By Michael Chang
The 24 hours that go to make up a day are perhaps the most universally recognized system of information that we know. The average life-span of a human being is around 30,000 days and could well be described as the most exclusive luxury at our disposal – along with the way that we choose to spend it.
The distance between two points is often expressed in hours rather than in miles or kilometres, and you would be hard-put today to find someone who does not carry a timepiece of some sort or other.
Almost a million or so hours ago, the Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) arrived late for a dinner appointment. The hostess ventured to tell her guest a thing or two about punctuality. Oscar Wilde answered her with words to this effect: “…and how, Madam, is a tiny watch to know what the great golden sun is up to?”
About 10,000 days prior to this episode, the first chapter of another story was written. It, too, is a story about punctuality and precision. It is the tale of Ole Mathiesen of Copenhagen and it began in 1845, when a Captain J.P. Christensen and a watchmaker by the name of Carl Matthæi established a watchmaker’s business in Copenhagen. Carl Matthæi was also the Master of the Watchmakers’ Guild and purveyor to the Royal Court, and he made clocks and chronometers for notabilities such as King Frederik VII and the Countess Danner. In 1919, after 27,000 successful hours of enterprise, Axel O. Mathiesen took over the firm and, in collaboration with Swiss manufacturers, produced the company’s very first wristwatch.
In 1962 – after 375,000 hours of continued effort – Axel O. Mathiesen handed the business over to the next generation in the person of his son, Ole.
Ole Mathiesen, himself a skilled watchmaker, celebrated his new-found status by designing a range of clocks and watches of such subtlety that time almost seems to stand still, even though the hands are seen to be moving.
Some 40 years later, in October 2004, his design was awarded the ‘Classics Prize’ of the Danish Centre of Design. On this occasion, Ole Mathiesen’s classical wristwatch was described as a perfect combination of Danish design and Swiss horology and as an icon and a paragon for watchmaking throughout the world. The award is further motivated with the remark that Mathiesen’s wristwatch does not seem to have aged at all despite all the years that it has been in production.
At the beginning of 1980, the Museum of Modern Art in New York became aware of the timeless wristwatch and decided to sell it at the museum store.
Today, after a century and a half of business passed down from Carl Matthæi to the present owner, Ole Mathiesen design is available at specially chosen retailers in most parts of the world – from New York to London and Singapore.
The company’s third generation is represented by Christian Mathiesen. He and his father, Ole Mathiesen, produce watches of such refinement and delicacy that the mundane question of “what the time is” seems almost irrelevant. The time, or timepiece, is quite simply – beautiful.