Mo Coppoletta sees a connection between his work as a tattoo artist and the craft of watchmaking. “What they have in common is the extreme precision of your work and the extreme attention to detail,” he says. “There’s no way to cheat and there’s no way to take shortcuts.”

His interest in watches took off while he was having lunch with his parents in Italy in 2006. Reading a report from the then Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie trade show, the launch of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso Squadra caught his attention. “From that day, it was watches 24 hours a day,” says Coppoletta, who opened London parlour, The Family Business Tattoo, in 2003.

His passion has led him to apply the art of tattooing to timepieces through commercial collaborations with Bulgari and Romain Jerome via his Coppoletta Designs business. He has also built a “pretty eclectic” collection comprising 20 “significant” watches.

1. De Bethune DB25 Starry Sky special order (2010)

De Bethune DB25 Starry Sky
© Charlie Bibby/FT

A De Bethune fan, Coppoletta was drawn to this watch by the “inventive” treatment of titanium — by blueing it — and its representation of the night sky. “Being a complete devotee of everything celestial, dreamy and romantic, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” he says.

Offered the chance by the Swiss independent manufacturer to choose the constellation depicted, he chose the one for the day he was born. He now always wears the watch on his July birthday.

The stars are individual spheres of white gold drilled into the dial. “Every time the light hits the watch in a different way, the stars reveal themselves, or they disappear beyond the nebula [an effect created by the treatment of the titanium],” he says.

2. Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire (2011)

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire
© Charlie Bibby/FT

A birthday present to himself, Coppoletta says the “beautiful” white gold piece with black dial is one of a limited edition of 200. “This is a watch for connoisseurs because it’s very philosophical but very technical too,” he adds.

The movement has two barrels. One powers the indications — hour, minute, seconds, 1/sixth of a second, moon phase and date — and the other the escapement. “It’s a very clever watch because dedicating one barrel to the escapement will guarantee incredible accuracy,” says Coppoletta. “For watch geeks, it’s a feast.”

3. Patek Philippe 5070J (c2000)

Patek Philippe 5070J
© Charlie Bibby/FT

The Reference 5070 was a model Coppoletta had always found “extremely charming” due to its oversized case and he “couldn’t resist” this yellow gold and black version when he came across it in Italy last year. “It’s the ultimate example of how beautiful a chronograph can be, even though I’m not a chronograph guy,” he says.

He finds the colour combination “opulent yet refined”. “I don’t have very subdued watches,” says the self-confessed maximalist. “I always have watches that stand out.”

The watch had been on the wish list Coppoletta stores on his phone — a list that “gets enriched” regularly. Wishes yet to be fulfilled include a Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges.

4. Cartier Tank Cintrée pièce unique (2018)

Cartier Tank Cintrée
© Charlie Bibby/FT

A watch does not make it on to Coppoletta’s list unless the aesthetic appeals to him. He says the Tank Cintrée is “the most elegant, cool watch that one could wish for” and epitomises the 1920s, when the model was originally released. “I’m a big fan of art deco for many of my designs or decoration,” he says.

Coppoletta and his friend Wei Koh, founder of Revolution watch magazine, commissioned custom versions from Cartier. The tattoo artist’s “mesmerising” piece is in platinum, which he thinks is “the king of materials” for a dress watch, with burgundy Roman numerals and a ruby cabochon on the crown.

5. Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 (2009)

Vacheron Constantin Historiques American
© Charlie Bibby/FT

Another modern piece that reinterprets a model first released in 1921, Coppoletta’s driving watch has a dial tilted to the right so it can be read while at the wheel. He wears it while driving his 1966 Jaguar E-type convertible near his Lake Garda home, with the rose gold finish complementing the car’s “lush red” interiors.

Coppoletta enjoys classic cars but collects modern watches. He says vintage watch collecting requires “an enormous amount of knowledge” and that, while he loves vintage references, not everything has to be original. “I take inspiration from the past [in my designs] . . . so that’s why I think some of the modern interpretations of old designs strike me more than the original.”

He says there has been a “major trend” for pocket watch tattoos in the past seven years because of their “symbolic power” in relation to the passing of time and transience of life.

He has also received specific requests from people in the watch industry for tattoos of De Bethune’s delta-shaped bridge and FP Journe’s tourbillon movement.

“I haven’t done those yet,” he says. “I don’t think it suits my style much — they’re very fiddly — but you never know.”

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