By Ben Newport-Foster
For millennia, coins have played an important part in world culture. When someone died in Ancient Greece, tradition called for a coin to placed upon or in their mouth. This wasn’t a prototype piggy bank but rather to be payment in the afterlife for Charon the boatman, who transported the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the Underworld. In England, it was tradition for a threepence or sixpence coin to be included in the mixture of a Christmas pudding, and whoever was served a slice of pudding with the coin inside (and was lucky enough to not choke on it) could keep it as a sign of good fortune for the coming year. Even as coins become more of a transactional inconvenience every year, they still stick around in popular culture and in art. For Corum, coins have been a defining part of the brand since 1964 and recently the brand released three new coin watches in the Heritage Artisan collection.
Founded in La-Chaux-de-Fonds by Gaston Ries in 1955, Corum’s first Coin watch came out in 1964 and was made out of a $20 gold coin. The idea of using coins in watchmaking was nothing new; brands such as Patek Philippe had hollowed out coinage with the movement and dial placed inside and only visible when the hinged case was opened. What Corum did instead was to convert a coin into a wristwatch case and placed the movement on the inside with the hands visible on the outside through crystal. This allowed for easier and quicker reading of the time, and significantly reduced the chance that you’d try and spend your watch in a vending machine.
The Corum coin watch became an instant hit and over the years many United States Presidents wore the watch, including Presidents Reagan, Johnson, Carter, Nixon and Clinton. Two of the new Heritage Artisans collection use American currency with one using a traditional silver dollar coin and the other a solid gold ‘Double Eagle’ $20 coin. The silver coin watch has Corum’s name stenciled on the underside of the crystal in a blue that matches the blued steel hands, leather strap and sapphire cabochon on the crown. The solid gold ‘Double Eagle’ coin watch has solemn, black hands with Corum’s name engraved at 12 o’clock onto a surround gold chapter ring.
The third watch released is a commemorative piece to honor the anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. The silver 10 Lirot coin used for this watch was minted in 1973 for the 25th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, the First Prime Minister of Israel. Corum chose to keep the design of this piece quite simple and sober, so a smaller Corum logo is stenciled at 9 o’clock on the underside of the crystal so not to obscure the engraved Menorah at 12 o’clock. The inclusion of a small diamond cabochon (also present in the Double Eagle coin watch) is a small touch of decoration on an otherwise stoic design.
I wouldn’t usually describe a solid gold or silver watch as understated, but all three watches are quite reserved in their appearance. Some Corum coin watches in the past have come on solid gold bracelets which is a bit much, but I find the presence of black/blue alligator to be quite tasteful. What is most shocking to me about the watch is their size. As these are special coins not circulated as currency, they are larger than usual coins and so the watches measure 43mm which is quite large for a dress watch. Yet I would wager that as these watches are very slim, they would wear smaller than their measurements would otherwise indicate.
All three watches are powered by the Corum CO 082 Caliber, a slim automatic movement that boasts a 42 hour power reserve. 42 hours might not be the longest power reserve a wristwatch has ever seen, but consider that the movement is housed inside a coin with a total thickness of just 7.6mm.
As our society becomes increasingly cashless and more reliant on the mirage of digital currency, it will be interesting to see how the heritage of coinage changes. Future generations will undoubtedly see physical money as antiquated relics but hopefully they’ll see the artistic value in what Corum does with coin watches. Much like coinage, the Corum coin watches aren’t all that practical but sometimes practicality needs to be sacrificed in favor of art. For more info, please visit corum.ch