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From Sotheby's Preview magazine

From Sotheby’s Preview magazine

We had some fun with this at work on Thursday. The slightly awful truth is that these catalogs and publications for the super-rich and fabulously fat-walleted arrive with regularity at the historical-cultural complexes that comprise the workplaces of under-paid and over-educated aesthetes, fueling their impotent rage about the eroding American dream. We had several performances of the Reading of the Watch Ad, appreciating the high craft and art of the copy and design.

I’m a Mad Men addict for all the wrong reasons (management tips! vicarious vices!) but long-time fan of advertising, copy writing, and graphic design. As a child, I launched, wrote and self-published F.U.S.S., the members’ newsletter of the Felix Unger Sympatico Society, for which my mother served as managing editor and my father the sole subscriber. This was really direct marketing, or taunting, as the case may be.

But we made a kind of cult of design in my household, so I knew as a kid what Y&R stood for, or DMBB. Mad Men sucked me right in, so when this turned up, I was ready.

This ad is the inside front cover and first page of the Sotheby’s Preview magazine which features Jeff Koons’ vacuum cleaner sculpture for $15M or so. This is serious walking around money, and if you are going to recline in your Manhattan penthouse (hope it’s pre-war) admiring the Koons while your maid vacuums before a party, this is the watch to time her with.

Copy Writer's dream, or nightmare?

The copy combines naughtiness with auction catalog sentence structure, like a sexed-up museum label.

High feminine complication, this flying tourbillon decorated with the motif of the camellia, a tribute to Mademoiselle Chanel’s favorite flower, beats away discreetly and almost secretly at the heart of the Première watch.

That last clause screams affair. When I read, all I can think of is Roger Sterling in a hotel room with his mistress. A colleague said this kind of watch was only given to rapper’s girlfriends—the serious ones—but at $286,814 (last year’s price), perhaps it’s a “don’t divorce me and take half my empire” celebrity wife present. Tisch and the Winklevoss twins were in the event pictures of this Preview, and this watch does scream nouveau riche, not Astor money (that was a fur trade fortune, originally).

Where it gets really fun, I think, is when the text takes on the style of an auction catalog lot description:

Having no upper bridge, the carriage decorated with a camellia appears to be rotating in a weightless state. Limited edition of 20 numbered pieces. 18-carat white gold, set with 228 diamonds (~7.7 carats).

“Having no upper bridge” is a technical description that reminds me of the dentally challenged with poor memories and no mirrors. Note that camellia is repeated here—perhaps to help you recognize the motif, because I’m not sure it reads very clearly.

There it is, the quarter-of-a-million-dollar watch, advertised in a magazine promoting artwork for tens of millions of dollars, pieces that a colleague noted would be displayed in the penthouse for a party and then put into storage as an investment until the art advisor said it was time to sell for a profit. Art as commodity, produced like commodities now, from Warhol to Koons to Hirst.