Interview by Seth Semilof
Photography by Taj
If you asked Pras Michel, a founding member of the legendary hip-hop trio the Fugees, about his watch collection, you’d get quite the answer. Life at the peak of the East Coast rap game has given him the goods to flourish not only as a businessman, but as a prolific watch collector with a particular weakness for Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. A tour through his watch collection reveals a grand assortment of spectacularly rare and unique pieces, many of which carry with them a remarkable tale of how they found their way into his possession.
Beyond watches, Pras also has stories to tell on the silver screen. His documentary, Sweet Micky for President, tells the tale of how he helped elect the president of his home country, Haiti. He also recently bought the rights to the book, “The Search For Johnny Nichols,” which tells the true story of a Haitian man imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII.
Haute Time sat down with the rapper turned filmmaker and haute collector to discuss his love for luxury watches, the stories behind some of his favorite pieces and life after the Fugees.
You have an Audemars Piguet with a very peculiar history. Can you tell us about it?
It used to be a pocket watch. I went to this auction where they were selling a bunch of different items, and no one wanted to buy this pocket watch. So, I bought it because I thought it was interesting. It was manufactured right before World War II. I loved it so much, but I wasn’t into pocket watches, so I had a friend make a mock watch out of it. I was invited and performed at the wedding of François-Henry Bennahmias, the Global CEO of Audemars Piguet in St Barts. At the wedding, we’re sitting at a table and he says, “what is this?” I tell him it’s an AP watch. He says, “What! I’ve never seen anything like this before. Is it real?” I say, “well, it’s not really an AP. It’s a pocket watch that I turned into a wristwatch.” He says “Wow.” We get to talking and I say, “Hey, can you ever make a real one for me?” So he got rid of the casing and made a one-of-a-kind watch for me. It’s the only one in the world.
How long did it take to make?
It took close to nine months. They [Audemars Piguet] had to make sure that the pocket watch was authentic. Audemars Piguet can’t make the new watch if the original wasn’t real, so they had to verify where I got it, everything about it. Then they made it and I love it. It’s one-of-a-kind and very special to me.
Tell us about your next piece, The Patek Philippe 5088P.
I call this piece the Fire On, or the Firepower. There were probably only 10 of them made in the world.
How did you get it?
If I tell you the story of this, you would think I’m crazy. The first watch I ever bought was an Audemars Piguet Platinum Skeleton. I actually bought it from Jacob the Jeweler. When I walked in, I was like, “listen, don’t give me none of those crazy diamond watches or whatever.” He was like, “Oh you look like a real watch collector.” I said, “I haven’t collected any watches yet, but I want to make sure I get the right one.” So he pulled the Audemars Piguet Skeleton out, and I bought it from him. Unfortunately, I lost the piece years later. Cut to, a friend of mine that sells watches had it, because AP made a 40th anniversary of the same Skeleton. A friend of mine got the last one, brand-new. I go to buy it from him, but I sent him all the money up-front. The guy who was selling the watch to my friend decided not to sell it anymore. So, he and I are going back and forth about it, at war. Then I had to go to Europe. He comes from Egypt and says, “I have another watch you might like. It’s a little bit crazier.” He comes to Europe, he brings me this watch and I’m like, “Yo, what is this?” Because I’ve never seen this type of Patek Philippe before and I thought it was fake, so I’m going back and forth with him and we’re arguing for like six hours, and finally I said, “listen, I don’t want this as looks like a fake watch.” So he goes back to Egypt with it. So I said to him, “Give me back my money.” So he said, “No listen, just show the people at Patek. They’ll tell you it’s real.” I don’t pay attention to him. So he sends the watch to my place in NYC. I’m in L.A., and I usually deal with Gearys on Rodeo Drive. So I’m talking to the main guy, and I’m trying to explain to him how this guy tried to sell me a fake Patek. So I showed him a photo of the watch and he said, “Do you know what that is? It’s a museum piece. They call it the rare pieces.” He brought out the book with the rare pieces and says, “Do you really have this watch? Please get it!” And the watch is sitting in my place in New York and I’m thinking it’s fake.
The next watch is Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Concept GMT. For a guy that collects Audemers Piguet, you have to have it in your portfolio. Tell us about this piece.
When I first got here, I thought it would be a great sporty watch to have. And it doesn’t look like a traditional AP, like a Royal Oak or an Offshore. So I got it and I love it. It’s a very understated piece. A lot of people don’t really get into it. I see a couple of people have concept watches. I think Pharrell [Williams] has one and Swizz [Beatz] has one. Those are the ones who really know what it is.
The next piece blew us away. The Audemars Piguet Tradition Tourbillon Minute Repeater Chronograph. They only make 10 of them. Tell me about it. This is a serious piece.
