The long list of luxuries that are absent in Fidel Castro’s Cuba naturally includes fine mechanical timepieces. But before the 1959 revolution, Havana jeweler Cuervo y Sobrinos (Cuervo and Nephews) catered to the wealthy tourists who visited Cuba to indulge in sophisticated Caribbean leisure. When Castro seized power, however, the Cuervo family hastily fled, abandoning the store and leaving the Cuervo y Sobrinos name to fade into obscurity.
In 2002, however, a pair of watch-industry veterans, Luca Musumeci and Marzio Villa, formally revived the brand when they introduced a modern watch collection based in part on a cache of design sketches that they had discovered (along with a vault containing 25 original movements) while poking around in the abandoned store five years earlier. Musumeci, a watch dealer and distributor who became acquainted with the Cuervo family during his youth in Cuba, and Villa, a Spanish watch distributor, visited the shop in Havana after acquiring the rights to the brand name from the Cuervo family.
Today, Cuervo y Sobrinos is based in Lugano, Switzerland, but its watches retain the brand’s colorful Latin sensibility with designs reminiscent of classic 1940s and ’50s pieces that are updated to look as refreshing as a chilled mojito.
Cuervo y Sobrinos was the premier Cuban luxury brand during Havana’s heyday. Like Tiffany & Co. in the United States, it added its name to the dials of watches by Patek Philippe and Rolex. It also manufactured its own pieces with supplied movements from prestigious manufacturers, including Roskopf, an important name in early automatic mechanisms.
While retro influences pervade the contemporary collection, the watches are larger than their Cuervo y Sobrinos ancestors, to suit modern tastes. Most of the original models, the company says, are derived from the sketchbook that Musumeci and Villa found in Havana. Experienced collectors immediately will recognize the Espléndidos case as a dead ringer for Patek Philippe’s so-called Eiffel Tower, a dramatically flared rectangular model from 1948. Cuervo y Sobrinos asserts that the design, as depicted in the sketchbook, resulted from a collaborative effort between the two companies. Patek Philippe could not confirm the design’s origin.
Almost all of the modern pieces are powered by Dubois-Depraz-modified ETA movements; however, the company intends to develop its own movements. A new mono-pusher chronograph contains a Jaquet movement that the brand’s Lugano watchmakers modified, decorated, and finished in-house. Over the next few years, Cuervo y Sobrinos plans to produce additional limited editions based on the vintage sketches.
Cuervo y Sobrinos has found a niche in a crowded market by evoking the sultry atmosphere of old Cuba—the dials use a color palette taken from Cuba’s famous cigar labels. The brand’s packaging cleverly reinforces this connection with Cuban cigars: Each watch is delivered in a burlwood box that comes with a humidor conversion kit.
Cuervo y Sobrinos