ne outcome of the pandemic crisis could have been to put a bit of a damper on the bling side of watchmaking and jewellery.
But last January, MMA fighter Conor McGregor showed off his two new Jacob & Co “horological jewels” – the Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette in rose gold (with a total of 342 invisibly set baguette-cut diamonds on the backdrop and a further 80 invisibly set baguette-cut diamonds on the lugs) and a Rasputin Diamond Erotic Minute Repeater (178 baguette diamonds for the case, 100 baguette diamonds for the bezel, 14 baguette diamonds for the crown). We got the message: the “Bling Empire”, coincidentally also the name of a new reality show on Netflix, is alive and well.
By mixing haute horlogerie complications with high jewellery, larger-than-life Jacob Arabo has opened some extravagant new avenues for the industry. A presence in watchmaking since 2001, Jacob & Co is still hoping for more recognition by the horological establishment – as shown by several GPHG finalist places. Is it just a matter of time? We reached out to Jacob Arabo to talk... well, watches and jewels.
One outcome of the pandemic crisis could have been to put a bit of a damper on the bling side of watchmaking and jewellery. But it is alive and well.
- Jacob Arabo founded his jewellery brand in 1986. He then launched his first timepieces in 2001.
Europa Star: You were among the first to mix high horological complications and jewellery. Could you share your journey towards your entrance into watchmaking, and the strategy that led you to develop this mix?
Jacob Arabo: I started in jewellery when I joined a training programme in New York City after my family emigrated there. My father was a fan of watches and had given me a world timer before we left the former USSR, so I already had an interest in watches. I even interned with a watchmaker for a summer, which my father arranged to keep me out of trouble.
I started Jacob & Co in 1986 and we launched our first watch, the Five Time Zone, in 2001, so I concentrated solely on the jewellery business for 15 years. The success I had in jewellery paved the way for me to start in watches, and I always wanted to get into watches, and specifically complicated watches. I am not a watchmaker, I am a watch lover, so I come at watch design from a customer’s perspective. So I try to design watches that I would love, and that includes taking my background in jewellery and applying it to complicated watches.
“I am not a watchmaker, I am a watch lover, so I come at watch design from a customer’s perspective.”
- Created in partnership with Paramount Pictures, the Opera Godfather is powered by the 658-component JCFM04 movement and integrates a mechanical musical box playing the stirring theme music of Francis Ford Coppola’s blockbuster movie. In a unique piece from this collection, the case, lugs, music box cylinders and 18K gold piano are completely set with brilliant white diamonds.
We really make an effort to integrate the diamonds and gemstones into the design of the watches, with unique settings and interesting mixes of colours. One example is a recent piece, the diamond-set Opera Godfather, where we have set the cylinders of the Swiss music box with white diamonds. It complements the timepiece and is certainly unique.
How important is your watch business relative to your jewellery business?
You know, I started out in jewellery, so there is a special place in my heart for the jewellery side of the business. However, over the past 20 years or so watches have taken a priority for the business. The watch side of the business allows me to express my creativity, which is multi-dimensional. I’m enjoying it very much. We are working hard to implement strategies to achieve a better balance between watches and jewellery.
Following what has happened during the unprecedented year 2020, the jewellery segment seems poised to achieve higher long-term growth than watchmaking. Do you share this observation?
No, we are very bullish and excited about the watchmaking side of our business. Over the past five years, the watch side of the business has been growing at around 20-30% a year. Even in 2020 we matched our 2019 numbers, which was our best year to that point. We are also forecasting tremendous growth on the jewellery side, as we will place more importance on sales and marketing for the jewellery that has always been part of the brand.
You are known for your extravagantly-set jewellery and timepieces. Have you noticed any changes in demand following the pandemic?
We’ve actually seen an increase in demand, after the first few months of international uncertainty, notably March and April 2020. Over the years, we’ve done an amazing job with focusing on digital advertising and making sales digitally. When the pandemic hit, it wasn’t a hard transition because we had the tools, strategies and internal processes to shift all of our business to generate sales digitally. So, people are sitting at home with time on their hands, seeing our products on various social media channels and purchasing through their devices.
“People are sitting at home with time on their hands, seeing our products on various social media channels and purchasing through their devices.”
- The Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette connects the Astronomia high- complication model with Jacob & Co’s singular gem-setting know-how. It is a cinematic sculpture animated by a four-arm movement construction that rotates and floats through the sapphire and diamond-bound space inside its spectacular case. A grand total of 342 invisibly set, baguette-cut diamonds adorn the dial’s backdrop, while 80 invisibly set, baguette-cut diamonds make up the lugs.
Which markets show the highest growth opportunities for your jewellery, and for your watches, in 2021 and beyond?
The US is showing strong growth as we expand our distribution with key partners like Watches of Switzerland. We have a beautiful store in Dubai, and that has been growing every year, especially in 2020 and 2021, because it’s one of the only cities that were open during this pandemic. China is also a big market for us. We are in Beijing SKP and Nanjing Deji Malls, and the business is growing very well.
What potential do you see for male jewellery? How important is this clientele for you?
We have a strong offering in male jewellery, specifically bracelets and cufflinks, and there is increasing interest in this segment, that’s for sure. We have hematite bracelets – I wear one myself – and our cufflinks are really interesting, with great designs and unique features, like diamonds floating in a special liquid.
Do you see a future where it will be possible to sell high jewellery pieces online? Do you have plans to set up e-commerce?
We are planning on launching our e-commerce in Q1 or Q2 of 2021. It’s an exciting project for us and we are looking forward to getting it launched. We are launching e-commerce first with our lower-end products, ranging from $2,000-$20,000, and then moving towards the more expensive pieces. I do see a future in the next couple of years where we are selling high jewellery pieces online.
“We are planning on launching our e-commerce in Q1 or Q2 of 2021. I do see a future in the next couple of years where we are selling high jewellery pieces online.”
- The 18K rose gold bezel of the Astronomia Fleurs de Jardin Rainbow is set with 40 rainbow sapphires, while the inner ring features 48 rainbow sapphires. Sitting on top of the movement is a green 288-facet Jacob-cut tsavorite. The frame carrying 11 flowers with kite-shaped multicoloured sapphires takes ten minutes to perform a complete rotation around the dial.
Could you share your top three game-changing creations that put your brand on the global map?
Going back to the ’90s, I was working with the majority of hip-hop artists, creating jewellery pieces for them that no one had ever seen before. I was their go-to jeweller, helping them create their vision for pieces that no one thought were possible. I worked with every big name you can imagine. That really helped me get my name and brand out there.
After the ’90s I used that momentum to launch my first timepiece, the 5 Time Zone watch. That watch really put the brand on the global map. I would walk into a restaurant and I would see half the tables wearing my watches. That was from 2000–2010.
In 2014, I launched the Astronomia Tourbillon. That was the start of my journey with high complications. The Astronomia was game-changing because we took what was up until then a flat tourbillon and made it vertical and three-dimensional. It also introduced continuous movement on the dial, which has become a signature for the brand. We have since expanded the Astronomia to include the Astronomia Sky, the Astronomia Solar, the Astronomia Casino, the Astronomia Art, the Astronomia Fleurs de Jardin, and much more.
“The Astronomia was game-changing because we took what was up until then a flat tourbillon and made it vertical and three-dimensional.”