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Pilgrim Studios CEO Collects Watches as His Annual Ritual

For Craig Piligian, watches are to be admired rather than used to tell time, adding, "Everyone should have a nice watch in his life."

Dan Monick

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's second annual Watch Issue.  

Craig Piligian, CEO and executive producer of Pilgrim Studios, makes it an annual ritual to add one watch to his collection of about 15 timepieces, including multiple Rolexes (among them an 18-karat yellow-gold Sky-Dweller), several Panerais, a few Carl F. Bucherers, an Ernst Benz, an analog Breitling Emergency and a white-gold Patek Philippe Moonphase -- his 2012 purchase. "I saw it years ago in Vegas and wanted to buy it right then and there, but I didn't and always regretted it," says Piligian, 56, who didn't realize the hard-to-find model later would elude him. "Then, last year, I was walking up the street in Beverly Hills and saw it in the store window. So I went in and said, 'I want that f---ing watch right now!' It's a classy watch that I can wear with a sport coat, suit or jeans -- it's a timeless piece."

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Patek Philippe is quite a dramatic step up from the G-Shock watches he wore from 2000 to 2002, when he was executive producer of Survivor, for which he received an Emmy in 2001. Since then, he has racked up a long list of executive producer credits for hit reality series, including The Ultimate Fighter, Ghost Hunters, Top Shot, Fast N' Loud, Dirty Jobs and American Chopper. "I love reality TV," he says. "We find obscure people doing interesting things and make TV shows with them, build a business with them and watch them become part of the zeitgeist. We create pop culture, and that is a lot of fun to do."

Piligian's Pilgrim Studios also has produced scripted projects including Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy and a miniseries for Spike about the 2012 terrorist attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Piligian's Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, which aired on Discovery during 2013 Shark Week, delivered nearly 5 million viewers to achieve the highest ratings in Shark Week's 26-year history -- though the show was knocked for presenting fiction as truth on a network that was built on a foundation of scientific fact. Currently, he is producing a documentary series on Lindsay Lohan that is scheduled to air on OWN in 2014. "We are deep into that one," he says. "That's been a very exciting documentary to do -- it's an eight-part film with Lindsay since the day she got out of rehab."

With success came a desire for a successful man's timepiece. "Everyone should have a nice watch in his life," he says, recalling his first Panerai, purchased about 10 years ago at Cellini in New York. He fell for its classic round dial and simple black-and-white design because it reminded him of a beloved Timex that he lost in an eighth-grade snowball fight in his hometown of Detroit. "I always regretted losing that watch, so it was like a replacement, and then I started liking watches as art."

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Piligian, who owns a Hawker private jet and a Rolls-Royce, also collects folk art and mechanical banks made from 1865 to 1905. Now highly collectible and rare, the banks were toys intended to encourage kids to save money. "I like colorful art, folk art -- this goes along with my passion for collecting," he says. "I have to have a visceral reaction. With a watch, I have to love it even before I put it on. It has to be something I would wear, something masculine, substantial. I know when I want something just by looking at it. I'm a very visual person -- that's why I do television."

He describes his personal style as subtle and understated and takes little interest in the mechanical artistry beneath the dial. He admits he never bothers to set or wind his watches, a statement that would trigger weeping in Switzerland's hallowed watchmaking halls. "My watch is right twice a day," he jokes. "I have a Bucherer with three time zones, and I never wind it. It isn't about time, and it's not even a status thing. I just like the way it feels on my wrist. For me, watches are beautiful works of art. They are the only jewelry I wear."

One day in Vegas, he says, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and one of Piligian's partners on Spike's The Ultimate Fighter, grabbed his wrist to look at the time but -- as usual -- the Patek Philippe he was wearing wasn't set. "Dana said, 'You don't wind your watch? How does that happen?' " recalls Piligian. "I pulled out my iPhone and said, 'Here's the time!' "

 

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