Just three years after establishing De Grisogono with two associates in 1993, Gruosi presented a jewelry collection incorporating black diamonds. Black diamonds are chic and expensive now, sure. But before Gruosi chose to highlight the gem, the dark sparkler languished as an undesirable relation to the more typical white diamond. It seemed a natural extension Gruosi would eventually try his hand at watch design. After all, he’s married to Caroline Scheufele-Gruosi, co-President of Chopard with her brother Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. Chopard, in addition to creating glamorous jewelry gracing the necks of starlets, makes watches, and can authentically claim the title manufacture with their L.U.C movements.
Gruosi could’ve easily capitalized on his success and piggybacked a jewelry watch into his brand. Instead, he debuted at Basel in 2000 the Instrumento N° Uno, an automatic mechanical timepiece featuring a second time zone indicator and large date in a square case. Fittingly, inside the grooved crown nestled his signature black diamond. Although Gruosi isn’t a watchmaker, the form and detail of the timepieces spring from his imagination. “Ideas come to me and I have a team of very talented designers and watchmakers that are able to make my dreams come alive,” says Gruosi, noting the process.
Gruosi’s unmistakable imprint
In the arenas of jewelry and watches, Gruosi experienced the warm embrace of notoriously mercurial and finicky audiences. In order to finance the company’s rapid growth, he decided to partner with Chopard in 2002. Both Gruosi and Chopard each held 49% of the shares while the remaining 2% served as a guarantee. The agreement allowed for Gruosi to retain control and to continue determining the company’s creative direction. He was also responsible for distribution, marketing and communication. Chopard’s only role would be to provide advice, if desired.
De Grisogono watches and jewelry always have had Gruosi’s unmistakable imprint. And yet, despite a look and personality distinctly separate from Chopard, De Grisogono had to endure closer scrutiny and speculation about the financial arrangements because of Gruosi’s familial relationship. The topic reared its head frequently, perhaps becoming an unnecessary part of the discussion when discussing De Grisogono’s further successes, like its use of milky diamonds called “Icy Diamonds” in high jewelry, and horological developments such as Instrumento Tondo and Instrumento Chrono.
After five years, Gruosi decided to disengage professionally from Chopard and buy back the outstanding De Grisogono stock shares from the Scheufele family. Unfortunately, the move proved perilous, nearly wiping out the company as Gruosi scrambled for capital when world markets crumbled in late 2008. “I did it for independence,” says Gruosi of his reasoning. “At the time, the economy was not the way it is today therefore I didn’t think it would have a negative impact on my company.”
De Grisogono’s advanced pieces
While Gruosi searched for money, wagging tongues spread rumors that Gruosi’s marriage was also failing. Gruosi denies the reports, but adds, “I imagine that people may think this as we are generally seen separate when we are working.” He continues, “We do our best to separate our business life and protect our personal life.” Gruosi eventually found backers to keep De Grisogono afloat in exchange for a 40% stake, while he still holds a controlling 49%. While the actual amount of the stake isn’t public, Gruosi states, “The pool of investors consists of a group of friends and no one else owns the rest but myself.”
Fortunately, Gruosi was able to keep De Grisogono alive; otherwise we wouldn’t have the horological treat of the Meccanico dG. Originally debuting as a non-working prototype at Basel 2008 the watch returns as a working model in 2009 to show its stunning mechanics. Billed by De Grisogono as the most complicated watch in the world, it shows two time zones, one in analog and the other digital—both through mechanical means. While the top half records the time in the traditional fashion using an hour and minutes hand on a dial, the bottom half displays what appears to be a digital reading, which is actually 651 components moved by 23 cams connected to synchronized gears.
This year De Grisogono also presented two other watches with eye catching and unusual interpretations of function. The Fuso Quadrato, another GMT, exhibits one time zone at a time, the second revealed by a diaphragm mechanism operated by a slide on the case. In the Instrumento Grande Open Date, the rotating discs of the date become part of the geometric style. De Grisogono is able to produce such advanced pieces because it partners with companies such as Claret, Agenhor and Soprod, depending upon the requirements of the design. While there was definitely a scare for De Grisogono earlier this year, Gruosi secured the finances necessary to keep his company healthy and solvent. And that’s good news, because now Gruosi can turn his mind back to rearranging the rules of the game and surprising us with his novel creations.