Antonio Jaramillo, who co-stars on FX’s motorcycle club drama “Mayans MC,” went from selling watches at Tiffany & Co. to acting in stage plays, TV and movies. But the Mexican-born actor has continued his pursuit of horological knowledge while assembling a small but eclectic timepiece collection.
MB: The biography on your website starts off with “Antonio didn’t know he’d become an actor.” How does one go from a Mexican orphanage to developing the interest in the arts that led you to acting?
AJ: My brother and I grew up in an orphanage in Mexico, while my sister stayed with my mom in San Diego, where most of my family was. Eventually I came to stay with relatives in California while I went to junior high and high school. After high school, I worked in the restaurant industry, where I discovered the theater. I didn’t know it would be a profession or a career; at the time, it was just more like therapy. But one [acting] job led to another job, and people kept responding to my work in a very positive way. In 2004, when I was living in Orange County and working at a Morton’s Steakhouse, I was offered a job at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The very next day I quit both restaurant jobs. I decided, if I’ve been given this opportunity, I have to let it take me where’s it going to take me. That’s when I said, “No more restaurants,” but I still needed a regular income. Which brings me to the period when I was working in a store selling watches.
MB: Let’s talk about that. How did you end up with a job in watch retailing and how did it lead you to a better appreciation of fine watches?
AJ: It’s kind of a crazy thing. I’ve always been knowledge-hungry, and I like to read about what’s happening around the world; as an actor, I feel it’s part of my job to investigate human behavior and to learn about other cultures. So, to make a long story short, in the early ’90s, before your magazine started, I went to a Tower Records and found myself looking at the racks of magazines, and saw a magazine called “International Watch,” which I thought was about international news. I started thumbing through the pages and all I see are pictures of watches! I put it back on the shelf because I didn’t understand it. A few weeks later, I was still wondering about who would read a magazine with just watches in it, so I went back to the Tower Records to look for it.
MB: So that’s how you discovered watch magazines. Did you eventually understand the appeal of this subject?
AJ: At first I was surprised that anybody would read this stuff, but I was intrigued, so I just kept reading and found that there’s so much history behind companies like Blancpain, Glashütte Original and Breguet; some of these companies were around when Napoleon was alive! I just started absorbing the history of watches – from the early 1900s when it was just wealthy people who could afford a watch, to the 1970s, when the Japanese companies like Citizen and Seiko killed the Swiss and German watchmaking industry and made watches accessible to everyone with their $20 plastic pieces. I found it all fascinating. So now that I had all this knowledge, what was I going to do with it? I went to Tiffany & Co. and they were hiring for the holidays, so I went in for an interview. They hired me, and I started selling brands like Blancpain, Glashütte, Longines, Maurice Lacroix, Tissot and Hamilton. I was a young kid, but people were buying from me and the owner noticed. I guess customers could just sense my enthusiasm. For a while I thought that my career was going to be decided between the watch industry and the arts, but then the arts got a hold of me, so here we are.
MB: Were you into watches at all before that experience? Did you wear a watch or know much of anything at all?
AJ: No. There weren’t a lot of high-end stores in San Diego at the time, so there wasn’t a lot of access to those types of watches; you had to go to New York or Beverly Hills. But I started saving money, and my first watch was an Omega Speedmaster, which I loved. Then I just started buying more. A watch will outlast a home or a car; it’s a major piece of history. If you take care of a watch it can go from you to your son and grandsons.
MB: Speaking of continuing history, your first major TV series role is on FX’s “Mayans MC,” a sequel to its popular motorcycle club drama, “Sons of Anarchy.” How will this show be different from the original and how does your character fit in?
AJ: It’s a continuation of the saga that [“SOA” and “Mayans MC” creator] Kurt Sutter created, turning the focus to another motorcycle club that was intertwined with the Sons of Anarchy. There are motorcycles, there are outlaws, it’s super cool, and I think the people who loved “Sons” are going to love “Mayans MC.” It’s a little different because it’s about a Latin motorcycle club, with a 95 percent Hispanic cast, but it has that same outlaw mentality – outcasts trying to assimilate to a society, trying to find their place in the world.
MB: Sutter is known to have a very singular creative vision. How much input did you have in developing your character with him?
AJ: Initially there’s a meeting with Kurt where he tells you what his vision is, and you share your thoughts on the character, and then they come together, and he makes the final call. We actually had to reshoot the pilot, with five or six different roles recast from the first one that didn’t quite work, and lots of details changed, including my character’s role within the club, and actually many things continue to change because others’ ideas are brought in. It’s going to take time, just like it did with “Sons of Anarchy,” for a lot of the characters to develop, so we’ll see what happens.
MB: You’ve built a pretty eclectic watch collection. Let’s start with the Bell & Ross. Do you remember what turned you on to that brand and that model?
