A conversation with luxury watchmaker Jerome DeWitt
BY ELYSE RANART
Jerome DeWitt grew up in a castle and has lived a fairy-tale existence ever since. From managing a wine and spirits company in Belgium to restoring and collecting vintage cars in his home town of Périgord, France, he eventually realized a dream to create a luxury watch brand in Switzerland. Two years after founding DeWitt SA in 2003, DeWitt was awarded the prize of innovation at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie in Genèva for his work. His high-complication watches are now recognized around the world and collected for their technical achievements as well as their aesthetics.
We sat down with him at King Jewelers in Aventura, an exclusive DeWitt retailer in South Florida, to find out more about these exceptional timepieces and the man behind them.
Q. Tell us about your family history and how it influenced your brand?
A. Growing up in a family with a noble lineage gives me a historical perspective, as well as an appreciation of beautiful things. I love research, whether it’s through books or visits to museums, for inspiration from the past. It could be anything from a Victorian snuffbox, inlaid with three colors of gold; to the Napoleon sword I played with as a child. Being surrounded by these objects of historical provenance has had a heavy influence on my passion for precision and beauty.
Q. Having done so many different things in your career, what made you decide to turn to watches?
A. It’s simple – I was investing in different businesses at the time and one of them was a watch company. The owner then left and I ended up with a company that was in debt. So I took it on as a challenge to save the company and became much more involved in designing the line and realized I had a passion for it.
Q. In what way are your timepieces like a fine wine or vintage car, which you also are passionate about?
A. Mechanics. For me, this means one thing follows another in a logical chain. I enjoy the study of things that involve learning the intimate behavior of something, whether it is music, math, wine, cars or watches. I also enjoy the cross-pollination of different disciplines and ideas. I have even taken some car specifications and put them into my watches. I always challenge my watchmaker when I am coming up with new ideas and when I am told something is impossible, it’s usually because no one has done it before. I say, maybe that’s the reason to try!
Q. People often say there is beauty in simple things, but is there beauty in complication, too?
A. When I am designing and feel it is getting too complicated, I start [simplifying]. I look for ways to simplify my own designs, like a beautifully set diamond, when the setting itself is so simple and pure, it does not diminish the beauty of the stone itself. I do like experimenting and mixing different elements with no restrictions, but if it becomes over–designed, I pare it back. So the complication remains in the watch works, not in the over-all design.
Q. In today’s digitally obsessed society, why does something seemingly so antiquated as a watch seem so fashionable, and remain part of our culture?
A. It’s a hard question to answer, but I think people still like things that are tangible. It can be a watch, a car, a book or whatever, but at the end of the day, I think they still enjoy beautiful things. A watch is also something that is with us most of the day. It has a specific purpose but at the same time reflects our taste and also the way we want to be perceived. A watch is something very personal, in a way that digital-time can not possibly be. This is why I try to make every timepiece in my collection so exquisite.
—Valerie Feder contributed to this report