fbpx

Former Piaget Building, Now Owned by Iranian Interests, Can Be Seized by US Govt.

Once the home of several high-end watch brands, now known as 650 Fifth Avenue.

Originally known as the Piaget Building, the skyscraper now known as 650 Fifth Avenue was built by the Shah of Iran shortly before he was deposed in 1979. Now worth as much as US$1 billion, the 36-story building was once home to North American Watch Corporation (NAWC), the distributor of Piaget, Corum, Movado and Concord, at the time one of the biggest watch companies in North America.

After a drawn-out legal tussle chronicled in The New York Times, a court recently ruled that the United States government can seize the building, still owned by Iran-linked entities. It will then be sold, with proceeds going to compensate victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism. Despite the legal controversies surrounding the granite-clad building, 650 Fifth Avenue has always been prime real estate: just last year Nike signed a 15-year lease for seven floors worth US$700m.

After the Shah of Iran was ousted, ownership of the building passed on to the Iranian state in the 1980s. Some of its less salubrious tenants in the past included the late fugitive oil trader Marc Rich and Ivan Boesky, the Wall Street operator convicted of insider trading. Today it’s owned by the Alavi Foundation, a charity originally established by the Shah, and Assa Corporation, allegedly a front company for Iranian state-owned Bank Melli.

The original name of 650 Fifth Avenue illustrates the major evolution of the luxury watch industry in the last three decades, especially in the United States. NAWC was founded in 1961 by Cuban immigrant Gerry Grinberg to import Piaget watches, explaining the building’s former name. Today run by his son Efraim, the company is now the NYSE-listed Movado Group, which mostly sells low- to mid-priced watches. It produces timepieces under its own Movado label, as well as licensed names like Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger. The group also owns luxury brands that have seen much better days – Ebel and Concord.

Piaget ultra thin stone dials

When NAWC signed a 15-year lease for 34,000 square feet on five floors of the Piaget Building in 1979, a year after the building was completed, it was in the middle of the firm’s heyday as a luxury watch distributor – annual revenue went from US$5m in 1969 to well over US$100m by the late 1980s. During those post-Quartz Crisis years, the ultra-thin watches that Concord and Piaget specialised in were all the rage. Advertised at the time as “the most expensive watch in the world”, Piaget was a notable hit. Its bestsellers were watches fitted with semiprecious stone dials, which helped NAWC sell some 5000 Piaget watches every year.

Given the cost of real estate and the relative scale of the watch business, it’s unthinkable today for a skyscraper in a major city to be named after a luxury watch brand, with the exception of Rolex, the world’s biggest luxury watch brand, conveniently owned by a charitable foundation that invests in real estate. The watchmaker has several buildings named after it, including the 61-story Rolex Tower in Dubai owned by its retail partner Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons.

Movado Group moved out of 650 Fifth Avenue to another Manhattan location in 1996, and is now headquartered in Paramus, New Jersey.


Source: The New York Times

Title image: 650fifth.com

Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.

Only Watch 2011 full results

Making of the Vacheron Constantin Dove watch for Only Watch 2011

Robert Downey Jr. Reveals His Watch Collection

The actor who plays Iron Man tells some entertaining stories while explaining his timepiece collection to GQ magazine.

Introducing the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur, the Marine Chronometer-Style Wristwatch for Less

A slimmed down and more affordable take on the classic Ulysse Nardin.

Modelled on antique marine chronometers that sit in gimballed boxes, the Marine wristwatch is synonymous with Ulysse Nardin, which incidentally introduced a remake of the 1990s original earlier this year. The new Marine Torpilleur adopts the same look, but in a simplified format with a suitably reduced price.

Torpilleur is French for torpedo boat, a smaller, lighter warship conceived to battle larger, slower vessels. Similarly the Marine Torpilleur is thinner and streamlined (and presumably meant to fight more expensive watches). So while it shares the same look, the Marine Torpilleur skips the enamel dial found on the pricier versions of the watch, and also has a simpler case construction with lugs attached by screws.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 2

A 1930s Ulysse Nardin deck watch

Rated to 50m with a screw-down crown, the case is 42mm in diameter with sapphire crystals on both sides. The rear crystal shows off the UN-118, the workhorse in-house automatic that has a diamond-coated silicon escapement as well as a silicon hairspring. It shows the power reserve at 12 o’clock, with the sub-seconds and date at six.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 3

Two dials versions are available: white lacquer with Roman numerals that’s most similar to vintage marine chronometers, as well as a dark metallic blue. The case is available in steel or 18k rose gold. And for those who want a real life feel of the it, the good folk at Monochrome Watches have shot the watch.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 4

Price and availability  

The Marine Torpilleur is already available at Ulysse Nardin retailers and boutiques. In steel it costs US$6900 or S$10,700 on strap and US$7900 on the bracelet. And in 18k rose gold it’s US$17,900 or S$27,600.

