If you’ve seen my watches you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m into heavy metal and motorbikes. But what people don’t always get is that behind my Skull collection is a rich history and powerful symbolism which dates back many hundreds of years.
The curator Faye Dowling says “the skull is the ultimate symbol of life, death and human experience” – and she’s right. Everyone recognizes the skull, regardless of language, culture or nationality. It’s a symbol which unifies us all. In art, the themes of time and mortality were explored in Vanitas paintings in the 16th and 17th century, and this concept was echoed in fine watchmaking at the same time.
In fact, one of the pieces that was a key inspiration behind my original Skull watch was a small pocket watch that Mary Queen of Scots gave to one of her maidens. And while I’d love to think of her as a rebel for having such an edgy timepiece, the reality is that skull-shaped watches and jewelry were the hot accessories for high society ladies in the 16th century, which is just fantastic!
I was trained in fine art, and have always believed that a strong concept is the key to successful design. When first working on the collection, it struck me that the notions of time and mortality were poignant for anyone producing mechanical timepieces in today’s world, and this idea remains firmly rooted within this first collection.
The Romans were kind enough to remind us ‘memento mori’ or ‘remember you will die’, which at first may seem pretty morbid. But it’s also a reminder that you’re not here forever so you should enjoy yourself, celebrate life, and fill your time with things that matter. A wonderful example of this can be found in Mexico, where death isn’t seen purely as a sad event, but is transformed into a celebration through their Day of the Dead festival, or ‘Dia de Muertos’.
It’s an occasion to remember friends, family and loved ones who have passed on – to honor their lives and to have a party with them. The modern tradition stems from the country’s rich mix of Aztec and Hispanic cultures, although rituals among pre-Columbian societies were observed as far back as 2500 years ago. During Dia de Muertos, you can find brightly decorated skulls, vivid yellow and orange marigold flowers, as well as beautifully ornate “ofrendas” or shrines made out to those whose lives are being honored. Alongside all the frivolity, there will be imagery of La Caterina and other skeletons dancing, drinking and having a good time. It’s like no other festival on earth, and I love the tradition of celebrating the people close to you who are no longer here, and in turn, perhaps, reflecting on your own life.
Of course, skulls are also a large part of today’s culture with familiar associations to rockers, biker culture, tattoos and rebellion. It’s an aesthetic that has been widely appropriated in fashion, most notably by the late, great designer Alexander McQueen, and in fine art. After all, who could forget Damien Hirst’s notorious “For the Love of God” piece: a diamond encrusted skull.
The familiarity of the skull and the resonance it has with people shows why it has survived hundreds of years of cultural re-interpretation to remain this incredibly powerful symbol. To my mind, it stands as one of the most relevant and inspirational references for contemporary watchmaking today.