Lord of the watch: Nicolas Hayek

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Lord of the watch: Nicolas Hayek

Following the death of Swatch founder Nicolas Hayek on June 28, Australia-based COLEBY NICHOLSON reflects on his interview with the watch legend in 2005.

In 2005 I attended Baselworld and given that it would be my first time at the fair, I thought, “Who better to interview than Nicolas Hayek himself; the founder of Swatch!”Of course it would be no mean feat to arrange an interview with the man credited with saving, or at least reviving, the entire Swiss watch industry. Hayek was a billionaire, he’s been called the Godfather of the Swiss watch industry and did not need media attention, and besides, his time at Baselworld was scheduled in minutes – it’s the world’s largest jewellery fair after all!So, after weeks of negotiation with his staff, which included me having to provide copies of our magazine to the Swatch head office so Hayek could decide if it was worthy of his time, a one-on-one interview was finally approved a week before I left for Baselworld.

Meeting at the Swatch stand at the exhibition – perhaps I should call it a “pavilion” because it’s so large – I was ushered upstairs to Hayek’s personal office. Given that I am no watch expert, and given that Hayek has probably been asked every question about watches, my aim was to conduct an interview that would not bore him.

I was allocated a “strict 15 minutes” for the interview but we went over time.
Some of my questions annoyed him and some challenged him. He laughed and read me poetry. Questions about his father irritated him and he bluntly told me to refer one question about him to his son, Nicolas Jr. The 15 minutes became 45 minutes and his staff interrupted twice to say his next appointment was ready.

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I had one last question to ask, “You have been called many things over the years, like the ‘Godfather’ and the ‘King’. What nickname have you heard that brings a smile to you face?”
The question made him laugh loudly.
The interview finished with him saying that he would one day love to visit Australia because he knew it was a beautiful country with amazing beaches. I invited him to come bodyboarding with me and he laughed loudly again and agreed saying, “I’m 77 and that’s something I’ve never done. Why not?”
Nicolas Hayek was a larger than life character, and you get the impression that he may well have taken me up on some “surfing lessons” had he ever visited Australia.
Vale Nicolas Hayek, and thank you for that 45 minutes!