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Eric Ripert’s love for beautiful, finely crafted timepieces was sparked by a Cartier Santos watch, a gift from his mother, Monique, when he was 15. Now, at 48, the chef and owner of the three Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York can list watches by Patek Philippe, Rolex and Vacheron Constantin in his collection.
Accurate timing is essential for the master of modern French cuisine, who trained at La Tour d’Argent in Paris and later with chef Joël Robuchon before moving to the US in 1989.
Mr Ripert’s collection includes casual watches (Rolex) as well as formal, statement-making pieces (a limited edition, rose gold Vacheron Constantin). He considers them “essential instruments” for running his restaurants.
Christina Ohly: Why do you collect timepieces?
Eric Ripert: Just as you cannot measure flavour, time is intangible and difficult to measure accurately. Watchmaking and cooking are very similar – each has to be carefully calibrated to create a beautiful final result. I hope that by collecting, I am helping to keep this watchmaking tradition alive.
CO: What is your latest acquisition?
ER: The watch I am wearing is a rare tourbillon by Vacheron Constantin that was recently given to me as a gift. This rose gold version with an alligator band is extremely precise, which counts for a lot in a restaurant. It isn’t valuable because of its gems and gold, but because of its complications. It is the most accurate and technically sophisticated timepiece available. It takes a few years to make just one.
CO: How do you care for your watches?
ER: Watch collectors are typically cautious, but I do not put mine in a vault or regard them purely as investments. I wear my watches while cooking, and at night for formal occasions. Much like the wines I collect, I prefer to drink rather than save them. I like the ritual of winding them – it creates a relationship between the wearer and the watch over time.
CO: Were all your watches received as gifts?
ER: My collection includes a dozen watches that all have special meaning. Some I have bought for myself because I loved the look and feel of them on my wrist. Others have been special gifts, and one of my most prized is a Vacheron Constantin American 21 given to me by my partner, Maguy Le Coze, to commemorate my 20th anniversary at Le Bernardin.
This watch was originally made in the 1920s and is often referred to as a “driver’s watch” because the 12 o’clock position is slightly turned so that a racing driver could read it with his hand on the steering-wheel.
Maguy had the exact date and time I first walked into the restaurant – June 11 1991 at 7.40am – inscribed on the watch case.
CO: Which of your watches are you most likely to wear in the kitchen?
ER: For more casual occasions I often opt for a Rolex, but all of my watches work well with my daily uniforms: the jeans and trainers I commute to work in, and later, my chef’s whites.
CO: How important is accurate timing to a chef?
ER: A minute can be an eternity in the kitchen, and even 5-10 seconds matter. We are all about serving 80 diners hot, delicious food, so everything must be perfectly timed.
CO: Do you choose watches to match your sartorial style?
ER: I often make the effort to dress well to show respect – to my colleagues, to a restaurant or to friends – and watches are a big part of this.
CO: Which watch do you hope to pass down to your children?
ER: A vintage Breguet, as they were the original inventors of the tourbillon, or a Patek Philippe.
CO: And which do you particularly admire?
ER: I’m always amazed by the design, quality and price of Swatch, and by the fact that they supply many of the big watchmakers with parts.
CO: If money were no object, which watch would you buy?
ER: Without a doubt, a Vacheron Constantin Tour de l’Ile [$1.5m]. There were only seven of these produced in 2005, to mark the 250th anniversary of the company. It has an incredible combination of horological complications and astronomical indications.