music / Hip-Hop

A brief history of luxury watches in hip-hop videos

We’re teaming up with Bezel for a crash course in factory-set luxury watches from across rap’s history.

March 09, 2023
A brief history of luxury watches in hip-hop videos Image from Pharrell's "Frontin" video  

The histories of hip-hop, music videos, and luxury watches are as intertwined as the links on a Pearlmaster bracelet. MTV helped expand hip-hop from a regional curiosity to a global phenomenon, and, as the money came in, rappers began purchasing the symbols of wealth that had been reserved for the upper echelons for decades. Today, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fiercely underground iconoclast or a literal rap billionaire: wearing an artisanal timepiece isn’t just a display of wealth, but can be a way of showing your connection to rap culture.


To give you a sense of the connection, we’ve collected a sampling of music videos that showcase rap’s love of classic watches. We're focusing here on the plain janes, no bustdowns (apologies to Slick Rick and Pop Smoke). All the heavy hitters are here: Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Jacob & Co., Rolex, Cartier, Richard Mille, plus a few left-field names and designs. Most of the clips are classics, with videos from Spike Jonze, Hype Williams, and more, but you might be surprised at how the recognition of a fine watch can elevate a music video you’ve seen several times before.

Dive into all the videos below. To give us some broader context on the watches and their appearances in the videos, we’ve enlisted Vince De La Cerna, Authentication Specialist at Bezel, a luxury watch marketplace whose investors include Kevin Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and John Legend.

LL Cool J, "I'm Bad"

Watch: Gruen Gold Nugget

By the time LL Cool J dropped Bigger and Deffer in 1987, only those threatened by rap’s growing dominance could deny its staying power. The genre-bending experimentation that defined its infancy remained, though artists were increasingly able to capture that lightning in a bottle and toss it at the pop charts to great success. “I’m Bad” turned a sample of a popular ‘70s cop show into a flashy celebration of the underdog-turned-champion, and in its video, LL wore jewelry fit for his kingly status. Complimenting the gold chains was an equally chunky Gruen Gold Nugget, first seen in a 1987 press photo taken by Janette Beckman.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: The design of that Golden Nugget is the most 90s thing possible. If you look at watches released during this time, they all have that integrated, more natural bracelet with that yellow-gold tinge. And you can just see it across all brands such as Bertucci, Patek, AP. The natural almost “rocky” look was popular during the decade, matching with the popularization of tattoos, piercings, and overall body jewelry.

2Pac, "To Live and Die in L.A."

Watch: Rolex Presidential Day Date

Rolex started production in 1905 and remains a standard bearer for transcendent style, a fact reflected in its enduring popularity in hip-hop. But few people, rappers or not, have looked as natural in a Rolex as Tupac Shakur did. While some are content to let the piece lie on their wrist and do all the talking, Pac treated his Rolexes like they were true accessories to an even larger greatness. You can see it for yourself in the video for “To Live and Die in L.A.,” featuring Pac’s Rolex Presidential Day-Date 36. It’s a great example of Pac’s uncanny balance of everyman and rap god, with its intimate tour of classic L.A. spots, the warmth of the locals, and the song’s nuanced celebration of Pac’s home turf. Pac’s effortless relationship with Rolex watches is tinged with tragedy if you believe the rumor that he was gifted his first Rollie by none other than the Notorious B.I.G., the one-time friend who would become the other half in a fatal rivalry.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: The ultimate "I can retire" watch. The Rolex President Day-Date has been worn by some of the most consequential individuals of our modern era in both history and pop culture. Starting with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s adoption of the now iconic timepiece, it has disseminated into the ranks of pop culture as the “watch fit for a president.”

Pharrell, “Frontin”

Watch: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar

There are hip-hop fashion icons, and then there’s Pharrell, a musician who operated in a completely separate sphere even before he became the Creative Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton. It’s a fitting role for the man who gave streetwear a presence in the world of high fashion world, and with his line Billionaire Boys Club co-founded with Nigo, helped pave the way for other musicians-turned-fashionistas like Kanye West and Rihanna. The future is written in the details of the “Frontin” video, down to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak perpetual calendar he can be seen sporting with his otherwise humble, skateboarding-inspired fit.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: Pharrell is a design God and him sporting a Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar in the early two thousands is something definitely super forward. Those watches really didn't come into the main public space until around the early 2010s. He understands the craftsmanship, the design style, as well as making it fit in the early two thousands aesthetic, which is super cool.

