At Baselworld 2018 one of the many brands undergoing a total re-shift in management and/or branding was Romain Jerome… or shall I say “RJ” now. I’ve seen the brand experience a lot of very strong personalities at the helm, which for me began with Yvan Arpa (of Artya), Manuel Emch (previously from Jaquet Droz) and now Marco Tedeschi who for me was a regular face at Hublot for many years. Both Tedeschi and Arpa both come from backgrounds working with and around Jean-Claude Biver, which is quite interesting. Arpa was there toward the beginning of Biver’s takeover of Hublot, while Tedeschi was at Hublot for a number of years including the peak of its popularity and I believe during the transition to LVMH ownership. Now Marco attempts to take charge of a brand all by himself – no doubt motivated by the ideas for successfully running a luxury brand he has been nurturing for years. Only time will tell if his enthusiasm and zeal will translate into success for the brand, but I think his plan is sound.
There are a few major things he will do to RJ in addition to the name change. For years “RJ” was the official nickname of the brand and at times the brand was referred to as “RJ Romain Jerome.” I’m not entirely sure why an official brand name change was necessary but everything from the brand’s website domain name to their website content reflects the change. At times brands do this in order to maintain a particular DNA, but also to make it clear that the new form of the brand will take a new direction.
Business-wise, the two most important changes at the brand are the elimination of the “all limited edition” concept as well as the more focused emphasis on “pillars.” We are also promised an overall reduction in price points – which is something that can really only be observed after a few years of product releases. While there is still much work to be done in order to fully execute Tedeschi’s vision for RJ, the first “new” model as a result of the updated RJ is the Arraw Chronograph collection – seen here in its titanium variant.
RJ’s website already has 18 distinct versions of the Arraw Chronograph and you can see the influence from Hublot in terms of both design and how various models and styles are distinguished between. Tedeschi is obviously a fan of modular case designs which have parts that can be rendered in different colors and materials. Tedeschi is hoping that the Arraw Chronograph will be RJ’s Hublot Big Bang equivalent – but it remains to be seen what personality and image he will lend to this collection.
Style-wise the Arraw Chronograph heavily borrows from a series of existing Romain Jerome watch elements and the watches themselves will be available in two sizes (45mm and 42mm wide). The case most heavily borrows from RJ’s Titanic DNA case, which I still think is among the best Yvan Arpa ever worked on. The case has been modernized a bit with elements borrowed from other RJ watches. I can confidently say that the case is much more comfortable than some legacy RJ cases. The Moon Invader cases for example were never very comfortable to wear. I do think the modern RJ brand will focus a lot more on ergonomics than in the past.
The Arraw Chronograph case has four bezel “bumpers” (or claws) which are common in the RJ design language. The rest of the curvy case continues to suggest the marine theme that the Titanic DNA was always good at doing. The dial is much more modern even though it retains the classic arrow-style hands of many RJ models. The modern looking hour numeral font and overall dial layout is a modification on some previous Romain Jerome watches from a few years ago. The dial is attractive and feels like an RJ even though it doesn’t offer anything particularly novel or interesting. It’s a good look that needs to be backed up by a good story, which RJ has yet to tell. Legibility, however, is pretty decent for sure.
Note that the watch I took images of is a pre-production prototype and retail models will be a bit different. I will likely review an RJ Arraw Chronograph in the future, so we will be able to compare images and see what changes RJ made. Looking at the rear of the watch we see a sapphire crystal exhibition window displaying a sort of mystery rotor where only the RJ logo is seen spinning around. The case is water-resistant to 100m and wears predictably large given the prominent lug structures. RJ has some pink-colored and diamond-decorated versions of the 42mm wide version of the Arraw Chronograph, but it is clear that most of the 45mm or 42mm wide watches are intended to be worn on male wrists. On my wrist is the 45mm wide version in case that wasn’t clear.
Speaking of the strap, the Arraw Chronograph (finally) includes a quick-adjust system to remove the strap and replace it with another one. This is done by pressing the two screw-style pushers on the sides of the lugs if I recall correctly. There is a corresponding lever near the deployant buckle which allows for it to be released as well. RJ intends on offering a “variety of interchangeable rubber and alligator straps” that consumers can use to give the Arraw Chronograph as much visual variety as possible.
Inside the RJ Arraw Chronograph is the caliber RJ 2040 automatic chronograph movement that operates at 4Hz with 42 hours of power reserve. The movement includes the time, 12-hour chronograph, and date window at 6 o’clock on the dial. RJ has spoken a bit about bringing some of its movement production in-house, but that isn’t happening yet. The RJ 2040 is produced in Switzerland by a very well-regarded supplier but given the penchant for discretion in the watch industry, at this time the companies aren’t disclosing it. Suffice it to say that the movement quality in these watch should not be an issue.
RJ offers the Arraw Chronograph in four basic material styles not taking into consideration the case sizes, various dial colors (most are black, however), and diamond decoration options. The base model is likely to be the most popular and it is the photographed version in titanium. RJ also produces an Arraw Chronograph in two-tone with a mostly titanium case and an 18k red gold bezel with matching dial colors. Of course there is also an all 18k red gold model as well. Tedeschi wouldn’t be faithful to his time at Hublot without creating an all-black ceramic version of the Arraw Chronograph – which commands a $2,400 price premium ($14,300 USD retail) over the titanium model (a bit much if you ask me).
I’ve always been a fan of Romain Jerome despite the fact that not all of the watches they released proved very satisfying, nor were priced within reason given a lot of the competition. In many ways the brand was ahead of its time and I compliment former CEO Manuel Emch in his diligent effort to incorporate pop art, modern art, and contemporary culture into many of the brand’s timepieces. The new RJ has a lot of interesting DNA at its disposal to work from, but in our current watch industry market it will of course have an uphill battle for years to come. The brand still is seen by many as a fanciful maker of strange art watches for over-funded pop culture collectors and less serious timepiece lovers. RJ has an obligation to itself to focus on keeping pricing fair, products clear and approachable, and to flesh out a brand story that is both compelling, lively, and dynamic. A few questions I believe the brand needs to answer in some form or another are “who is RJ, what does it stand for, and what does it want to do differently than others?” Failure to do this will simply position it as another nice but quiet brand in a sea of many other nice but quiet brands.
Prices for the RJ Arraw Chronograph begin at $11,900 USD for either the 42mm or 45mm wide titanium version. Because of the gold material, the prices are not the same for the 42 and 45mm wide equivalents of most other Arraw Chronograph models. rjwatches.com