Erotic Watches: The Very Expensive Gag That Dates Back Centuries
We spoke to Jacob & Co. about their $2M Rasputin, then traced it back to the scandalous timepieces of yore
You don’t buy a watch from Jacob & Co. to tell the time, just like people don’t buy Ferraris so they can stop taking the bus. In fact, in an interview with The New York Times in 2019, Jacob Arabo admitted as much. The founder and chairman behind the jewelry and horological house described one casino-themed timepiece this way: “This watch is not for clients to tell the time, but to let them engage in their hobby. It is a toy on the wrist.”
One of the owners of that watch, the Astronomia Casino, which is available in three editions and a total of just 123 pieces, is none other than mixed martial arts sensation Conor McGregor. He’s no stranger to extravagant timepieces; they’re a running theme on his Instagram feed, from close-ups of exclusive Patek Philippe pieces to fit pics casually accented by a Rolex. Just this week, the Irishman shared a video of the Casino’s roulette wheel in action while lounging poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Back in January in the lead-up to a UFC fight in Abu Dhabi, he found the time to showcase another Jacob & Co. purchase, the Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette — named partially for the hundreds of baguette-cut diamonds that adorn it.
Yet these watches, despite their six- to seven-figure price tags, are window dressing compared to another that McGregor once featured on Instagram, one that only comes out for certain well-heeled customers. This particular timepiece, to borrow a phrase uttered during his fighting career, shocked the world: the Rasputin Tourbillon Baguette.
Although you can no longer find the video on his page, it has been saved for posterity by a number of his followers. Here’s one, and just to be crystal clear, this might be NSFW for some:
Your eyes do not deceive you. What you’re witnessing is one of the most exclusive and expensive watches available in the world today, whose pièce de résistance is not the inlaid diamonds or gold case or flying tourbillon, but a slide-actuated sex scene.
The immediate response when McGregor posted the video to his Instagram Stories is pretty much what you’d expect, from gobsmacked headlines about the fighter’s new “sex watch” to the kind of macho back-slapping that can be traced back to prepubescent boys showing off copies of Playboy they’ve nicked. And no wonder, it’s not every day millions of people (42 million, if we’re counting all of his followers) get up close and personal with a watch that features a pornographic automaton and, as Keith W. Strandberg, chief content officer at Jacob & Co., confirmed to me, costs an eye-watering $2 million.
However, Jacob & Co. would object to designating the Rasputin as “pornographic,” and so would experts outside the brand’s self-serving circle. In an illuminating 2019 interview from Sarah Spellings at The Cut, watch specialist Nate Borgel, who then worked for Sotheby’s, described these types of watches as “erotic,” which is also the word Strandberg uses.
“Erotic watches have been around for centuries,” Strandberg tells InsideHook. In order to modernize a category that has historically focused on the art of erotica over the art of watchmaking, Jacob & Co. added the minute repeater and tourbillon, relied heavily on their gem-setting expertise, and of course animated the boudoir scene (a step up from simple illustrated pieces, as well as their earlier erotic offering, the Caligula).
“Our goal was to revolutionize erotic watches and push the boundaries,” Strandberg says. “I think we accomplished that!”
The category, it turns out, is larger than you’d expect. The impetus for The Cut’s chat about the history of erotic watches was Drake wearing the RM 69, a $750K Richard Mille timepiece that displayed sexually suggestive phrases at the push of a button located at 10 o’clock. Well, suggestive might be putting it lightly; the watch, worn during his outing to the 2019 NBA Finals, read, “I’d love to kiss your pussy.”
The Rasputin features similar functionality. Instead of combining the watch’s movement with the explicit scene (say, timing it so the curtains only open at midnight), the automaton is activated at will be a slider on the left-hand side of the case, and the nude couple — who, as Strandberg explains, have been “hand-painted by a master miniature painter” — consummate while two swans chime out the time.
One could certainly make the case that the taste level of these watches belies the price. You can bet Drake knew he’d be written up in GQ after flaunting the RM 69, just as McGregor knew his following would get a kick out of the Rasputin, but shock value is hardly respected in the elite halls of horology. Erotic watches, however, do have their rightful place, especially as they’ve been a part of the history of watchmaking since at least the 1700s, if not earlier. As Borgelt said in the interview, aristocrats bought them to satirize those with prudish views, while others bought them as a kind of social barometer or suggestive party trick.
“For example, if you had a gentleman at a party with an erotic watch, he may show it to some ladies and gauge their reaction, and then know who was interested based on that,” he said. I can’t imagine that working for Drake, or McGregor for that matter, but Strandberg does note that Jacob & Co. “wanted to keep it subtle” with the Rasputin, which is why they kept the erotic window hidden behind a curtain, “so the owner could decide when he wants to reveal the scene,” and naturally to whom.
Apart from the fascination with erotic watches, there’s a reason McGregor’s outing at Jacob & Co. captured the attention of media outlets and social-media users the world over: most people will never set foot in one of their boutiques, much less have the opportunity to try on one of their obsessively designed million-dollar “toys.” The managers at their outposts in New York, Dubai and Geneva don’t don soft-touch gloves and clasp the diamond-encrusted Rasputin on just any client’s wrist. But Instagram has been a boon to the watch collecting community, both veteran and budding, and it allowed all of them, in 15 second increments, to go watch shopping with a multi-millionaire.
Even for those who count names like Cartier, Omega and TAG Heuer among their personal collection, that rare glimpse behind the curtain — both metaphorical and literal, in the case of Rasputin’s lower sector — can still be thrilling.
Alas, while a number of outlets have since run with the idea that McGregor purchased the Rasputin alongside the Astronomia Tourbillon, another representative at the company told me that the fighter has not purchased the erotic watch “just yet.” Maybe he’s waiting for another payday, or maybe he’s moved past this particular kind of sexually charged extravagance. After all, he has kids now, and they’re at the age where their motor skills would certainly allow them to click a slider on a watch.
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