Jonathan Ward, whose company builds remarkable classic car conversions in Los Angeles, explains how he’s now been able to create his own watch, the Icon Duesey.
In the red-hot world of California car culture, Jonathan Ward is a bit of a legend. He builds show-stopping, internet-breaking “derelicts” – cars that look like they’ve just been pulled out of an Oklahoma farm barn but underneath which are all high-tech muscle car. And now he’s moved into watches, realising a 20-year dream and a life-long passion for vintage timepieces. Of course, his first creation is inspired by a motoring great, but it’s nothing like your usual kind of car watch.
“I’m obsessive compulsive,” he says over a cup of rather un-Californian mint tea. “I see a 3D model in my head and I have to make it or I’ll explode. To be able to take a project that’s been in my head for 15 to 20 years is just f**king mindblowing.”
Ward’s first watch, the Icon Duesey, features a jump hour and wandering minutes display, inspired by his love of vintage watches and the distinctive rev counter of the first Duesenbergs – the Rolls-Royces of the American car industry back in the 1920s. Just 50 will be made, at $11,500 each.
It would be easy to assume that the Duesey is based on an off-the-shelf product, but this is a bespoke creation, designed by Ward in conjunction with one of the leading contractors in Switzerland. He chose a Dubois-Depraz automatic 14400 module and the luxe version of ETA’s 2892-A2 TOP base movement – although initially he had even hoped to design and build the movement himself.
“I wanted it to be made in America,” he says. “Then I got an education in watchmaking. I realise now that I don’t build my own engines because I don’t want them to blow up, so why would I try to build my own movement?”
Go your own way
“I had my first face-to-face with the contractors at Basel in 2016,” says Ward. “They seemed kind and accommodating. I’d already done the design and engineering – I’ve been thinking about this a long time – and I had a very clear idea of what I wanted. I think they sort of liked that – but they weren’t used to it. But I also found mechanical and material limitations that I didn’t know about, and that was hard to take.
“I’d designed the crown centre based on the Duesenberg wheel hub, and the case was inspired by an early thermosyphon radiator cap. I’d always been a jump hour kind of guy, and I’d always loved the early Duesenberg tachometer, though it wasn’t popular at the time – after the first 220-odd cars the owners and the chauffeurs said ‘no way!’, and later cars went to a more conventional design.”
The result is as unconventional and stylish as the Duesenberg’s original tacho. The polished onyx stone of the uncluttered dial has a depth and lustre that contrasts with the robust engineering feel of the 42mm sandblasted titanium case (the radiused edges make it look more like a 38mm, says Ward) The crystal is double-domed with the Icon logo subtly added by silver metallisation. Turn the watch over and the simplicity of the face is contrasted with the case back, exposing the movement and a brass realisation of Icon’s lizard logo, picked out in yellow gold.
The strap gets Ward fired up again, getting out his hand-made wallet to back-up his passion for leathercraft. The Duesey uses alligator leather with turned up edges – no stitching – and a black calf leather lining that has a soft, deliberately rubber-like, feel to it. The buckle is custom-made, once again in sandblasted titanium to match the case.
And then there’s the box, a work of art in a gloss black to match the deep shine of the watch face. “The box I totally goobered out at!” laughs Ward. “I went to three suppliers of watch boxes across two different continents but they just couldn’t do what I wanted. In the end, I found a firm that made music boxes. Only they could do the black lacquer that I wanted.”
This is typical Ward. He gets an idea and he doesn’t let go of it until it’s absolutely right, even if that’s via unconventional routes. Even his business started from a quest to win a bet. It began with a friendly argument in 1996 with a college professor and a student on the laws of supply and demand, with Ward insisting that he could create demand by changing the supply chain. They disagreed – and agreed a $1,000 bet that Ward wouldn’t be able to prove his theory. Now Ward was at that point already a Toyota 4×4 enthusiast, and he was convinced that if he restored classic Toyota Land Cruisers (the 1960s competitor to Land Rover and Jeep) to the high standards of classic car restorations, then he would be able to create a whole new market.
“From my travelling antics I already had massive respect for the Land Cruiser,” he says. “But no one was giving them the respect of traditional classics. So I drove around the dry western states buying every FJ40 [Land Cruiser] I could find. I took them to the mechanics shop and the paint shop that I was already using and we turned them around. They flew out the door. I went back to the college to reclaim my $1,000 bet but I couldn’t find the student and the professor said he’d just been joking.”
Not that the $1,000 really mattered – the restorations had made enough money for Ward and wife Jamie to sit down over a bottle of wine and decide that actually they didn’t like their existing jobs in the entertainment business so much, and that there could be a future in Toyota 4×4 restorations. From there the business grew, the restored Toyotas starring in movies, and even attracting the attention of Akio Toyoda – president of Toyota and great-grandson of the company founder.
As their success grew, they started to realise that there was a market for the classic Toyotas using modern mechanical parts under their 1960s and early 1970s bodywork, and so in 2007 the Icon branch of the company was born.
Icon’s range still includes the Toyota Land Cruisers as well as the 1960s Ford equivalent, the Bronco, and it has also expanded into those now-famous Derelicts – almost always based on the American land yachts of the 1950s, looking for all the world like barnfinds but with reliable, powerful modern mechanical parts underneath.
The Icon brand continues to build, gaining momentum at every new venture, with art and of course the Duesey watch the latest additions.
So, what next? Ward grins. “There’s so much cool shit going on. On the watches I’m choosing between three possible new designs. I can’t tell you too much – but last night I couldn’t sleep so I worked out the colour palette.”
More details on IconWatchCompany.com
Dubois-Depraz automatic14400 module with ETA 2892A2 TOP base movement, jumping hours, minutes disc
42mm sandblasted titanium grade 2
Alligator leather strap with turned edges, no stitching, with black calf leather lining