Luxury watches and hip-hop are two areas that seemingly have very little in common. The former is a centuries-old, deeply conservative industry with European roots, the latter, a youthful subculture that grew out of American inner cities. As contradictory as they might appear, luxury watches are now a staple of hip-hop culture, akin to turntables and street art. But it’s not a one-sided relationship; the watch industry benefits hugely from artists wearing their timepieces. Thanks to this scene, many a time-honored brand has been able to polish off its dusty image and open the door to a whole new target audience. So, which brands are popular in the world of hip-hop, and which artists are true watch aficionados?
How It All Started
From around the mid-1980s, names like EPMD, 2 Live Crew, Run-DMC, and Public Enemy started taking over the charts and irrevocably changed the music landscape. Their impact didn’t stop with music, however; they also turned the fashion world on its head. “Street style” started adopting elements that had traditionally been associated with the upper classes, i.e., pairing tracksuits and sneakers with gold chains and luxury watches.
A watch that frequented the wrists of Jam Master Jay & co. at the time was the classic Rolex Day-Date. That model’s sibling, the Rolex Datejust, was another popular pick, especially the two-tone version. In both cases, these watches had previously been reserved for the likes of politicians, industrial tycoons, and Wall Street sharks. To see hip-hop artists wearing Rolexes was a break with style conventions and somewhat provocative.
Of course, luxury watches are powerful status symbols. By donning an expensive timepiece on their wrist, wearers were showcasing to the world that they’d made it. As a result, watches in the scene gradually started becoming increasingly opulent, unique, and above all, more expensive.
Luxury watches have since cemented themselves a place in the world of hip-hop. It’s now not uncommon for the names of valuable timepieces to find their way into popular song lyrics. In fact, one study found that the name Patek Philippe appeared in a third of all songs from the Billboard Hot 100.
The Most Popular Brands
In addition to Patek Philippe, watches from Audemars Piguet, Cartier, and Rolex are some of the hip-hop industry’s top picks. That said, some younger brands are also finding themselves a place alongside these stalwart names.
One such manufacturer is Jacob & Co., a watchmaker founded by New-York-based Jacob Arabo in 1986. The brand quickly made a name for itself in the hip-hop scene, in large part thanks to the late Notorious B.I.G., to whom Arabo owes his nickname “Jacob the jeweler.” The colorful Five Time Zone watch from 2002 remains one of the watchmaker’s top sellers, and the unique timepieces in the Astronomia collection, which are often encrusted with precious gems, are particularly hot among hip-hop artists.
Richard Mille is another name that has been a major hit on the hip-hop scene in recent years. There are few notable rappers who don’t own at least one of these exclusive timepieces. The luxury manufacturer was founded in 1999, and the unique design language, low production numbers, and oftentimes exorbitant price tags make RM watches the ultimate status symbols.
Hublot is a relatively young brand that’s also won a lot of fans in the space. Watches from the Big Bang collection, for example, have proven very popular. Measuring in at 44 mm and up, these timepieces are hard to miss. Hublot also offers a pavé version of the Big Bang that features a case and bezel completely set with diamonds – a major draw for many in the hip-hop world.
Watch-Loving Hip-Hop Artists
While some hip-hop artists and fans view luxury watches as nothing more than flashy fashion accessories, there are several who have developed a true passion for the fine art of watchmaking.
One prominent example of this is Jay-Z. The artist’s love of watches is well documented, both in his lyrics and in the media. His collection is outstanding and features just about everything worthy of collecting. A few timepieces, however, are particularly stand-out additions; for example, the Richard Mille RM 56-01 Tourbillon Green Sapphire. This watch boasts a case made of green sapphire crystal, and is considered one of the most expensive RM watches ever made, with an official retail price close to $3 million. It was produced on request especially for the rapper and record producer.
Another custom creation in his collection is a Hublot Big Bang that his wife Beyoncé Knowles gifted him for his birthday in 2012. The watch’s white gold case and bracelet are set with a total of 1,282 baguette-cut diamonds. This glittering one-of-a-kind timepiece supposedly cost some $5 million, making it the most expensive Hublot to date.
Another watch in Jay-Z’s collection that’s worth mentioning is a Patek Philippe Nautilus. Of course, the rapper didn’t settle for just any Nautilus; no, he opted for the legendary final Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-018 with a Tiffany dial. Production for this model was limited to just 170 examples, and Jay-Z is one of the lucky few to call one his own. This isn’t the only Nautilus or Patek in his collection, however; he also owns a Grandmaster Chime from the same brand.
Pharrell Williams is another megastar with a penchant for luxury watches. But this artist and producer has slightly more eclectic tastes when it comes to his timepieces. Thus, you’ll find an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Carbon alongside a white gold Casio G-Shock set with diamonds in his collection.
But Pharrell has most recently been spotted wearing several Richard Mille timepieces. He has a number of watches from the Swiss luxury manufacturer in his collection, including an RM 70-01 Alain Prost, RM 25-01 Adventure, and RM 88 Tourbillon Smiley. The artist’s link to the brand is so strong, in fact, that RM gave him his own signature model, the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams.
Last but not least is Canadian rapper Drake, who has a soft spot for vintage Rolexes. His portfolio includes several variants of the Rolex Day-Date and Datejust. You’ll also see him sporting a Patek Philippe Nautilus and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak on occasion.
Drake is known for customizing his timepieces. Thus, he owns a Royal Oak with a unique brushed stainless steel dial. He’s also been seen wearing a stainless steel Nautilus 5726/1A Annual Calendar coated in black DLC with green gemstones adorning the case, dial, and bracelet.