Is Hublot and Daniel Arsham’s Droplet Horological Art?



Those familiar with the world of watches understand that the line between art and horology is a fine and, very often, blurred one. While there are manufactures that have made a name for themselves prioritising function over form, it is those that approach watchmaking from an artistic angle that possesses the most illustrious heritage, and command the greatest sense of gravitas. Sure, something as subjective as “gravitas” can be a pretty flimsy basis upon which to judge a horological work, but the fact remains that things like a plique-à-jour enamel dial and hand-engraved arabesque case finishes will always catch the eye more readily, and elevate the timepiece beyond just an object that just tells time. That being said, the argument remains: since art is so subjective, how does one determine whether a timepiece qualifies as a work of horological art? Indeed, the subjective nature of art is what renders it so polarising, but simultaneously, therein lies its beauty — what is perceived and interpreted varies from person to person. Fundamentally, it first needs to catch the eye — what effect the art has from there on is yours to decipher.

This is why Hublot’s latest collaboration with contemporary artist Daniel Arsham is such a fascinating one — it certainly does catch the eye, but once again begs the question — can it truly be called a work of horological art? A closer examination of Daniel Arsham’s body of work thus far offers some clarity: a lot of it centres around the concept of time — specifically, a hypothetical future. Inspired by Andy Warhol, Arsham rose to fame through his calcified, crystallised, and decayed portrayal of everyday products: his meditation on the passing of time and a commentary on the transience of the objects that define modern consumerism. The Droplet, therefore, is coherent with his artistic philosophy, identifying it as art, but also marks somewhat of a departure from his usual artistic vision — this is a different, almost postmodern expression of horological art.

To begin with, a key tenet of postmodern art is its defiance against categorisation into a specific time period — evident in The Droplet. The choice of a pocket watch as the canvas for his work speaks to us about Arsham’s desire to capture an element of the past while channelling the essence of the present and hypothetical future in a modern, open-worked presentation that is not fully contemporary, but not quite anachronistic either. Furthermore, the watch can either be worn as a pocket watch, pendant, or displayed as part of a sculptured table clock — an additional refusal to stay within the confines of definition.

Another crucial aspect of postmodernism is a sense of Avant-pop: a combination of cutting-edge experimental with pop-culture influences. The Droplet embodies Hublot’s signature, avant-garde sapphire crystal design language, a 10-day power reserve Meca-10 movement, and titanium skeleton, with the pop-culture influence coming from the detachable chain which calls to mind chain patterns on modern jewellery. The pocket watch is finished with accents of Arsham Green — the unique shade of green-hued turquoise found on many of Arsham’s “decayed” sculptures — a self-referential hint at the artist’s message and another layer of meaning up for interpretation.

Given how Hublot’s and Daniel Arsham’s Droplet unapologetically skips along the fine, blurred line between horology and art, it is almost guaranteed to split opinion. Whether it might be for you or otherwise, one thing is for sure — Hublot and Arsham have created a work of horological art that definitively disrupts the traditional union of time and art.

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