Talking Jacob & Co. Watches with Santa LauraBy Wei Koh
I love Santa Laura because he collects watches with his heart. On a visit to his house, I marveled at his collection, which ranged from Rainbow Daytonas, Journe, De Bethune, Vianney Halter and Max Büsser, to name just a few. And while every one of these watches has proven to be staggeringly epic investments, he has assembled his collection by militating against the idea of watches as an asset class. He intentionally eschewed the investment algorithms and chasing of hype watches that has changed watch collecting from a nice hobby to a global phenomenon. And he has always bought based on passion, courage and his innate capacity to discern beauty. Indeed, when he bought his first Rainbow Daytona, the watches were hugely unpopular.
He recalled with a laugh, “They actually thanked me for buying it. When I first bought the Leopard Daytona, everyone thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care — I loved the creativity and use of color in this watch. That’s the way I’ve always collected.” Santa Laura has, of course, since proven himself to be remarkably prescient, as almost every single timepiece he selected has become hugely desirable years later. He explained, “Yes, but that’s never the objective. I never buy a watch thinking about how much it is going to be worth in six months’ time. Which is unfortunately the trend today. Watches have become commodities.”
As I was rummaging through the custom-made multi- tiered edifice of horological dopeness that is the titanic case that houses his collection at home, I came across a watch that intrigued me. As it turned out, it was a watch that Santa Laura was interested to talk about. He stated, “This watch is just incredible to me. It’s a Jacob Twin Turbo Furious. To me, what it features is absolutely insane. Firstly, it’s got two triple- axis tourbillons. Then, it’s got a column wheel monopusher chronograph. On top of all of this, it’s got a minute repeater.”
He extracted the watch from the case, wound it, set the time and then pressed the repeater slide causing the watch to ignite into song. What was remarkable was the clarity and quality of the repeater tone, complemented by perfectly measured strikes. I admitted I was impressed. He laughed and replied, “Bro, you know the kind of collectors we have here in Singapore. So one night, we did a minute repeater ‘blind test.’ Meaning no one knew what they were listening to.
We must have brought 10 or more watches. When the watches were revealed, we realized that we liked a Patek cathedral gong repeater the best, and the Jacob came in second. Also, when you calculate the cost of the three complications together, even at a retail price above USD 500,000, I consider the Twin Turbo to be a strong value proposition. If any of the other rock star independent brands did this, the watch would easily be a million. And on top of that, the watches would not be as cool or as fun.
“To me, that is watch collecting; watches that are engaging, that are fun. That you wear and that are conversation starters, not that you keep in a safe and every year you calculate the return on your investment. For me, it has always been about working hard, so that you can buy a watch for enjoyment! Do you know what I mean? So going back to Jacob & Co., these watches brought this emotion back to me, especially now that we are in a world surrounded by so many people buying Rolexes, Pateks or Audemars Piguets for investment. Jacob reignited my passion again for something new and different, fun and uplifting. Does it make financial sense to buy them? I don’t know. But that’s watch collecting, or at least that was what it was in its most pure form.”
I explained to Santa Laura that in a recent interview with François-Paul Journe, the independent watchmaker shared how he decides to allocate a watch to a collector. Because in today’s heady environment, the secondary profit on all his watches is the equivalent of a luxury car. Journe told me, “I look for the collector that would have been willing to lose 20 percent in the old days, rather than make money. Those are the type of collectors I will allocate my watches to.”
Said Santa Laura, “Precisely right, that was what we all believed in before, and if we didn’t have that mentality, watch collecting would not exist today. But today, what is happening is so many people are buying watches as investments. When you see your friend doing this, you want to do it as well. Because everyone wants to be successful and make money at the same time. But to me when it comes to watch collecting, that’s where the passion becomes more faded. So it is only natural for me that I look now for brands that are flying under the radar, and Jacob is exactly this. A brand that is making truly incredible things but flying a bit under the radar.”
When asked what appeals to him the most about any watch, Santa Laura was quick to reply, “It’s the emotion a watch gives me. I look at Jacob and I get the same feeling I get when I look at an Urwerk or a De Bethune. It’s a vision of watchmaking that is unique and totally different than the mainstream. I’m not saying that Rolexes are not nice or that Pateks are not nice, but this is different, more individual. I think one of the reasons that independent brands have gained so much momentum and visibility is because no one can buy a Rolex, a Patek, a Richard Mille. So the educated collector wants to look at what is really rare and unique, and he lands on independents.
