who at the time oversaw all the watch brands for the LVMH Group and was president of TAG Heuer. Soon the two men began talks on a limited-edition Fujiwara Carrera, which was also motivated by a highly human connection between the designer and Jean-Claude Biver.
Fujiwara said: “To be honest I was not so aware of TAG Heuer, but after I met Jean-Claude Biver I felt a real inspiration and this motivated me to really study the history of the brand. It was incredible how many important watches Heuer had created over the years, including the Monaco and the Carrera.” Inspiration for the first Fujiwara special-edition watch begin to coalesce as the designer became enchanted by the brand’s history. After studying many of the iconic models, he decided to focus on the Carrera, and eventually Fujiwara chose the very first Heuer Carrera, developed by Jack Heuer in 1963, to revamp and turned it into a Fragment-style timepiece. He explains, “I had first spotted this model in an auction and found myself very drawn to its purity. This was a chronograph created to serve the needs of auto racers and so the simplicity and clearness of it design was what appealed so much. Simplicity is a shared quality between Swiss and Japanese design. Switzerland has straight and sharp lines and a purity of design. I am a big fan of Switzerland, it is my hub when I come to Europe.”
The TAG Heuer design team handed him the reins to redesign the watch, he was not only limited to changing the colours of an existing model but given carte blanche to define an entirely new design language for the dial. While Fujiwara has departed dramatically from standard dial design in watches such as his collaboration with Bamford on the Fragment Zenith El Primero, interestingly his pathway was decidedly retro for the Carrera. He explains, “The original design was already so powerful.” Where Fujiwara became innovative was with the coy exclusion of the baton hour markers that are seen on the original Valjoux 72 powered vintage Carrera refence 2447.
The dial expresses a powerful contemporary minimalism despite the vintage elements, evinced through the contrast between the dynamically charged contrast between black and white print and with the silver outer track inspired by the 1963 Carrera’s outer flange. Fujiwara loved receiving the first prototype, it was a beautiful and original timepiece that no one would expect in a TAG Heuer catalog.
The TAG Heuer CARRERA FRAGMENT is powered by the Calibre HEUER 02 Automatic, and comes with 2 straps: a bad-ass black alligator Bund strap specially requested by Fujiwara & black and grey NATO strap. Three black counters with lacquered white hands adorn the back dial. Beige SuperLuminova® indexes and polished, facetted hour and minute hands with the same beige SuperLuminova® applied to replicate the look of vintage aged tritium are combined with a sleek black dial, a silver flange and the famous signature logo at 12 o’clock. Interestingly a subtle fragment logo appears at 12 o’clock and while the fragment signature appears between the 4 and 5 o’ clock indexes but are so discreet that you almost need to search for them. The shimmering 39mm steel case has a special steel screw-down sapphire case back, specially printed with its limited-edition number. It is in my estimation one of the most stunning limited editions ever created by TAG Heuer, from the imagination of contemporary culture’s most seminal iconoclasts.
Actually, its significance goes beyond its collectability as a timepiece but as a symbol of collaboration between two of the greatest geniuses in contemporary luxury culture. And with Jean-Claude Biver now announcing his retirement, it is poignantly the last limited-edition watch he has personally overseen at his tenure at TAG Heuer endowing it with extraordinary significance.