A Conversation with Aldis Hodge

The independents push the boundaries of where watchmaking is going to go. Aldis Hodge agrees with this statement. The actor, artist, and watch designer opened up about his eternal love for Greubel Forsey, and admiration for Ludovic Boullard, Francois-Paul Journe, MB&F, the ‘come up kid’ Rexhep Rexhepi, and much more in this piece shot on site at Dubai Watch Week from WatchBox Studios.

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For the full transcription of the interview continue reading!

Brian Govberg: We’re here at WatchBox Studios at Dubai Watch Week, and I am joined today by actor and watch designer Aldis Hodge. Aldis, thanks for being here today.

Aldis Hodge: Thanks for having me, man.

Brian Govberg: No, it’s my pleasure. So I guess, the first question that I’ve been thinking about asking is, tell me what… Because I know that you also are very much into watchmaking.

Aldis Hodge: Yes, absolutely.

Brian Govberg: What first got you started down this passion?

Aldis Hodge: I’ve always been a designer and an artist. Started with architecture at first, but when I was in school for architecture and product design… I knew that I wasn’t going to quit acting to spend eight more years to become an architect, right? So, for some reason I just started designing watches, and really became enamored with the practice of it, because it encompassed a lot of my loves: architecture, art, and engineering. And that’s just kind of where I fell into it at like 19. So, been knocking it out ever since.

Brian Govberg: Have you been collecting for a while now?

Aldis Hodge: Me? Acquiring. I call myself-

Brian Govberg: Acquiring.

Aldis Hodge: I’ll put it like a buddy of mine put it to me yesterday. I’m an acquirer of many things. I started only really purchasing watches because I tend to think that I buy watchmakers, or the minds of watchmakers. The watches I have all taught me something. And that’s how I learned to design; by looking at watches, studying watches, physically holding and handling them, because I couldn’t go to school. Watchmaking school is like three years mandatory, nonstop. As an actor, I can’t just say I’m going to kill three years and just go take…, you know what I mean? I just taught myself design. And I taught myself by studying other people’s work and machinations. So-

Brian Govberg: What was the first piece that you acquired, or that caught your eye, that you added to the collection? And I guess, do you still have it?

Aldis Hodge: Yeah, I still do. I mean… Well, I’ll tell you about it. The first piece I ever remember getting was this Mickey Mouse swatch watch that my mom bought me and my brother. I think I was like five or six, something like that.

Brian Govberg: Those have made a come back, by the way.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah, I know. I know. I should’ve kept it. I don’t know where it’s at. But the first piece that I bought for myself that I was like, “Oh, this is a major piece,” was the Montblanc Nicolas Rieussec, a chronograph. And I just liked the composition on that. I studied the dial, studied the quality of it, all these things, the facets, and then from there it kind of went on. George Daniels, Octopi Retro is a retrograde, and jump hours, an 8-day Tourbillon from Daniel Roth, I have this right here with the-

Brian Govberg: You just talked about this.

Aldis Hodge: … Jump hours, yeah. Jaquet Droz black ceramic dial, Grand Scond, Arnold and Son golden wheel… I really dig the work that Sebastien Chaulmontet did there. The Bulgari Papillon Voyageur, actually, Fabrizio, who I was on a panel with designed that one. So, that’s pretty cool.

Brian Govberg: That’s awesome that you’re really into the independents.

Aldis Hodge: I love independents, man.

Brian Govberg: So, I was thinking, obviously, the independents are really who pushed the boundary of where watchmaking is going to go-

Aldis Hodge: That’s why I love it.

Brian Govberg: … In terms of both the actual watchmaking and the design. Is there one specific, I would say brand or watchmaker that you think is doing all the right things right now?

