Apple might be shaking up the horological world with the announcement about their new Watch, but statement-making timepieces aren’t exactly old news, some jewelers have been making innovative watches for years. Jacob & Co. has been designing fine jewelry and timepieces for over 25 years, creating watches that are both elegant and one-of-a-kind creations for the most discerning shoppers. With a client list that includes celebrities, film companies and fashion brands, designer and founder Jacob Arabo spoke with JustLuxe about his couture designs, the gorgeous jewels he uses and how he dropped out of high school to pursue his dreams—which ultimately came true.
Just Luxe: Can you talk a little bit about your background and what lead you to begin and found Jacob & Co.? Was this something you always aspired to do?
Jacob Arabo: As a child, growing up in Uzbekistan, I spent my summers participating in various work programs. One year, my father, who encouraged me to stay productive in my spare time, arranged for me to work as a photographer. I had always been drawn to art and design, and working in photography provided me with an outlet to bring my own creative visions to life. Another summer, I worked as a watchmaker, learning the intricacies of the craft and the importance of detail in design in regards to both aesthetics and functionality.
Watchmaking opened my eyes to a larger creative process, and inspired me to pursue creating my own never-before-seen designs purely from imagination. Combining my longstanding love of art, with my newfound desire to explore my creative capacities, I was drawn to the allure of jewelry design. I consider jewelry to be art, not only in the way that it is pleasing to the eyes like a still life or a sculpture, but also in the way that is sensual to the touch, and takes on different lives with different wearers.
At the age of 14 when my family decided to move to America, I almost immediately began training in a jewelry factory. By the age of 16 I had dropped out of high school and was designing my own pieces. By 17 I had started my own business, acting as both a designer and salesman going door-to-door selling my designs to various jewelers in New York. After raising enough money and establishing a growing interest amongst consumers, I stopped wholesaling at the age of 21, and opened my first Jacob & Co. retail boutique. Although I had never initially aspired to be a jeweler, I was fortunate enough to have found my passion at a young age. Now, over 25 years later, I am immensely proud to say that what started as a childhood passion has evolved into a globally recognized brand.
JL: You create some of the most unique and creative timepieces we’ve ever seen, can you talk about your inspiration behind these designs and how you continue to create such innovative pieces?
JA: I am constantly inspired by our clients. Our clientele is composed of jet-setters and citizens of the world that are familiar with the best the jewelry and watch industries have to offer, so we are consistently seeking to surprise them with pieces that are unique, and never-before-seen within a global market place. In turn, much of my inspiration in the creation of these avant-garde pieces also comes from my own travels as well. The more wonders of the world I see, whether it be in nature, architecture, culture, art, etc., the harder I strive encapsulate their beauty and give them new life through my designs.
JL: So then do you feel a competitive nature to outperform each time, making each piece better and more unique than the last?
JA: Yes, at Jacob & Co. we live by the motto “Inspired by the Impossible.” I see no boundaries for what can be achieved through combining hard work and imagination, and love to push the envelope a little bit further with each piece I create. I am continuously learning, and finding new inspiration to fuel my creativity. With the development of each new piece I continue to grow as both a jeweler and a watchmaker, and the Jacob & Co. brand, in turn, continues to evolve.
JL: What is your personal aesthetic like? How does that translate through to the brand? Do your own personal style and that of the brand coincide?
JA: My personal style is very quality-oriented. Whether I am shopping for day-to-day apparel or for a black-tie event, I pay the most attention to the quality of the materials, the composition of the piece, and the detailing of the design; all of which are values that I feel translate directly into our work at Jacob & Co. Although we often say that Jacob & Co. has no specific “DNA,” as we offer dynamic collections composed of designs are that are often avant-garde, all of our pieces consistently share the same superb craftsmanship, intricate detailing and overall impeccable quality.
JL: What do you think of when you’re designing a new piece?
JA: When designing a new piece, there are many elements to take into consideration. Aside from the aesthetics, the quality of the piece, the materials, the design and how I ultimately want it to look, we must also consider the fit and comfort of the wearer. Timepieces are a bit more complicated, because in addition to all of these factors, we must also take into consideration the mechanics of the watch and how the piece will function from a technological perspective.
JL: How do you want your designs to be interpreted and how do you want people to feel when wearing your pieces?
JA: We want our clients to feel unique and confident. We encourage them to be bold with their accessories and to express their own individual sense of style. Our collections allow clients to emulate the innovative culture of our brand, while creating a lasting look that is completely their own.