“It’s incredible how fast they are gaining in value. Now, when you think of independents, you might not think of Jacob at first. But he is independent. His story is not that different from Max Büsser’s or Richard Mille’s in that he is not a watchmaker. He is a guy that had a vision to create something different, and then did it with a lot of integrity. He thinks, ‘OK, I want to make a watch with two triple-axis tourbillons,’ so he goes to his watchmakers and he says, ‘Make it happen.’ He’s not a watchmaker; he’s open about that. He’s open about who he works with. But he’s a great creator. One other thing that’s great about him is that you can meet him, you can ask him what he was thinking when he made the Astronomia or the Godfather [the Opera Godfather Musical Watch]. You know through collecting these watches, I’ve got to know both Jacob and his son Ben, who is running the company now. And we are now friends. What I love about them is that they are remarkably down-to-earth people. Real people. Do they have the same respect from collectors as Max or Urwerk or De Bethune? No, or maybe not yet. And yes, they have a certain association with ‘bling culture.’ But should their image be the basis for how their watches are judged? I don’t think that’s fair. I think the watches should be judged on their own merit, and based on merit, the watches are fantastic.”
Santa Laura’s Jacob & Co. Watches
Indeed, it was precisely in this manner that Jacob watches first came to Santa Laura’s attention. Watch collectors often talk about “wrist presence,” and one thing that is undeniable is that every Jacob watch is in possession of a Herculean dose of that quality. Said Santa Laura, “I learned about Jacob’s watches sitting in the airplane. I was in the cabin and I noticed that every time that the stewardess or a member of aircrew walked past this one person, they would stop and ask him, ‘Excuse me sir, but what timepiece are you wearing?’ It was only after the second person asked that I identified the name Jacob. And there I was wearing MB&Fs and Urwerks, and I said to myself, ‘OK, when I land in Dubai, I’m going to find out what Jacob watches are all about. So I went to go see the watches. Then I called a friend of mine in New York who explained to me the brand history and everything about the man and his watches. I started to do my own research, which is a process I absolutely love.”
Santa Laura’s research drove him to purchasing first the Twin Turbo Furious and then a truly staggering colossus of horological innovation known as the Astronomia. His version is the Astronomia Sky, which features a carriage that rotates once on its own axis every 20 minutes. It features four arms. The first bears a differential driven time indicator that shows the time in the upright position. The second arm opposite this features a triple-axis tourbillon. What is incredible is that the weight of the tourbillon and the time indicator need to be precisely the same to achieve the right balance. The next set of arms features a Jacob-cut diamond with 288 facets as well as a miniature depiction of Mars; each of these rotates once every 60 seconds. In the center is a miniature depiction of Earth that rotates once every 24 hours inside a half dome of smoked sapphire that acts as an AM/PM indicator. Underneath this is a sidereal time display that shows the sky chart and that rotates fully once every year, and on the side of this is a display for the months. The watch is simply mind-blowing.
Said Santa Laura, “You know what is incredible about this watch is that it has so many indications, and you might ask yourself, how do I adjust all this? Well, what’s great is that it comes with an iPhone app that teaches you how to set your watch. I also love the three-dimensionality of the watch with this incredible sapphire dome over it as well as a sapphire crystal mid-case. What’s funny about this watch is when I get into a lift, I can see people checking out my watch from the corner of their eyes. People do that anytime I’m in a confined space wearing the Astronomia. For me, I have a lot of fun watching their reactions. I have as much fun with this as I have wearing a Nautilus. It’s just two very different experiences that are both fun.”
The Twin Turbo Furious and the Astronomia Sky were soon joined by an extraordinary musical watch that plays the theme of The Godfather using two musical rollers and combs. While there have been other musical watches before, the Jacob Godfather was the first timepiece to connect this complication with an iconic part of our cultural history, namely the film by Francis Ford Coppola.
Said Santa Laura, “The Godfather has always been one of my favorite movies. Especially the second film. When I first saw and heard the Godfather watch, I was like, ‘Wow.’ For them to put the Godfather theme by Nino Rota in this watch and to have it sound so good! I didn’t expect for it to play the theme this clearly and so perfectly. Note that it has a triple-axis tourbillon and, on top of that, a minute repeater as well. I mean, that’s just a crazy amount of complication in one watch. Another thing I love about Jacob watches is that they are accessible and fun. You can talk to Jacob, talk to the people that made the watch. If this had been made by Audemars Piguet or Patek, it would have been many times more expensive and less fun. They would invite you or a small group to purchase the watch. Jacob is a different type of watchmaking; they are about being relaxed, being yourself, having fun. And I think in this crazy environment where watches are investment instruments, this is exactly what we need.
“My point is, when it comes to watch collecting, you should buy with your heart. That’s what I feel watch collecting should be about. So if you are moved by passion and not just dollar and cents, I think you will find Jacob to be very appealing.”