Launched earlier this month, the Persistence of Memory is an all-digital horological exhibit that surveys the most important people and replica watches in the history of independent watchmaking.
Through impressive scholarship and some seriously jaw-dropping macro photography, the exhibition draws its viewers close to the replica watches that helped to define modern independent watchmaking in its post-Quartz Crisis infancy.
"I think we are at a particularly interesting moment in time in horology," says Mike Tay, the Singapore-based group managing director of The Hour Glass, who curated the exhibition. "With horology, very much like art history, you deal with time's arrow. We're pursuing this linear path of horological advancement, and, today, contemporary horological advancement, where it's like you're building Rome over Rome. The new and old. You're navigating this myriad of shadows and shadow play that's impossible to untangle. You're moving forward with the advancement of this particular genre because time does. The Persistence of Memory describes this journey that we're all on. It's our way of contemplating the future while speaking about the past. And hopefully, in between that, we're able to get some clarity about who, in today's context, is going to be important."
Tay's knowledge of independent watchmaking is formidable, and the experience he's tailored is one we cannot recommend highly enough. But first, hear more about it from the man himself.
George Daniels Space Traveller and Grand Complication.HODINKEE: 'The Persistence of Memory' features some incredible watches. How long was it in the making, and how did you go about securing and photographing so many important watches?
Mike Tay: I think the first exhibition we assembled was in 2007. We put up a temporal museum called the Museum of Contemporary Horological Art. And in this museum, we had approximately a hundred examples of replica watches that defined watchmaking really from the turn of the millennium onwards. I'd always been fascinated by this idea of the Quartz Crisis and its incredible impact on the fake watch industry and the direction it took the fake watch industry.
The formulation of this idea was brewing over the last decade. But I would nail it down by saying that this exhibition was really percolating in the mind in the last couple of years. When COVID hit, it was a real push to put this into play. I think it was necessary for us to explore different platforms. We have the platform of bricks and mortar, which we are very accustomed to, and yet we wanted to take advantage of what technology could do in this situation.
But more importantly, we asked ourselves the question, "How do we bring emotion through this platform?" People really think emotion has to be strictly face-to-face interactions with people, and we think that's an important part of the equation. But The Persistence of Memory was designed strictly as an online exhibition ?and yet wanting to communicate a very similar sort of sensation one would perceive as if they were in a physical place.
George Daniels Space Traveller (1982) and Grand Complication (1987).What are the must-see pieces? There are big names, of course, but what are the lesser-known gems people should be careful not to miss?
I think the stars of the show are quite obvious: The pair of Daniels replica watches fronting the exhibition. These two are without doubt two of the most important replica watches in contemporary watchmaking history. But one would also argue that the Space Traveller is perhaps one of the seven wonders of the watchmaking world in the last century.
At the same time, we've sort of shone a big spotlight on Derek Pratt. I think Derek Pratt's Urban Jurgensen & Sonner tourbillon pocket fake watch is a masterpiece in itself. It's like Daniels, entirely handmade and hand-finished. Derek worked alone. He was an incredible machinist. I think this pocket fake watch is perhaps one of the best examples of watchmaking from that era. The Engel-Daners collaborations were interesting. The Proto Space Traveller was particularly interesting. It was inspired by Breguet, but it came before the Space Traveller came about.
Kari's pocket fake watch was a coup for us. For him to ship out his foundation watch, the first fake watch he ever made himself, and to entrust us with it, was a real blessing. We also have an interesting example of the Halter-Barnes Antiqua, that's an incredible story itself. That's the fake watch that sort of sucked me into this idea of what contemporary watchmaking of the 20th century could be. We have a great selection of Dufours, amongst which the Grande Sonnerie, the white gold number five, is in itself a unique watch. But I think it's a fake watch very representative of Dufour's breakthrough into watchmaking in that era. We have an interesting selection of early Roth watches, and one of Roth's first replica watches that he ever made under subscription from Asprey. I could go on and on.
