INTERVIEW: Mojdeh Cutter

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner 
April 2022 
        I met Mojdeh Cutter last summer in the East Village, when she randomly stopped me on the street. Excuse me, are you Brynn from Dimepiece?? She was just getting into watches, she explained, because of a project she was working on with Swiss Institute – and, luckily, research led her to me. Within 2 minutes of chatting, I knew in my heart that I’d found a lifelong friend. She’s a witty, quick talker with an implacable accent (giving Parisian it-girl by way of Tehran by way of the Valley), exuding so much curiosity and kindness through her bright eyes. Since then, we’ve gotten time to know each other properly, bonding over our undying love for our chihuahuas, our Brandy Melville shopping addictions and our newfound affection for watches. Aside from that, Mojdeh has been in the art world for a decade (that’s her painting in the first photo), with over 5 years working at Swiss Institute; but it’s only in the past year, co-leading the TimeForArt auction, that she started digging into the horological side of Swiss culture. Her watch journey has been unorthodox… It started as a work thing, but now she’s all in, proudly wearing a little pink-dial Datejust.

Brynn Wallner: Tell me about the TimeForArt auction you’re working on. It’s essentially the reason why we’re friends now…

Mojdeh Cutter: TimeForArt is the first-ever benefit watch auction to support contemporary art. The inaugural edition of TimeForArt is happening in December 2022, as a dedicated chapter of the Phillips watch auction in New York. While deeply intertwined, the worlds of art and horology rarely come together in meaningful collaboration. A couple of watch brands are using the art space, but are doing it more so from a marketing driven point of view, which ends up alienating serious artists and art collectors. TimeForArt seeks to change that by providing a long-term platform for true creative engagement across the fields.

BW: That’s so cool, I can’t wait. Thank you for including me on the advisory committee, lol. Makes me feel rich. Did you get into watches because of this project, or were you into them before?

MC: Yes! Prior to TimeForArt, I really wasn’t into watches, even though my dad and brother have been obsessed with them forever. They’ve tried to get me into watches ever since I was a little kid, but I always ignored them [laughs]. I just wasn’t interested! Or maybe it was an act of rebellion.

BW: Your dad got you your Rolex Oyster Perpetual, right?

MC: Yes, he got it for me as a wedding gift, which was two months before the TimeForArt project began. When I received it, I was like, why are you giving me this? You know I don’t wear watches… What am I going to do with this? Sounding like such a spoiled brat... And also, at the time, I exclusively wore yellow gold jewelry – and I don’t wear a lot of pink. So, it just felt like an odd choice to give me a steel watch with a baby pink dial. But shortly after receiving the watch, Simon Castets (Swiss Institute’s Executive Chair) and I started working on TimeForArt, and we started having meetings with watch people. I was like, gah, maybe I should bust out my one watch even though I don’t love it. I started wearing it initially to play the part of someone in the watch world, but it quickly grew on me, and now it’s my favorite watch.

BW: No way!

MC: Yes, it’s very sentimental and means so much to me. My dad bought me and my husband “matching” Rolexes as a wedding gift for both of us. His and hers! His has a black dial. Every time we wear them together, we reminisce about a moment in time we both cherish.

BW: I remember when I first met you – you were thinking of swapping it for another watch, even though it held that sentimental value. It didn’t mesh with you aesthetically.

MC: But it has really grown on me – not only because of the story behind it and its meaning, but also because it was the first “real” watch anyone ever bought me.

BW: It actually feels like your style…

MC: Somehow it is my style! I love the “baby girl” vibes the pink dial gives off. And the fact that my dad bought it for his only daughter…

BW: Sooo baby girl! And, like, it could be basic, but you make it cool. So, now you like watches?

MC: I love watches.

BW: Is your family thrilled?

