What would Benedict Cumberbatch do if he could manipulate time?
The Doctor Strange star shares his thoughts on horology, time and what he’ll put in his dream watch.
Anyone familiar with Marvel’s Doctor Strange will know that its title character Stephen Strange has a complicated relationship with time, having to bend its laws in order to save the world (or his sanity, depending on which story you’ve followed). But the man who plays the cinematic version of him has a more poetic view of time’s merciless march.
“Like most people I’ve wanted to escape time, especially when we feel scheduled to the hilt,” said Benedict Cumberbatch during a recent interview over Zoom. “What is a holiday but simply not being on someone else’s schedule? And yet time has this wonderful elastic ability because in heightened moments of our life, whether they are tragic or happy, we have a different relationship to it.”
The award-winning British actor and father of three becomes increasingly aware of this relationship when looking at his children. “They know their beats and their rhythms but they’re only just now learning to read time and understanding what hours are. When you’re very young, time doesn’t mean anything to you. But as an adult, being able to guide yourself through your day with these markers of time – I love that.”
It is why he’s among the few who prefers waking up to the task of winding his watch rather than check his phone, since the latter “pulls you into so many different worlds. But there’s an honesty about a timepiece on your wrist.”
While Cumberbatch admits that playing the role of Doctor Strange didn’t exactly change his attitude toward time, it did deepen his understanding of how important a watch can be. “He was a man trapped in his own gilded cage, and part of it was the prestige of wearing expensive watches as a status symbol – something he thought was an infinite resource until that violent car crash,” he explained.
The one his character wears throughout the movies (even in costume) is a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual, though it is unique in that it has a solid caseback instead of a sapphire crystal one, and on which is inscribed a heartfelt message from Strange’s love interest, played by Rachel McAdams.
“It later becomes a keepsake, a romantic emblem of love that carries the weight of his past. And by the end of the current film [Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness] the watch is mended, placed into a drawer for safekeeping, and that chapter of his life closes along with it.”
But Cumberbatch’s chapter with fine watchmaking is only just beginning, as he starred in a video earlier this year called In Perpetual Motion to promote Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Polaris Perpetual Calendar. It is also the model he wears on most days. “Unlike my alter ego I don’t have a big drawer of watches, but I have enjoyed wearing a variety for Jaeger-LeCoultre,” he said.
From the moment he received his very first watch – a Swatch – from his parents as a child, he was intrigued with watchmaking, and would often find himself browsing heirlooms and vintage pieces in antique shops and popping open hunter casebacks to see what made them tick.
“But what really clarified this interest for me was when I met the people working at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s atelier in the Vallee de Joux. It made me realise just how analog the task of making a watch is. I’m a fan of the slow movement, whether it’s in food, circular fashion or watchmaking. And to see artisans who have been working for over 50 years, working to the highest level of expertise and delicacy with humour, grace and inventiveness – it was wonderful to see what human artists are capable of.”
As enamoured as he has become with haute horlogerie, it doesn’t seem like Cumberbatch will be joining any collector communities any time soon.
“Unlike my alter ego, I’m not someone with a big drawer of watches. I’ve got too much stuff in my life as it is. I’m slowly building a record collection and I have a complete addiction to buying books. I love driving cars but I don’t need to own them to enjoy the experience,” he said. “The last thing I need is another collection of watches, but that makes the one I have more personal. It’s my watch, not just one of many.”
He loves the elegance and modernity of his Polaris Perpetual Calendar, but if given the chance to build his dream timepiece, Cumberbatch would choose a tourbillon to start with. “It looks alive, and I love the pulse of it. I’ve also been getting more interested in biodynamics and how the lunar cycle affects planetary behaviour, so maybe I’ll add a celestial detail to it. I don’t need too many bells and whistles.”
But the million dollar question is: What would he do if he could control time like Doctor Strange with the Time Stone? “It changes, this answer,” he mused. “There are definitely moments that I want to hold on to for just a little bit longer because the modern age has played havoc with my memory. So as a parent, I’d like to be able to rewind certain moments with my children. But my usual motto is: I wouldn’t want to do anything with the Time Stone. I’ll leave that to the experts. I’m very happy with my linear narrative, in this one universe, and not have to worry about the others.”