A first auction in support of the Swiss Institute

Whether or not you believe that fine watchmaking belongs in the world of contemporary art, you might agree that both pursuits present potential customers with the same kinds of barriers.

“Too expensive, elitist, snobbish,” Simon Castets, executive chairman of Swiss institutea nonprofit arts institution headquartered in New York City’s East Village, said on a recent video call.

Recently, Mr. Castets and his colleague, Mojdeh Cutter, the institute’s head of partnerships and events, have been rethinking the art world’s relationship with the watch industry as they prepare TimeForArta bargain auction of bespoke and limited edition timepieces, many designed to match the event’s ‘Artists for Artists’ theme.

The live sale, to support the Institute’s free public exhibits, programs and educational workshops, is planned for December. 10 and 11 at Phillips’s Park Avenue gallery and is organized in collaboration with Bacs & Russo.

The auction’s 17 lots include a piece by independent Swiss watchmaker Romain Gauthier with a dial hand-painted by the renowned enamel artist Anita Porchetan Arnold & Son watch designed by contemporary artist Matt Copson and a collaboration between avant-garde watchmaker Urwerk and contemporary artist Cooper Jacoby.

Sir. Castets and Ms. Cutter, who also serves as TimeForArt’s executive director, said the idea was born out of pandemic-induced necessity after the institute’s 2020 gala was canceled. “With travel and large gatherings suspended, it looked like a very large part of our fundraising would also be suspended,” said Mr. Castets said. “It was a terribly bleak prospect.”

When they realized that despite the pandemic, the luxury watch industry continued to rise thanks to a combination of social media-driven demand, smaller supplies and the flow of stimulus cash and crypto-wealth, they decided the time had come to explore ways to merge the two worlds.

“Watchmaking is obviously deeply intertwined with art making,” said Mr. Castets said. “However, it is very rarely explored in a meaningful way.”

In early 2021, he and Ms. Cutter reached out to Phillips and at the same time began assembling an advisory committee filled with watch world insiders, including Ben Clymer, founder of online watch platform Hodinkee; Suzanne Wong, Editor-in-Chief at ursite WorldTempus; and actor and watchmaker Aldis Hodge.

Sir. Castets described the process as “a crash course in watchmaking.”

“When it really clicked for me was when I met with Anita Porchet,” he said, referring to a 2021 visit to the enamel specialist’s workshop in the Swiss countryside, about an hour north of Lausanne. “I was really impressed and moved by the way she worked.

“In her studio, there were a couple of white disks that were next to her tools, and she used them as a painter’s palette,” he added. “It reminded me of chromatic experiments in abstract art. She’s like a painter who just works with a different medium, different dimensions and a different context.”

Ms. Cutter noted in the same video call that the auction reflected the changes in art and advanced watchmaking. “If this was an idea we had 10 years ago, I’m not sure any of these brands would have been nearly as receptive,” she said. “Now some brands are catching up to the fact that their audience will be mostly Gen Z and millennials, and we need to engage them in a more creative way.”

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