Hollywood Flashback: When Kanye West Stood Out From the Pack With Ice-Free Watches

Kanye West Watch - H 2015
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

The hip hop artist and trendsetter chose to keep his Rolex timepieces simple while his peers opted for iced-out bling.

Kanye West has legions of fans and detractors alike, but both camps surely can agree the man has style. When West roared onto the scene in 2004 at age 26 with his triple-platinum debut, The College Dropout, his hipster-prep, polo-shirt aesthetic stood out from the gangsta rap pack. With fine wristwatches, he differ-entiated himself, too, sporting classic pieces right out of the gate. While his peers during the 2000s such as Pharrell and Chris Brown paraded diamond-encrusted monsters that defined bling, West wore comparatively sober gold Rolexes, Audemars Piguets, a Bulgari Diagono Scuba and a Vacheron Constantin, as when he hoisted three Grammys in 2006. Back then, says producer DJ Toomp, who worked with West on rapper T.I.'s 2003 album Trap Muzik, only "a few cats really understood style and watches with no diamonds. I remember Kanye always rocking a Rollie."

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Although hip-hop's love of watches — in lyrics or worn as status symbols — dates to rap's earliest days, its embrace of luxury pieces during the aughts expanded a tight circle of monied enthusiasts to include a fresh demographic. Through the years, West has referenced Hublot, "big-faced Rollies," "no-ice Bulgaris" and Cartier Pashas in lyrics, some performed with Jay Z. Naturally, the Swiss watch directorates took note. "Hip-hop, or any other artistic medium, creates greater awareness for Hublot," says Jean-Claude Biver, president of LVMH watches and chairman of Hublot. (The brand even designed a special watch with Jay Z in 2013.) Toomp says the trend now is to let the elegance of a white gold Rolex or an Audemars Piguet speak for itself — and the wearer's confident style. "No necklace, no pinky ring," he says, adding: "Kanye's always been fresh. He's a trendsetter-type dude."

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