It takes a lot for a timepiece to be truly controversial. I am not just talking about people arguing whether a design is pretty or not. I mean a real discussion on whether the concept and construction of the watch is in good taste. Few people have been able to pull this off, and in the watch industry one man has been able to do it a few times – Yvan Arpa. For me, this watch sums him up, as well as the legacy he left behind during his time at Swiss watch brand Romain Jerome.

During the height of the most modern economic boom, Romain Jerome was little more than a quirky brand that sold golf-themed timepieces. The problem was that most golfers didn’t want to wear a watch (or a bulky one) while playing the game. The owners brought in Yvan Arpa who decided to create a watch that combined a few things: luxury, rarity, and unattainability. It also had to involve something that people all over the world would know about. An idea he settled on was the most famous sunken ship ever, the Titanic.

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He imagined a collection called the Titanic-DNA. A steampunkish watch that was said to contain parts from the Titanic. Some people were shocked by the idea, and others thought that it was “pretty cool.” On more than one occasion I had to hear people speak of how horrified they were than someone would disgrace the memories of the people who lost their lives in the tragedy by making a watch with parts from the ship. Other people felt it was a pretty darn nice tribute to those lost souls. How you are personally going feel is subjective. For me, not being easily offended, I thought it was an interesting concept. My biggest question was always “exactly how much of the Titanic is in it?”

The watch also allowed Arpa to play with his fascination with decay. He loves organic decay in design and plays with it in the use of oxidized metal – here used for the bezel of the watch. While this is not the very first Titanic DNA (Titanic-DNA) watch, it does have the purist, original dial. I feel that this watch is one of Arpa’s enduring masterpieces.

Arpa is no longer at Romain Jerome, which is now headed by the talented Manuel Emch, the brand continues the Titanic DNA collection with a series of interesting models and renditions. This model which is under the T-Oxy III range is offered in the brands current limited edition collection as of now. You can get it in black steel, polished and black steel mixed, or in 18k red gold (as seen here). The bezel is made out of what Romain Jerome calls their “stabilized Titanic Extreme rusted steel.” This is where the “Titanic” part of the watch really comes in.

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There is a reason the watch is called Titanic “DNA.” There are in fact small amounts of actual metal dragged up from the Titanic in the bezel. There is also metal recovered from the ship yard that the Titanic was produced at in Ireland, as well as other steel. Romain Jerome personally oxidizes the metal in a water treatment for several days before the bezels appear as they do. The idea is further to remind you of the oxidized nature of the ship metal deep below the ocean. One of the little ironies of the watch is the fact that the original metal used for the Titanic’s hull is now generally agreed to have been used in error. That a better metal would have been stronger – likely tough enough to not tear when hitting an iceberg.

The Titanic DNA case is 46mm wide and 15mm thick. You’ll find that over the years Romain Jerome has offered it in a variety of styles and materials including steel, gold, and ceramic. While the case is simple in concept, there are a number of small details that make it interesting. These include the brushed and polished sections, and of course the bezel “claws.” My favorite part is the dial. The hands are meant to look a bit like anchors, with lume at their tips, and the applied Arabic numerals are period perfect and brushed on the surface for ideal legibility. The hint of red on the subsidiary seconds – that looks like some type of engine room gauge – is a delicate and refined touch. There are Titanic DNA models with other dials identical to this one, but with date windows in the sub-seconds dial. However, I think this dial sans the date is more elegant. Look closely and you’ll notice that the face has a texture a bit similar to the bezel. According to Romain Jerome the dial is made with a bit of “Titanic coal.”

On the back of the watch is an engraving of the Titanic (as it would have looks on the ocean, not in the ocean). Look closely on the hull and you’ll see the number of the watch in the limited edition. Most Titanic DNA pieces are limited to 2,012 pieces. In fact, all Romain Jerome watches are part of limited edition sets. This particular model in 18k red gold has the reference T.OXY3.2222.00.BB. Attached to the watch is a rubber strap with an RJ initial on it and a locking butterfly clasp in titanium and 18k red gold. It is one of those types that is made to look like a standard ardillon buckle, but is more complex that than when opened using pushers on the side of the buckle. I like the RJ logo cut into the titanium part of the clasp. I also think that the watch would look really nice on a black alligator or crocodile strap.

Inside of the watch is a Swiss Concepto made caliber C22RJ51 automatic movement. Overall I like this watch for a number of reasons – the Titanic part of the story is just something to help explain it to people. For me it is art by Yvan Arpa, a piece of history combined with the avant garde personality of Romain Jerome, and a ‘watch icon’ due to its completely polarizing nature. It is also well-made and feels good on the wrist, not to mention easy to ready. Price for this model in 18k red gold is 23,900 Swiss Francs, while the T-OXY III collection starts at 11,900 Swiss Francs.

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