In April, 2013, the French musicians Daft Punk released a song called “Get Lucky.” You know it. The sunnily synthetic track features Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, the latter of whom croons, hum-along if you want, “we’re up all night ‘til the sun / we’re up all night to get some / we’re up all night for good fun / we’re up all night to get lucky.”
That was over six and a half years ago. Consider, then, that the song’s earliest air plays—transformed into FM radio waves traveling ex-Earth at 186,000 miles per second—are now almost unfathomably far away. Someone, or something, somewhere, may today be hearing “Get Lucky” for the very first time.
The example serves as both an aesthetic nod and an existential wink to Williams’ latest project. News was revealed this week that the multi-hyphenate creator had collaborated with the ultra-luxe watch label Richard Mille on a model called the “RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams.” Only 30 are to be made, and each will cost $969,000.
During an interview yesterday at the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club in Miami Beach, word had started to get around. Williams briefly interrupted the conversation to say: “Quavo just texted. He wants the watch.”
“The first thing I thought of was Daft Punk,” I say. The watch's face—open, inset with blue aventurine glass—features a relief of some future astronaut's visage, standing on Mars and looking back at Earth. Skeletonized titanium hands evoke shuttle launch platforms; the spaceman’s face is rendered in an intricate process between an engraver, an enamel specialist and a painter; the Red Planet’s surface shimmers with red gold; diamonds stand in as helmet-situated floodlights, and all of this, hyper-miniaturized to fit on the wrist, is encased by a fortified material called Cermet (which blends titanium and ceramic). It does look like a semi-homage to Daft Punk’s retro-futuristic rocketeer masks.
“I didn’t think of that, but now that you say that, that’s super cool,” says Williams.
Williams owns and wears a number of Richard Mille timepieces. The collaboration idea surfaced due to his close relationship with the house. And, for him, the baseline inspiration was always about the intricacies, mysteries, and magnitudes of time. Hence, the manned-mission-to-Mars as a motif.
“Going there is such a beautiful thing, because it’s symbolic to us as a species. For survival, yes, but it’s the audacity of thinking and the audacity of knowing that’s a whole different thing. It’s one thing to have ambition. It’s another to have the confidence to follow through on that ambition,” he says.
The subject of time itself is fascinating to discuss with Williams. As it passes hurriedly outside in a clipped Florida wind churning up green surf, inside, it turns to slow motion. Williams relates time to the things that we, collectively, do not completely understand.
“Do you believe in aliens?” I ask.
“Of course. I haven’t been cognizant of seeing a UFO, but how could aliens not exist? There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions of galaxies behind your thumb, in any direction in which you point it. The culture of humanity is so insular that we’ve been able to convince ourselves that we’re the only ones here.”
“Did you have a favorite planet as a kid?”
“I think Neptune. As producers, we’re called The Neptunes. And, I was born in a housing project called Atlantis, in Virginia Beach. And, you know, King Neptune’s Greek counterpart, Poseidon, lived in Atlantis.”
“What’s your star sign?”
“Aries. We’re ruled by Mars.” (Another subtle personal layer within the Richard Mille design.)
We transition to speaking about space exploration itself; Williams does not want to go beyond Earth's atmosphere, for the record, but he may want to try sending up his phone and live-streaming it. (He has worked with NASA in the past.) With Virgin Galactic and SpaceX not yet operating, I ask:
“Did you ever get a chance to fly the Concorde?”
“Yes!” Williams exclaims. “You can see the curve of the earth. It's almost space. If it was up to me, that’s all I would do. That would be my only means of transportation. Period. It was unbelievable. It will come back, with more control of the sonic boom, and with a different, greener fuel source. Japan? In five hours? What are we waiting on?”
Like a minute hand completing its own little orbit, takeoff to touchdown, up-all-night-til-the-sun and back again, and our own very established arcs from life to death, time is linked by something at once immediately familiar and, in tandem, impossible to really know.
“That,” Williams says, “is time travel.”