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Pieces of time

Pieces of time
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First Published: Sat, May 28 2011. 12 23 AM IST

Hot: RJ’s Eyjafjallajokull-DNA model is made with lava from the volcano.
Hot: RJ’s Eyjafjallajokull-DNA model is made with lava from the volcano.
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 12 50 PM IST
Luxury watchmakers are notoriously wary of marketing gimmicks. Admittedly, the turbulent economic situation has made many brands open to things such as line extensions and more accessible price points —IWC’s new Portofino range and Corum’s new Admiral’s Cup pieces are cases in point. Some might even try funky materials, fusion designs a la Hublot, or the odd high concept piece.
Hot: RJ’s Eyjafjallajokull-DNA model is made with lava from the volcano.
But the boat is seldom rocked vigorously. That metaphor, in fact, is an apt one to use in the context of Romain Jerome (RJ). Founded in 2004, RJ jumped to worldwide prominence almost exactly a year ago when it launched the Eyjafjallajokull-DNA model. Manufactured in a limited edition of 99 pieces, each watch has a bezel and dial made with ash and cooled lava from the Icelandic volcano.
When the watches came out, the newsworthiness, combined with a high-octane marketing campaign focused on airports and in-flight magazines, gave RJ huge media visibility. “That worked out really well for us. People were printing about us in countries we didn’t even have stockists in,” CEO Manuel Emch told Lounge.
RJ’s leap in fortunes has coincided with Emch taking over in 2009. Earlier Emch was head of the Swatch Group’s luxury Jaquet Droz brand. At RJ, he says, he had the opportunity to take a brand and rebuild it completely. Today RJ’s self-described strategy is to create a “celebration of history on the wrist”.
In addition to the “volcano watch”, the other two collections are the Titanic-DNA and the Moon Dust-DNA. As the names suggest, the former line includes watches made of steel from the wreck of the Titanic, and the latter incorporates actual moon dust into the body of the watch.
Gimmicky? Of course.
But does it work?
Surprisingly, it does. Though clearly not like Patek Philippe or Cartier do. Even though RJ sells complicated watches with tourbillons in them, the timepieces are really style statements and conversation starters. Imagine what a little moon dust could do to a party.
Emch says he is constantly on the lookout for historic materials. Not only is this essential to keeping the brand fresh and in the news, there is also the small matter of supply and demand. There is only so much moon dust and Titanic steel in the world. In fact, Emch says, only a pinch of the dust goes into each watch, and the company’s entire stock is kept in a jar, in a safe, in his office in Geneva, Switzerland.
When Lounge spoke to Emch at the Baselworld watch fair in March, he joked about waiting for the next volcano. At the time of writing this piece a new volcano, Grimsvotn, had erupted in Iceland. No doubt someone from RJ is scouring the site.
So far Emch’s strategy has worked well. RJ finds itself in a niche that is unique. Any other brand trying something like this will come across as a copycat.
The real challenge ahead is to manage a product pipeline that doesn’t depend on the occasional media blitz. Or natural disaster.
Romain Jerome watches sell in India starting at aroundRs 7.5 lakh for the RJ Moon Dust-DNA Black Mood.
Write to Sidin at watchman@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 28 2011. 12 23 AM IST