Add a rusted steel bezel – made with screws taken from the monumental gate at the Dubai International Financial Centre – to Romain Jerome’s Skylab movement – a triple-layered skeleton calibre with the balance on the dial side – and there you have it: the DIFC–DNA watch, finished with barely a week to go before the unveiling at Dubai Watch Week. Prior to this, it was all hands on deck to find a means of oxidizing the rust-proof screws that would give the bezel its “personality”.
The watch, a seven-piece limited edition produced especially for Dubai Watch Week, is proof of the brand’s commitment to the Middle East market, as is its partnership with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the retailer behind the event which, after just two editions, has made its mark in the region. “The DIFC-DNA, which like all our watches is a limited edition, is typical of how we work, namely to take actual components that are already a part of History with a capital H and incorporate them into our timepieces. It’s deliberately provocative, with a healthy dose of creativity to elicit the emotions,” comments Manuel Emch, CEO of Romain Jerome who was in Dubai.
Love you, love you not
Whatever you may think of them – gorgeous or garish – there’s no ignoring the brand’s previous creations, made with pieces of the Titanic, lava from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland (which brought air traffic to a halt when it erupted in 2010), even moon dust. Emch recalls how “when I arrived at the brand in 2010, everyone was talking about the Titanic watch. I like that we’re a provocative brand because it gets people talking about us. Whether what they say is good or bad doesn’t really matter, as long as we transform it into something positive over the long term.” Mission accomplished, given that Romain Jerome has built up a loyal following. Most of its fans are young, and not exactly penniless considering a Romain Jerome watch retails at around CHF 20,000 on average. They are driven by either LaJoux-Perret or Concepto movements, for the most part on the ever popular Valjoux 7750 base. “It’s a good solid movement that everyone knows how to repair,” says Emch. Hence, reliable.
“Our customers are around 25 to 30 years old on average,” he continues. “The great thing is that they come with an open mind. They’re practically watch virgins, so to speak. They’re not hung up on the term “manufacture”, for example, and whether we are one or not has little importance in their eyes. It’s a huge breath of fresh air for me, and an opportunity for the brand to communicate in a different way as they are, by definition, a connected community. Of course, this implies absolute transparency on our part in order to facilitate exchanges, or take onboard criticism as you can imagine. None of which matters, as this way we can build a genuine relationship with our customers. Once past this stage, you’re practically part of the family. Talking of stages, the next major one will be Romain Jerome’s participation in Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, in January 2017. To a certain extent, this is proof that the brand is now taken seriously, and that there are other ways to meet the demands of high-end watchmaking.”
From Pokemons to tattoos
Understandably, a philosophy such as this means it hasn’t always been plain sailing, and Manuel Emch has no end of tales to tell about the brand’s roller-coaster existence, such as the time he was right in the middle of Baselworld when news came that the liquidators were on their way to the brand’s movement supplier, which had been declared bankrupt. The then newly minted CEO dropped everything and hightailed across Switzerland to retrieve his stock before it was too late. “I got back to Basel, relieved I’d managed to avoid the worse, and immediately had to start fielding questions about the successor to the Titanic and the Moon Dust that we were in the process of launching. Obviously I had no idea. Now was the time for some quick thinking! The first thing that went through my mind was Titanic for the sea, Moon for air, all that’s missing is earth. Luckily, for us at least, the Icelandic volcano erupted ten days later. Just to get everyone off our back, I was prepared to launch a one-off watch that we’d thrown together on the computer, at twice the price of the most expensive three-hander on the market. Obviously my conscience got the better of me and I knew we had to do things properly. This included sending a helicopter to Iceland to bring back lava stones. Eight months later we delivered the first watches. The first three 100-piece editions of the Eyjafjallajökull are now sold-out. We’ll launch the fourth at SIHH.”
Manuel Emch could go all night telling stories like this. Pokemons, tattoo artists, video games… they’re all there. Or simply recount some of the special moments shared with his customers, including a 30-year-old Mexican who was determined to have the biggest collection of Romain Jerome watches, starting with four and building up to nineteen in just twelve months. Having learned from Manuel Emch that he was still short of the record, he went out and bought another seven, thereby securing the title. You can’t put a price on friendship!