Claude Sanz wants to talk about watches and watchmaking, which, if it were not 2 am, and the conversation were not taking place in Velvet, one of Geneva’s many after-hours nightclubs, would be expected. After all, he is the proprietor of Bunter SA, one of the Swiss watch industry’s best behind-the-scenes specialty houses. Ignoring the entertainment, 53-year-old Sanz explains why Jacob Arabo, also known as “Jacob the jeweler,” is one of his favorite clients. “Jacob is one of the few people in the industry with whom I enjoy working,” he says.
The avuncular Sanz considers himself both friend and mentor to the gregarious and easygoing Arabo. Their professional relationship parallels this dynamic, as Sanz has sought to guide Arabo’s business, Jacob & Co., to a higher level of quality and credibility, one in the upper reaches of Swiss watchmaking, which is new and treacherous territory for the company. At just 40, the Russian-born Arabo has cultivated a following for his jewelry and watch designs among hip-hop artists and other young, high-profile celebrities. His watches’ wild shapes, outrageous dimensions, and colorful dials have made them favorites among these parvenus. Connoisseurs, on the other hand, have dismissed Jacob & Co. for its extreme designs and for its use of quartz movements and machine-set gemstones.
Arabo has long sought to elevate his image, but navigating his way through the cliquish Swiss watch industry has proved more difficult than he imagined. “I paid a large sum to a very well-known watch designer,” he explains, “only to receive a simple and totally unoriginal drawing. Thank God somebody introduced me to Claude soon afterwards.”
Sanz, a 25-year industry veteran, has established Bunter as a top jewelry watch specialty house for prestige brands including Piaget and Harry Winston. By partnering with Bunter to create a limited number of exclusive pieces, Arabo has achieved his elusive goal. The Rainbow Tourbillon, for example, remains true to the spirit of Jacob’s colorful design sensibility, while the superior quality of Bunter’s hand-set stones is evident to the naked eye. Bunter also designed a set of four high-jewelry versions with invisibly set baguette diamonds that compare favorably to any summit-class jewelry watches.
BNB, another specialty house, created Jacob’s tourbillon movement by enlisting the imagination and expertise of its three master watchmakers, who worked at Patek Philippe and Franck Muller developing such ground-breaking complications as Muller’s Revolution tourbillons. This team also is responsible for Jacob’s recently unveiled Quentin, a radical, vertically oriented tourbillon with 31 days of power reserve generated by seven in-line barrels. If it performs without any glitches, the Quentin will represent an astonishing feat, considering that, until recently, experts considered 10 days an ultralong power reserve.
Back at Velvet, where it is getting even later, Sanz proffers one more bit of insight into his partnership with Arabo before he leaves. “Johann Rupert [Richemont’s chairman], who does a lot of business with me, once asked me outright why I was working with someone like Jacob. I just answered: ‘Because I like him.’”
Jacob & Co.