Putting a Cartoon on a Watch Can Be Serious Business

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In 1984, the celebrated watchmaker Gerald Genta displayed his Fantasy collection of watches at the Montres et Bijoux fair in Geneva. It created a furor.

The fair’s managers declared, according to a contemporary report in the Eastern Jeweller & Watchmaker magazine, that such a “serious” exhibition “had no room for mice, panthers (especially the pink variety), Popeye and other unsuitable characters.”

Times have changed. Today, it is far from unusual to see such figures on luxury watch dials.

And among the most notable of the 2020 releases was Omega’s Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award” 50th Anniversary. The 42-millimeter timepiece was the brand’s third Snoopy watch since 2003, but Raynald Aeschlimann, its chief executive, stressed that Omega’s continued connection with the cartoon dog is historical rather than commercial.

“Omega is about legacy and DNA,” he said. “I wanted this product to be a celebration of what we got from NASA.”

Asked in 2017 to produce a watch for some Finnish collectors, Mr. Sarpaneva decided to depict the Groke, a Moomin character with the silhouette of a small hill, on its sapphire caseback.

“I was teasing them a little bit,” he said — but then, according to reports, the 50-piece series sold out in one minute and 36 seconds. And the follow-up collection, released last August to coincide with the series’ 75th anniversary, met with similar success.

The 38.7 millimeter S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin featured a triple-layer skeletonized dial depicting the series’ Moomintroll character curled up beside a pond. The background foliage was hand-painted in eight Super-LumiNova colors, in varying combinations, to bring the dial to life in the dark.

In one of several references to the movie, Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage, rendered in a silver pearlized print, traverses the white mother-of-pearl dial studded with diamonds. Produced in a 1,950-piece limited series, the $440 two-tone stainless steel wristwatch is powered by Citizen’s solar Eco-Drive technology. (“Disney has provided us with the opportunity to reach a broader consumer audience that includes a younger as well as female demographic,” said Jeffrey Cohen, the company’s president for U.S. operations.)

Still, depending on the character on the dial, the results can be polarizing.

“When it’s personal to you, you love it,” said Ariel Adams, founder of aBlogtoWatch. “If it’s someone else’s childhood hero, people are offended: ‘What a distasteful immature product that is,’” he said.

Mr. Adams own animation watch collection includes a $20,000 RJ Super Mario Bros. watch that, on release, was decried as “not luxury,” he said. (RJ, the brand name used by the watchmaker Romain Jerome, went out of business last year.)

His latest acquisition was a yellow watch featuring Stephen Hillenburg’s comic TV character SpongeBob SquarePants. “It’s a very simple psychology, it just reminds me of something that makes me happy,” Mr. Adams said.

The whimsical timepiece was one of two dive watches released in November as part of 100-piece limited collections by the Milan-based watch company Unimatic: the SpongeBob II U1-SS2 (Mr. Adams’ model) and U1-SS3.

A twist on the company’s minimalist Modello Uno watch, the idiosyncratic U1-SS2’s yellow face featured a multicolored SpongeBob and his characteristic toothy grin. In contrast, the subtler U1-SS3 had SpongeBob’s hooded eyes and teeth picked out in Super-LumiNova colors against a black matte dial.

Priced at €700, the yellow U1-SS2 sold out within an hour. Several of the €650 black U1-SS3s remain.

The watches were a departure for the ordinarily severe brand, said Giovanni Moro, Unimatic’s co-founder. “We do very professional and serious, clean-designed tool watches.”

With the SpongeBob models, the brand took “a risk for the sake of playing,” he said. “And the bet was a good one.”



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