Q&A: Vartkess Knadjian, Backes & Strauss

Backes & Strauss MD Vartkess Knadjian shows off the prototype gold bracelet watch.

The brand’s MD on watch innovations and floating above the recession.

Backes & Strauss is the oldest diamond company in the world but it is still making waves in the industry with the release of its first jewellery line since the 1870s and the creation of a watch collection in collaboration with Franck Muller. Managing director Vartkess Knadjian talks about the London brand’s progression.

How did you get into the watch and jewellery industry?
“I was born into watches. My father was a watchmaker. Then I joined Backes & Strauss in 1976 and learned about diamonds. Now I can combine the two passions with our watches.”

All Backes & Strauss watches have a diamond set in the crown with the table on top – why do you set it this way?
“We are a diamond company and we feel we want to respect the diamond and set it in the right way. To do this we make the crown larger to accommodate the diamond.”

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The Prince editions of the Regent, Berkley and Piccadilly watches are packed with diamonds. How long does it take to create them?
“It takes three craftsmen three and a half months. The diamonds on the face are tapered baguettes and it uses an invisible setting.”

Are there any further watch innovations we can look forward to at Backes & Strauss?
“We are starting to make gold bracelet straps for the watches for the first time. We have just one prototype at the moment, which I’m wearing.”

Describe where you feel Backes & Strauss sits in the market.
“We sit in high-end luxury. We make a very high-end luxury product; we use the best craftsmen, the best materials and the best diamonds.”

How has Backes & Strauss been affected by the recession?
“Last year I was worried about how it would pan out, but high end pieces were not very difficult to sell. When the recession hit we were working on a watch with fancy lime diamonds, which took two and a half years to source. I was thinking how will we sell this, but it sold straight away.”

Have your customers changed as a result of the recession?
They are much more discerning and they do have less disposable income. So when they want to buy something they want to buy something that will hold its value. Backes & Strauss can offer that as we don’t make many of each product.”

How is Backes & Strauss performing on the international market?
“Japan and the Middle East have been good for us and we are entering Singapore and Hong Kong this year."

And what about the UK?
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the UK domestic market. We never expected so soon to be picking up fans in the UK. We’re in Harrods, Selfridges and Asprey and in these places you might expect that it’s overseas customers shopping there, but it’s not.”

Do you have any plans to widen your retail distribution in the UK?
“Not for the time being. We’re happy with what we have.”

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