This piece is called a grand complication, which is a Minute Repeater, Chronograph, Tourbillon and it has a split-second hand also. I just loved it. To be honest with you, when I first saw it, I didn’t know what I was getting. I called Francois and said, “I want to get this watch.” He said, “Do you know what you’re getting?” I said, “no.” I like the fact that, first of all, it’s very expensive and there’s only 10 people that have it in the world. I didn’t know I was getting number 10, so I got the last one. You either want the first one or the last one or a number in-between that means something to you. ten was great for me because I was born on the tenth month, October. I love this piece, man! This right here is a monster of a watch. This is a beast! The only watch I have on the Patek side that is neck to neck with it is the minute repeater. The 5074.
Is this a piece that means a lot to you?
The piece from AP that means the most to me is this one. The next one is the Patek Philippe 5524G, Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. Not a lot of people have this watch. You must be a great client, or know someone to get it this quickly. I knew someone [laughs]. The minute I saw it, I had to get it. What I love about it is that it’s one of those watches that you really get the bang for your buck. It’s white gold, it’s a Pilot, it’s two time zones. It’s very simple, but the cost, the value is only $49,000. So you’re getting a Patek Philippe that you can’t even get anywhere for a good deal.
What I like about you is that you only have a few diamond pieces. Nothing too expensive. Can you tell us about one of the few diamond pieces you do have in your collection, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Automatic in White Gold?
I have three diamond pieces. Let me tell you why I got this. Sometimes, when you go out and got these rappers trying to bling. So I said, “Let me get a bling.” So when I see them, I can be like “Listen playa, this is Crush Diamonds Factory from AP. This right here is special. The minute hand has diamonds, but it’s classy. I call this the “Tuxedo AP.”
So this is something you’d wear to a Grammy party?
Yeah, because there’s going to be rappers there.
And they’re not going to know these pieces.
No, they’re not going to have a clue what this is. They’re gonna think I’m wearing something from Chinatown.
You have the Forged Carbon.
They discontinued it.
Is that something you’d wear to the gym?
You know what, it’s when I want to wear all black and have something on.
We have to skip to the next piece. This is a monster, monster piece. This is a piece you can’t just buy in the store. The Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5074R-001.
Now you can never buy it because they discontinued it. Even when you could get it, you can’t get it.
Is there a story to that?
I knew someone at Tiffany’s, but now you can’t get it anywhere. Here’s what’s interesting. When this came in, it’s because I ordered it obviously, and it took awhile because you have to go through all the applications. It actually came to me fairly quickly. As my luck would have it, they discontinued it four days after I got it. Now, if you want to buy this on the second- hand market, it’ll cost you $750,000.
I assume you’ve had a good appreciation of value in your collection because a lot of these watches you can’t go out and get anymore.
Everyone collects for different reasons. When I first started collecting watches, because I always loved watches and I was brought up to respect watches and appreciate them by my uncle, I just started buying everything. I had Breguet, Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre, amd Vacheron Constantin. I had about 100 watches up to six or seven years ago. I decided that I want to keep watches that really mean something to me. My two favorite brands happen to be Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. To be honest, Audemars Piguet was the first brand that I really fell in love with. Then, once I started to do research and see what it is, I fell in love with Patek Philippe. For me, it’s about pieces that mean something, but also have value, and also that not everyone is going to have the piece that I’m wearing.
If you’re a serious watch guy, you have to have the Patek Philippe 5712.
This is my everyday watch, believe it or not. I wear this every single day. I love it. Then, after I got this, I decided to get the Patek Philippe 5980 in Rose Gold. Just because I wanted an all-gold watch from Patek Philippe.
It’s almost similar to your Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon in Gold, but your AP is a tourbillon.
Does it feel different?
They’re both heavy. The 5980 might be a little bit heavier because it’s all solid. The tourbillon AP, this is the thin one. But this one, I love the weight of it.
Tell us about the Patek Philippe 5100J.
Yeah, this is the 10-day reserve? I love it. They discontinued this one also. That’s what I love. I love when they discontinue my watches.
That’s a piece that you have to have sophistication to buy that because it’s very expensive and most people don’t know about it.
It’s very classy and elegant. I have a funny story about this one. A friend of mine comes to me and says, “Hey Pras, listen man. I have an interview with big money guys. I’m trying to get this project going. I need to borrow a watch.” So I figure I’ll give him something to wear to ace the interview. So I give him the 5100J. He goes to his meeting. On his way home, he decides to stop at a gas station. Now you know something is crazy when you stop at a gas station, you’re trying to go to the mini-market, and it’s closed. You have to order everything from the window. You know you’re not in a good area. So he goes in and places his order, he’s heading for his car, and this guy come to him and says, “Run your jewels, run everything.” So he’s panicking because this dude pulls out a gun. So he gives him his wallet and everything else he had on him, and the guy looks in and takes all the cash and says, “Run the watch!” So my friend’s like, “Please man, my grandfather gave me this,” and the guy says, “Yo, run the watch.” So he takes the watch off and gives it to the guy. The guy goes to take off, looks at the watch, and goes, “Man this ain’t no Rolex, take this garbage back.” That would have been close to $90,000! It’s crazy. So my man comes back and says, “Man, I never wants to wear anybody else’s watch until I have my own watch.”
