020, which can claim the dubious honour of being the worst year for the Swiss watch industry in the last 80 years, witnessed the disappearance of a number of horological companies. One of the first to go was the brand RJ Watches (Romain Jerome), which went bankrupt in February following the withdrawal of its shareholder.
Known for its use of original materials (such as fragments of the Titanic for the model of the same name), steampunk aesthetics and links with pop culture (from Batman to Hello Kitty), the brand was one of the new players that broadened the spectrum of luxury watchmaking at the beginning of the 21st century.
Stepping into the shoes of Yvan Arpa and Manuel Emch, who both gave a strong creative impulse to the brand, Marco Tedeschi was appointed to the management of RJ Watches in January 2018, after several years at Hublot, another disruptive brand. His mission was to keep the brand afloat in a market that had been turbulent for several years. One strategy he employed was to open a production unit in Eysins in the canton of Vaud, just a few steps away from... Hublot. At the age of 32, Marco Tedeschi also became the youngest boss of a luxury watch brand.
As the “annus horribilis” 2020 unfolded, the shareholder decided to throw in the towel. The RJ Watches adventure came to an end in February, and its 33 employees were cast adrift (incidentally, one month after another well-known name on the watchmaking circuit, de Grisogono, had suffered the same fate).
Hence, it was with some surprise that we noted the re-emergence of Marco Tedeschi just a few months later, at the head of a new design studio, Kross Studio, founded with former employees of the erstwhile watch brand. Their first project is both different from and reminiscent of the pop roots of their old brand: the Batmobile, in a table clock version.
The company’s ambitions go beyond watchmaking, however. And it was a reassured entrepreneur that we met, after several months spent building his new brand. Marco Tedeschi gave us the background to this unexpected rebound.
Europa Star: How did the end of RJ Watches come about?
Marco Tedeschi:We found ourselves one Monday evening in front of the administrator, and were fired immediately, with the order to dismiss all the staff by the end of that week. I haven’t exchanged a single word with the shareholder since my dismissal. So we found ourselves with our backs to the wall, and feeling very sad, after two years trying to turn the company around. There was a very strong emotional and human aspect, because Julien Bouchard (business development), Sergio Silva (technical development) and I formed a very tight-knit team.
How did you react?
We started by establishing what our rights were, but as members of the board of directors we were not entitled to much, especially not unemployment compensation. What I had in mind was to continue working with Julien and Sergio, because we share many ideas, and our skills complement each other. Basically, the creation of Kross Studio became an obvious decision, because it was what we had always dreamed of doing. So we decided to join forces with my wife, who is an expert in digital marketing, and another partner, an expert in business development, formerly at Audemars Piguet, who will officially join us in January 2021.
- Co-founded by former employees of RJ Watches, Kross Studio presents its first product in collaboration with Warner Bros. Consumer Products: Tim Burton’s Batmobile, turned into a clock featuring a mechanical movement with a 30-day power reserve.
- ©Eliot & Watson
In a way, the end of RJ Watches also signalled the beginning of Kross Studio...
Unfortunately, we couldn’t take everyone back, but Kross Studio now employs ten people, and nine of them come from RJ Watches. But we are also trying to detach ourselves from this image: the idea is not to create an RJ Mark II, otherwise we would have tried to buy the name. We are 100% self-financed, 100% autonomous. I work with partners that I respect, with no shareholders above: we have learned from the RJ Watches experience and we do what we like, according to our own values.
“We often see designers from outside the watch industry working on timepieces. Our approach is exactly the opposite: to apply watchmaking know-how to other fields.”
- Several months of R&D were necessary to create this object made of 512 components (115 for the body and 397 for the movement).
Beyond RJ Watches, what brings you together?
