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Jacob Arabo: I am my own customer

Jacob Arabo has a clear vision of who he caters for. The man behind Jacob & Co opens up about what drives him to his crazy creations 

When I look at a Bugatti Chiron, the perfectly refined engineering is so powerful that sometimes the car appears to be moving even when it is standing still. That’s the same feeling I get when I wear our high-complication timepieces.

“I became a designer when I was 16 years old,” Jacob Arabo says in a coffee shop near his latest standalone boutique, in The Dubai Mall. “At the time, I was broke, and my parents had no money. I wanted to start doing something so I could support my family. 

“I was determined to do whatever I did as best I could. And I focused on jewellery because I was good with my hands. I feel things, and I knew how to build and design and put things together properly.”

Today, the King of Bling is a staple of high-end jewellery and watches, with a client list of the who’s who in entertainment — who aren’t shy of name dropping him in their projects. 

The brand has entered into high-level partnerships with the likes of footballer Lionel Messi, as in the Epic X Chrono “Messi”, released at the start of the year. It made bigger headlines, though, at Baselworld, launching two timepieces with high-performance sports car manufacturer Bugatti, while another highlight saw the brand use crude oil in a timepiece. 

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation: 

When I look at a Bugatti Chiron, the perfectly refined engineering is so powerful that sometimes the car appears to be moving even when it is standing still. That’s the same feeling I get when I wear our high-complication timepieces.

Jacob Arabo

Why now, and why Dubai?

First of all, I love this new addition to the Fashion Avenue. I think it’s very comfortable — it’s not too big, so you don’t get lost in here. The space is very unique and perfect for luxury goods if you were looking for a more private experience. 

Then, the timing was perfect. We’re growing and always looking for opportunities in the main cities. Today Dubai is said to be the centre of the world, comparable to Hong Kong, New York, Paris and London. It’s a very important city; a place where people come and feel good about themselves, and where they’re comfortable spending money and enjoying life. 

I was offered this spot and I took advantage of it. We have amazing merchandise; we make beautiful watches and jewellery pieces, and this felt like the perfect time to bring it here. 

Has the market here been kind to you? Did that impact your decision to open a boutique here?

Yes. My market is great everywhere. We are doing very unusual products and doing very well in every part of the world. 

Dubai has always been good to us, and with this new boutique in the perfect location we’ll be even better.

And you reopened your flagship boutique in New York last year…

Yes, we’ve been there for 15 years, and after closing for nine months to renovate the space we’re back open. 

Astronomia Maestro.

Your pieces are beautiful to look at, but there’s also a great deal of technical expertise that go into them. What drives your creative and technical process?

I’d say my jewellery experience, the years and years that I’ve put in and still do. And then to combine that with the additional watchmaking complications — that drives me, so you end up with a complicated timepiece that has an element of high-jewellery. People seem to appreciate that too. 

What comes first, the design or the mechanics?

The mechanics come first. You have to make sure it works, then you can dress it up.

How do you follow up on a technical marvel such as the Astronomia?

We’ve added a minute repeater to introduce the Astronomia Maestro. It was very, very difficult to create. 

Equally difficult, this year we’ve also brought to market something very unusual — an oil pump, which took us a long time to develop. So, you actually have oil inside a watch...

Sort of how HYT has liquid in their watches?

Yeah, but we have two working derricks and a series of pipes, as well as a double-axis tourbillon. And it’s real oil flowing through the pipes.

Why oil?

Well, I figured the oil industry is so huge, you know, there are people who love stuff like that. I only do what I think people would love to buy. And again, for me, it’s important to design and produce something that has never been done before. That’s what I work for. That’s what I live for.

Being independent must help to be able to do that…

Of course, otherwise I would never do what I’m doing. Independence is very, very important. 

After 17 years in the industry, have you ever wanted to do anything else?

Yes, I’m designing a car.

Care to elaborate?

Well, I’m designing my own car. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. It probably won’t be on a large scale, but that’s my dream. 

Are you working with a manufacturer?

An Italian carmaker — I can’t reveal who yet, but you’ll see in the future. 

Basically, I want Jacob and Jacob & Co to be a lifestyle brand beyond jewellery and watches. I want to create things that make people happy, even if it’s a bicycle or a motorcycle or a cigar box for men. 

I would like to offer something that hasn’t been offered before. I am a collector and a buyer myself, and I live this lifestyle. So, I know what’s missing and what I would like more than what’s out there now. That’s why I design.

So, you’re your own customer…

I am designing for myself. Yes, I am my own customer. And then of course, other people will buy into that.

Now, Baselworld has come under fire in recent years. Do you think that’s fair?

No, I like Basel. I have fun doing it. It’s exciting and we’re very busy and always meeting new people. That’s what it’s for — they find you, you find them and that’s how you expand. I would like to be a well-recognised brand.

I hope Baselworld continues because I’m going to be there a long time.

Looking back, is there one piece that stood out for you, where you just knew it was going to be successful?

I never thought about that. This is the chance I took in life; I just tried the best I could and success was right around the corner. 

I chased success, and success chased me.

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