For comparison, the enamel dial Vintage Collection Marine chronometer costs 40% more than the basic steel Torpilleur, while the Marine with an annual calendar is almost double.


 

Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.

A Detailed Look at the Parmigiani Toric Chronomètre, Brilliantly Made and Sparsely Sold

Quality destined for very, very few.

Parmigiani Fleurier builds beautifully crafted watches, but doesn’t sell very many of them, for myriad reasons that include branding, marketing, and design. Owned by a charity endowed by a drug making dynasty, which also owns a raft of watch component manufacturers, Parmigiani has been in the red for years but still does what it does, and still does it admirably well. The recently launched Toric Chronometre encapsulates that paradox.

The Toric Chronomètre reboots the original Parmigiani wristwatch, introduced in 1996 just as the brand was established. Inspired by Classical Greek architecture, though heavily reminiscent of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s work (which was typical of notable independent watchmakers of the era, including George Daniels and Daniel Roth), the original Toric had a double-step fluted bezel, guilloche dial and javelin-shaped hands. The look was fussy and classical, slightly dated today, but appealing in its own way.

In recent years the Toric case was used only for complicated and pricey watches, until the Toric Chronometre unveiled at SIHH in January. It modernises the original Toric design, trimming the Baroque details while still keeping most of the distinctive elements. And it is still a extremely well made.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 1

Made by Parmigiani’s sister company Les Artisans Boîtiers, the case is a well proportioned 40.8mm wide and 9.5mm high, meaning it’s wide but slim, which makes for elegant proportions.

Simple watch cases are usually simply constructed, but not in this case (no pun intended). The fluted bezel is still there, but only once. Despite the streamlining, the bezel is still elaborately done, with a finely fluted middle bordered by rings on each side.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 2

While the lugs have been redesigned, becoming slightly larger with a greater downwards curve, they remain soldered onto the case – a wonderful detail. That means each lug starts out as a single lug that is soldered into a slot into the case.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 4

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 6

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 3

Because each lug is an individual component, the finished case has a level of detail impossible to achieve with a single-piece construction where the lugs and case middle are one. The end of the each lug sits meets the edge of the bezel, sitting just a hair above the convex case band, which in turn flows seamlessly into the sides of the lugs.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 1

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 3

Two dial colours are available: a grained ivory and a smooth black. While the ivory has a more nuance thanks to the surface finish, the black is instinctively more attractive due to the contrast.

All four iterations

The design is decidedly more modern than the original, with the only holdovers being the Javelin hands, which are now filled with Super-Luminova. While that helps legibility and freshens up the look, the lume is incongruous with the dial, which has none.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 6

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre red gold 5

Despite being an odd blend of design elements, the dial is appealing. The minute track and numerals are functional, but the Arabic numbers are rendered in an unusual font that evokes Chinese calligraphy.

All of the printing on the dial is neat, well defined, thick and without any bleeding. But the Parmigiani logo is also printed, leaving it somewhat out of place since everything else is expensively executed, like the gold-rimmed date window for instance.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 4

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 5

The date is of the three-digit display variety in an elongated window, a feature fashionable once upon a time with sporty watches. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look all that bad here.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 1

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 2

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 2

Inside is the cal. PF331, a thin automatic movement made by Vaucher, another of Parmigiani’s sister companies. It’s the brand’s workhorse movement but nonetheless well constructed and finely finished.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 4

From a technical perspective the movement looks good; there are no obvious shortcuts in its construction, like wire springs or large, stamped parts for instance. And the finishing is also excellent, as good as that on comparable calibres from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 7

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre 5

But while the PF331 is fundamentally a good movement that’s been well finished and dressed up – the rotor is 22k gold with barleycorn guilloche – its aesthetics are somewhat mundane. It’s a conventional, full-rotor automatic, a tad too small for the case, making one wish for something more compelling.

Parmigiani Toric Chronometre white gold 6

Price and availability 

The Toric Chronomètre costs US$18,500 and is already available from authorised retailers. That’s less than comparable automatic-with-date watches from the likes of Patek Philippe and Breguet, and reasonable for the quality of the watch. Next to the competition the Toric Chronomètre is a superior watch in several respects, but the little known brand name means it will only end up on a handful of wrists.


 

Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.

Welcome to the new Watches By SJX.

Subscribe to get the latest articles and reviews delivered to your inbox.