The desire to make products that go beyond traditional watchmaking – and even horology for that matter, since we focus on the design and conception of objects that include watches and table clocks, but also the art world, furniture and accessories, always in collaboration with experts from each field. We are fervent defenders of the Swiss-made ethos, which is synonymous with quality in manufacturing, and also in design. It represents a know-how in high-end watchmaking, especially on finishes and details, that can be applied to other fields. “Kross Studio” is the Swiss cross but also the concept of cross-content collaboration.
Just recently, I was talking with a contemporary artist of international renown, who was unaware of the care and design that goes into watchmaking. It’s performance combined with aesthetics. Often we see designers outside the watch industry working on timepieces. Our approach is exactly the opposite: to apply watchmaking know-how to other fields.
“We are looking for partners with whom we share a common ethos, for the production of limited series of art objects for a very demanding clientele.”
How did this first collaboration with Warner Bros. begin?
When I came to RJ Watches, I inherited the contact with Warner Bros. Collaborations already existed but we tried to take the relationship further. With the launch of the Joker and Two-Face watches, the idea was to move to a 360° partnership incorporating design, creation, distribution and marketing. After the bankruptcy of RJ Watches, I contacted them and proposed continuing our collaboration. When we had our first discussions, our structure had not yet been defined, but they were crazy enough to believe in us.
Who is the “Batmobile” luxury table clock for?
With the Batmobile, we are targeting two types of audience: watch connoisseurs and collectors on the one hand, and pop culture fans on the other. I won’t hide the fact that the former group, who are familiar with the codes of watchmaking, will understand more quickly why the price of this complex mechanical object is as high as 30,000 francs. For the second audience, this may seem exorbitant. But it gives me great pleasure to show off all the craftsmanship behind this creation, right down to the finishing touches on the bridges. If a customer were to completely dismantle the Batmobile, he would find very beautiful components inside...
“Each generation has its own Batman, who holds a mirror to his times. The current one is quite dark – he’s more about the depths of the soul than muscles.”
But isn’t this mix of pop culture and luxury starting to get a little stale?
No, I interact daily with the people at Warner Bros. and they’re happy to take their characters into the world of luxury. Each generation has its own Batman, who holds a mirror to the times. The next film starring Robert Pattinson as Batman is scheduled for 2022: it’s in a similar vein to the recent Joker, but even darker – more about the depths of the soul than the muscles. Batman’s character has already survived 80 years, and he’s ready to face the next 80.
What was the impact of the pandemic on this launch?
The pandemic pushed back the film itself, as well as any joint events for the launch of the Batmobile. So we started with online sales, and we have added a few physical points of sale this December. Like our production, our distribution is not focused solely on watch retailers; it will also incorporate galleries, interior designers, collectors’ circles and other outlets, including a club-restaurant with which we are in the process of forming a partnership.
“Like our production, our distribution is not focused solely on watch retailers.”
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Still in collaboration with Warner Bros., we are planning several new products for 2021 and 2022, following a global approach that doesn’t just focus on Batman or their subsidiary DC Comics. And we are constantly looking for new collaborations. Several are already underway. We are looking for partners with whom we share a common ethos for the production of limited series of art objects for a very demanding clientele. As regards watchmaking, a wristwatch will be launched in the first quarter of 2021, a series of ten pieces that will not be part of a permanent collection.
Kross Studio is a Swiss design studio dedicated to creating exclusive art objects for collectors. Located in Gland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, its manufacture is equipped with the latest generation of robotised CNC machining centres. “Kross” refers not only to the Swiss cross but also to the symbol used to signify collaboration. Following a first venture with American entertainment giant Warner Bros Consumer Products, new collaborations will be announced in the coming months.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products is a division of Warner Bros. (now part of Warner Media Entertainment) with a portfolio of entertainment brands and franchises including DC, JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo.
DC is one of the world’s largest publishers of comic books and graphic novels. As a creative division of Warner Media, DC is responsible for strategically integrating its stories and characters across film, television, consumer products, home entertainment, interactive games and the DC Universe digital subscription service.