1. ABOUT…THE ORIGINS OF ONLY WATCH
Why and when did you create Only Watch? Why watches?
One of our children, our dear Paul, suffered from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He passed away three years ago, short of his 21st birthday. When my wife and I received the diagnosis back in 2004, I realized immediately I had to do something about it, to give everything I had to help find a cure. So, I asked myself « What am I good at? What are my skills and how could I utilize them to raise money for research? ». Well, I am specialized in organizing unique events. I know how to gather people in a converging feel-good atmosphere where no one loses anything. I knew that watches could have a really high value and if we made them unique, the value could actually skyrocket.
At that time, in 2004, I was managing the Monaco Yacht Show, the #1 yachting event in the world, and our main sponsor was a watch manufacturer. Everything fell into place and the first edition of ONLY WATCH took place in 2005.
What was your principal approach back in 2005? How did you pull it off?
My idea was quite simple. I would go to see a handful of important watchmakers, and ask, ‘Could you create a one-off?’ This might be as simple as a change of colour, or as elaborate as the addition of a new complication, a movement, or a change of case. And it worked! Thanks the connections I had, I had an access to the watch industry and I went to see all the most prestigious brands from the various watch groups as well as the independents, and explained the project, the state of mind, and the « rules » that haven’t changed since then (knowingly everyone taking part in the project does so for free, no signed contracts between parties, 100% of the funds go to research and everybody is on the same level on ONLY WATCH, no special treatment). And… it worked!
Watches and their time aspect have a very symbolic meaning, did you take that into consideration as well?
Yes. The first slogan I created for ONLY WATCH was this baseline we used to write under the logo: ‘TIME for a cure on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy’. Yes, in scientific and medical research, time is of the essence.
It is a big commitment, both financially and in terms of effort for a manufacture to produce a unique piece. At the start, how hard was it to convince them?
Well, there are lots of ways of making a piece unique: you can change the colour of the watch, change the metal of the case, work on the complication or have an artist paint the dial. Of course, the hardest way is to create a unique complication specially for Only Watch, but I must say, this is happening more and more often as we go on. Manufacturers put enormous efforts into creating specific watches for this auction. They know the more work they put in, the more interest they’ll get, and that means better results for both the brand and the charity. Going back to your original question: it wasn’t that hard really. I was lucky to have Blancpain as sponsor for the Monaco Yacht Show. And when I had the idea of Only Watch, in 2004, I went to see the late Nicolas Hayek telling him about it and asking if he would take part. He validated the support of the Swatch Group and introduced me to the CEOs of the premium brands of the group. I also knew Yves Piaget from Monaco and some others… Then, I simply Googled ‘watch auction’ and the first name that popped up was Antiquorum.
I called the owner, Osvaldo Patrizzi, and he helped me set up a base where I could talk about reality and not just hopes. At that point all we had to do was start calling everyone…
What do you perceive as your main personal asset to get what you want from these watch brands?
My emotional or intuitive intelligence is perhaps my greatest skill. I am able to perceive immediately whether to speak or listen, if I should be brief or detailed, if I should be seated or standing.
I also don’t ask more from people than what they are able to give. I wouldn’t ask someone to build a mansion, just to give me a brick. That is their contribution. It is up to me to have the design of the mansion in my mind.
Last, but not least, I think that the fact that the framework is clear, that everybody knows it is not about power and there is no room for ego, it’s just about the project makes everyone much more comfortable.
2. ABOUT…THE CAUSE AND THE RESEARCH
What cause do you support?
Only Watch exists to support research to find a cure to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It is a severe form of degenerative neuromuscular disease. It is due to a mutation in DNA, which makes scarce a protein essential to muscles called dystrophin.
Concretely, what have the funds raised financed? What kind of progress has been made?
Thanks to funds raised by ONLY WATCH, the AMM (Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies) has been able to set up an international network of public and private laboratories focused on the development of new therapeutic approaches such as gene therapy, cell therapy and repair of mutated nucleic acids, in particular by modulating mRNA splicing. Some of these approaches are very promising, some have already been successfully evaluated in man.
