Thanks to savvy marketeers, it’s not unusual today to spot a haute horology timepiece on a celebrity making a red carpet appearance. However, there’s a difference when you run into Aldis Hodge rocking a Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon 30° Technique Sapphire like he did at the 89th Academy Awards in March last year (see pic above). Hodge could just as easily spend the rest of the day talking about tourbillons as he could about his Oscar-winning film Hidden Figures.
We caught up with Hodge while he was in London to attend the first International Horology Forum hosted by Dubai Watch Week where he left quite an impression on attendees with his easy charm and knowledge of horology. The 32-year-old American actor whose acting credits include films like Straight Outta Compton, A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and TV series Black Mirror is not just a watch connoisseur and collector; Hodge also designs watches and is set to launch his own haute horology brand next year.
“Man, I’ve always been about the shoes and suit,” he laughs recounting how his mother once told him as a young boy that a good businessman was always dressed in “good shoes, good suit and a good watch.” Hodge, who grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, developed an interest in horology when he chose watch design for a product study course while pursuing an architecture degree at the Art Center College of Design at Pasadena.
“I became enamored with the intricacies of watch design. In its totality, watchmaking comprised art, architecture, science, and engineering in one space. I didn’t want to become an architect because I didn’t want to quit acting, so I took watchmaking with me. I have always wanted to start a watch company that I can leave behind as a legacy,” says Hodge.
“Greubel-Forsey was one of the first brands that really blew my mind. Outside of that was Breguet, F.P. Journe, George Daniels and Roger W. Smith. So I started studying watchmaking. Form follows function in the sense that you can’t design something well until you see how it works. So studying horology became a necessity. It was a rough road, it wasn’t easy,” recalls Hodge. He apprenticed under a watchmaker for a while, bought himself a rose engine lathe and devoured Watchmaking, George Daniels’ seminal book on horology that is considered an invaluable resource by students.
When he was about 23-years-old, an upstart Hodge developed his first concept but he wasn’t very happy with the result. “No one will ever see that watch. It was a very expensive lesson learnt,” he laughs. “You’ve to understand that I was a kid studying a tourbillon from Greubel Forsey one day and then I go on and make this watch with cheap materials and a prefab movement. It was not exciting. And though a prefab movement may be well-made, it was always going to restrict my sense of design. So to do what I want to do with design, I would need to make my own movement.”
Hodge says it pointed him in the direction of his truth. In a bid to gain more perspective, he started reaching out to people in the industry, among them was Robert Greubel – a watchmaker he truly idolized. “I didn’t think he would respond but he did. Initially, I even thought it wasn’t him. I mean, this is Robert Gruebel, imagine sending a script to Steven Spielberg and he calls you back. That’s not real,” he says, animatedly.
I mean, this is Robert Gruebel, imagine sending a script to Steven Spielberg and he calls you back.
In a sense, it’s Hodge’s childlike enthusiasm and willingness to learn that’s endeared him to folks in the industry. And he’s been wise enough to use their counsel and allow some of them to guide him on his path. According to Hodge, Greubel urged him to develop his brand DNA and think 15-20 years ahead, to envision how people would perceive his watch 20 years from now.
After two years of re-design and re-development, Hodge presented a new prototype to Gruebel and was met with approval. Hodge’s first model titled Initia is currently in development under the brand A. Hodge – a subsidiary of Basil Time Piece, the distribution company he set up a few years ago. Though there are plenty of enthusiast-driven micro-brands in the industry, it’s not often that an emerging Hollywood actor strays from the path and creates a wristwatch inspired by the work of luminaries like A. L. Breguet, George Daniels, F.P. Journe, Roger Smith, Kari Voutillainen and the Greubel-Forsey duo to name a few. Wasn’t the prospect a little daunting for a rank outsider?
“Everyone told me I’m crazy. One of the reasons I became an engineer was because people told me I couldn’t do it. They don’t associate intelligence and intellect in America with black skin. There are so many black engineers, inventors and creators – this is a part of our DNA that needs to exposed,” says Hodge. “Being an American and literally starting from scratch, it was hard. I have been surprised by how kind and forthcoming some people have been.”
Hodge is now trying to raise capital to get the ball rolling on the first production pieces. “I have a fantastic manufacturing unit set up, I have distribution sorted, and everything is good to go. I just need the capital. I’m hoping to do that at least by the second quarter of next year,” he says. He also starts shooting a new TV series City on the Hill in January 2019, a project that will keep him busy for the first six months but he’s going all in after he wraps up shooting. “I don’t care about difficulty because my whole life has been difficult and that’s normal. That’s how it’s supposed to be for me, because I have the shoulders to carry it. My mother is the strongest person I know and then I have my brother and sister backing me. I have the benefit and privilege of being able to chase a dream. It’s supposed to be hard. I can chase it,” he says.