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The Collector’s View: Watch Talk with Benjamin Laukis

by Frank Chuo on September 28, 2016
The Collector's View

Benjamin Laukis is a 33 year old international tattoo artist and avid watch collector based in Melbourne, Australia. He specialises in realistic and portrait style tattooing while adding a personal, almost painterly touch to each piece and has gained worldwide recognition in the industry. Spending most of his time between Australia and Europe, horology, traveling, and dressing sharp consume most of his waking hours. In this episode, we have a watch talk with Benjamin. Here is an insight into his watch journey.

 

Ben is seldom around in Melbourne as he travels the world to meet his clients, so when I learned that he would be returning for a brief stay, I was thrilled. My interactions with Ben had previously been limited to social media, yet that was enough to convince me that he was a gentleman. And sure enough, he was a gentleman through and through when I first met him in person – one with a deep appreciation for watches. If “Kingsman: The Secret Service” had been a movie about watch collecting, he’d probably be cast in place of Colin Firth (sorry, Colin). I would describe Ben’s watch collection as ‘very tasteful and sober’, but rest assured his love for watches is fiery hot. Truly, it was a great pleasure for me to discuss watches with Ben and to delve into his refined collection.

 

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When did it all start for you and watches?

Growing up, I never really wore a watch. In my teenage years, I had one or two wrist watches and pocket watches – nothing special – and I never really gave them any further attention. Later in life, maybe 4 years ago, my good friend Mick’s watches caught my eye. He had a few nice pieces like a Rolex Deepsea, a PAM00312 (from memory) and an IWC 7 Day Portuguese. I mentioned my interest and not long after he took me along to a watch dealer he knew. I was hell-bent on leaving with something on my wrist that day and after already knowing roughly what I was in the market for, I left with the pre-ceramic Rolex Sea Dweller. A pretty standard and safe choice for a first luxury timepiece, I know, but it’s also a great everyday piece. I have since gifted the watch to my father, and it has now seen the REAL meaning of “tool watch”. Since then, my passion for watches has spiraled out of control into the beast that lingers over my head every waking hour – reading, browsing, drooling, and dreaming of the next (grail) piece. I am a collector – whenever I find myself interested in something, be it comic books, tattoos, knives, or watches, I tend to go all-or-nothing.

What is your approach in general to building your watch collection?

I guess my approach to watch collecting has changed over the years, but if I become attached to the idea of something, I usually find myself obsessing over it and doing whatever it takes to reach that goal. I’ve bought and sold a few pieces over the past couple of years, and I’ve also seen my taste change the further I delve into the vast world of horology. But one thing I have come to is to try focus on “one watch per brand”; this way I can have a small yet diverse collection. That said, I don’t mind breaking that rule if I find something I really enjoy. And like my comic books, I would one day hope to have what I personally consider to be “key” pieces. For example, a Dufour Simplicity to match my copy of X-Men #1, a Royal Oak to compliment my issue of Incredible Hulk #181 (1st Wolverine appearance) and maybe a Lange Datograph (Ref. 403.031) to draw parallels with my X-Men #94 (both pieces could be considered responsible for re-establishing their respective brands). Either way I’m a huge believer in buying what makes you happy. Watches should be worn, respected and loved.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is indeed widely considered by connoisseurs – yourself included – to be a “key” piece in the history of fine watchmaking. As an owner of the watch, what do you think makes the Royal Oak such a highly-lauded timepiece?

I see the Royal Oak as being a perfect design, not in that it has no flaws, but that it seamlessly combines a rugged angular style with the fine finishing of high horology – easily the defining point in Gerald Genta’s career.

 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

 

I have referred to the bracelet as the “best in the biz” on many an occasion, and it’s not hard to see why once you try it on in the metal. The bracelet links, having so many polished beveled edges contrasting the brushed steel surfaces, stand out visually. On the wrist it has to be the most comfortable steel bracelet you can experience, which comes down to the smaller links wrapping around effortlessly. As the story goes, the Royal Oak was designed overnight, which adds to the allure in my opinion; not over-thought or over-designed, it just happened, and it also helped Audemars Piguet through the quartz crisis (which is kinda cool!). The fact that the design has not changed in 40 years also speaks volumes. It’s the kind of timepiece that you could talk about for hours and is always the belle of the ball at watch gatherings.

In your opinion, how does the Royal Oak compare to the other Gerald Genta darling, the Patek Philippe Nautilus?

Comparing the Royal Oak to the Nautilus is a difficult one. I love both of them and although both designs are very “Genta” and have a similar overall aesthetic, they also have so many differences. I love the fact they make an amazing pair (if you are one of the collectors lucky enough to own both) but I would also like to see how the Nautilus design, following in the footsteps of Audemars Piguet, would have been received by the watch community if it wasn’t for the mighty Patek brand behind it. The IWC Ingenieur, I believe, never got such high acclaim, and neither did the Genta inspired  in  Vacheron Constantin Overseas (Editor’s note: The VC Overseas is NOT a Genta design. Former VC CEO Claude Proellochs cited that Genta was one of the inspirations, and the VC Ref. 222 was designed by Jorg Hysek in 1977) and Hublot Big Bang. I personally prefer the Royal Oak; I love the Nautilus but it will never be the original.

 

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You also have the Rolex Deepsea D-Blue Dial in your collection, a sports watch that is more ‘utilitarian’ than the Royal Oak. How did you come about owning this piece?

The Deepsea D-Blue was an interesting one for me. When it was released, I wasn’t really impressed by the promotional photos.

 

Rolex Deep Sea Sea Dweller.

Rolex Deep Sea Sea Dweller.

