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How and Why Luxury Watch Brands are Sponsoring Films

Luxury watch companies are immersing themselves in the cinematic world by sponsoring film festivals and honouring emerging talents.

If not for Piaget, the critically acclaimed 2008 American film Wendy and Lucy might not have been made. The film starring Michelle Williams landed on many movie critics’ top 10 lists in the year it was released, and bagged Best Picture at the 12th Toronto Film Critics Association Awards.

Granted, Neil Kopp – one of the film’s producers – might have found an alternative source of funding even if he had not been awarded a US$25,000 (S$34,000) grant as the winner of the Piaget Producers Award in 2008. That was the first year the brand became a patron of the Film Independent Spirit Awards, a ceremony dedicated to indie filmmakers.

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The Piaget Producers Award winner of 2008, Neil Kopp.

But as Kopp readily shares via e-mail, the Piaget-sponsored award “could not have come at a better time”. Says the American producer: “It allowed me and my producing partner Anish Savjani to develop Wendy and Lucy, which at the time was going to be our next film with (screenwriter/ director) Kelly Reichardt. It also helped us to form our company, Filmscience, at a time when we were tempted to step out for well-paying commercial work. This financial freedom gave us a huge boost towards establishing a business.”

Kopp’s career has since gone from strength to strength: He co-produced Reichardt’s latest endeavour, Certain Women, a film starring Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016.

HIGH-VISIBILITY PARTNERSHIPS

Handing out grants to deserving up-and-comers is just one of the ways in which luxury watch brands like Piaget have been associating themselves with the glamorous world of film, in ways that go beyond product placements in movies. Don’t get us wrong – we love seeing our favourite brands immortalised on the silver screen, particularly if the timepieces are integral to the plot, such as Omega’s Seamaster 300 in the James Bond flick Spectre or the two Hamiltons in Interstellar.

But watch brands also make their presence felt in other ways – such as sponsoring film festivals and independent filmmakers – that directly help to boost the industry. Here on our shores, for instance, luxury watch brand IWC announced a new partnership with the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) in September 2015. It will partner the event again in 2016.

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IWC CEO Georges Kern interviews Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz at the Zurich Film Festival 2015.

This is on top of IWC’s ongoing agreements with the Beijing, Dubai, London, Tribeca and Zurich film festivals, as well as the Festival du Film Francophone d’Angouleme. The brand has also put its name on its own award: The IWC Filmmaker Award is given to worthy nominees, usually emerging filmmakers. This includes a tidy prize purse that allows the filmmakers to fund their works.

For instance, at the Zurich Film Festival 2015, Swiss director Michael Steiner received 75,000 Swiss francs (S$103,000) for his project, Und morgen seid ihr tot (Tomorrow You’ll Be Dead), which is based on the true story of how two Swiss nationals kidnapped by the Taliban escape after eight months in captivity.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Glitzy partnerships between film festivals and watch companies may be common enough these days, but this has not always been the case. A luxury label that has long associated its name with the celluloid world, jewellery and watch company Chopard has been the official partner of the Cannes Film Festival for almost two decades now. It produces the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or award and has, since 2001, presented the Trophee Chopard to up-and-coming actors.

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Chopard designed and makes the Palme d’Or trophy.

“A woman dressed in an evening gown needs a bit of sparkle, so a jewellery brand (sponsor) seems only natural,” says Chopard co-president Caroline Scheufele, adding: “But at the beginning, it was not a given. Back then, Cannes was a much more intimate festival than it is now; much less international. We’re very happy to have been involved with Cannes for 18 years. It’s like an ongoing love story.”

Also having come a long way is watchmaking powerhouse Jaeger-LeCoultre, which celebrated a decade-long relationship with the Venice International Film Festival in 2015. Since 2007, it has given out the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award to recognise creativity and ingenuity. Past winners have included cinematic bigwigs like Al Pacino, Takeshi Kitano and Brian De Palma.

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The Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Night & Day made for Glory to the Filmmaker 2015 winner Brian De Palma.

The brand is also a key sponsor of the Los Angeles, San Sebastian, Shanghai and Toronto film festivals. In 2013, it launched the Filmmaker in Residence programme at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND BEYOND

For Saxon-based watch company Glashutte Original, supporting local is the way to go. For the past six years, it has thrown its weight behind the Berlinale. “We are a German brand, and the Berlinale is an iconic German film festival event,” Yann Gamard, the brand’s CEO, told Europa Star magazine. “We use the Berlinale as a platform to better present our brand.”

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Each year, a top student from Glashutte Original’s Alfred Helwig School of Watchmaking crafts the Made in Germany – Perspektive Fellowship trophy.

Aside from backing initiatives such as a retrospective of restored vintage films, the brand sponsors a prize for young filmmakers: the “Made in Germany – Perspektive Fellowship” is worth 15,000 euros (about S$22,500). In 2015, it was given to Oskar Sulowski for his feature film treatment Rosebuds.

Mentorship, rather than money, was the most valuable part of the Perspektive Fellowship for Sulowski. “It gives you the opportunity to ask a professional filmmaker to help you on a project,” he says. “I was able to ask my personal hero since childhood, (German film director) Dominik Graf, for his mentorship.”

Winning this award also helped Sulowski garner interest, and additional financial support, from previously uninterested parties. He says: “Because of the Fellowship, it got easier to ‘get into the room’ with various financiers. Some who disregarded the script before the Fellowship all of a sudden wrote long e-mail about how they wanted to meet again. I laughed a lot in the days following the award!”

While getting a place in the spotlight is a perk for watch brands that immerse themselves in the cinematic world, their involvement brings concrete benefits to the film industry, particularly to emerging industry players whose work typically takes place behind the scenes. As Kopp muses: “The role of the producer is often difficult to define, and therefore there aren’t a lot of opportunities for grants and fiscal support.

“Winning the Piaget Producers Award was one of the greatest thrills of my career. As a young and up-and-coming producer, I never imagined that I would be giving an acceptance speech to the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – but sure enough, they were seated in the front row (probably thinking, ‘Wait, who is this guy again?’).

“Producers tend to be happiest working in the background on tough and thankless jobs. But, hey, every once in a while, this kind of recognition for making small independent films is warmly welcomed.”