Aldis Hodge gained fame for his roles in movies and TV series such as «Underground», «Leverage», «Hidden Figures», « Straight Outta Compton». What is less known of the SAG-winner is that he is an avid horologist and a watch designer who is developing his own watch brand «A. Hodge Atelier». Aldis Hodge was a member of the GPHG 2019 jury and a speaker at the fourth edition of Dubai Watch week, where we met with him. Interview.
Aldis, you are mostly known for your work as an actor. But you are also a painter, a writer…and most interesting a self-taught horologist. What made you say «I want to design watches…»?
Watchmaking came to me through my love of design and engineering. When I was a child I always wanted to be some kind of engineer. I loved the history of our black culture and our contribution to arts and sciences. However, in America that was not always acknowledged. People would often ask me you want to grow to be a basketball player or a rapper. When it came to black children we were not given the same perception. That’s where my ambition to be an engineer came from, to disapprove of people negative assumptions. I started interning in an architecture firm from 13 to 15 years old, then I went to a school for architecture and product design but for some reason, I randomly chose watch design. I started designing watches because I liked watches. They were fanciful and interesting because of the movements. The idea that they could work mechanically for many years without the assistance of electronics fascinated me. Around 19, I started designing my first watch, around 20-21 I decided to become a consultant for the brands. Watchmaking is engineering, architecture and art, all in one for me.
You have launched your own watch brand, and already have 3 prototypes you are working on. Can you tell us about that?
I started my brand in my mid 20’s. I did develop few products back then when I started, I did not put them on the market because I don’t think they represent a brand properly. I’m working on finalizing a couple of prototypes and I hope to put those on the market soon. One is a Retrograde, the other one is a Jumping Hours. In terms of design and technical difficulty, neither of them was easy.
What was the main reason that made you decide to make your own watch brand?
My taste comes from my ambition to do things I haven’t seen done on the market yet. The main reason I decided to make my own watch brand was that my first thirty years I was trying to be a conceptual designer for other brands. I just couldn’t get work because either they didn’t accept me or they didn’t give me a chance. Instead of putting my energy in trying to design for someone else, I just wanted to put this energy towards building up my own brand to see what happens.
Why do you think they didn’t accept you? Is it because of your background in acting or because you are self-taught?
I think there’s a lack of familiarity, lack of history. I don’t come from the same space the other brands come from. I didn’t know the people back then. Corporate priority, what I was designing versus what they had plans to do.
How would you describe A. Hodge Atelier?
The foundation of the company is substantially based on traditional ethics with modern application. I love the foundation of watchmaking from a very traditional sense but at the same time, I love to give it a fresh look because my goal as a watchmaker is to help people experience telling time in fresh ways. It’s not about telling time, it’s about how you tell time. What do you attach to the experience of telling time? What is the artistic and emotional value that you are granted when you’re telling this time?
What does a watch represent for you?
For me personally, a watch represents many things because it will represent accomplishment, it will represent beating the stereotypes. Watches represent this difficult journey that I’ve chosen to attempt, I can prove to myself that I can accomplish something of this magnitude.
You don’t like to be called a watch collector, but you have a nice collection of watches. Can you tell us more about it?
I don’t look at myself as a collector but also at the same time I am positioning myself to launch my own brand and see it developed. For me, it’s important that people understand that it’s not a hobby because most people assume that it’s a hobby. I believe that collectors are important because they are the lifeblood for us as watchmakers. I’m not a collector, I’m a watch designer, a watchmaker. When it comes to presenting myself as a brand I want people to know who and what I am. Because as an actor there are so many ways that people try to discredit my efforts in watchmaking. They don’t take into account that I spend my days studying watch design, studying how a movement works and this is where I put my time and my resources. I would buy watches to study specific things, I tell people I don’t buy watches, I buy watchmakers specific to their innovations such is the case with my Gerald Genta and my Daniel Roth because they have inspired and taught me a lot. For me buying a watch is like buying an education, buying a textbook. I like the jumping hours because it’s easy to read the time, it’s legible, it’s quick, it’s simple. With Retrograde, it’s less about the time, more about the function, I like the flyback function. I design what comes to my head and not so much based on what other people have done because my ambition is to figure out how to contribute to the world of horology that hasn’t been here yet. I’m still working my way to that… I am inspired by George Daniel and his co-axial escapement, Breguet with the tourbillon, either way, I want to be able to give the world of horology something they can benefit from for years to come.