 

But once I came across one in person, I fell in love. The size was a problem for me in the beginning, but give it a week on the wrist and you forget all about it. I owned this piece around a year and a half ago I think, and another piece came along that I felt I needed in my collection so I moved the Deepsea in order to help fund the new incoming. It has to be the only watch I’ve ever regretted selling. But as the story goes, a friend who bought it, a year later, was looking to sell, so I pooled my resources, sold another piece from my then collection, and made way for my old Deepsea to re-enter the family! I was already considering the search for another, so for my previously-owned piece to be back in my gang was great. I really enjoy looking at and photographing it. Combine the flawless blue-to-black gradient dial with that Kawasaki Green writing and you can’t go wrong. The depth of the dial is just stunning – it’s like gazing into a volcano on your wrist. And with the Glidelock extension for the bracelet, it rounds out a perfect tool watch. To me personally, it feels like a tank or destroyer battleship to wear, virtually indestructible and visually a real treat. I always look forward to leaving the house with my Deepsea on.

 

The Panerai PAM00213 Luminor Rattrapante 1950 is another tool watch that has found its way into your collection. Can you tell us about your PAM00213, and why is it that tool watches (in general) remain strongly in-demand even today?

The PAM00213 found its way into my collection by chance really. I was contemplating a Panerai at that point in time and was really drawn to the 1950’s-style brushed steel case and polished bezel with the iconic Panerai crown guard and domed crystal. I came across the PAM00213 for sale on a forum where I was a member and the seller was also entertaining the idea of a trade, so I threw my IWC 7 day Portuguese into the mix and the rest is history. Panerai have mixed the tool watch with a classic look very well with the 50’s models in my opinion, and Florence (the birthplace of Panerai) happens to be one of my favorite cities that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

 

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The tool watch is an interesting topic, because in a lot of cases, these “tool” watches are luxury goods, not something generally associated with physically demanding work or activities that might put the condition of the watch in jeopardy.

 

Panerai PAM00213 on the wrist doubles up as a tool watch as well as looking good with a suit.

Panerai PAM00213 on the wrist doubles up as a tool watch as well as looking good with a suit.

 

But I guess that’s the appeal, something with the allure of the luxurious while still maintaining a certain air of masculinity. I must admit, I wear all my pieces regularly (as watches were built to be on the wrist, not stuck in a safe) and I would wear my Deepsea swimming, but I don’t think you would find me salvage diving through shipwrecks or going to the bottom of the Mariana trench with it any time soon…

 

The final piece in your collection is very different to the rest. Not only is it your only dress watch, it is also the only one manufactured outside of Switzerland – the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone. What drew you to A. Lange & Söhne as a brand?

A. Lange & Söhne is what I personally consider to be the best watch brand in the industry, and their rise to the top is an inspiring one. After not existing for more than half of the 20th century, they regrouped after the reunification of East and West Germany, and in less than 10 years, produced what some consider to be the greatest chronograph ever made, the Datograph. A. Lange & Söhne makes the finest finished and most impressive movements you will find in the industry (excluding the independents). They do everything right as a brand in my personal opinion; no cheesy marketing campaigns, no overdone limited editions, no army of celebrity ambassadors – just pure, unadulterated high horology at its finest. A. Lange & Söhne can easily be considered up there with the “Holy Trinity” of Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe; as a non-Swiss brand and it being just over 20 years since the manufacturer’s rebirth, it is an extremely impressive feat in my eyes. A. Lange & Söhne is a real collector’s brand, the kind which makes pieces that real connoisseurs drool over while the regular public passes on by generally without a second glance. And that is exactly what I like in a luxury piece: minimal flash, pure class.

 

The Lange 1 Timezone. Note the tattoo of the Ampersand on Benjamin's thumb which is the same font as the one used by Lange.

The Lange 1 Timezone. Note the tattoo of the Ampersand on Benjamin’s thumb which is the same font as the one used by Lange.

 

What about the Lange 1 Time Zone appeals to you?

The Time Zone came to me more by chance, after a friend mentioned he was possibly looking to sell. After looking into it, I fell in love. At first glance, it appears to have a very busy dial but after learning the purpose for each sub-dial and indicator, it soon became clear that nothing is without purpose. Leading from A. Lange & Söhne’s iconic Lange 1 golden triangle layout which has remained largely unchanged since its creation (for good reason, it’s awesome), adding the city chapter ring just adds to the excitement, in my personal opinion. And in white gold, it’s a sleeper piece, perfect for daily wear while travelling and won’t catch any unwanted attention.

 

What do you have your eyes on next?

Now this question has an answer that can change, adapt and transform with different personalities like a T-1000 terminator. Currently and for a long time, the A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Ref. 403.031 in pink gold with black dial and applied roman numerals is my holy grail. Otherwise known as the “Dufourgraph”, I’ve been lusting over this beauty for a long time, and hope to one day have this in my collection. But hot on its heels is the A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk in pink gold with champagne dial (or any Zeitwerk variation really) as well as the Patek Philippe Ref. 5960 and the Omega Seamaster 300 Spectre Limited Edition just because I am a huge Bond fan. Omega did a great job with the vintage-inspired Seamaster 300 Spectre Limited Edition, although I still don’t like the idea of paid product placement as a Rolex was originally written into the character’s arsenal of gadgets in the 1960’s.

 

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If money is no object, which one watch would you obtain for yourself?

I think if it came down to it, it would have to be the A. Lange & Söhne (surprise, surprise) Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. Because really, who doesn’t desire to one day own a minute repeater? And the Zeitwerk is such an original and striking (pun intended) piece, a piece that I wish to add to my collection, minute repeater or no minute repeater. But as a back up, I would have to choose the Patek Philippe Ref. 5270R or 5970R because, also, who doesn’t want a Patek perpetual calendar chronograph?

 

Editor’s note: All photographs on this review are courtesy of Benjamin Laukis.

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