AD­VAN­TAGE BECKER

Ten­nis leg­end Boris Becker has nur­tured a life­long af­fec­tion for, and col­lec­tion of, watches. He tells us how it all be­gan.

Plaza Watch International - - Contents - WORDS : NICK FOULKES PHOTO I WC

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.

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