Next time you are wondering how best to start a healthy conversation about sex and pleasure, look to the wrist. Last week, the Canadian rapper Drake wore a watch bearing an explicit message to a basketball game. His unusual, eye-wateringly expensive timepiece, by the Swiss brand Richard Mille, came with an inbuilt phrase generator – meaning that while on this occasion it displayed something we shan’t print, it could just as easily have read, at the milder end: “I need to devour you madly,” or: “I long to explore you tonight.”
It may sound totally preposterous, but “erotic watches” have an unexpectedly long history – albeit watches that displayed pictures, rather than words. The tradition dates back to the 1750s, the era of the Jacobites, Captain Cook and tension along the Prussian-Hanoverian border – a time when, the Sotheby’s New York watch department head Nate Borgelt told culture website the Cut, “there was still a very restricted moral view of sexuality, and a lot of repression”.
In the 18th century, a kinky watch might have been a naughty bit of fun, a way of satirising the buttoned-up society, as well as – Borgelt noted – a way for men to gauge ladies’ interest at parties.
Drake’s watch is of a very different and ostensibly more sexually liberated world, and it doesn’t come cheap: the Richard Mille RM 69 Erotic Tourbillon costs $750,000 (£600,000). But what if it sparks high-street versions? Could it start conversations about our sexual desires and needs?
On the one hand, it is not such a shocking idea. “We are surrounded by opportunities to get in touch with our erotic selves via art, literature and fashion,” says the psychosexual and relationship therapist Caroline Lovett. But while “anything that helps a meaningful conversation about sex, intimacy and relationships is good”, Lovett is clear: this is not it. “I see it as a gimmick – not something that allows people to express their emotional feelings.”
“Mass selling of watches like that, I could see it happening,” says Owen Redahan, a sexual addiction therapist. But the likely reaction, he predicts, “would be: ‘That’s funny, why did you get it?’ rather than: ‘Let’s talk about different sexual positions.’”
So what courtside conversation was Drake trying to start with his erotic watch? The psychosexual therapist Cate Mackenzie speculates: “Is he actually looking for sex, or is he just enjoying being admired?” Redahan can’t comment on Drake’s motivations, but says that one might want to “give out an image of ‘I’m sexually mature, I don’t mind talking about sex, I’m open and able to do so’.” However he meant it, it brings a whole new meaning to wrist action.