Aldis Hodge: Oh, that’s a hard question, man. That’s a hard question. I have sort of an eternal love for Greubel Forsey. I love what they do. I love the boundaries that they do push, and how they push it is fantastic. But there’s really some great people in this space. Ludovic Ballouard- if you watch his movements, you can see how his mind works is fantastic. Francois-Paul Journe. I think the come up kid right now is Rexhep Rexhepi from Akrivia. He’s fantastic. And you can see in his work, the chronometer is insane. Genus… insane. I mean, you look at that movement, you’re automatically… Your mind explodes. It’s awesome. But yeah, I mean my top tier is Greubel Forsey. I love their Art Piece Historique. I love their Balancier Contemporain.

Brian Govberg: Have you had a chance to see the new handcrafted piece?

Aldis Hodge: Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m… I’m friends with the team, so I got a chance to actually go check out the factory and look at some of the machines and see some of the actual pieces as they were being made. Man, it’s, it’s, it’s-

Brian Govberg: It’s special.

Aldis Hodge: Definitely a craft. It is special.

Brian Govberg: I think your normal consumer doesn’t fully understand exactly what goes into it. And then also the nuance of difference between, I’d say being at the level of Greubel Forsey and then something else that’s maybe not quite as finished as well or as complicated, but how that last almost 1% of the work takes all of the time.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah. I mean the Hand Made 1 from Greubel Forsey takes 6,000 hours.

Brian Govberg: 6,000 hours.

Aldis Hodge: I have a buddy, his name is Josh Shapiro, who is really fantastic with guilloche his dials. Right. He actually showed me my- He sold me my Guilloche machine and my straight line mill machine. But Josh now has his own line: J.N. Shapiro watches. He’ll work on a dial for a week and he’s doing the practice the way, you know, Roger Smith does it, you know, the way Breguet used to do it. All that.

Brian Govberg: Where they have to teach themselves how to do it.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah. And the thing is, you can sit there and work on a dial for a week, two weeks at a time, and if you scratch it one time the wrong way-

Brian Govberg: It’s trash.

Aldis Hodge: You’ve ruined that work. And now you gotta to start all the way over. But there’s so much complexity that goes into every single element of the watch. You know, polishing a bridge on CNC for like 30 minutes versus polishing a bridge for two days, 48 hours, by hand. Yes. So much that goes into it. And you know, that’s what I love about independents is because we get to educate ourselves through the process of their innovations.

Brian Govberg: Yeah. And so, you know, through that, I think what’s, what’s really cool is… Let’s say acquirers like yourself-

Aldis Hodge: Acquirers… I like that.

Brian Govberg: But that, within our industry in the last few years, you start having these dynamic personalities that have really sort of developed within the space; both at the watchmaking level and also the acquisition level. And I think that this is being fueled by social media, you know, more people can engage with brands, more people can engage with collectors of the brands. So do you see social media being a good thing for the watch industry, bad thing for the watch industry, both good and bad? And how do you think it’s sort of affected maybe what your passion is or watches that you may not have gone for, but, but you learn about through that medium?

Aldis Hodge: Well, coming from entertainment, my experience with marketing and media is very nuanced and to a degree, a particular perception. I think there’s always a duality to any marketing tool. And that’s exactly what social media is and you know, it can be good or bad. It can be used to saturate the market and turn the attention of what is good into something different because now people are looking at this one thing and this is now the bar or the barometer rather set for what people assume is quality. And it may not be the best quality, but this is what everybody thinks; this shiny thing over here, that’s what it is. Or it can be used very strategically by brands to show them a process and help people understand the different levels of quality. I think there are some brands out there who are doing it quite well and some brands who… I wouldn’t even say it’s the brands, the power-

Brian Govberg: Can you name names?

Aldis Hodge: I shall name no names. But I will say that some of that is not even on the brands themselves. Some of that responsibility is taken up by the people who position themselves as the connoisseurs or the experts, who are leading the market makers, who are, leading the trend of the charge and what people’s tastes should be. Then it goes to the consumer who’s now putting this out and how they speak about certain things. If you don’t have experience in the field to really have a vested and an educated opinion, it becomes a very dangerous sea to swim in because everybody has an opinion on something. But is it an opinion from experience or is it an opinion from assumption? Right? But again, I think that as long as the brands continue to push their own marketing their own way and they control their own narrative, they can never go wrong.