What would be the highlights of your collection?
I was really happy to receive my Arnold & Son golden wheel because I couldn’t get to that for two years. My Daniel Roth is my first and only tourbillon I own…My Gerald Genta… I do have a Bulgari Papillon Voyageur. I like my Jacquet Droz black ceramic, it was number 62 of 88 produced and my mother was born in 1962. It has some emotional value for me.
What would be the next watch for you?
If money was not an issue, it might be the Balancier Contemporain of Greubel Forsay. It might be an MB&F one of the models of the Legacy Machine series. I would love to get my hands on the chronograph of Kari Voutilainen. For me the independents taught me the most, even though I learned quite a lot from Breguet but still the independent are what my DNA as a collector and as a designer is. I really love the innovation behind the Genus watch I think they did quite a wonderful job if you want to talk about experiencing time telling in a new way. I think they really nailed it.
How do you choose your watches? Is it based on the specific thing you want to learn or there’s more into it?
The art of a watch speaks to me first so it’s really an emotional connection. After that, I am looking at what is done differently, what is done innovatively that I have to see. I just look at what naturally catches my eye, and then I see if I can actually afford it… (laughs).
This was your first Dubai watch week. What are your impressions about it?
I think it was awesome. I thought the set was really nice. I loved all the panels, they were educational. The thing I particularly enjoyed was the classes. My mom and my sister went to a Genus watchmaking masterclass and it was nice to see them step into the world of what I do. People can get an idea about watchmaking and horology from very different perspectives. I think it’s fantastic for the novice appreciator or somebody who doesn’t know really about the watch industry or the watches. It’s great for them to come and explore. The best thing about Dubai Watch Week just from a consumer standpoint, it will help somebody refine his watch taste.
What is the iconic watch that you would have wanted to create yourself?
I think it’s the George Daniels co-axial escapement and F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain. I think that watch is really recognizable, it is really well done. F.P. Journe has a very indicative style.
What is your go-to sports watch?
I have none (laughs)
What is your go-to watch for the evening?
It would be the Greubel Forsay Balancier Contemporain. It’s a perfect execution in a 39mm case.
What is your go-to watch for the day?
F.P. Journe Resonance.
If you had to choose a complication?
Definitely the Jumping Hours.
What’re your New Year’s resolutions?
Try my best to be less lazy and a little bit more proactive… in doing things I don’t like doing.
Aldis, you are an award-winning actor… How do you choose your roles?
I’m looking for roles that are challenging, that will put me on a new stratosphere as an artist but it has to be evolutionary, it has to say something.
Do you think about theater projects?
I think that theater is the foundation of acting because it forces you to be present. It forces you to be aware. You really have no choice but to be in it so I think. Right now I’m trying to build my television career, my film career and really I’m kind of close to where I need to be. As an artist, I like going to work and do different things every day that sort of feed my creative outlet so for me the one thing I notice about theater you would do eight shows a week, the same show over and over and I ‘m not sure that this would supplement me right now but I think if I could do a show for two or three months, that would be nice but if we are talking about two or three years I don’t know about that.
What are your projects?
December 27th I have a movie coming out, «Clemency» where we discuss the topic of capital punishment, death sentence, the effects of it. February 28th I have a thriller coming out called the «Invisible Man» starring Elizabeth Moss and next year I go back into filming my TV series «City on a hill» and I also start filming «One Night in Miami» to be directed by Regina King. Interview Conducted in Dubai by Maria Nadim.