I was just about to go to the beach in Menton when I had a telephone call advising me of the sad news. My immediate reaction was to conjure up a vision of the bearded patriarch in a crowded room with the sleeves of his jacket pulled up to reveal two armfuls of watches whilst holding the inevitable Havana delicately between his fingers. The classic shot. He was the Chairman of the Board, the natural born showman, the entrepreneur, he was the man who changed the face of Swiss watchmaking … the inimitable Nicolas G. Hayek. The day should have been shrouded in clouds, not sunny.
Many people looked upon Hayek in awe, not only because of his many achievements, but also because he had the aura of a man demanding respect. But he was easy to talk to and with me he was always friendly. I remember one particular occasion in Zurich at the opening of the Omega boutique in the city when the very beautiful Anna Kournikova was in attendance. Anna, wearing a red sweater and looking absolutely stunning had the world’s press hanging on to every pout and flick of her golden locks. The boys of the press were buzzing round her like the proverbial queen bee, cameras and eyeballs flashing, they couldn’t get enough of her. I suppose I would have been doing the same thing if I’d had a camera, but I didn’t so I stayed at the back of the madding crowd and found myself close to the big boss.
Nicolas G. Hayek with yours truly / Anna Kournikova, Nicolas G. Hayek, DML. (Photo: C. Bayandor)
We’d already met a few times, so I sauntered over and began talking to him. In all honesty, I don’t remember what we spoke about, the brouhaha going on around us, the economy, the oil crisis, Havana cigars, who knows, but for a few minutes we both leaned on the sparkling new workbench beside us and chewed the fat. He then asked me if I’d met Anna and when I replied in the negative he said, “Come on, I’ll introduce you.” And with that we ploughed through the throng and he called Anna over and introduced me to the blonde Russian bombshell in a very flattering manner. Anna put her arm around his shoulder and the three of us chatted for a while, with him looking every inch the fatherly figure, exuding warmth, his eyes sparkling with life and good humour.
On another occasion I had an appointment with him on the opening day of BaselWorld. Having just been given some cigars and knowing his love of the Cuban leaf I put three in my cigar case so that I could offer him one at the meeting. He took all three, delicately adding them to the cigars he’d prepared for that day’s smokes in some bubble wrap, and carried on talking without really acknowledging my offering. We spoke for a while longer and our photographer took some candid shots. When we left and I had closed the door to his office, I turned to the photographer and mumbled a little grumpily, “Did you see that, he took all three of my cigars.” Before we’d gone ten paces the door opened and he said, “Quick, come with me,” and we went along the corridor to where Cindy Crawford was being photographed. He pushed me inside the room, told me to stand next to Cindy and then, as he left the room, told my photographer to quickly take a couple shots. Seconds later, he popped his head back around the door just as Cindy slipped her arm around my waist for the photograph and said with a winning smile, “That’s worth ten thousand dollars!” and disappeared. I’m smiling writing this because I wonder to this day if he’d actually heard my remark!
After the ‘phone call, it felt both strange and sad that I would never again see him, except in my mind’s eye or in a photograph, and I suddenly recalled the opening verse of Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Nicolas G. Hayek was like no other, a colossus amongst us mere mortals. He was the genius that put life back into a dying industry, the innovator who put Swiss back into watches, the man who convinced the world to switch to Swatch. He created an empire and achieved what others only dream about. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, he was the man who launched a thousand timepieces. We’ll never see the likes of him again.
Source: Europa Star August - September 2010 Magazine Issue