Our focus is Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a very severe neuromuscular disease that primarily affects boys (1 over 3,500). Nevertheless, the technologies we develop are transposable to many other conditions that are very debilitating, either affecting muscles, the central nervous system, or various organs that require systemic treatment.
Our goal is to continue these developments in order to ensure the widest possible access to new more effective and safer treatments. The challenge is immense and requires more than ever the chain of solidarity that we embody all around the ONLY WATCH initiative.
Can you detail the most important advances made thanks to the funds raised with ONLY WATCH?
Scientists are exploring several avenues, including an ‘antisense molecule,’ a kind of artificial DNA capable of repairing the mutation of the gene. This promising approach has received several million Euros in funding from AMM.
Here’s what Aurélie Goyenvalle, one of the main researchers involved on research on muscular dystrophy says about it:
“Thanks the Only Watch support we achieved two major goals over the past few years:
The first was to bring together a large network of international experts on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which is, as you know, one of the most serious muscle genetic diseases for which there is still no cure.
The second objective was to set up operational means to develop a new class of drugs for this disease. These works, initiated a decade ago, are finally paying off. The results of the tests performed by SQY and SYNTHENA - two biotechs created by our Association - are spectacular in both efficacy and tolerability, two criteria that are essential for initiating a first clinical trial in DMD boys.
So, what is that drug? To put it simply, it is a drug administered intravenously that can penetrate all muscles, the heart and many other tissues. Once in the cells, the active ingredient - a sort of molecular patch - is able to bind to the message of the mutated gene and repair it.
To be more precise, the drug is a molecule consisting of about fifteen artificial bases (tricyclo-DNA), designed to hybridize with nascent messenger RNA and disrupt its maturation to exclude certain parts making it incompatible with the production of a functional protein - this is called "exon skipping".
Today, we have finalized a first tricyclo-DNA compound for the skip of the exon 51 of the dystrophin gene and we are preparing a clinical trial which will be submitted very soon to the regulatory authorities by SQY / SYNTHENA. Other exons of dystrophin are under study and will follow the same development as well as genes involved in other pathologies in partnership with other Patient Associations.
We have never been so close to treating DMD boys and that was made possible by Only Watch!”
What have you learned working closely with researchers?
First of all, I have been humbled by all the discussions I have had with so many brilliant minds over the years who have chosen to dedicate their career to finding a cure for Duchenne.
Second of all, when I made the initial contact with researchers, I discovered needs quite different from those I imagined. For example, before discussing financial resources, scientists needed opportunities to talk with their peers so that they could share advances in pre-clinical research. This was the genesis for the Monaco Round Tables on Myopathies and the International Collaborative Effort for Duchenne muscular dystrophy program. Our coordinated approach has made it possible to create and consolidate relations between the various international research centers with expertise in the field of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Today, the efforts—and the hopes—of the Monegasque Association against Myopathies focus on gene therapy.
Lastly, when you’re facing a disease like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, efficiency must rule - as we say, "time is of the essence”. What I saw is that most of the time, researchers had to wait really long periods of time to know if they were granted funds and to receive them. It was a big obstacle for them and thanks to Only Watch and funds raised, we were able to accelerate the process.
3. THE STATE OF MIND
This is the 8th edition of the event. What is your motivation?
Our son Paul passed away three years ago, before his 21st birthday. He was a resilient person, generous and extremely optimistic, always. He enjoyed life. Through him I have met great men and women who have a passion to find a cure for muscular dystrophy. To this day, the funds we have raised (more than 35 million euros) have made a very tangible difference. Tangible enough that we are approaching clinical trials - a phase that will demand a lot of available funds.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the quest to cure this disease and the feeling of unity between human beings when they come together and create beauty to do good. I am inspired by the search of originality and meaning that broaden our horizons and open our minds, by the resilience of humans following diseases, by the majesty and quiet strength of a 300 years old cedar tree, by the joyous, therapeutic vibrations of nature in general, and forests in particular. I am also inspired by our dear son Paul who left us in the prime of his life. Paul made Only Watch possible. Thank you, Paul; thank you for everything.
Which was the most precious moment during the last years?