AJ: I liked the simplicity of it, the military aviation style. I like the big Arabic numerals and the fact that it works well as an everyday watch. It’s a good company that I remember following since the late ’90s, when it started out making some quartz watches and some mechanicals. It’s great that it’s become so successful.
MB: This vintage Heuer chronograph is rather special, right?
AJ: Yes, it’s a re-edition of an original Heuer Carrera with a Lemania movement. The first one came out in 1964, and the company did this commemorative version 25 years later. I’m a sucker for a pretty face and I loved that Champagne dial as soon as I saw it. I bought that one at Ben Bridge Jewelers, which actually let me put it on layaway at the time because I didn’t have much money back then. They weren’t supposed to, but the lady I bought it from saw how enthusiastic I was about it, so she gave me 30 days to pay it off! Of course, Heuer became TAG Heuer in the 1980s and stopped using that old logo. At the time, the Link was TAG Heuer’s biggest model; everybody seemed to have one at the time. But the brand resurrected that Heuer logo for this model. I thought it was a wonderful way for the company to honor its past.
MB: You’ve described your Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer as one of your favorites. Could you tell me how you discovered it and why this particular model appeals to you?
AJ: It is my favorite, and Ulysse Nardin is one of my favorite brands. I like simplicity and functionality, and when I saw this watch, with the big Arabic numbers and that clean, yellow dial, I had to special order it. I was going to buy a different model with a moon-phase, but when the sales- person showed me this yellow-dialed version in the catalog – and told me that there weren’t that many of them made, maybe 100, and that she could get me one but it would take some time – I jumped at it. That was maybe 18 years ago. I like that it’s a watch you can either dress up or go casual with, and I like that Ulysse Nardin “look” that reminds you of yachts and the ocean.
MB: In addition to simple dials with big numerals here, there seem to be quite a few chronographs in your collection. Are you a fan of that complication in particular?
AJ: I do like chronographs even though I never use the function. I am a fan of the German company Junghans, and particularly this blue-dialed model, the Meister Chronoscope, which looks tremendous. I think I bought it the same day I saw it in a magazine. I was in Georgia at the time, working on a show called “Meet the Browns” with Tyler Perry, and I found a dealer that carried it, and had one left of the model I wanted, with this blue dial. I called the dealer and asked if they could hold it for me until the next day. They agreed, so that watch came home with me from Georgia.
MB: Has your growing watch connoisseurship found its way into your roles? Have you ever been able to choose your character’s watch, or made suggestions about what that character would wear?
AJ: I do, but it’s very limited because sometimes on a set they use knock-offs, unless it’s a big- budget movie, in which there’s product placement. On many [smaller budget] projects, they want to use Rolexes, Cartiers, Breitlings, maybe Omegas, but they can only get knock-offs, which I don’t like to wear because then I’m supporting that industry. So in those cases I tell them, “No watch,” or I wear my own. I have been in some big-budget movies, but the producers don’t use me for product placement – they’ll use Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez or Benicio del Toro, and they’ll give me a Timex [laughs].
MB: Does your character in “Mayans MC,” Michael “Riz” Ariza, wear a watch?
AJ: I was supposed to, but the one they gave me wasn’t really right; it was a little too gaudy. Plus, I wear a lot of rings and other accessories in that role, so the watch seemed to be too much. I do wear some of my watches on set, and the other cast members are always saying, “Let me see your watch!” because they don’t know much about watches. They know Rolex and Cartier, maybe Audemars Piguet and Hublot because all the basketball players wear those, but they see mine and ask, “What the hell is a Ulysse?”
MB: I know you read WatchTime, and you’re continually seeking watch knowledge. Are there any pieces out there now that you’re feeling the need to add to your collection?
AJ: I like a lot of them, but I have to distance myself because despite being very fortunate with my career in this industry, the fact that I grew up in an orphanage hasn’t left me. I can’t bring myself to spend huge sums on such things because I feel guilty knowing that there are children without basic necessities, like food, water and medication. I have a cap: if it’s more than $7,500, I walk away, even though I know some watches are worth it, like those beautiful Breguets, and collectors’ items like IWC’s Pilot Watches with eight-day power reserves and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Memovox alarm watches. I can buy them used, but I’m always cautious to do that because I like to go to the authorized dealers rather than getting them online from some guy whose face I never even see.
MB: Any other watches or brands that you’d like our readers to know you own or appreciate?
AJ: I like Chronoswiss, especially the jump-hour watches they do. I like Graham watches; they’re a little bulky for my wrist, but I think they look pretty cool with that lever design. As far as ladies’ watches, I love Blancpain’s mother-of-pearl dials, and Chopard’s designs are really beautiful. Really, if I didn’t have children I would probably spend a lot more money on watches.
This story originally appeared in the January-February 2019 issue of WatchTime. Styling for Antonio Jaramillo by Brandi Mascorro for Maren Artists Agency using Pacifica Beauty.