“I build watches according to principles: attention to detail; watchmaking; and design.”
With these words, Manuel Emch, CEO of RJ-Romain Jerome attempts to explain yet again, the philosophy behind his brand. I sense a feeling of frustration from him, as he continues: “Everything influences me; everything, but other brands.”
I am sitting with Manuel on the edge of the his stand at SalonQP 2013. The Saatchi Gallery, tinged now by recent court case revelations, seemed like the perfect place in which to exhibit Romain Jerome’s creations: RJ stands for the non-traditional, the un-categorisable; the emotional element of watch design. Like modern art, #watchnerds seem to hate or love the brand in almost equal parts. I must admit to being in the latter camp, especially when it comes to their Octopus watch.
The Octopus is a fairly simple piece – a spin-off from the notorious Titanic DNA range, its highlight is a large octopus on the case back. The Titanic DNA watches have taken inspiration from Verne and steampunk, with varying degrees of success. For a brand that relishes the opportunity to be creative, I sometimes wonder whether they went far enough with the Steampunk watches. Part of me had wished for a completely bonkers watch, an RJ x Haruo Seukichi, perhaps, with valves, springs, brass and flying beetles. But, after spending time with Manuel, I realised that these elements are already in the RJ watches, you just need to see them. Look closely at the Octopus’ rubber strap, for example: who else but Romain Jerome would add suckers?
Manuel points me towards the back of a watch that I’d never really examined – the Moon Orbiter. I’m aware, of course, that the watch contains metal from Apollo 11.** I’d also read the press release, which mentions that this flying tourbillon watch has been fitted with a “cylinder system for optimal wrist adjustment “. But it’s not until I’ve held it in my hands that I begin to appreciate the pneumatic pistons that extend from the watch like the legs of the lunar module, the wonderfully-shaped portholes of sapphire through which the movement can be seen or the subtle pattern engraved on the rear, that morphs effortlessly from a series of honeycombed-circles into a starry sky. The articulated lugs flex and move, allowing this behemoth to sit almost comfortably on the wrist, like your own personal Eagle.
In many ways, I imagine that I’m Romain Jerome’s target audience; like Manuel, I was born in the early Seventies, although unlike him, I don’t recall the Quartz Crisis with quite as much personal feeling. It’s clear that this, as much as the Space Shuttle, the birth of the personal computer or Ballard’s discovery of the Titanic, has driven his design and approach to watchmaking. Brought in in 2010 to reinvigorate the still young brand, Emch has looked to our recent past, plundering our consensual memories to bring “generational elements” or “legends” to his designs. These have included the DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future, Skylab, and Taito’s Space Invaders®, combining them with watchmaking to “sell emotions”. Certainly, there is often a very emotional response to Romain Jerome’s watches; for me, a fan not only of video games, but also their art***, the Space Invaders® watches are a synecdoche for these designs, summing up everything about the brand.
RJ-Romain Jerome will celebrate its tenth birthday next year; what’s next, I ask Manuel: “more technical watchmaking, something complicated.” This seems fitting; after all, emotions are nearly always complicated.
**One assumes that the watch contains metal from the Command Module, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell; I’ve seen other magazines, publications and ‘blogs referring to the Apollo 11 “shuttle”, but I’m not quite sure what that is, to be honest.
***Artcade, the book of classic arcade art, is available to pre-order here.