What is it with haute horlogerie brands and professional poker? Parmigiani sponsors Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier, a French poker superstar, and Christophe Claret put their money behind top-ranked No-Limit poker player Badih “Bob” Bounahra, gracing their wrists with some major coinage. Bounahra has the 21 Blackjack, a watch that can actually play blackjack, roulette and dice, while Grospellier chose a custom steel Kalpagraph with a hand painted dagger and lily on the dial, his lucky symbols.
Parmigiani and Christophe Claret are two independent brands working at the apex of the field, producing tourbillons and minute repeaters. You might associate them more with opera and polo than the much more rag-tag game of poker. Even bridge might seem a more appropriate and sophisticated choice, a bit more nose in the air. But bridge doesn’t harness the allure of the world’s attention with its bigger than life characters—and even bigger pots to match.
Originating in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1829, according to English actor Joseph Crowell, poker was played with four players betting which player’s hand was more valuable using a deck of 20 cards. The game spread via those languid Mississippi riverboat rides where folks enjoyed gambling as they wiled away the hours. The gold rushers of the Wild West made the game popular on the frontier.
Rather than staying a lowly game best suited for miscreants and college students, poker took a turn in 1969 when Tom Moore of San Antonio, Texas held an invitational event called the Texas Gambling Reunion. He got together iconic players including Johnny Moss, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, Doyle Brunson and “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone for some high-stakes cash games. Great names that have the dramatic gravitas. These boys were serious card players.
However, it was Benny Binion who lifted the game into a serious money event when he brought the World Series of Poker (WSOP) to his casino in Las Vegas. Still, poker attracted some rather questionable characters slinking around Las Vegas. It wasn’t until about 2000 that poker became a spectator sport with the advent of online poker and hole-card cameras enabling people to live vicariously.
So how does this all fit in with high watchmaking? It starts to make sense when you know that the official governing body for poker, the International Federation of Poker, was founded in 2009 in Lausanne, Switzerland to promote the game as a Mind Sport, one that takes mental skill and includes Contract Bridge, Chess and Scrabble. Now we have the connection: Switzerland and intellect, two essential elements required of haute horlogerie brands.
When the cameras are on Badih “Bob” Bounahra”, he holds his cards wearing Christophe Claret’s 21 Blackjack on his wrist, while Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier flashes his custom Parmigiani steel Kalpagraph. Good exposure for both brands in front of millions of people.
When the chips are down, Giospellier and Bounahra can always sell their watches and buy back in.