Tennis legend Boris Becker has nurtured a lifelong affection for, and collection of, watches. He tells us how it all began.
Tennis legend Boris Becker talks us through his lifelong fascination and passion for fine timepieces.
Of course he should really have been at school studying for his Abitur (final exams) but academe's loss was sporting history's gain when young Boris Becker won Wimbledon at the age of 17. More than a tennis player, he was a West German phenomenon; a phenomenon that great German writers including Gunther Grass and Heinrich Boll tried to deconstruct in a book of essays. He is still on the tennis circuit but these days it is as a commentator rather than competitor, and then of course he is in the Boris Becker business, part of which entails being one of the front men for Schaffhausen's finest.
I do not much care for sport, but Boris is the sort of athlete who makes one think better of sporting personalities; he is easy going, smokes cigars and enjoys watches. And he has the means to enjoy the best that both Cuba and Switzerland can produce, although of course he came to love watches first, and even at a distance of 30 years, the excitement of owning that first timepiece is still fresh and crisp. “I was always a big admirer of watches, even when I was small. I couldn't wait for my very own first one."
This personal rubicon was crossed when he turned 16. “My very first watch was a Casio, one of those black ones, in plastic, that my father gave me. And it had a light on so I could, you know, see it at night. It was all automatic and I thought it was cool to have my own watch.”
However, a year later he was trading up. “I think things changed rapidly once I became Wimbledon champion.” It was the mid-80s and Ebel was one of the most recognised names in what today would be called entry-level luxury. Thanks to the “Becker effect” that recognition was boosted. “In those days tennis players didn't play with watches, it was just not something you would do. But I was playing with my Ebel watch, and it was a nice one. It was around my left wrist when I was playing the Wimbledon Final; it just caused an uproar. Not least because of fears of injury, as he was often asked, “What happens if you fall on your wrist?”
“I was tumbling around all the time, but I said ‘No problem, it's my wrist and at the end of the day you know it's my decision.’ And after winning the tournament, Ebel was happy and I was happy.”
In many ways Becker has grown up with the luxury watch boom and as a brand ambassador, he can also be said to have played his part as both a promoter and a buyer. As he states, “I was able to make a bit more money than most seventeenyear-olds and I was able to buy my own first couple of watches. I became, over the years, a watch collector.”
“I was in Doha when I played the very first tournament ever held in the Middle East, and the tournament organiser, Mr Ali Al Faddan, was also a very known face in the watch world and I made a deal and said 'Listen, whatever prize
I do not much care for sport, but Boris is the
sort of athlete who makes one think better of sporting personalities; he is easy going, smokes cigars and enjoys watches. And he has the means to enjoy the best that both Cuba and Switzerland can produce.
money I make, singles or doubles, I would invest on the Monday morning in the watches, if you, you know, obviously can give me for a very good price'. Though unfortunately I won the singles and the doubles; so he was happy, and I was sort of happy, but I still have some of these watches that I bought twenty-five years later: among them, a Breguet, a Vacheron Constantin and a Corum.”
After Ebel he moved to TAG Heuer where he met Georges Kern, and bonded over a round-the-world promotional tour. “I had to go to on a trip for one week: one night in Dubai, the next one in Singapore, the next one Tokyo, and so on. After one week we had unbelievable PR and we campaigned the watch the right way. Georges was the man who came with me.”
But the tour almost did not happen, as Boris had to play in a tennis match in Dusseldorf, when TAG Heuer wanted him on a plane to Dubai. “I said, 'Georges, I mean I have to play in the championship in Dusseldorf'. He said 'But no you have to come, you have to come'. I said, 'you know I can't, but if you get me a nice private jet we could fly directly from Dusseldorf on that Sunday night straight to Dubai...’”
Perhaps it was a way of getting TAG Heuer off his back, if so the ploy failed miserably. “With Georges, it always felt like he owned the company anyway. He just did it, he said, 'I have to do it' without really double-checking with his boss. You can imagine the cost and, just you know, the whole scale of the operation, that became very large, but Georges pulled it off. We came back and he was not fired, and I was very happy in the company.”
He remained with TAG Heuer until Georges Kern left to take over IWC, which had just been bought by Richemont. Becker moved with him and over the course of 12 years he has become much more than just another face for a brand – for instance, his friendship with Richemont owner Johann Rupert has led to him being deeply involved in Laureus, the 'Sport for Good Foundation.'
And, good works aside, Becker has been an integral component of the complicated machine that is IWC in the 21st century. “It's very, very sporty on one hand, but very classic on the other hand, and I think that's a combination that really fits my character. I find for every day of the week I have the appropriate watch. I feel there's always something in the collection for me to wear.”
And as he name-checks the IWCs that he switches between, depending on the activity (the only typical thing about Boris's week is that it is atypical). When it could be anything from a red carpet film premiere to a spot of scuba diving, you begin to see that he is the Swiss Army knife of brand ambassadors, leading a life so varied that they have yet to invent a watch that he cannot make maximum use of.
And he really loves his watches. Aside from ones that he gives to friends and family, he does not sell his watches. Even if he does not wear them. A part of him still remains that 16-year-old West German kid who was so proud of his first Casio. And it is a taste that his sons have inherited. “My second son is now fourteen and so far I have got away with it; I said I had my first one at sixteen but he's pushing the envelope now and keeps saying, 'Dad I want a watch', so I think he will get one this year.”
The exact model remains a secret. “I wouldn't want to spoil him too much,” he says, “but it'll be nicer than a Casio!
He really loves his watches, aside from the watches he gives to friends and family, he does not sell
his watches. Even if he does not wear them.