The next piece, the Audemars Piguet Quincy Jones Millenary, for legendary Quincy Jones.
Actually, that was a gift from François, so I appreciate it. I love it.
Usually in your profession, the first thing you go out and buy is a big watch with diamonds. You went and got a Skeleton Audemars Piguet in Platinum. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. Usually it takes a little time to be educated. You really stick to two brands. What is some advice you have for other collectors?
Like I said, when I first started, I just went and bought everything that I liked. There are great watches like Breguet, IWC, Vacheron Constantin, and Jaeger LeCoultre. I had a Franck Muller, even a Rolex. All of these pieces are great pieces, but you have to decide what kind of collector you want to be. Not everyone is going to sit here and wear a half-a-million dollar watch. That’s not for everyone. What I like to tell people is educate yourself on what you’re buying. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, I don’t care if it’s $25,000, on a watch, then you should get the best $25,000 for your investment. That’s what I like to tell people. Like I said, everyone can’t be this great collector. For example, I love art, but I’m not a crazy art collector. I have a friend. You know Leo? His art collection is off the chain, but I’m not into art like that. But I do have my little Picassos and Basquiat. I have a little art here and there.
That’s pretty impressive.
The reason I have three Basquiats is because he’s Haitian. I also love his work. I figured that I want to have some Haitian art in my collection.
When did you get all of this art?
My first Picasso I got in 1999. I got this guy who’ll always say to me, “hey, what do you think of this piece?” and if I feel like I like it, I’ll say, “Yeah I’ll think about it.” But my passion is really watches when it comes to collecting. I love everything about watches.
What are you doing right now outside of watches?
Right now, I’m partnered with two friends of mine. We have a private equity fund. We do renewable energy outside of America. We do stuff in Asia. We’re actually finishing a deal in Africa and we did a deal in Malaysia. That’s what I’m working on as far as business ventures outside of entertainment. As far as charity, I don’t have a charity but I support a lot of different organizations that mean something to me. For example, my friend Sean Penn has a great charity organization that helps out people in Haiti, JPHRO.
You were very involved after the earthquake in Haiti.
One hundred percent. Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, this guy named Paul Haggis who directed Crash. They all have charity organizations that I support because they’re giving back to Haiti and I see what they’re doing. Besides that, I’m doing my documentaries. Last year, I released this documentary called Sweet Micky for President. It’s about how I helped the former President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, win the election. He used to be a big pop star in Haiti so it’s a crazy story. Now, I’m working on a film project that I’m developing.
What type of film?
Actually, I just optioned this book named The Search For Johnny Nicholas. It’s about this black man that was the only one in the concentration camps during World War II. He was sort of a con man and was able to manipulate the guards and impersonate a doctor to help save the lives of the Jewish prisoners. It’s based on a true story. I’m working on a bunch of other projects. I’m working on television also. The music will always be there also.
Do you miss the days of the Fugees?
I’ll tell you this. I don’t really think about the Fugees, even though, coincidentally, this is the 20th anniversary. And none of us really talk about it or care. Those times are special to me because that’s what got to me to where I’m at right now. Without that, I wouldn’t be sitting here. So in that regard, yes, but I’m looking ahead. My best is still around the corner. That’s my philosophy.
I really appreciate the interview. I know you’ve done other interviews about watches, but you’ve never delved quite so deep into it.
I live a very quiet life. I love luxury and respect luxury for what it is. I don’t love luxury to taunt people or to flaunt it on people. I love it because I’ve been blessed to have a lifestyle that allows me to do that. The reason why I never really wanted to share something like this in the past is, how do you explain it to someone. Right here, this case [Only a portion of his watch collection] is worth about 4 to 5 million dollars, just this case right here. To me it feels weird to showcase that. We live in a world where a lot of people are perpetuating a lie because they want to keep up with the Jones’. I like to tell people that it’s okay if you can’t have a $3, $80,000 or $400,000 watch. That’s fine, just be who you are. You don’t have to go above and beyond. I haven’t had a hit record in how long, it doesn’t matter. This is more to show people that you don’t have to have a top ten record in order for you to collect this. What this should teach people, a lot of these kids that will read this, is that when you make money, invest your money. My investments are what allow me to be able to live the lifestyle that I live. I try to take something that might seem a little ostentatious and try to put a positive spin on it. If you take anything from this, you should say, “Wow, I remember this dude back from the ‘90s and he’s still living like he has the No.1 record in the country.”