Grail Watch Was Created to Elevate Limited Editions

Wei Koh has seen a fair number of timepieces in the almost two decades he has spent as editor of Revolution, the watch-focused magazine he founded in 2005.

But too often, he said, limited editions — watches that are produced in small numbers and usually command high prices — have been disappointing. So earlier this year he created Grail Watch, a company that curates and sells only limited edition watches.

“I wanted to do something that went beyond just changing the dial color or the material,” Mr. Koh said in a video call from Singapore, where his businesses are based. “I wanted to take the idea of limited editions and push it to the highest level possible.” (The name refers to the popular slang term for some item, like sneakers or artwork, that becomes an obsession.)

Grail Watch’s first timepiece was a collaboration between Ressence, the watch brand based in Antwerp, Belgium, and the watch designer Alain Silberstein, named Ressence × Alain Silberstein “Carpe Diem.” The 36 pieces, each priced at 22,500 Swiss francs ($23,320), sold out less than a minute after they were introduced online on April 28.

Mr. Koh first approached Mr. Silberstein, an architect by training who ran his own watch company from the late 1980s to 2012 in Besançon, France, that produced bold Miro-like dial designs in vivid colors. Mr. Silberstein then chose to partner with Ressence for the project.

Mr. Silberstein said his design for “Carpe Diem” was inspired by one of his favorite paintings: “Vanité, ou Allégorie de la vie Humaine,” a 17th century work by the French artist Philippe de Champaigne that is known in English as “Vanitas, Still Life with Tulip, Skull and Hourglass.”)

The tulip in pale pink and bright yellow-red became the hour indicator, while a cartoonish white skull indicates the seconds, while a yellow triangle — a shape that reoccurs in Mr. Silberstein’s designs — shows the day of the week.

Mr. Silberstein said he had no hesitation in choosing Ressence for the collaboration. The brand’s “movement is a sort of contemporary version of the hourglass, and it seemed appropriate to me to embody the allegory of ‘memento mori’ in the design,” he said in a phone interview.

But because the hour, second and day dials rotate inside the minute dial, which completes a turn every 60 minutes, painting Mr. Silberstein’s motifs onto the dials would have made some parts too thick and blocked the mechanics.

“We couldn’t use paint, and we couldn’t use titanium — because it is very difficult to get red on titanium,” Benoît Mintiens, Ressence’s chief executive, said during a phone interview. In the end, the hour dials were made of aluminum and anodized — immersed in an electrochemical bath that created micro-holes on the surfaces that could be filled with ink. It was the first time Ressence had used the technique.

Mr. Koh, who funded the project and earned a commission from the sales, said there was no formal promotion of the timepiece before it was dropped. “I wore the watch to Watches & Wonders,” he said, referring to the trade show held in Geneva this past spring, “and I was surprised that C.E.O.s and founders showed interest in it.” (In a Revolution article on the collaboration, Mr. Koh wrote that he and Maximilian Büsser, founder of the independent brand MB&F, ran into each other at a Geneva department store and, moments after looking at the timepiece, Mr. Büsser asked for No. 1.)

“My only regret is that I didn’t make more,” Mr. Koh said.

But Mr. Silberstein had asked that the run be limited to 36. “It’s a nod to the Jewish concept of Lamed Vav Tzadikim, or the 36 righteous individuals alive in every generation, thanks to whose conduct the world continues to exist,” he said.

With new watch sales doing well, the secondhand market cooling off and some brands worried about 2023, at least two luxury experts said limited editions continue to have a special allure.

Pierre Dupreelle, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in New York City, wrote in an email that what matters most to customers is “the design and the fact that the collaboration or limited edition is unique.” He also cited a 2018 BCG study that found, when it came to luxury collaborations in general, “over 90 percent of true-luxury consumers were aware of collaborations, and 50 percent had purchased them.”

Patrick Graf, chief commercial officer at the watch retailer Bucherer Group, concurred. “With these collaboration pieces, customers look to express their individuality and personality,” he wrote in an email. “I strongly believe we will see many more such collaborations in the near future like we already do in the fashion industry.”

What about Grail Watch’s next project? “The second chapter is about reviving icons of the past,” Mr. Koh said, referring to a partnership with the Swiss brand Franck Muller to create three limited-edition models, totaling 130 watches. They are inspired by the brand’s 1990s chronographs, and part of the celebration of the brand’s 30th anniversary.

Some of the watches are powered with the same kind of movements used in the original chronographs, a model named 1874 that was made by the Swiss company Lemania; Franck Muller found enough of them in its stock and refurbished them for the new watches. The three timepieces are to be introduced Sept. 22 on the Grail Watch website.

And the third chapter? Mr. Koh smiled and said, “It will be unveiled next year.”

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