JAY-Z and Kanye West, "Otis"

Watch: Hublot Classic Fusion

JAY-Z changed a lot of things when he entered the rap game, watch culture being one of them. His love of the finer things extended to detailed lyrics about timepieces – throughout his career he’s rapped about almost all of the brands in this feature, and has amassed a multimillion dollar collection. As JAY’s legend in rap spread, rappers were imitating his passions as well as his lyrics. In the iconic video for “Otis” directed by Spike Jonze, JAY-Z sports a Hublot Classic Fusion and references the watchmaker in one of the song’s many quotable lines: “New watch alert, Hublot's / Or the big-face Rollie, I got two of those.” The video’s Maybach may have been customized, but the watch stayed classic.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: The Hublot Classic Fusion is one of the most classic hip-hop watches of all time. Hip-hop in the '80s and '90s was really starting to catch in the same way that Hublot was starting to catch, especially with the brand’s release of the “classic fusion” in 1980. The birth of the Hublot brand as well as the emergence of hip-hop in the 80s are so beautifully connected, resulting in a symbiotic relationship that has withstood the test of time.

Tyler, The Creator, "Lumberjack"

Watch: Cartier Crash

One of the last interesting music video directors working today, Tyler, the Creator meticulously detailed visual style extended to his watches. A Cartier fanatic, Tyler’s collection of classic pieces from the French luxury juggernaut includes the Crash. It first debuted in the ‘60s, and despite an obvious allusion to the most famous work of surrealist Salvador Dali, the melted frame doesn’t feel like a tribute but an extension. It’s similar to Tyler in that way, who will not miss an opportunity to credit Pharrell and Kanye West for their influence on his work. But as a music video director, he beats them both.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: His personality is artistic and unpredictable, much like his Crash. It's all over the place, but it's tasteful. This is very top, "if you know you know" type of taste. And it's beautiful that he's really embracing that."

Rihanna, Super Bowl performance

Watch: Jacob & Co. Brilliant Skelton Northern Lights watch

Yes, Rihanna is a rapper. No, we’re not having this conversation again. Now that that’s settled, let’s move on to the biggest performance of her life, at the 2023 Super Bowl. The spectacle’s size demanded every element of the production to go big, even if it could only be glimpsed occasionally on the largest and HD-est of TV screens. In that spirit, Rihanna wore the Brilliant Skeleton Northern Lights, a $100,000 piece from Jacob & Co. The N.Y.C.-based company was started in 2002 by Jacob Arabo, who by then had already become one of rap’s go-to guys for luxury watches with name drops in a number of songs. Jacob & Co. is known for their elaborate and ostentatious designs, like this $620,000 piece for Drake with a fully functional roulette wheel. Rihanna may not have needed a watch with a minigame for her big night, but she certainly knew where to go for a statement piece.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: Never before has a watch-slash-jewelry brand been intertwined with hip-hop like Jacob & Co. Anything produced by Jacob is going to be a great mix of current pop culture taste with the design and craftsmanship of high haute jewelry. He’s furthermore expanded his offering by incorporating high horology in his creations, evidenced by the skeletonized dial with sand-blasted finishing. The red mineral crystal along with the diamond bezel is a splendid piece of artisanal craftsmanship.

The amount of work that goes into calibrating the diamonds — finding all the right-sized diamonds — and setting them perfectly is a labor that can be replicated by few. This watch is a stunning display of Rihanna’s taste in craftsmanship and Jacob’s exquisite design language and creation.

Gunna, "Richard Mille Plain"

Watch: Richard Mille Chronograph

It’s become almost a rite of passage into superstardom for modern rappers to film at least one music video depicting a wild spending spree, preferably at a jeweler. Gunna’s 2019 project Drip Or Drown 2 came the year after Drip Harder, his collaboration with Lil Baby, conquered the world of rap. Suddenly, everyone was putting alternative guitar melodies in their beats, and like a true leader, Gunna wasn’t content to follow the pack with his watches, either. “Richard Mille Plain” is a subtle celebration of letting a classic do the talking for itself, and in the video, Gunna scans through a selection of mouth-watering models before landing on the Chronograph, perhaps the most iconic model from the Swiss watchmaker.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: Richard Mille has definitely been the watch to have in the last, let's say, five-to-seven years. It's showing a developing taste for Gunna.