I would say it is the global approach and the things I learned. The idea that you pitch something clear and incarnate the energy of being a conductor, but without having ‘ego issues’ is very soothing. The idea itself is actually very simple “create beauty to do good!”. It is the energy and the spirit of everyone who participates in this project that are the most rewarding. I don’t even have any contracts with the brands, the auctioneers or the media. This whole adventure has actually been extremely reassuring about humankind and our ability to achieve incredible things if we work together with a good spirit.
Do you worry, that all those beautiful watches could deflect attention away from the cause?
On the contrary – I would not want it to be heavy on people’s mind. Everyone has their own personal problems and drama… We wanted to transform the heavy energy of a severe pathology into something positive – into hope! The best way to do that, is to create something beautiful and I truly believe that you can also do something good, while you are enjoying yourself. This being said, we never hide the origin of our project: a quest for a cure.
Is it true you never wear a watch?
(Laughs) I think watches are beautiful! I’m no collector but I own a few. However, over the years, the Only Watch has grown to become a big family… so it’s like I don’t feel comfortable choosing any of the children over another. In the end I love them all equally, and since I can’t wear fifty watches at once, I don’t wear any of them!
4. THE REASONS FOR ONLY WATCH’S SUCCESS
According to you, what is the key to your success?
The key to success is that Only Watch is collectively “owned” by people with a genuine desire to work together to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Only Watch is not about one person, one auction house, one brand, or even one industry. So many people contribute to this success, all of whom are motivated by a sense of altruism, empathy, and philanthropy. Together we celebrate doing something good and positive.
My mission is to coordinate our collective efforts to achieve the best results. I view my role as the conductor of an orchestra of world-class musicians, and my goal is to ensure that the musicians give their best to create a truly magnificent performance.
Last, but definitely not least, we are very fortunate and privileged to have the unfailing support of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. His long-term commitment and presence at sales and biennial launches have been key to this success.
The Only watch formula is simple: no brand gets a priority position and 100% of the income goes to the charity. Is this the secret for assuring total commitment from all involved? Transparency brings energy, so to say?
When I create a project, I try to make the pitch as simple as possible. For Only Watch it was “to create beauty to do good”: to create a unique version of an existing watch, or a unique watch, and every partner I involve can see there’s no money involved, contracts and such, even for manufacturing, and clearly see the charity itself has no costs: they understand what we’re doing, whether interested or not, but at least they don’t have to deal with questions like “what are the costs?”, “what are the returns?”, “how do they operate?” and such like. So, we make it very simple: every brand gets a double page in the catalogue and the same size logo. It’s all very egalitarian and ethical. Somehow, all the people and all those brands accepted to do all this because they understood it was real, and efficient to support medical research. At the time our son Paul was still with us – he still is in spirit – but the situation back then made it easy for them to understand and support us.
The beauty of Only Watch is also that it’s a project that manages to stay fresh. The fact that it’s every two years gives people a proper break so when they see you again presenting the new edition, they've had time to reflect and are ready to start again in the right spirit.
How do you have such little costs? Do you have « sponsors »?
Aside of the watch brands and watchmakers, we have sponsors to cover the remaining costs.
Christie’s is in charge of the world tour and for the magic on the day of the auction. Air France offers tickets in order for us to travel cost free. Ferrari Group knows how to transport and store the watches all over the world. Lanson offers the Champagne on all the stopovers we select.
When you connect all the dots together, it gives an astounding final result. From the outsider point of view, it can seem very heavy. But if you look at it in detail, thanks to the implication of all our supporters and participants, we spend very little money. That is how we achieve giving 99 per cent of funds raised by Only Watch to research.
Previously in your career you turned the Monaco Yacht Show into the most important nautical event of the year, now Only Watch is another success, proving you are certainly a great “conductor”. But how important are the « musicians »?