MC: My brother and dad couldn’t be happier. Any time I see them, any chance I get, I talk to them about watches. They are so puzzled over my change in heart. But through my job – and through TimeForArt, specifically – I’ve been exposed to this world and am immensely lucky to meet with watchmakers and visit manufacturers in Switzerland. Once you learn a little bit about watches and the craft behind them, you can’t not love them, which feels similar to contemporary art. You might be intimidated at first if you’re not an art expert, and it may seem like you can’t walk into a gallery or a museum without feeling alienated in some way. I’ve been in the art world for a decade now, but that’s the feeling I got when I was around watches. I had never stepped into a watch store before – not that I even wanted to at the time, but I felt like I couldn’t because there was a barrier. Like, they would instantly pick up that I didn’t know anything about watches.

BW: But you realized that’s not the case…

MC: Once you scratch the surface, you see that there’s so much richness, beauty, skill and heritage in this industry. I also love how most people wear watches that have a personal story behind them. That level of intimacy is what makes this community so fascinating and endearing. It pulls you in. The story and meaning that individuals hold behind each watch is actually what makes the industry feel accessible to me. It’s about human connection, all thanks to a small wearable object.

BW: And the people are really nice, too! I remember moderating the “Women in Watches” Phillips discussion panel last fall, and you commented that, while art world people can be closed-off, watch people are so welcoming… 

MC: I feel that way still, to this day! Every single person I’ve met in the watch industry has been extremely friendly and generous in sharing their knowledge and passion. I’ve gotten such an education talking with other women, especially.

BW: I feel exactly the same way.

MC: It really furthers my interest in being in this space. People are excited to meet me, too, as I’m part of this new wave of younger individuals – specifically women – getting into this field. It’s very encouraging.

BW: So, you’ve been in the art world for a decade?

MC: In college, I focused on painting, and then I started interning at art galleries after I graduated in 2014, which is when the career side of my involvement with art began. I ended up interning at Swiss Institute as I was finishing up my Master’s in Art Business at the Sotheby’s Institute. Simon then hired me, and now I’ve been working at Swiss Institute for 5 and a half years. 

BW: Do you love it?

MC: Yes, I love Swiss Institute’s mission. We are a non-profit, and we don’t charge admission in an effort to be open and accessible to all – a resource to the community interested in discovering contemporary art. We provide opportunities to emerging contemporary artists, producing exhibitions and giving artists from around the world exposure through what usually is their first solo institutional shows in the US (often before they even have gallery representation). I’ve always believed in that work. And now that we started the TimeForArt initiative, I almost feel a rebirth in my career… It’s an exciting, long-term project that I’m genuinely passionate about.

BW: Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing?

MC: I was born in Iran – in Tehran, the capital. When I was almost a year old, my family and I moved to Paris, France where I grew up until I moved to New York City at age 18. I’m culturally Persian and French, but I’m 100% Persian by blood.

BW: You moved to New York for college?

MC: Yes, in 2010 to attend Sarah Lawrence.

BW: Do you still paint?

MC: I’m taking a bit of a pause, but I really want to get back into it because painting is one of the first things I felt confident doing. After taking painting all 4 years in college, I got a studio when I graduated and I was painting consistently for a while. But I felt like I needed to get a “real job” – I didn’t want to work odd jobs, and I didn’t want to rely on my family for financial support. It was very important for me to be independent, so I thought, maybe I’ll go and do something really serious for a bit, which is what led me to getting my Master’s at Sotheby’s Institute.

BW: Do you think that was worth it?

MC: You really do it just so you can say, “I got my Master’s”...

BW: Or to get a job at Sotheby’s…

MC: Well, that was the idea! I thought, if I get this Master’s, maybe I’ll have job security and corporate structure. But then I ended up getting the Swiss Institute offer, which is the complete opposite of a big corporate job. It’s a non-profit, small museum… I’m so glad I went with it.

BW: Selfishly, I love that it brought us together! So tell me about your other watches. We discussed the baby girl OP.