Brian Govberg: And I think that when you… It’s important, saying… controlling your own narrative because traditionally a lot of the watch brands have sort of been late to the game of-

Aldis Hodge: Oh yes.

Brian Govberg: Both the internet and social media. And that narrative was often decided by other people within the industry.

Aldis Hodge: The people- the reporters, the reviewers, the consumers… and again, that’s not always a bad thing. It’s not always a good thing. It’s pick and choose. But I do think that it is tough for some brands to sort of marry the idea of this really sort of niche and teak interest with all of this new age tech, this new age interest, this new generation and how do we fuse that together? And for me what we do as watch designers and watchmakers it’s always going to be art- art at its highest level. And that is always going to be there. People will always have an appreciation and an emotional sort of a response to art when it’s done well.

Brian Govberg: I think Crivit is an example of that.

Aldis Hodge: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brian Govberg: You know where, when something’s done right, everybody can sort of agree like that was executed perfectly. And you know when you see that amongst even consumers that wouldn’t necessarily buy that watch, but they can understand why somebody else is, that’s when you know that the art was done right. So as a designer, what is one brand that you would, if you could pick any brand, that you would want to design a watch for?

Aldis Hodge: Yeah, that’s tough. One brand I could design a watch for… Outside of my own?

Brian Govberg: Outside of your own.

Aldis Hodge: Greubel Forsey

Brian Govberg: Okay. That would be very cool to see happen.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah, Greubel Forsey. Do I get a second choice?

Brian Govberg: You can have a second choice. You can actually have as many choices as you want.

Aldis Hodge: I think a strong second would be MB&F or Journe…, I would say, I would say Greubel Forsey-

Brian Govberg: We’re big Journe people at Watchbox.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah, man. You know what? He has a very recognizable style. His signature is there. It’s a really… quite a handsome watch and it does the job. Man, it remains interesting and relevant. So I think it goes Greubel Forsey, MB&F, and Journe.

Brian Govberg: Awesome. Yeah. I think one of the characteristics amongst all of them is that, or at least with all, you know, watches that have been designed really well, is that you can recognize it from a distance. You can recognize the aesthetic, and that if somebody is 10 feet away from you, you’re able to tell what they’re wearing. And not that it just sort of blends in. And amongst the best independents and even, brands like Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe, Royal Oak and the Nautilus…

Aldis Hodge: Both of which are Gerald Genta.

Brian Govberg: Both of which are Gerald Genta

Aldis Hodge: I would say the Genta effect. Genta has, has, how can I say this… Developed the iconic… I was a GPH G jury member and then Audemars Piguet actually won the iconic category. I didn’t mean to do that on purpose, but I’m just saying it kind of fused. But Genta has figured out how to develop the iconic style for a lot of these brands with certain collections, with the Royal Oak and with the Nautilus. And that’s something, I think his contribution to the watch industry is massive, but it’s a hard thing to do. And it is one of those things like in terms of designing a case- I’ve designed bunches- it’s really hard to find something that is truly individual and unique and when you can spot it from a mile away, such as the case with Daniel Roth, he has a very specific case shape. You can spot it from a mile away. I mean that solves half your problems right there because you’re talking about indicative recognition.

Brian Govberg: 100 percent

Aldis Hodge: And A.P.’s are probably the strongest representation that we understand of that right now.

