It has been a decade since Benedict Cumberbatch first donned a deerstalker for his award‑winning role in BBC’s crime-drama series Sherlock. Since then, the talented, respected actor has charmed his way into the public’s heart with an eclectic array of performances that have seen him holding his own among the Brad Pitts and Leonardo DiCaprios of Hollywood. He has commanded the stage in standing-ovation theatre productions such as Frankenstein at the Royal National Theatre and Hamlet at London’s Barbican Theatre. His deep, gravelly voice has brought to life many villains, including the hypnotic Shere Khan in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and the terrifying Smaug in The Hobbit film series. His multiple appearances on The Graham Norton Show have only served to endear him further to viewers and fans alike, thanks to his self-deprecating humour and charismatic personality.
Then there are his genre-spanning film performances, in biopics such as those of Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking, dramas such as 12 Years a Slave and Warhorse, and sci-fi—more notably, his reprising role as the luxury timepiece-loving Doctor Strange in Marvel’s cinematic universe. It’s a role that undoubtedly sees him tapping into his experience at a Buddhist monastery near Darjeeling, India, where he taught English to monks for five months during his pre-university gap year.
The Marvel role saw him getting better acquainted with Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC), not just in reel life—his character wears the Swiss watchmaker’s Master Ultra Thin Perpetual throughout Doctor Strange—but also in real life, with him being inducted into the JLC family as a brand ambassador soon after the movie was released. “Being a great watchmaking enthusiast, I’m delighted to be associated with such an outstanding watch manufacture as Jaeger-LeCoultre,” he said regarding his appointment in 2017. “Before I visited the Manufacture, I didn’t really know about the ateliers… I didn’t know how manual, dexterous and analogue the process [of watchmaking] was, to be honest. To a degree, acting requires that same dedication and attention to detail. We are required to invent and create on different levels, but the dedication and care is the same.”
Three years on, Cumberbatch speaks with BAZAAR about his relationship with the Maison and gives his four top picks for those looking to make a statement with their next timepiece.
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You’re a very busy man with several productions in the pipeline this year and the next. What’s your philosophy when it comes to time and how you live your life?
It’s a balance between work and family. Family is everything to me, so I need to make sure I spend as much time with them as I possibly can. [Time] is very precious; especially time with the family.
Have you always been a fan of watches?
Watches are very personal. It says something about you. Even though we can all use our phones to get the time, there’s something that’s so reassuring about having a watch on your wrist. Reliable, a thing of beauty and a bit like an old friend. I really feel that I’ve forgotten something very important if I don’t have my watch on. Obviously, the look of a watch is important, but also that it fits with my lifestyle. I need a watch that I can wear every day, and something I don’t have to think about.
It has been two years since you became a friend of JLC. How has the journey been so far?
I’m fascinated by JLC watches because of their craftsmanship. Before I became an ambassador for the brand, it was important to me that I know more about what it was I was representing. I wanted and needed to know, not just about the shop floor-end of these beautiful, luxury and often bespoke timepieces, but also about how they come together. Also, I appreciate that the people I’ve met, most recently, the new CEO Catherine Rénier, have all been so dedicated to the future of JLC and so proud of the brand. I’m pleased to be a part of that.
You’ve attended a private watchmaking masterclass and visited the Manufacture in Vallée de Joux. What were some of the things that surprised you about watchmaking?
The incredible attention and care taken to create such sought-after timepieces. The understated elegance of the brand impresses and appeals on all levels. When I visited the Atelier, as they call it in the Vallée de Joux, it was not just a beautiful and fantastical journey past Lake Geneva through the Swiss suburbs into the mountains and then down into the geographically protected valley; actually walking in and witnessing first-hand the craftsmanship that goes into making these impeccable timepieces was the real sell for me.
Knowing what you know now about the brand, what do you now love most about JLC’s approach to watchmaking?
That the detailed enamelwork on the Reverso casing replicates the Georges Pierre Seurat painting Bathers at Asnières in such minute detail as to be impossible to appreciate with the naked eye, yet, when blown up on a screen six by six foot, looks exactly like the real thing hanging in the gallery—literally spellbinding. It seems an impossible thing to achieve, yet there I was witnessing exactly how it was done, moment by moment, created by the artist’s hand alone. No machine, no digital imaging, nothing automated, all manual labour.
You once mentioned in an interview that the JLC Master Ultra Thin Perpetual timepiece that Doctor Strange wears is symbolic of his emotional state. What watch would you choose to represent where you are right now?
I’m in New Zealand about to start an amazing project with Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (expectedto hit the big screen in 2021), adapted from Thomas Savage’snovel of the same name. As I’ll be living for the next two months on a ranch, I would say the Polaris Memovox would be the best choice: Perfect for outdoor activities.
What JLC watch would you recommend for anyone looking for a new timepiece?
A Reverso for women; the classic one in steel for day and the pink gold [Reverso One] Duetto Moon on bracelet for evening—so elegant! A daytime watch for men: Polaris. It’s hardy but refined and stylish; basically everything that you need in a day watch. And a Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Calendar for special occasions—it goes perfectly with a tuxedo.