Style on your wrist trivia
For centuries, Jaquet Droz’s creations graced only the wrists of royalty, and the famous. Now, they are in Chennai
Timeless appeal A Jaquet Droz creation, (right) Manuel Emch
For nearly three centuries, it remained in the realm of royalty. From European monarchs of the 18th century, such as Ferdinand VI of Spain and King Louis XVI of France, to the King of Morocco and the Sultan of Brunei in the 20th Century, Jaquet Droz,
the Swiss watch company, catered only to a handful of the most exclusive clients in the world.
But at the turn of the 21st Century, the 270-year-old company transformed into an international retail brand under the aegis of the largest manufacturer and retailer of watches in the world, Swatch.
“The Swatch group bought the company in 2000 and rebuilt it, preserving elements from its past but also focussing on building a distribution and retail network,” said Manuel Emch, the young designer and economist who was hand-picked by Swatch to head Jaquet Droz in 2001. Emch was recently in Chennai for precisely this purpose — the company’s cautious but steady exploration of India as a market.
“I’m convinced that India will be one of the top 10 markets for Swiss watches in the next seven to eight years, based on consumer behaviour in the prestige segment,” he said.
Jaquet Droz is one of Swatch’s four ‘prestige’ brands; that means it ranks above a brand such as Omega, and that an average watch will set you back by a cool Rs. 11 lakh.
Its story began in 1738, when physicist, mathematician and mechanical genius Pierre Jaquet Droz set up a watch-making workshop at a farm in La Chaux-de-fonds, Switzerland. For the next few decades, his pocket watches bearing the distinctive ‘JD’ seal and a hidden clover insignia were carried by monarchs and emperors worldwide (the Emperor of China was one of his biggest customers). But the French Revolution proved to be his undoing, and after his death in the late 18th Century, the company was all but dormant for nearly a century (it was re-launched in a limited fashion in the 1950s).
But his legacy has lingered on. Even today, Jaquet Droz watches carry his seal and secret insignia, and many of their designs date back nearly 200 years. For example, there’s the whimsical association with the number eight — two-thirds of the watches feature the figure eight on the dial, the number of diamonds circling the dial are always in multiples of eight, and the company only produces limited editions in sets of eight or 88.
“The design of eight on the dial dates back to a pocket watch made in 1780,” said Emch, adding with a smile, “There are many, many stories about its significance at Jaquet Droz.”
Then, there are the ancient dial crafting techniques that were all but lost and have been revived by Jaquet Droz under Emch’s leadership. They include ‘Grand feu’ enamelling, done painstakingly over an open fire, and Paillonne enamelling, where original 18th Century gold leaves are fused with 15 layers of blue enamel.
“Today, we are the only watchmakers in the world using these techniques,” said Emch, an art collector who worked at Sotheby’s before turning businessman. Emch’s neat, uncluttered designs also feature some extremely rare precious and semi-precious minerals in the dials, such as Rutile quartz, which was considered the stone of truth in ancient Greece, and the iridescent Nuumite, forged in volcanoes three billion years ago.
“Each watch is more than just a status symbol, more than even a piece of art; each watch has a unique story to tell,” said Emch.
Jaquet Droz is currently available in Chennai at Helvetica at the Taj Coromandel.
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