Norwegian Metal Legend Ihsahn and His Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso

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If there’s a defining theme within the horology hobby as we head into the final throes of 2018, it’s that watches truly are for everyone. The community of people that collect and enjoy wristwatches has developed into an undeniably diverse one that is increasingly comprised of people from disparate age groups, professions, and financial backgrounds. A great example of the zeitgeist of inclusion the watch hobby currently fosters is the emergence of an unexpected new champion that’s best known for his work in circles that prefer spiked gauntlets to vintage Rolexes when it comes to what adorns the wrist: Norwegian guitar hero and composer Ihsahn.

Ihsahn 1997, with Emperor
Ihsahn 2018. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

Formerly the driving creative force behind seminal black metal powerhouse Emperor, Ihsahn—born Vegard Sverre Tveitan—has enjoyed a truly anomalous career arc in his successful ascension from black metal’s incredibly insular underground to his current station as a well-respected solo artist, composer, educator, and revered guitarist. While there are no two ways around the fact that black metal is scary music often made by some legitimately scary people, Emperor has always been considered a wildcard among the pack of the early true Norwegian black metal bands in that they brought substantial nuance and musical sophistication to the form, well beyond that of their peers. The sophistication of Emperor’s music was undoubtedly a byproduct of Ihsahn’s own intellectual gaze and vision, and so it makes some sense that one of black metal’s top thinking men also has the capacity to appreciate the finer things in life—like Swiss-made wristwatches.

Ihsahn and his custom Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

“It’s very similar to my fascination with handmade guitars, which I obviously understand on a deeper level, but there are parallels to be made in how one appreciates the details that go into a great guitar—like perfect fretwork and how it feels when you play it—and appreciating the work that goes into the small details of other things.” Ihsahn told Worn & Wound. “If you understand the passion that goes into anything like that, I’ve personally found it to be very adaptable and transferable to other things that require similar levels of craftsmanship and care to create, and watches are one of them.”

A late-comer to the hobby at 43, it’s not just Ihsahn’s unexpected background that makes his newfound passion for wristwatches intriguing, but the happenstance by which he entered the hobby, involving a truly remarkable gateway piece—a customized Jaeger LeCoultre Tribute to 1931 model Reverso which now accompanies the man into battle every time he takes the stage.

The brothers Tidemann and Ihsahn talk Reversos. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

Ihsahn’s introduction to the watch world came through a chance introduction by a former guitar student to the brothers Tidemann—Tom André and Lars Christian, respectively—who run the successful Tidemann watch dealership in Oslo. Known for handling top tier marks like A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron Constantin, and of course Jaeger LeCoultre, the Tidemann’s also happen to be serious heavy metal fans and “excellent musicians in their own right,” as Ihsahn put it.

“I flip the watch face around when I hit the stage, not just to protect the watch, but as a trigger to get into a state of mind where time doesn’t exist.”

Being fans of Ihsahn’s work as a solo artist and of Emperor, the brothers presented the idea of a collaborative project in the form of a customized watch. While Ihsahn says he was initially intrigued, he admitted that he didn’t know much about watches prior to meeting the brothers. However, the musician immediately felt that the project was “too interesting to turn down.”

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The Jaeger LeCoultre Tribute to 1931 model Reverso. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.
Ihsahn’s symbol. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.
Beautiful engraving. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.
Where dress watch meets metal. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

When asked about the conception of the project and the collaboration, Tom André Tidemann told Worn & Wound that “as a Norwegian store, we felt it was an honor to work with Ihsahn as he is one of the greatest musicians and composers our country has ever produced. We are very proud to call him a friend and we wanted to create a watch for him to wear specifically while playing the guitar. We worked together to come up with the idea of customizing a watch with visual elements pulled from Ihsahn’s work as a solo artist, true Norwegian black metal, and the raw natural beauty of Norway. It had to simultaneously be really elegant and wearable while Ihsahn plays guitar. We found that the Reverso gave us an ideal starting point and could, with a little bit of customizing, be something truly unique and special.”

