This story first appeared in the inaugural Watches supplement to The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Tyler Florence was a 15-year-old in Greenville, S.C., he saved the meager wages from his dishwashing job, presented himself at the local Kmart and bought that dream of teenage boys everywhere — a Timex watch.
“It had a gold-colored face and a fake alligator strap,” Florence says during a break from his frantic schedule as a celebrity chef, best-selling cookbook author (Dinner at My Place) and restaurateur behind the Bay Area’s hit Wayfare Tavern and El Paseo. But from those humble beginnings emerged a consuming affair with fine timepieces.
Florence’s collection now comprises 16 watches, starting with the Panerai Luminor he bought in 1997 to celebrate signing his first network contract. Befitting a man who knows firsthand how a false flick of the whisk can sink a souffle, Florence has an abiding respect for the craft that underpins his collection.
“I think things that are more difficult to make are to be cherished for their humanity and craftsmanship,” he says. “I have the same affection for chef ’s knives that are well engineered.”
Florence nonetheless acknowledges the purely aesthetic appeal of a fine watch, both in the kitchen, where he favors his rugged Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller chronograph, and when he puts on a suit, the left sleeve of the jacket hemmed a quarterinch to let his IWC Big Pilot “breathe.” Hollywood is notorious for sniffing out signifiers, and Florence is unapologetic about letting his watch double as a status proxy. “I’m not a snob,” he clarifies. “Having a power watch is about a quiet sense of strength. It makes a statement that says you’re successful.”
But whatever their provenance, Florence’s watches inspire deep emotional bonds — he stores them in an eightwatch winding box so that he always has an assortment on deck — and he recounts any losses as if having been deprived a cherished friend. The Franck Muller he was wearing when he married was later stolen from a repair shop. “I loved them all,” he says ruefully.
Florence considers his collection, as much as his restaurants, books and TV shows, his legacy. “These are going to be heirlooms for my children.” Fitting, then, that the boy who spent his dishwashing money on a watch because it made him feel more like a man recently gave his father, on the occasion of his 65th birthday, a Rolex Datejust.