From Mickey Mouse to Black Panther, 5 Luxury Watches That Pay Homage to Pop Culture
Cartoon and comic book characters are the watch world’s latest obsession, inspiring high-end timepieces at Omega, Tag Heuer and more.
If you’ve studied the luxury watch market over the past few years, you might have noticed an unexpected, rather playful trend taking root: Some of the industry’s most prestigious brands are paying homage to cartoon and comic book characters on the dials of their timepieces, reflecting not only a collective nostalgia for the icons of their youth, but also a newfound willingness to take risks that in the past might have been viewed as shameful (cue the scandalized reaction to Gérald Genta’s first Mickey Mouse watch in 1984). There is, of course, another factor at play in the rise of these whimsical, if somewhat polarizing, timepieces: rarity. Almost all of the wristwatches highlighted below were produced in extremely limited editions and are officially sold out, not counting Genta’s latest ode to Mickey (but only because it doesn’t come out til January!).
Omega Speedmaster Anniversary Series “Silver Snoopy Award”
Almost exactly a year ago, Omega released the Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award,” a 50th anniversary nod to the award it received from the astronauts at NASA on Oct. 5, 1970 in recognition of the brand’s contributions to the space flight program. The 42 mm stainless steel chronograph is rich with details that pay homage to the Speedmaster’s role in the rescue of Apollo 13, including a blue nylon fabric strap that features the trajectory of the Apollo 13 mission on its embossed lining, a silver dial with blue PVD angle-shaped hour markers and hands, and the pièce de résistance, an embossed silver Snoopy medallion on the blue subdial at 9 o’clock. But that’s not all: The caseback depicts the far side of the moon using micro-structured metallization, an animated Snoopy in his Command and Service Module (CSM) as well as an Earth disc that rotates once per minute in sync with the watch’s small seconds hand. The best part? The non-limited watch is now part of Omega’s serial production (but good luck getting one). $9,600; Omegawatches.com
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon
When Audemars Piguet unveiled a limited edition of 250 pieces dedicated to Marvel’s Black Panther character this past spring at an event in Los Angeles, the reaction online ran from one extreme to the other, with some followers declaring the watch (and, presumably, the entire collaboration) “trash!” and others proclaiming it a treasure. The Royal Oak Concept “Black Panther” Flying Tourbillon features a meticulously handpainted 3-D depiction of the superhero on the dial, the first in a series of AP models honoring Marvel characters. The futuristic design includes a vibrant purple rubber strap attached to a 42 mm sandblasted titanium case. (It’s no Vibranium, but it’ll do!) $162,000, Audemarspiguet.com
Gérald Genta Arena Retro Mickey Mouse Disney
From Seiko to Swatch, Mickey Mouse has appeared on the dials of numerous watch models over the course of the past century, but among luxury watch aficionados, the only collaboration that matters is the one produced by Gérald Genta. Regarded as the greatest watch designer of the 20th century, Genta created his first horological tribute to Mickey in 1984 (scandalizing attendees of that year’s Basel fair in the process). Last month, the brand that bears his name — owned by Bulgari since 2000 — introduced an automatic retrograde watch in a 41 mm stainless steel Arena case featuring Disney’s beloved mouse seemingly leaping onto the rhodium-plated sunray dial. The smiling character’s left arm indicates the minutes on a 210-degree retrograde sector while the jumping hour appears at 5 o’clock. Available online in January, the model is limited to 150 pieces. $19,500; Bulgari.com
TAG Heuer Connected x Nintendo
In July, TAG Heuer introduced a limited edition of its Connected watch produced in partnership with Nintendo. Featuring the company’s fan-favorite Super Mario character in his trademark red cap and blue overalls front and center on the dial, the model is the first in a series of watches to emerge from the brand’s long-term collaboration with Nintendo. “We felt the Mario character was super iconic and had a lot of ties to the brand,” Frédéric Arnault, TAG Heuer’s CEO, told Robb Report. “He’s super active, always reaching for a goal.” As users increase their step counts, Mario appears on the dial to mark and reward their progress (along with animations that become livelier as the activity level increases). Luxury-loving gamers, this one’s for you! $2,100; Tagheuer.com
S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin
Last August, the Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva delighted fans of the Moomins, an adorable family of troll-like characters created by the Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson, when he made a limited edition of 75 timepieces celebrating the comic’s 75th anniversary. The automatic models (a series of three with slight color variations, in editions of 25 pieces each) feature a three-layered skeletonized dial depicting the Moomintroll character curled up beside a pond. In the background, eight handpainted Super-LumiNova colors in varying combinations, create a kaleidoscopic nighttime glow. 6,200 euros (about $7,280); SUFhelsinki.com