The world is full of “same old” interpreted for the masses, “value-engineered” products designed to squeeze a little more profit. In contrast, we aim to allow clients to interpret the pieces their own way, showcasing that Jacob & Co. offers vast array of designs, composed of various materials and rare gemstones alike, and that each piece of Jacob & Co. jewelry and each watch is created to be special and different.
JL: What are some of your favorite pieces to design? What are some of the most intricate?
JA: I love designing items that are unique and can’t be found within other brands or that are challenging to create, whether it be due to the rarity of the materials I incorporate, or the complexity of the designs. Watchmaking in particular is always an intricate process, as so much work goes into creating the complications and ensuring that all of the various pieces function properly and work together in unison.
That being said, I love designing my signature gem-set watches, especially extremely rare pieces like the Brilliant Full Baguette featuring 376 fancy yellow diamonds, and the Caviar Tourbillon featuring all unheated Burmese rubies. Such pieces allow us to combine both facets of the Jacob & Co. brand and bring together the superb craftsmanship attributed to our high jewelry with the horological sophistication of our timepieces to create something truly magnificent and unique.
JL: How long does it take to bring a concept to life? Can you walk us through the process from inspiration to finalized product?
JA: The creative process is not a direct path. It is born of some cue in nature, or the arts and architecture, or even pop culture. Something catches my eye and the idea for a new piece or a collection is born.
We begin with conceptual sketches imagining the piece on the body—how will it fit, the form and grace of the shape, what kind of story will be told by the final visual—then we proceed to building live samples handmade by jewelry craftsmen.
The live samples are then considered once again and adjustments and refinements are made before going on to manufacturing a “piece unique” for a client, for our production collections, for our stores and retail partners.
JL: What are some of your favorite metals and stones to work with?
JA: Of course we love working with gold and diamonds. They are limitless in the flexibility of what can be crafted. But we also work with a variety of amazing stones in both our jewelry and watches.
Our brilliant jeweled timepiece collection is a good example of our love of stones. To achieve the spectacular effect of total coverage of perfectly set intricately cut stones, true expertise is required of our stonecutters and setters.
Even with this extraordinary level of skill, we lose 40-50 percent of the stones when we do the initial cuts to small squares and rectangles. Then an additional 25 percent more crack when being cut to fit the specific shape needed to complete the precision setting.
Our clients don’t know that up to 65 percent of the stones we start with don’t make it to the finished piece, but the end product is spectacular use of amazing stones, metals and artful craftsmanship.
JL: You just returned from an exhibition in Monte Carlo, can you talk about the pieces displayed and what some of your personal favorites were?
JA: During our annual exhibition in Monaco, we showcase a carefully curated selection of our rarest and most notable watches, as well pieces of both high and fine jewelry over a three-week span. While each piece on display was carefully selected for its unique characteristics, The Pigeon’s Blood Ruby Set composed of a necklace, bracelet and earrings all featuring stunningly unique unheated stones with 100.86 carats of the oval and cushion cut Burma rubies in the necklace alone also drew many admirers and was undoubtedly one of the main attractions in the room.
Of the timepieces, the Black Caviar was amongst the most acclaimed, featuring some 389 black diamonds and an alligator strap. The unique EPIC SF24 in Black PVD Grade 5 Titanium also made its mark as one of the leading innovations in travel time display.
JL: What do you think of the current fine jewelry and luxury timepiece market? Are there any trends you’re noticing? Changes that need to be made; ideas we need to focus on?
JA: As the world gets more and more complicated and the number of brands and choices for customers expands, I think people are drawn to simplicity of shape and form and love to discover truly original designs. I know our clients tell us of their appreciation for our focus on strong, unique designs and of the quality of stone and craftsmanship.
They love our cuff earrings and full finger ring; two good examples of designs that really make a strong statement of character in a world of “me too” jewelry and watches.
JL: What do you have in mind for your next collection? Where do you want to go from this point?
JA: We really look to lead rather than follow trends; we are of course aware of where the market is going, but we focus our efforts and energies on finding the unique Jacob & Co. path for our loyal clients and customers.
We are very excited to expand some of our most popular existing collections, but also to introduce a number of new pieces and collections for the holiday season and beyond for Basel World 2015. It may be several months away, but the process is one of many steps to make a Jacob & Co. piece ready to present to the press and our public.