Nothing is hotter in the watch industry these days than history. More and more brands are reaching back into their past to revive pieces that best embody their heritage. Those newer incarnations are even forced to invent a compelling backstory upon which they can build a story platform.
When it comes to history and heritage, however, few can compare with Backes & Strauss.
Tracing its origins back to 1789, Backes & Strauss became the “go-to” diamond and rare gem resource in the 1800s and on. The company’s archives show a clientele beyond compare. Cartier, Tiffany and many others chose Backes & Strauss for for the priceless ingredients with which they would create their legendary pieces.
In 1986 Vartkess Knadjian took over as CEO and under his guidance the company continued to set itself apart as a leader in the diamond industry displaying its uncanny ability to innovate and thrive. In 2006, Backes & Strauss entered the luxury watch market by partnering with the renowned Frank Muller Group and is now creating some of the highest-quality, most breathtakingly beautiful watches in the world.
WatchYouSay.com was able to sit down with Mr. Knadjian and discuss a wide range of topics covering not just Backes & Strauss, but the watch industry as a whole.
WYS: First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born in Ethiopia, I am the son of an Armenian watchmaker who was trained at the Ecole d’Horlogerie in Geneva. My Father, who was also the official watchmaker of Emperor Haile Selassie, would sometimes let me accompany him on his offiical visits to the palace in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba. All of this instilled a limitless love for horlogerie in me.
When the Backes & Strauss and Franck Muller partnership was laid out on the table, I didn’t have to think twice. I cannot be happier today to be able to combine my two passions in life; diamonds and watchmaking.
WYS: How would you describe Backes & Strauss?
Backes & Strauss represents the meeting of masters – the masters of diamonds and watchmaking – all the while being essentially British.
WYS: Tell us about some of your favourite Backes & Strauss watches.
It is difficult to have a favourite; each high end piece is a challenge, and sometime it takes so long from an idea to the actual creation that it can be very exhausting. I would say the bigger the challenge, the higher they rank as favourities. The Berkeley Imperial was a nightmare in creation. I wanted to set 96 Lime colour diamonds cut in the shape of the watch case on the dial; it took me 2 years to collect just 48 lime coloured diamonds. I then decided that I would set lime and white altnernatively on the dial. In this instance the main challenge didn’t lie in sourcing the lime colour diamonds but in maintaining the saturation of the colour whilst re-cutting the stones to fit the dial. I still remember this vividly; I was handed the watch from the workshop at 11am in the morning, spent a couple of hours admiring it, and then by 14hrs it had already found a new home!
WYS: What sets your watches apart from the high-end watch marketplace?
First and foremost, Backes & Strauss is the ultimate destination for diamond-encrusted timepieces; all Backes & Strauss timepieces house at least 1 diamond. Our diamonds are of the highest quality as well as ethically sourced.
The second factor that sets us apart is the fact that we listen to our clients; we pride ourselves in our bespoke services. My biggest joy is to meet our clients face-to-face, co-design a timepiece together with them and eventually hand-deliver the final masterpiece to them.
WYS: Describe the process of your collaboration with Franck Muller.
Over the years, Franck Muller had built up its capabilities of manufacturing high end watches. It was a brand with no history or heritage but with a powerful horological and creative ability; Franck Muller must go down in history as one of the more creative watchmakers of the contemporary period. Our collaboration with Franck Muller was really the Meeting of the Masters; we combined our respective strengths to create Backes & Strauss timepieces.
WYS: What (or who) inspires you on a daily basis?
All friends of Backes & Strauss, from our talented Global team to our clients, serve as a source of inspiration. My regular travels around the world are also very eye-opening to me. I was recently in Japan together with our Brand Ambassador HRH Prince Michael of Kent- I found the 3 days we were together very inspirational- meetings clients in different parts of Japan.
WYS: What future surprises are in store for fans (like me) of Backes & Strauss?
Founded in 1789 in Hanau, Germany, Backes & Strauss is the oldest diamond company in the world and holds a wealth of heritage; this year we are celebrating our 230thanniversary. That being said, our brand vision today is to combine tradition with modernity, constantly wanting to push the boundaries of diamond-cutting and watchmaking. With this in mind, we are releasing a couple of exciting new collections this year and we cannot wait to present them to you all this year!
WYS: What trends do you see shaping the watch industry?
At the very high end of luxury we create watches that are timeless. Technology can help with the manufacturing process, but you still need the skilled craftsmen and the creative input of your team. As more and more HNW individuals seek to own a unique and bespoke timepiece, this is the challenge that we most appreciate.
WYS: If you could own one watch from any time through human history, which one would it be and why?
My father’s pocket watch, which he made from scratch, for his final exam at the Ecole d’Horlogerie in Geneva; no other timepiece in this world would ever match up to this particular timepiece due to its sentimental value.
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