Cardi B, "Money"

Watch: Custom watch-encrusted bodysuit, gloves and headpiece designed by Christian Cowan

One of the most ostentatious celebrations of watch culture in rap history came in Cardi B’s “Money” video. The clip’s most remarkable fit comes from designer Christian Cowan: at one point Cardi looks every bit the ancient queen, wearing a bodysuit, hat, and elbow-length gloves festooned in over 90 gold watches. Is it doing too much or just enough? It depends on how you feel about the song’s celebration of lavish wealth (though Cowan insists his designs are a satire of social media and consumerism). Like it or not, the excess is uninhibited, even with the relatively conservative price tag of $5000 for the gloves.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: We've written about Cardi B's watch collection ourselves over at Bezel. What she did in the "Money" video is very interesting and a nice departure from classic styles. We've already seen the bedazzled dresses where Balenciaga or Valentino will put a bunch of diamonds on the dress, displaying the piece’s opulence. Jewelry and watches have always been considered the most expensive thing that you can pretty much wear on your body. Instead of a bedazzled dress, I give you a dress made of watches. That's a flex in and of itself.

Gucci Mane feat. Migos, "I Get The Bag"

Watch: Patek Phillipe Nautilus 5719/10G

Customization culture in rap has changed the watchmakers themselves — look no further than the diamonds on Takeoff's wrist in the "I Get The Bag" video. Takeoff, the heart and soul of the Atlanta trio that remade rap in their image, sports the icy Patek Philippe Nautilus 5719/10G as he raps his standout verse. Takeoff was never shy about embracing his legacy prior to his tragic murder, but even small full-circle moments like this one feel important.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: The 5719 is probably the peak of jewelry craftsmanship. The watch is created by Patek Philippe and the setting is executed by Salanitro — it's a superb fusion of two cornerstones in the Swiss luxury production sector. It's the most storied watchmaker paired with one of the best gem-setting companies in the world, and they come together to create a factory-set masterpiece.

The difference between an aftermarket bustdown setting versus what we call a factory-set is that the factory-set watch was born with the diamonds, whereas the bustdown settings are usually aftermarket additions. True value is found in the factory-set section of the market, due to the originality of the piece resulting in the ability to be easily sold on the secondary market. For the bustdown pieces, the value of the owner’s timepiece is lost once anything aftermarket is added — especially diamonds.

We’re seeing a trend in hip-hop towards factory-set and plain Jane because, historically, these models have held value much better than their bustdown counterparts. Hip-hop originally trended towards bustdown pieces because it was much more cost-effective to purchase a normal watch and add the diamonds later (resulting in a much more expensive look for a fraction of the factory-set price). Although cost-effective, this process would tank the value of the watch collections throughout hip-hop. Now when mainstream rappers rap about their watch collections, the mentions are far more refined — even touching on the value difference between original and aftermarket.

Nas, "Hate Me Now"

Watch: Franck Muller

Forget rap for a second: we couldn’t do a piece about music video history without including Hype Williams. In terms of legacy, he’s up there with Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry for his often-imitated saturated visuals that draw you into their worlds (side note: Belly is one of the best-looking movies of all time). Perhaps one of his most controversial works for its crucifixion of Nas, the “Hate Me Now” video comes alive outside of the heavy visual metaphors and in present-day New York City. The scenes of Nas and Puff Daddy on top of a bodega awning are the clip’s most electrifying, and for those shots, Puffy wore a Franck Muller piece. (We confirmed it with Puffy’s team, though the specific piece may be lost to time). Muller is best known for the distended design known as the “Vanguard,” but the Geneva watchmaker has continued esteem in hip-hop thanks to its adventurous range of styles and of course, impeccable quality.

Vince De La Cerna, Bezel: In the early-2000s, Franck Muller was at the center of rap and hip-hop culture going mainstream. Everyone wanted one. The “tonneau”-shaped case was a nice evolution from the interesting and integrated bracelet watches of the '90s. The shape was a departure from the "classic” circular watch designs that are more commonly seen. The design language, paired with the inventiveness of Franck as a watchmaker, influenced and guided the taste of the early 2000s hip-hop watch collectors and even into today. Franck Muller is still a name mentioned fairly frequently in rap songs now.

A brief history of luxury watches in hip-hop videos