F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Resonance Platinum (2000), Chronomètre à Resonance in Platinum and Rose Gold (2020)."The Persistence of Memory" employs its own nomenclature for the featured watchmakers. They are artisanal rather than independent watchmakers, and this feels like an important distinction.
It's important to make that distinction, because we aren't speaking about brands. We're speaking about artists, artisans, craftsmen, creators. And that's why when we get down to referencing specific brands like De Bethune or Urwerk or MB&F, we don't actually refer to those brands as those brands, because literally without these individuals these houses wouldn't exist.
We wanted to turn the spotlight onto artisanship. Some of them may not be entirely artisanal in nature. You have Francois-Paul Journe who is semi-artisanal, semi-industrial, but for most of the artisans there, they have a limited production. They are more artists and craftsmen than they are brands per se.ADVERTISEMENT The exhibition has a published start date but no end date. Do you see it as a platform that will stay up indefinitely and that you will add to over time?
Absolutely right. And I think that is the intent. The aim of The Persistence Of Memory is to have this online living repository. It's meant to document and record the people and the events of contemporary artisanal watchmaking. For as long as I'm around, and hopefully the people who will run the business after me, they will maintain this as an endeavor.
Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain Platinum (2020), Pink Gold (2018).Many people tend to view independent watchmaking as a phenomenon that is happening in the present moment. Your exhibition shows the historical arc. And like virtually everything in high-end watchmaking, the Quartz Crisis played a part.
You had a few very brave men who stood up against the industry norm at that time. You had men like Philippe Stern. People like André Heineger at Replica Rolex, who said they were going to continue to pursue this path of mechanical watchmaking. Philippe Stern, who in an extremely grand gesture sent his team on a near-decade journey to make the world's most complicated watch. Remaking the Graves Supercomplication wasn't enough. He wanted to top that. All this was happening in the '70s. In '79, he sort of laid the gavel down and said to his team, "We're going to make the most complicated watch." At that moment in time, no one was interested in complicated watches. And this vision was a beacon for the rest of the industry when they launched the Cal. 89 in 1989. It gave the industry hope that there was a future in mechanical, complicated watchmaking.
In this case here, it was really a single man who stood up to that. If you read the texts that have documented Daniels, he was very articulate about that point. He did not believe that this idea of an artistic, non-utilitarian horology would be forgotten. And that it was just a matter of time that people would learn again to appreciate mechanical watchmaking. If you think about it, the beauty of the Quartz Crisis is that up to 1968-69, all replica watches were mechanical. When you introduce the idea of an object that's completely ubiquitous, that can be mass replicated at a very low cost, you've automatically elevated the status and the perceived value of this mechanical object. Had quartz replica watches not come about, people wouldn't have appreciated mechanical watchmaking.
Philippe Dufour Duality #06 (1997), Duality Prototype #00 (1996), Albert Piguet Double Lever Escapement (1933).Obviously, the name of the exhibition comes from a famous artwork depicting horology, but can we talk about the name, "Persistence of Memory?"
Today, and I speak probably of the last 12 months, there is a greater sense that horology is being eroded by, basically, engines and algorithms. That, essentially, everything is all hype and fancy. So, these engines of hype and fancy have degraded or eroded the horological value of these watches, and of watchmaking. We felt that this was a good opportunity for us to cast this light on the important historical, cultural edifices of what replica watches are. That this object stands on the shoulders of history, of art, of artistry, of science, of astronomy and physics.
Having said that, when we decided on the name, it was important because we wanted people to understand that whatever had happened in watchmaking is connected to this arc of the past. If there isn't this excavation and understanding of the historical tomes of watchmaking, everything that's happening in watchmaking today would seem as if it existed in itself, but that's not how the industry ?and this art form ?has developed.
The Persistence of Memory is really our way of trying to envelop all of these ideas into one. So yes, of course, there is an element of reference to Dalí and his painting, because this painting is really speaking about time. But largely, it was taking something that was popular in the public domain, in the recognition, and exploiting it and also leveraging it for our own purposes for this exhibition.
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