FORBES – If you haven’t been watching the WGN America television series Underground (with season 2 starting in March 2017), you may be missing something. The drama focuses on the lives of slaves and the Underground Railroad in Antebellum, GA. It does so with dignity and poise.
One of the key roles is that of Noah, played by actor Aldis Hodge. Born in North Carolina as Aldis Alexander Basil Hodge, the 30-year-old actor says the role has given him a new view of history. Hodge is also an avid watch lover, as well as an artist and soon-to-be creator of an all-new watch brand under the Basil Time Piece name.
According to Hodge, Basil Time Piece is a boutique brand that will focus on haute horology. “We are going into production now of our first flagship model, but we will only be making small limited collections and special bespoke pieces,” explains Hodge, who is a collector of watches.
Hodge says he garnered his love of watches at a very young age. Growing up in New York and New Jersey, Hodge and his brother had a single-parent Marine mother. “She raised my brother and me, putting us in the business of acting at a very young age, so I have been an actor and entertainer for 27 years. When I was 18, I began attending college for art and design, and I designed all sorts of things from furniture to industrial designs and even watches,” explains Hodge, who remembers that his very first watch was a Mickey Mouse watch that his mom had given him and his brother.
Hodge says he respects the watchmaking of yesteryear, particularly pocket watches.According to Hodge, as a young man, despite having lived in poverty and at one point been homeless, his mother instilled in him the necessity of presenting himself properly. “My mom told us that we should have good shoes, a good suit and a watch, so I was running around at age 10 looking like a little old man,” chuckles Hodge. “But somehow I grew to understand that a watch is a representation of myself, of my culture, taste, awareness and aesthetic.”
As far back as he can remember, Hodge says he has always worn a watch and to this day his collection includes some old American brands such as Elgin and Hamilton, as well as some special pieces from Gerald Genta, Jaquet Droz, Jaeger-LeCoultre and others. He is also a lover of pocket watches and owns several that offer him inspiration.
Being able to combine his love of watches with his sense of design in his own brand is like finally fulfilling a dream that he has been quietly working on for nearly a decade.
“When I was 22, I was working on a line and I brought the concepts to Switzerland to a brand that was looking. I presented three watches, one was a retrograde, one was a perpetual calendar and the third was a tourbillon. They liked them but said they couldn’t make them because that brand at that time didn’t make its own movements, so the concept wouldn’t work; it was too advanced for them.” Says Hodge. “So I decided I would do it myself. I didn’t want to quit acting, though, because I also love that, and because acting gives me the ability to be able to create and design things in my free time.”
A self-taught watchmaker, Hodge has spent more than a decade training himself to build movements, to learn more about design and the feasibility of creating certain products. “With watchmaking, I could learn at my own pace,” says Hodge. “ The first five years or so, I focused on design and aesthetics, but in the past five years, I have become a self-taught horologist.”
Hodge says he has worked with different brands, creating designs and even building an actual watch, which he quickly abandoned. “I didn’t like the quality. You know, the first step out is important. How you start has to be how you want to end, and I wanted everything to be up to my standards – and that wasn’t where I wanted my company to grow to. I knew I wanted top-quality, limited editions, so I went back to the drawing board. I designed another watch movement that got the attention of my current partner, and for the past year and half, the focus has been all about developing the line and planning production, hopefully for a 2019 product launch.”
Hodge says he has had a lot of help getting to this point. “I’ve been lucky to find a teacher from Vacheron Constantin who took me under his wing as an apprentice, and I have another watchmaker teaching me how to use my rose engine turning machine. There is a pretty nice pocket of watchmakers in the United States, and there are a lot of people trying to promote the concept of ‘Made in America’ watches again. We were once a real power in watch production, so it is nice to get some attention back on us, even if we are just carving out our own little niche. I appreciate all of the help I am getting from these other US watchmakers.”
In addition to paying respect to US watchmakers, Hodge also says he owes so much of his respect for time, and for other people’s time, to his mother whom he says taught him about how to dress, how to present himself and how to dream and fulfill those dreams. Currently, the watches are under embargo, but we hope to be the first to be able to show them as soon as Basil Time Piece is ready. For a complete Q&A with Aldis Hodge that unveils more about his feelings on acting, watchmaking and life, please visit ATimelyPerspective.com next week.
Author’s Note: All of the photos for this article were taken by Hodge’s friend, photographer and Underground co-star, Renwick Scott.