Only Watch — Why Big Swiss Brands Continue to Make One-Offs for a Charity Auction

The complete Only Watch 2019 line-up was announced today with well over 40 brands in the catalogue this year. Even in its 8th instalment, it’s hard not to be amazed by the sheer number of watchmakers who continue to create unique pieces for the charity auction. From the who’s who of the industry to maverick independents, Only Watch is the solitary platform that brings the Swiss watchmaking community together in a way unlike any other.

Only Watch is a biannual auction, founded and organized by Luc Pettavino, with 100 per cent of the sales proceeds going towards funding the search for therapeutic solutions for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Luc’s personal interest in the auction is that the disease took his son, Paul’s life in November of 2016 at the tender age of 21.

Now the question that is often raised of Only Watch, is this: monetarily speaking, if the brands are making nothing from the sale of their unique creations, then what is the incentive? Because, let’s not kid ourselves, creating a one-off will tax the bandwidth of a watchmaker regardless of how small an atelier or how large a manufacture the brand represents. To really understand why the watchmaking community continues to participate in Only Watch, you really need to hear Luc speak about the auction. It is in his voice that you will find a purity of conviction that is sure to inspire.

On that note, REVOLUTION sat down with Luc during the weekend of auctions in Geneva, earlier in April of 2019 to have him remind us how Only Watch came to be and why it continues to garner the support and participation of an entire industry, eight chapters on.

Luc Pettavino and his son
Luc Pettavino and his son

Create Beauty to Do Good

The idea and motivation behind Only Watch for me was simple: to raise enough funds, to be consistent in supporting the field of Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. Not in small disjointed contributions, but to really be part of the solution; to be part of the research, to bring pathology to clinical trials and eventually to have it become therapy.

Before Only Watch was started, I had a prior effort that was called, Only One. Which was in a way the same thing but it allowed for a wide spectrum of high-end artisanal brands to contribute a unique object for auction.

But the more I thought about watches and the community that exists around watch collecting, the more I wanted to focus the auction on timepieces. I remember googling watches and auctions and landing on the name, Antiquorum. This was back in 2004.

Once I managed to get a hold of Osvaldo Patrizzi’s number, I called him on the phone and he along with Dominique Bernaz, came down to meet with me in Monaco so that I could present them with my idea.

We understood amongst us that if we wanted a charity auction to be successful, the more unique, the more exclusive we could make it, the higher our chances would be to obtain the right people’s attention to not only support the charity but also the right people who would want to obtain the unique watches.

Once we had settled on the formula for the auction, I knew I had to simply pick up my phone and call people with my message. I also visited the watch fairs to get to know more possible partners. The growth of the effort in the end was a very organic one.

I was already familiar with the Swatch Group because Blancpain was the official sponsor of the Monaco yacht show, which I ran in another lifetime. This allowed me to directly reach out to Mr Hayek.

What I’ve learnt is that if you want to get the support of people, either you have a huge network, power, that you represent a certain sort of financial value, potential, or you have empathy. People who know me, and know my work behind the Monaco yacht show, these people know my purposes and intent. So when I was reaching out to people, my contact with them was always made with a soft approach. What I did insist on was the framework of what I had to propose. This was a way to ensure that no one brand was receiving more from the charity auction than another.

The more I spoke to people and the more people recognised my consistent message, the more people started to see me as somebody they could trust. Because I have no interest in watches. My purpose was never to make any money out of Only Watch. I’m not paid by my charity. As the president, I decided this for myself.

Truth be told, I don’t understand much about watches. I don’t even wear a watch. So I am in no position to advise Only Watch’s partnering brands, what to make for the catalogue. I consider myself more as a pollinator. Sure I seed ideas, but I love to see what the brands bring to the auction at the end of the day, through their own creativity.

But every time I find myself in a situation where I have the opportunity to speak with brands, what I present first is about the charity and its primary intentions. My ego is in my pockets.

In fact, my only pitch is a simple pitch: let’s create beauty to do good. We are the united talents of Only Watch — the brands, the media, the — so many other partners. There are so many companies stepping in. Nobody signs anything.

I don’t do Only Watch because I want to make money. I don’t do Only Watch to save my son. I do Only Watch because I have great contacts with great people. And there is a lot of the best of humanity, in a beautiful way, that gathers to make Only Watch happen.

Every time we’ve concluded a chapter of Only Watch, I tell myself this was the last one. And until the community gathers another time with enough interest that the infrastructure is on its own self-reliant and sustainable, I cannot say that the next chapter of Only Watch can become a reality.

There is only one motivation for me to see Only Watch through, and that is the research behind Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Let me share with you one instance of research that has me excited. Only Watch financed a very important study that aimed to establish the link between heart failure and cortisone [a steroid drug used to alleviate pain and inflammation in targeted body areas].

Up until recently there were only 150 case studies on the matter. We financed, in a year, 700 cases. The volume of case studies now show very clearly that you have to give cortisone, at a very early age, to children affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

What we financed showed very, very clearly this correlation. This can longer be called a simple perception. And in this way we are making many new progresses to what could be one day a cure. I know we are part of the solution, which is extremely rare and exciting to say.

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