Backes & Strauss – The Diamond Watchmaker Turns To Tourbillons

Backes & Strauss – The Diamond Watchmaker Turns To Tourbillons

Founded in 1789, Backes & Strauss initially was one of the world’s greatest jewelers and diamond merchants. The manufacture thrived for more than two centuries. In 2003, Vartkess Knadjian, CEO at the time, initiated a management buy-out to concentrate the activities on creating a luxury watch brand focused on diamonds.

By Benjamin Teisseire

We went to the manufacture to understand it better, to discuss with the CEO and to discover first hand their latest pieces, the Berkeley 43 King Tourbillon and the Piccadilly 45 King Tourbillon.

Meeting of Masters

As Vartkess explained, “(at the time) diamonds were becoming a commodity, a product like any other. The company had to re-invent itself in order to keep prospering. We had to capitalize on our unique know-how in terms of diamonds, so we decided to invest downstream of our first craft. As a watch lover for many years, I naturally turned towards this industry. The meeting with Franck Muller was a perfect match. The meeting of two Masters of their craftsmanship.”

Backes & Strauss timekeepers are designed from the diamonds themselves. They inspire the deepest cravings among men as much as women. The innovative aspect comes from the manufacture’s wide access to colored stones and their unique setting techniques. Only the best quality diamonds are used, even for the smallest dimensions. “Franck Muller provides the watchmaking credibility with its renowned mastery of complications, in particular of tourbillons," the CEO added.

Diamonds for all

One could think diamonds are only for women. That would be a great mistake. M. Knadjian confirms, “200 years ago it was more men than women who wore diamonds. Tsars and Kings loved them. We think our timepieces as genderless. Our clients are simply persons who love beauty, who recognize the artisanal craftsmanship, who appreciate great stories and want to express their character through exceptional pieces.”

Nothing beats trying on these incredibly unique timepieces to forge your own opinions. The first acknowledgment, they are daunting as soon as they enter the room. They are imposing with their respective case sizes of 43mm and 45mm. For the Berkeley and the Piccadilly King Tourbillon. You could swear the former is larger than the latter. Is it the opposite of the square – for the Berkeley Square – and the round – for the Piccadilly Circus. What’s the meaning of this? The different angles of diamonds set? The choice of colors? I could not say, but it is all just an illusion. Both watches present their dial in the upper part. The part below is entirely open to highlight the tourbillon which seems to float literally.

Hands-on King Tourbillons

Let’s start with the Berkeley 43 King Tourbillon. Its name is etched at the back of the case ‘King Invisible.’ It is a piece of art with a beautiful white gold square case, rounded angles, and 136 Baguette diamonds. It is very present, but somehow a softness emanates from the piece. Despite this, it is surprisingly comfortable on the wrist thanks to its plunging lugs. Reflections bounce from every angle. It is truly fascinating. The upper dial is diamond paved in its center with 116 round Ideal Cut stones. It highlights, even more, the mother-of-pearl that surrounds them, as well as the seven blue sapphire baguettes that serve as indexes from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. The pink and blue hues of the mother-of-pearl blend with the endless twinkling of the stones. It is full of life and hypnotic.

The Piccadilly 45 King Tourbillon – whose name is King Baguette, as the etched back reveals – is all curves. Its round white gold case is set with 48 Baguette Cut diamonds. The setting work on the bezel is phenomenal. It is curved with a greater inclination at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock, between the lugs, and a softer one at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. The result is sublime, like an outer cambered ellipse. The mother-of-pearl upper part of the dial is set with green baguette cut emeralds as indexes as well as 138 round Ideal Cut diamonds set in concentric circles around the center. Very efficient to add some roundness and perfect for an ideal comfort on the wrist too.

Both timekeepers have in common the manufacture’s distinctive features, the ribbed crown set with a solitaire round diamond at its top, and the tourbillon adorned with the Backes & Strauss’ signature arrows motif. All inspired by the Hearts & Arrows pattern visible when viewing an Ideal Cut diamond with a special loupe. Seeing the London skyline etched on the micro-rotor of the automatic tourbillon movement is quite a treat. The whole caliber plate is set with, respectively, 184 and 204 Ideal-Cut diamonds for the Berkeley 43 and the Piccadilly 45. Both pieces attest of the excellence of the setting savoir-faire of Backes & Strauss. And they fit perfectly on both men and women.

As these two masterpieces beautifully exemplify, Backes & Strauss is not a brand for everyone. These are not your everyday watches by any means. We should think of them more like art pieces. As Vartkess humbly put it, “We are a niche brand. Individuals who wear Backes & Strauss do not buy name brands. They acquire a true creation that is as much a jewel as a timekeeper.”

With a price tag around $ 500'000, these are not watches for all purses either. But when you love, you do not count. And diamonds are a women's best friend…as much as a man's.

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