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“Timing is everything” for Michelin-starred French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud. “There is nothing worse than a meal too fast or a meal too slow,” he says. “It is all about pacing.”

Mr Boulud, 63, whose Dinex Group empire includes the Michelin two-starred Restaurant Daniel and one-star Café Boulud in New York, sees parallels between high-end cookery and fine watchmaking because of the precision both require.

A wedding gift of an early 1960s Audemars Piguet from his Swiss first wife’s family in the mid-1980s inspired him to start collecting watches. He gave that watch to their daughter, Alix, when she married last year, but he has another 20 fine pieces to his name. “I fall in love with a lot of watches, I just don’t buy them all,” he says.

Rolex Daytona (1970s/1980s)

© Cole Wilson for the FT

Mr Boulud believes a watch can carry a lot of sentiment and emotion. This is true of his Rolex Daytona, which he wears most days.

A “very special” young colleague called Andrew, who was to become manager of Café Boulud, died in a plane crash on the way to visit his family in Switzerland. “I think Andrew had everything for being a future great leader in the restaurant and in the business,” says Mr Boulud.

About 10 years ago over dinner, Andrew’s father took his Rolex off his wrist and gave it to Mr Boulud, asking him to keep it. “Of course we both cried and we both miss his son, and so for me it was very meaningful,” he says.

Panerai Radiomir Black Seal (2007/8)

© Cole Wilson for the FT

A robust watch is needed when working in the kitchen and Mr Boulud’s ceramic Panerai is “fantastic” for this because it does not scratch.

The model was presented at SIHH in 2007. Mr Boulud first saw the new watch on the wrist of Johann Rupert, chairman of the luxury goods group Richemont, which owns Panerai, when he was dining at Daniel.

“I said, ‘I need one. Can you help me?’” he says. “Six months later I had the watch because he worked it out with Panerai to get me ahead of the waiting list.”

Panerai Radiomir 8 days GMT (c. 2012)

© Cole Wilson for the FT

Many of Mr Boulud’s customers and friends are high-end watch collectors. The second of four Panerai watches in his collection was a 60th birthday present from a couple of friends, one of whom worked for the watchmaker.

As it can show two time zones, Mr Boulud likes to wear the “smooth” rose gold piece when on holiday or travelling for work.

Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels watch (2012)

© Cole Wilson for the FT

The majority of Mr Boulud’s watches are pieces for everyday wear, but a few are kept for special occasions. His wife Katherine gave him this “really special” watch to wear on their wedding day in 2013. “I was not so involved in choosing it but I was surprisingly happy to wear it and it’s beautiful,” he says.

The original design by Pierre Arpels dates from 1949. Mr Boulud admires the simplicity of the rose gold piece and its large Roman dial. “It has a true elegance,” he says.

Audemars Piguet 41mm (2017)

© Cole Wilson for the FT

Mr Boulud does not “collect to speculate” but to wear or give as gifts. “When I buy a watch I really think, ‘This is for my son’,” he says. “I make sure that it’s a classic watch [that] 20, 30, 40 years from now will still be wearable and have a timeless feel.”

His latest acquisition is a stainless steel Audemars Piguet chronograph. “I don’t like when watches get too flashy because it’s embarrassing to wear . . . unless you’re a rapper or someone in showbiz,” he says.

He wants to give the watch to his four-year-old son, Julien, when he turns 21. In so doing, he will pass down memories, believing watches “can keep you connected with the past”.

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