Brian Govberg: Yeah. And you know, when you, when you see something and you’re able to know what it is, a lot of watch brands are now sort of in this trap of all of these great designs have come about. And when you’re trying to design something new and you’re looking for inspiration, if you look too closely to what’s already been done and you do it again, they’re saying that you’re sort of copying that design. If you stray too far away, the response or feedback that you get is, well, why didn’t you do something more like them? So you have to sort of… It’s that fine balance of doing something unique, but also what you know people are going to want to buy.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah. That’s something where you have to maintain your role as a rogue and a Maverick, you know, set your own tone. Because as a designer it is hard to get, it’s hard to really establish who and what you are. A lot of people tell you to take the safe road because they want you to do this thing that… try to appeal to this and appeal to that. But what you realize when you go back to the basics is that this particular brand appealed because they introduced something new-

Brian Govberg: That nobody wanted.

Aldis Hodge: Exactly. And people now have a new breath of fresh air when it comes to the idea of appreciating this item, this watch, whatever it is. So you have to take the risk and you always have to be forward thinking. You always have to-

Aldis Hodge: My idea of, rather, my inspiration for watch design comes from the idea that it’s not so much about telling time. It’s about how people get to experience telling time. Can I give that to you in a different nuanced way? So for any designer out there, you always have to challenge norms, challenge the status quo, even if you’re working within the same realm of something. That’s why I like this one so much. This is, again, F. Ronzon, and that’s R. O. N. Z. O. N. Designing around a prefabricated movement is tough because it’s hard to show your own DNA there, show individuality, but he managed to do it with this piece and it’s insane. I love the fact that it’s so individual and unique and you know, I got to respect it.

Brian Govberg: One of the brands that I, I think did that also very well is Ressence. It’s rare that a brand can come from the perspective of we want to be really good at design and we’re not going to take as much of a focus on watchmaking even though we’re going to do something cool and unique, but we want to come out with a watch around a preexisting movement that works really, really well. We know that it’s not going to break on us. We know that it’s easily fixed anywhere in the world that it might be, but then come out with something that can fit into any watch collection. And you know, when somebody asks me what’s something that I’m not thinking about that I should be thinking about within adding a watch to my collection, that’s not just going to be your bread and butter piece, you know? Actually that’s one of the brands that I sort of mentioned and I’ll add this to the list.

Aldis Hodge: And also Urwerk. The way that they sort of owned the ideal of the-

Brian Govberg: One of the first independents to really hit it.

Aldis Hodge: They knocked it out of the park. Yeah. That’s cool. I love the collaboration they did with [inaudible 00:16:31] only watch. Oh man, I got to see that in person. It’s insane.

Brian Govberg: It’s beautiful.

Aldis Hodge: It’s insane.

Brian Govberg: So I’ll end it with one more question. What watch would you say is the next watch, if you can tell us, on your hit list?

Aldis Hodge: The next watch on my hit list is the one I’m developing right now. That’s it.

Brian Govberg: Can you tell us anything about the watch or we’re going to have to wait and see?

Aldis Hodge: I’ll tell a little bit, but I will say I’m in between two models. One is a retrograde probably sitting somewhere around 40 to 41mm. And then the other one is jump hours with a very odd asymmetrical case. So jump hours, retro grade. That’s what I’m dealing with right now. And that’s my focus. And the next watch that I buy is-

Brian Govberg: Your watch.

Aldis Hodge: That manufacturing costs for that, those watches.

Brian Govberg: Well when you’re done, please send it to us and let us do a wrist review and you know-

Aldis Hodge: Absolutely.

Brian Govberg: Talk about the piece.

Aldis Hodge: Y’all better review my stuff nice now. Y’all better be kind.

Brian Govberg: Very, very, very nice.

Aldis Hodge: Give me a 15 out of 10 is what I’m talking about.

Brian Govberg: That’s what you’re going to get. Yeah. But you know, I don’t think- Is Tim also here? No?

Aldis Hodge: No, but I definitely will, man. I’d actually be honored to get your opinion of it.

Brian Govberg: 100 percent. Thank you for coming. And this is Watchbox Studios. We’re here with Aldis Hodge and you know, I hope everybody enjoys Dubai Watch Week.

Interview Aldis Hodge Arnold and Son Audemars Piguet Bulgari FP Journe Montblanc Patek Philippe