Watch Of The Week: Chef Michael Chernow’s Rolex GMT-Master “The Watch That Meatballs Built”
When he started to become successful, the restaurateur found a watch that was almost perfect – it just needed one little adjustment.
In Watch of the Week, we invite HODINKEE staffers and friends to explain why they love a certain watch. This week’s columnist is New York-based restaurateur Michael Chernow, co-founder of The Meatball Shop and CEO of lifestyle and wellness brand Kreatures of Habit.
In my earlier days as an entrepreneur, I thought that once somebody had a Rolex, it meant they’d made it. I was in LA in 2013 celebrating a major milestone, our fifth restaurant, and I figured if there was ever a time for me to indulge in a really nice watch, it was now.
I stopped by Wanna Buy A Watch? on Melrose and they had this gold GMT-Master with a black leather strap matched to its black dial. I knew instantly that this was the watch for me. “That’s it,” I said. “Done.” I was hoping that it might be from my birth year – it wasn’t – but I sprang for it anyway. It came on a strap, not a gold bracelet like it is now, so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been. A lot of people get a Rolex to mark a moment, and this was mine.
I’d sold some of my equity in The Meatball Shop and we opened up our fifth location. We did a rough calculation of how many people we’d served meatballs to, and it was something like three million, and most people are eating four meatballs at a serving, so we’d sold approximately 12 million meatballs. I was blown away by that number. This watch was a way for me to commemorate the hard work I’d put in over four years.
I never thought my first Rolex was going to be gold. My dad wore a Seiko. I have no idea where that watch is today, but he always had that Seiko on his wrist.
In the spirit of my dad’s Seiko, I’d always wanted to have an heirloom to pass on to my kids. My family never really had something like that, something that was passed down from generation to generation. I thought about it when I bought my GMT-Master, even though I didn’t yet have kids.
I’d had the watch for three or four years when I was walking down 47th Street, in the Diamond District of New York. Stopping in a watch store, I mentioned to one of the salesmen that I don’t really love the Jubilee bracelet that’s often found on the GMT-Master. I love the President. “How hard would it be,” I asked him, “to put a President bracelet on this GMT I have?” He said that if I wanted to pair them, the bracelet would have to be custom-fitted to the watch head, and it might devalue the watch. “Well, this is going to be passed down to my son, and then on to his son, and so on,” I told him. “So I don’t really care about the value of it. It’s a special thing.”
The salesman went into the back and returned with this really cool President bracelet, previously on a Day-Date, with some really cool wear to it – the links were a little loose. There were some newer-looking bracelets I could have chosen with less wear and tighter links, but I’ve never really liked brand-new things. All of the restaurants I’ve opened were previous restaurants; I like things that have been lived in for a while. It adds culture and character. He fit the bracelet to the watch, and now I have the coolest watch on my wrist. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best-looking Rolex on the planet.
I don’t wear it all that often, mainly for special occasions. But you can put this watch on with a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and it has this incredible ability to make you just feel better. There aren’t many things that can do that, but a beautiful watch can. And every time I wear mine, without fail, somebody asks me about it. It’s a great conversation starter.
When you think of some of the great people in history who have a strong sense of style, many of them have a Rolex on their wrist. Steve McQueen is an icon of mine, and he wore a Rolex. I think Rolex attracts Renaissance men. People who aren’t one-trick ponies. I do my best to live up to the standard of the watch.
I remember when we were starting The Meatball Shop, I said that one day I was going to buy a Rolex. I like to build Pinterest boards for all of my restaurants, for design inspiration, and I have a board on my Pinterest page that says “All I Want.” It’s just stuff I think is cool. I had this picture of a gold Rolex on a President bracelet. It wasn’t a GMT-Master. But when I walked into that store in LA and saw the GMT on a black strap, I knew it was the one. Then I kind of built the watch as it is today, over time. Things don’t have to end up where they start.