The embellished Reverso features an engraving of Ihsahn’s signature symbol (which vamps on the Norwegian’s bond with nature and the balance it represents in Norwegian culture) on the side opposite the watch’s face, and a custom designed strap which places the buckle in an offset position to keep it from scratching the face of a guitar.

Ihsahn’s symbol in full view. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.
Flipped around for a show. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

The Reverso’s clever strap design was executed by Vladimir Petrov of Oslo-based leather aces KAMI Leather, who not only offset the buckle to the side of the strap to avoid contact with a guitar while playing, but laced leather around it to further ensure no contact is made if worn on the strumming wrist. Ihsahn was most emphatic about how helpful developing the watch with the music savvy Tidemanns and how specialized for his work the resulting piece really is, explaining that “the kind of performances I do are very physical, so with the Reverso originally being designed for polo players, it meant it had a practical purpose in its very DNA and that was something we could really accentuate for my needs. I also like that It’s not particularly big and isn’t particularly flashy to the layman, but if you look closer, the refinement that went into the watch and its customization is obvious. It’s just such a brilliantly subtle thing!”

The custom strap moves the buckle to the side to prevent scratching Ihsahn’s guitar. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

Beyond being an unexpectedly ideal platform for rock ‘n’ roll wristwear, the Reverso’s iconic face-flipping design has provided Ihsahn with something of a romantic new pre-show ritual that’s had a major impact on the guitarist:

“I flip the watch face around when I hit the stage, not just to protect the watch, but as a trigger to get into a state of mind where time doesn’t exist—only my performance. From what I’ve been told, the people at Jaeger that did the engraving on the watch really appreciated the concept of time stopping when I flipped the watch’s face, too. It’s pretty cool to know that people at JLC appreciate that idea.”

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Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

While the one might expect there to be a bit of culture shock for a man entering the watch hobby admittedly at the deep end, Ihsahn had only positive things to say about his experiences with the aficionados he’s encountered since jumping in, and told us that he sees the culture surrounding fine wristwatches “very similar to that of classical music, where it’s considered very highbrow and people might be intimidated or alienated by the culture which surrounds it. But I think most people would find something to appreciate about it if it didn’t have those social associations or a highbrow stigma attached to it” and elaborated that “ these things can be looked at as a status symbol—and I’m sure plenty of people wear watches simply to show off their wealth—but from my own experience with the passionate watch people I’ve met during this project, I’ve realized that it was the same for them as it was for me and really had nothing to do with money or status, just a passion for craftsmanship and detail that goes into these things.”

The Reverso looks surprisingly at home on Ihsahn’s custom guitar. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

On whether or not he’s been afflicted with the watch collecting bug in earnest since receiving his JLC or if he intends to be a one watch man, the guitar hero said “I’m still kind of overwhelmed by how much I’m enjoying the JLC and I do feel I have to really get to know more before I make another purchase. I feel like I’ve been thrown in at the deep end of the hobby, but Tidemann have been really great about educating me and I’ve learned a lot just from visiting their shop and seeing the pieces they have there—and it helps that one of the brothers is a watchmaker himself.”

The complexity of the hobby isn’t lost on Ihsahn and he went on to explain that he understands that great watches “are an acquired taste and something you have to develop. You learn a little each day, and while I’m not a true connoisseur of anything really, it’s similar to how most people are fine with a cheap bottle of wine when they’re teenagers, but have a hard time going back after tasting something more refined. It’s the same thing with how infinite guitars and music gear can be; that feeling of needing to get this or that piece of gear and it being the end all, but once you get it, there’s immediately something else to lust for. That said, the Tidemann guys are so much fun to work with! Their slogan is “live the passion” that what it’s all about for me!”

The familiar look of enjoying a new watch. Photograph by Haakon Hoseth.

Photography by Haakon Hoseth.

Ihsahn’s latest solo release is titled Ámr and is available here via Candlelight Records in the US or here via Spinefarm Records for European fans.

Tidemann Watches can be found at tidemannwatches.com

Images from this post:
David Von Bader is an LA-based musician and journalist. His horological interests center around vintage tool watches, particularly those with a military or motorsports provenance. He is further afflicted by addictions to vintage shades, vinyl records, and guitars.
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