Peace & Enlightenment Through Watches: American Kobold’s Nepalese Thangka Art Timepiece With Romio Shrestha

At Buddhist Art News we are fairly open-minded about content. The objects described in this article push at the edges of acceptability: $8,000 wrist watches featuring images of White Tara. The watchmaker might at least have resisted using the skin of a sentient being (a stingray) to create the strap. – Buddhist Art News

10/13/2014 @ 9:30AM 88 views

The trajectory of Michael Kobold’s watch business has taken a series of unexpected turns and twists over the years. Those fresh to the Pennsylvania-based timepiece company would find it strange to read a list of all the things that can be said about Kobold’s achievements. In 1998, Kobold was probably the first watch company to sell watches directly to consumers, and in 2008, they produced a watch known as the Spirit of America with a case produced, perhaps for the first time in 40 years, in the USA. Kobold has worked with watch-loving celebrities, and recently, in 2012, set up a facility in Kathmandu, Nepal to produce some watches. Taken together, one could easily come to the conclusion that either Michael Kobold has an incredibly interesting, or totally random life.

Kobold’s involvement with Nepal is deeply personal, and comes from a positive experience Michael Kobold and his now wife had with Sherpas who guided him during a climb up Mount Everest. In 2012, his company released the Kobold Himalaya Collection of watches produced in Kathmandu that I covered here. With mechanical movements actually produced in Kathmandu by newly trained Nepalese watchmakers, it added a unique twist to the brand’s otherwise USA-focused appeal. Even then, many of the components of Kobold watches are produced in Switzerland, or by other fine watch component suppliers. In the United States Kobold produces the watch cases, automatic rotors, and some movement bridges. They also produce many dials in-house as well as their leather straps.

For 2014, Kobold releases a new watch in honor of Nepal, known as the Kobold Himalaya White Tara Edition, which features hand-painted traditional thangka artwork by thangka master Mr. Romio Shrestha. A Nepal native, Shrestha currently lives in Ireland, and paints each of the watch dials for the Kobold Himalaya White Tara Edition watches by hand, and each dial is said to take one month of work.

Despite the intricately painted dials done in traditional thangka style, the Himalaya White Tara watches themselves are incredibly simple, with 44mm wide brushed steel cases and base Swiss ETA 2892 automatic movements. Some might even say that the spartan nature of the case and handset do not do the overall theme of the watch justice. Furthermore, there is no branding or text on the dials aside from the painting by Shrestha. This may have been intentional, but outside of a select number of people “in the know,” it will be incredibly difficult for people to attribute the watch to Kobold. Then again, production on these watches will be incredibly limited, and each dial will be different, so it is arguably not a high priority for Kobold to be concerned with branding. Attached to the cases are cream-colored galuchat (stingray) straps – which are a surprising match to a high mountain-themed timepiece. Perhaps the watch would look good on a yak strap.

Just as interesting as the hand-painted thangka art dials is the man who painted them. His life story, according to his bio, sounds like something out of Nepalese lore. As the story goes, Romio’s family was approached by Tibetan Buddhist monks when he was only five years old, informing his parents that they believed Romio was the 17th reincarnation of a famed thangka master artist. Shrestha then went on to train under the monks to become a new thangka master. Currently, Shrestha’s works depicting scenes from Buddhism are often worth between $20,000 – $250,000 according to Kobold.

Kobold-Himalaya-Romio-Shrestha-watch-4A survey of Shrestha’s work allows you to see why Kobold wanted to work with him. In addition to the Nepalese connection, his artwork is already done on a miniature scale, so producing detailed works in a space the size of a watch dial wouldn’t have been all that foreign to him. I expect just a few Kobold Himalaya White Tara watches will be produced with Romio Shrestha each year, with the price for each being $8,000.

Ariel Adams is the founder and editor of the watch review site



2 responses to “Peace & Enlightenment Through Watches: American Kobold’s Nepalese Thangka Art Timepiece With Romio Shrestha

  1. It is absurd that you give this watch coverage. There is the other elephant in the room, too: the pin for the hands just above Tara’s sacred breast.

    • We cast a wide net, and for several reasons: 1) To show that Buddhist art, despite its strictly practice-based origins, has long since departed from that border, and that while something like these watches is clearly far beyond what ought reasonably to be considered ‘Buddhist art,’ the border is not an entirely clear one: from quite early days, devotional objects have been constructed using precious materials, for instance. 2) Because, in my opinion, the ‘skillful means’ Buddhist art employs does allow even quite unlikely objects to create the possibility for wisdom and compassion. 3) Certainly, the purpose of a post like this is also to underscore how misguided an artisan can be about the use of Buddhist images.

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