What happens when historic artworks leave the walls of a national museum to grace the flick of your wrist? The answer can be found in a brand new collab between Swatch and Amsterdam’s prestigious Rijksmuseum, designed by Christian Borstlap. Taking three works from the museum collection as his starting point, these pieces were reinterpreted to form a triangle of wearable art, symbolizing the joint intent of the museum and brand to make art available to all. Glamcult met Carlo Giordanetti—Creative Director of Swatch—after the Rijksmuseum’s opening hours, in front of Rembrandt van Rijn’s unrivaled ‘Nightwatch’.
Carlo, we’re sitting in front of the ‘Nachtwacht’. Why are we here?
Swatch has been in quite a few museums before, but this project is really different because of the work the Rijksmuseum is doing. We were really inspired by their vision to open up the archives. That’s where the whole story started; they have this very contemporary sense that art is not only for the museum, but also for the rest of the world. If you’re lucky enough to be here that’s great, but you want more people to take advantage of the art.
We started a conversation with the management of the museum about a year and a half ago, and the idea was to create a Swatch point of view on the collection. The key word is “respect”—it’s about bringing a smart touch to the art. I’m pretty proud because this is definitely something unique.
In a way this project is all about making art more democratic. Why is that so important to Swatch?
It’s been part of our vision from the very beginning. When the project was created and launched 35 years ago, the real provocation was the material. In the Swiss industry, to introduce plastic was like swearing in church. Mr. Hayek, the founder of the company, understood that giving the material to artists could change the perception of plastic. The first project was born in 1984 and presented in a museum, so the concept of bringing art to the people through a watch was with us from the very beginning. And we’ve done that in a very consistent way—which for Swatch means in a very inconsistent way.
We are a brand that likes to do many different things at the same time. We started working with visual artists, but at a certain point invited more and more creative talents into the arena: movie directors, chefs, and fashion designers… For us they all belong to the art world, as they express freedom and a very personal point of view. And the beauty of it is that we’ve never made a watch priced at more than approximately €100. That’s also what the artists love; someone can have an intimate relationship with their art and wear their art.
For this collab with the Rijksmuseum you worked with Christian Borstlap, who reworked three works from the museum into a new design. How do you go about choosing the right artist for each job?
Well, as with many things happening at Swatch, it’s based on the emotion of a moment. The first criterion is of course aesthetics: would it work for us? But also, doing something we’ve never done before style-wise. From there it’s a question of sensibility, it’s important that there is a feeling and dialogue with the artist. Otherwise it doesn’t happen in the right way. It’s a very personal process, and in the end we try to bring the artist on board for more than just designing a watch. It’s a relationship that goes beyond that.
So how and why did you join forces with Christian?
Christian has contributed a lot to the Rijksstudio, so he almost came like a natural choice. When we discussed the designs with the museum management, his name and experience—everything he’s done for the museum—immediately came up. So this was really the only choice possible.
Can you tell me more about the three Swatch x Rijksmuseum designs?
When you see the way the watches have been designed, they are not literally taken from the works. They are reworked: the classic artworks have been reinterpreted in a tongue-in-cheek way. If you look closely, the woman in the painting based on ‘The Fall of Man’ is holding an iPhone. And the clouds you see on the other watch, based on an engraving, are actually smoke from fireworks. I love that idea, discovering something beneath the first layer.