SPECIAL REPORT: A CUT ABOVE: WATCHES; It's Always Time for Diamonds in This Family of Watches
New York Times, March 26, 2009
Watches bedecked with diamonds are a standard part of any timepiece collection, but watches that resemble diamonds? Leave it to Laurence Graff, the billionaire diamond mogul, to create a watch that takes its design inspiration from one of his famously large stones.
''Imagine a 400-carat diamond,'' said Michel Pitteloud, the chief executive of Graff Luxury Watches, describing a chronograph from the collection, making its debut this week at the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair. ''We took the idea of the watch as a diamond. The lugs go up and interrupt the facets of the bezel like prongs.''
''We never use pav?iamonds,'' he added. ''Always large stones.''
What timing, and chutzpah: with the global economy continuing its slide and the luxury industry gripped by the fear that its goods are pass?Mr. Graff, the 70-year-old Londoner who presides over a diamond empire linking the mines of South Africa to the royal salons of Brunei, expresses a contrarian confidence that there will always be a market for jewels and, by extension, jeweled timepieces bearing his imprimatur.
''We have been creating dress watches for some time now,'' Mr. Graff said. ''It is a natural step for the Graff brand: encapsulating the beauty of the diamond in an iconic and unique watch design.''
The collection, developed over the past year under Mr. Pitteloud's guidance, is composed of four families -- sport, dress, jewelry and complicated watches, the last referring to features beyond the time display -- each boasting a bezel neatly faceted like a round brilliant and a signature trilliant, or triangular-cut, emerald hour marker at 12 o'clock.
The men's assortment includes the sporty ChronoGraff, an automatic watch available on a black rubber strap with a diamond-like carbon finish; the MasterGraff Tourbillon, incorporating the classic tourbillon complication, an oscillating cage which helps counter the effects of gravity; and the Graffstar, also an automatic, housed in an 18-karat gold case, 43 millimeters, or 1.7 inches, in diameter, with or without a diamond-set bezel.
Showing less restraint are the timepieces in the women's collection, which get a thorough icing. The Lady Graff Superstar, for example, has a bezel set with approximately 10 carats of diamonds, a diamond-set dial and a three-row diamond bracelet totaling 40 carats of round and princess-cut diamonds. A smaller model, the BabyGraff, carries 8 carats around the bezel and approximately 10 carats on a single-row bracelet.
''A ladies' watch with the name Graff could really take off if there's money out there,'' said Matthew Morse, U.S. editor in chief of Revolution, a specialty watch magazine. ''I wish them luck.''
That Mr. Graff is sometimes known as ''the new Harry Winston'' bodes well for the brand. The company founded by Mr. Winston set the standard for a successful transition from diamonds into watchmaking when it entered the business in 1989 -- with Mr. Pitteloud at its helm.
Although the Harry Winston Ultimate Timepiece Collection had its greatest success after Mr. Pitteloud's departure, when his successor, Maximilian B?r, introduced the much-admired Opus series in 2001, Mr. Pitteloud was the trailblazer who proved that a diamond jeweler could make watches worth taking seriously in the exclusive world of Swiss horology.
''The fact that they have a great reputation in jewelry might help them,'' concluded Milton F. Pedraza, who heads the Luxury Institute, a luxury industry consultancy in New York. ''But they still have to deliver the technology of a watchmaker. You can't fake your way through luxury.''