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Editorial - Notre Dame seen in watches

Editorial Notre Dame seen in watches

The cathedral that made the headlines this week has already been immortalised in watches.

I have to admit that I was quite surprised by the extent of the coverage devoted to the catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral last week. On Tuesday and Wednesday the main page on the BBC News app was devoted entirely to coverage of the tragic event, explaining why the blaze was so difficult to tackle, how the building will be restored and, once it is, how it “will be more beautiful”. There was even a story of the fire in graphics and a piece about “the grief that comes from lost buildings”. It was as if Brexit, which had been dominating the headlines for months and has already missed two of its deadlines, suddenly didn’t matter anymore. 

Within 24 hours of the fire, the amounts pledged by France’s richest people and companies had reached €600 million. François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the Kering Group (which owns the Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin watch brands) was the first to react with an offer of €100 million, only to be beaten in a game of philanthropic one-upmanship just minutes later by a pledge of €200 million from the Arnault family, majority shareholder in the LVMH group (which owns Bulgari, Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith). Cosmetics company L’Oreal and its main shareholder, the Bettencourt Meyers family, offered €100 million, with a further €100 million from the family’s charitable foundation. Oil company Total also offered €100 million.

Aspiring watchmakers and brands looking to fund their ventures on the world’s crowdfunding sites may find such sums hard to comprehend. But they are a mere drop in the ocean for those offering them, who are among the richest people in the world. L’Oreal heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, for example, is the world’s richest woman, with a fortune estimated at 53.5 billion dollars. 

Even in the context of the huge task of renovating Notre-Dame, the sums seem high. Dresden’s Frauenkirche was bombed during the second world war and left in ruins for half a century before it was restored after Germany’s reunification. Its total reconstruction took ten years and cost less than €200 million. 

Because of the importance of their locations, both buildings have been depicted on watches. A. Lange & Söhne, another German cultural icon that was revived after the fall of the Berlin Wall, featured an engraving of the Frauenkirche on a limited-edition 1815 model to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Dresden store in 2017. Notre-Dame has been featured on one of Paris-based Van Cleef & Arpels’s signature poetic complications, as well as on one of the discreet and very rare Patek Philippe handcrafts models from 2014. The Ref. 5077P with a gargoyle watching over the cathedral in the background now becomes a historical record and a poignant reminder. 

Notre-Dame dans les montres

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