Easily one of the most impressive things I strapped to my wrist at Baselworld 2015 was the completed Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon watch (as well as the diamond-set Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette). There was a very real and very wide smile on my face as I gazed into the enormous sapphire crystal-wrapped mechanical planetary system on my wrist that, according to some people, has no business even existing because it is just so over the top. It is an insane watch, which is Jacob & Co. at its best – a watch and jewelry company that I think deserves a lot more attention than it is getting from watch lovers. I’ve written a lot about Jacob Arabo over the years and his controversial life and company. Let’s face it, he is in the business of dazzling the world’s rich and famous. That’s a tall order, and people need to appreciate that with so many companies trying to wow the world’s money, it isn’t easy to get the attention of people whose lives are often spent avoiding attention.
I’ve learned a lot of things during my time as a luxury watch writer/blogger/critic/whatever, and one of those things is that the world of the wealthy is extremely distinct from the world of those people who aren’t as wealthy. Classism exists, and it is real, and while everyone goes to the toilet and puts their pants on one leg at a time, people who have a lot of money simply have a different set of problems and considerations in their life. Well, enough of that for now, let’s get back to the dazzling Mr. Arabo and some watches which I think people who aren’t in his world don’t quite understand.
If you try to measure the “point” of the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon in, say, relation to a dive-style tool watch, it is like trying to compare a sturdy log cabin with a grand villa on the ocean front. Yes, both are technically structures, and the first one might make a lot more sense, but the latter is about social positioning, and the ability to reward oneself. You see, no matter how rich you are, there are going to be things out there you need to save up for to afford.
Maybe most people need to save up a bit to purchase a $1,000 item, and some people need to save up to buy a $1,000,000 item. Jacob & Co. is a brand whose top items are grail pieces for the types of people who can buy, but still need to consider million dollar watches. I’ll put it another way, royalty wear crowns and live in castles to communicate something about themselves - something about their power, prestige, and position in life. Doing so upsets people who don’t have crowns and castles, but those people still get point of those that have means.
Diamonds and highly complicated watches can serve as wearable conveyances of power. At the end of the day, that is what status and social symbols are there for. First, it is about attracting a mate, and after that, it is all about telling fellow humans around you that you have some power over them or privileges they don't. We all want power and we all get irritated at others who have power (especially when we feel that they don’t deserve it). Love it or hate it, Jacob & Co. watches are about Mr. Arabo's talented way of producing designs that convey this very well. This, after all, is the guy who just came out with a watch called the Billionaire Tourbillon.
You can appreciate the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon as a neat little machine, but when you put it on your wrist and have a two-inch-high semi-globe in sapphire and 18k gold stick off of it, you are really telling people something about yourself. Hopefully, I suppose, the attention you are gathering is positive, right? Now, allow me to step back a few paces and remind you that there is both a refined way of showing diamonds and a terribly unrefined way. This is a nuance of diamond watch critique that I suppose only a few people can fully appreciate, those who have been in the odd situation to have extremely expensive assortments of diamonds handed to them and asked for their opinion – and then been able to compare those experiences time and time again. Jacob & Co. is unique because they are able to ride that fine line between “too much, and totally enough.”
Jacob & Co. has a nice long history working with the Swiss movement maker Concepto, but it is another firm they worked with for the movement of the Astronomia. For this collection Jacob & Co. worked with Studio7h38 in Switzerland who is responsible for the wild-looking mechanical movement inside of the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon. Look closely at it, and the mechanism is deeply impressive, but it isn’t finished like a Greubel Forsey. Well, nothing is really finished like that, so it isn’t a fair comparison. The movement is a tiny industrial mechanical mechanism, and I don’t even know how to describe its complications. Let’s start with the triple axis tourbillon that exists as one of the four arms on the movement.
Note that what you see in the case cavity of the Jacob & Co. Astronomia is the entire JCEM01 manually-wound movement, and the planetary structure is literally sitting on the mainspring barrel. It is actually a motor barrel, and has been designed after some systems from historical American pocket watches. The four arms are all connected via a special differential system, and the system rotates around the dial fully once each 20 minutes. That is the first axis for the tourbillon.
The tourbillon system itself features another two axis points which make a rotation each 60 seconds, and then in a different direction each 5 minutes. Across from the tourbillon is a dial for the time, which is so cool because it points upright no matter where it is in its rotation around the dial. I just love that. Then there are the arms with the tiny hand-painted titanium globe, and across from it, a “Jacob-cut” diamond with a registered process exclusive to Jacob & Co. which gives the diamond a spherical case and 288 facets. The globe and the diamond disco ball make a full rotation each 60 seconds.
What is the point of all this rotation and movement? To act as a “hypnotic choreography,” of course; it is all about visual splendor (and it works). So like I said, if you think too hard about the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon, you’ll keep asking “why?” It isn’t about why, it is merely because it is cool and because they can. When you are a client of Jacob & Co., you don’t want to hear about functioning planetariums and mathematical equations – you want to be dazzled, entertained, and reminded that you are special. Anyone wearing a Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon is “special.”
At 50mm wide and 25mm thick, the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon case is produced from 18k rose gold with very nicely AR-coated sapphire crystal all over it. While not everyone might “get” the Jacob & Co. Astronomia, you can tell that the design was well curated. To operate the watch or wind it, there are two fold out “keys” on the caseback. And as big as the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon is on the wrist, it is surprisingly comfortable to wear. That is, until you accidentally hit it against a wall or table.
If you are a watch lover, then playing with the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon or even the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette is fun. I mean, at the end of the day, it is supposed to be fun. Jacob Arabo might have an interesting reputation, but being very good to his clients is also part of that. When he promises something to wow them, then that is exactly what happens.
What I am trying to do in all of this is help explain the admittedly strange world that a brand like Jacob & Co. exists within - as well as the strange world of watches such as the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette, which adds 16 carats of invisible-set baguette-cut diamonds. To regular folks, so much about ostentatious displays of wealth is offensive, and probably for good reason, because the message really is about saying “I am better than you.” But imagine a world of people who can all afford this stuff, and rather than looking to make their peers jealous due to the price of their items, they are just looking to wow and impress people visually. The “in your face” element of luxury is never going to go away, and I am a fan of democratizing luxury, for sure. With that said, I think many people are deeply fascinated by what the ultra-wealthy are doing, and since they aren’t going anywhere, they could do a lot worse than to get some of the rather amazing stuff you’ll find in the plush rooms at Jacob & Co.’s inviting inner sanctum.
Price for the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon (without diamonds) is 540,000 Swiss Francs, right now about US$566,350, and price for the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon Baguette is 1,000,000 Swiss Francs, that right now is about US$1,004,800. jacobandco.com