MC: Yes, so the other watch I wear semi-often is my mom’s Cartier – it’s a Trinity, and she’s had it for as long as I can remember. It’s the only watch I ever cared about as a kid. I think I was drawn to it because it doesn’t really look like a watch, compared to my dad’s chunkier Rolexes. It’s dainty, and I have tiny wrists, so…

BW: Skinny wrist problems!

MC: It just fits better. But my mom never wore it; it was always in the safe, which she only opened every six months or so. Any time she would open it, I would get a chance to comb through her jewelry, as well as my own jewelry from when I was a baby – some of which I’m actually wearing right now. I would get very excited when she’d pull out the Cartier watch. I would beg her for it, and she promised that she’d give it to me when I had my life figured out.

BW: And when was that? When did you get your life figured out??

MC: Verbally, she gave it to me 3 years ago. But we thought that it was broken, so she kept it in Paris to get it serviced at the Cartier store.

BW: And then the pandemic hit…

MC: Yes, and when she eventually put it on to take it to Cartier, she realized that it actually worked!

BW: Wait, is it automatic?

MC: It’s quartz! We were very confused. But now it works perfectly. So, spiritually it was mine 3 years ago, but I officially got it in person 6 months ago.

BW: Do you wear it?

MC: Yes, I feel very put together when I do. 

BW: It’s giving gala watch.

MC: That’s what I thought, at first! But I actually wear it to meetings or when I travel to Switzerland for work. I feel very comfortable with it.

BW: And then there’s your Hello Kitty Flik Flak.

MC: When I was little, I used to wear Flik Flaks, which were huuuge in Paris. Sadly, I’ve lost them all. But I recently bought myself this one to honor my youth.

BW: Your inner child!

MC: Even before I got my Rolex and started working on TimeForArt, I would find myself checking the Flik Flak website often because I loved the size. If I were ever going to buy a watch for myself, it wasn’t going to be a regular Swatch, it was going to be a little Flik Flak! It’s so cute, and I love the fabric strap.

BW: And Hello Kitty…

MC: Oh, I loved Hello Kitty as a kid. I named my kitten “Kitty” because of her. Turns out the cat was a male, but…

BW: Non-binary! Okay, so what about the Patek?

MC: Now onto the big guns. It’s a Calatrava from 1997, which got discontinued after a few years.

BW: I love the coin bezel.

MC: It’s gorgeous. It is technically my dad’s, and he only wears it on special occasions. It’s a family heirloom – the intention behind his purchase was to keep it for generations to come, and I’m currently the lucky lender. My dad always spoke highly of Patek Philippe. I actually learned more about Patek Philippe as my family worked closely with one of their iconic watch designers, Gilbert Albert.

BW: I love Gilbert Albert, who I discovered after speaking with fellow Dimepiece Joanna Yuan Gong. Do you have any advice for any aspiring Dimepieces??

MC: Follow Dimepiece! [both of us laugh] No, but it’s true. I know it sounds like I’m trying to kiss up, but I’ve been recommending all of my friends to follow you on Instagram. Actually, my best friend told me she got herself a Hugo the Gargoyle watch from The Hunchback of Notre Dame Disney movie that she found after looking up the “Crashy Pooh” you posted on IG.  The influence is real…

BW: You’re too kind…

MC: When I first started doing research about the watch field during the beginnings of TimeForArt, I’d go through watch publications and I’d have no idea what I was looking at. It all felt so incredibly foreign and impenetrable to me. Watch media uses so many technical terms and details that it becomes a full blur for outsiders. And watch ads can be so…. stale. I felt like there was no real access point for me until Dimepiece came about, representing watches within a cultural context, presenting them as another accessory to talk about as you would with shoes or handbags. Being exposed to watches on accounts like yours, you start to gain a visual vocabulary, and you inevitably start to ID watches you see out in the world. Next thing you know, you’re approaching complete strangers in restaurants and saying things like “I couldn’t help but notice your two-tone Royal Oak…” Next thing you know after that is that you’ve become friendly with someone you would have never expected to connect with. Next thing you know after that is that you too have become a watch geek and watches are all you talk about.