I often describe myself as a « specialist in generalities ». Which means I understand the gist of what everyone’s doing but I’m no specialist in anything. The musicians are much more than important, they’re essential, they’re everything. They’re the ones who perform the symphony at the highest level. I just make sure they’re in good shape. I make sure the energy around them is high, that they’re greeted, welcomed and appreciated, spreading good energy so they come and they say, let’s do this all together! The conductor is humbly making sure that everyone’s happy and the music of the best quality. And when I say « musicians » I mean not just the watch brands but the media, the partners, the people hosting the collections, the collectors, the team helping me…
5. WATCHES AND WATCHMAKERS
How do you select the brands?
It is a dynamic process. I talk to the brands and if they feel the idea suits their philosophy, then we work together.
We are close to all brands that have supported us over the past editions and we are in contact throughout the year. I have to say, today, most brands are contacting us rather than me turning towards them asking for support.
Did you had to say NO to brands wanting to participate?
Unfortunately, yes and I am still figuring out a system how to avoid any « NOs ». But a charity auction cannot be endless and the benchmark around 50 lots has proven to be the best for the bidders and the project.
What attracts brands to Only Watch?
I think the project is beneficial for the industry. It’s a field in which watchmakers can express their creativity, with a free spirit. I’m deeply touched when someone from one of the top brands in the world comes to me and delivers its project, handing over a piece of paper with a sketch on it as casually as you might hand over a croissant. Then you realise the watch that has been sketched out may be worth dozens, hundreds of thousands or millions in a few months’ time.
You enter Only Watch because you want to do good. You want to help raise funds for muscular dystrophy research, and you want to be part of the cure one day. In fact, you are participating in an event that could become a market maker for your brand. That can be a nice surprise.
6. THE AUCTION
Who is buying the watches in the end?
Watch collectors, donors, beauty lovers from all around the world, on all continents. During the auctions, there are people from all continents bidding in the room, online and on the phone. It is truly a world-class event!
Do you have a numerical limit? Why « only » 50 lots?
A charity auction cannot go on for more than 2 hours for it to stay dynamic, to keep people’s attention and therefore yield the best possible result. This is exactly the time we achieve by offering around 50 lots. It is as simple as this.
Is there any special watch you remember in particular?
It is not my mission on Only Watch. I help create beauty and I find it marvelous that a very small company, that only creates less than 50 pieces a year donates to this cause, because it is a high contribution for them.
As well as I find it fantastic, that the biggest names in the industry also participate and hand you a watch that could easily cost up to seven digits, just like they would hand you a croissant.
One of the best moments on Only Watch for me is during the auction, because I feel that all the colors of the rainbow are coming together.
To date, your track record is?
We have raised more than €35/CHF 40 million to date and this year’s edition is going to be crazy. I know that at 2pm on 9 November, records are going to be broken. Hopefully a defining moment in the watch industry.
Only Watch is now in its eighth year and the number of brands involved has constantly increased. Now there are 52 supporting this biennial charity auction, and you’ve raised over 35 million Euros. Were you expecting a result like that when you started out? Did you have any figure in mind?
Absolutely not! All I knew was that I was prepared to put positive energy and creativity into making something beautiful happen.
The way I saw, and still see, this incredible adventure is like climbing a mountain. Basically, one step at the time, but I often glance at the summit, just to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. It’s a process of focusing on the details while always bearing the big picture in mind. I never imagine any figure, so I can only be positively surprised.
All I know is that I give the greatest possible consistency to everything, meaning I try to do what I say and say what I do, so people can trust this project on the long term and understand every step of it.
7. THE FUTURE OF ONLY WATCH
How do you prepare for the future? What are your vision and goals for Only Watch?
Only Watch is both strong and fragile. Since there are no signed contracts, there’s no obligation to be part of it. It all depends on our collective will to make it happen. Each edition, once the auction has gone by, I try to find our next angle, something that will make us want to try new things. For instance, in 2017, I proposed that the watchmakers, in addition to the unique watches they offered, linked their cultural heritage with a unique experience. A certain number of them followed up on this idea and offered dinners in magical venues, VIP invitations to a spin in a vintage Formula One car, tickets to the most exclusive fashion shows, art festivals, yacht shows, charity galas and film festivals… I know these unforgettable experiences events bring new energy to the event and attract more participants.
For the moment, I am focused on making this edition the greatest success possible. We’ll see what comes next on November 10th.