Chef, restaurateur and co-owner – with Robert De Niro – of some of the world’s starriest hangouts, Nobu’s passion for great cuisine is matched by his love of fine watches

Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa doesn’t fit the mould of a typical watch collector – obsessively hoarding their finds in private, seeking out the final finishing touch to a particularly niche ‘set’, or fulfilling the desire to own a specific timepiece. Rather, his 40-strong collection comprises a series of watches he’s amassed over the last 20 years because, quite simply, he likes wearing them. His selection reads like an eclectic high-end boutique: Cartier, Franck Muller, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Jaquet Droz and Piaget rub shoulders with Seiko and Rado – but the most important element for him is very straightforward: ‘I must be able to tell the time reading it.’

What makes Matsuhisa a collector unlike almost every other is that it’s only by complete coincidence and sheer impulsiveness that he has any watches at all. ‘I don’t plan my next purchase,’ he says. ‘It’s a feeling. I love watches, cars and art… it’s the mechanics that I adore. The absolute delicacy of how it’s made. That precision is the same way that I think about food.’

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Meticulousness is everything. ‘In Japan, if a train is expected at 11.10 it will arrive at exactly 11.10. Being on time for me is most important,’ he says. ‘I have never been late to anything.’

When he opened his first Nobu restaurant in New York in 1994, he marked the occasion by purchasing a 36mm Platinum Day-Date on a President Bracelet by Rolex, a brand that ‘for my generation, along with Mercedes, was a true marker of success’. In fact, the brand could be said to have ignited his passion, as for many years he gifted employees a Rolex on their 10-year anniversary, and he shows real remorse that since his team has swelled to several thousands worldwide, this is now proving impossible.

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Matsuhisa is refreshingly un-elitist about his collection, admiring the workmanship and detail from the pedestrian right through to his most extravagant piece, a pink gold Astrotourbillon Rotonde de Cartier, which boasts an Astrorégulateur, a minute repeater, an Astrotourbillon and a skeleton grande complication. He still wears them all, and to say that he’d die for his Rolex is no underestimation, as he nearly did. A year after opening in New York, armed robbers raided the restaurant and, after hiding in a back office with a weekend’s worth of takings in the safe, Matsuhisa was held at gunpoint. ‘I was scared, of course, and might have been killed, but I managed to hide my watch,’ he says. ‘I was worried – maybe too much – about the watch.’

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Nobu, the brand, has grown in the years since. There are now 33 restaurants, with an unrivalled celebrity clientele, many of whom are now personal friends, as well as the upcoming Nobu Hotel Shoreditch – due to open this spring. You could say business is ticking along nicely, and for Matsuhisa, watches are firmly embedded into his lifelong philosophical nature.

‘Time is very important to me,’ he says. ‘Life is about time, a schedule, and living every day to my best.’ While many people might say this, not many actually work out their mortality by a fine calculation, using their wristwatch as witness to their ever-diminishing days. ‘If the average life is 80 years, a lifetime is 29,200 days,’ he says. ‘Today is one of those, and tomorrow is one less, so each hour matters; it must count. I use my watch to remind me of that.’ noburestaurants.com

Laura Lovett