The Master Of Time: Jacob Arabo On The Power Of Taking Risks & Daring To Do The Impossible
Jacob Arabo is an anomaly. As the founder and chairman of Jacob & Co., Arabo has been at the helm of the burgeoning luxury jewelry and watchmaking brand for over three decades, creating revolutionary timepieces that have set new precedents in the industry. As an icon in the world of jewelry and timepieces, he has built a reputation on his creative curiosity and fearlessness when it comes to taking risks. For Arabo, no is simply not an answer.
In fact, Arabo has always been destined for achieving greatness — his zest for creating one-of-a-kind pieces started at the young age of 17. “When I was 17 years old, I enrolled in a six-month training program on how to make jewelry. After completing the course, I began an internship with a local jewelry manufacturer, which led to a full-time position as a jeweler and a designer,” explains Arabo. “Within a year, I was making more money than the jewelers that had been there for decades. And that’s when it clicked for me — I have the eye and skills for this art.”
During his internship, he discovered his passion for designing more memorable masterpieces, and he eventually shifted his side hustle into a full-time career. “After work, I began designing my own pieces and manufacturing them using a makeshift workspace in my bedroom. My designs caught on, and I started to develop a clientele. Soon, I began making more money with my side business than my job,” says Arabo.
“In 1986, I left my full-time job at that jewelry manufacturing company and founded the retail jewelry company, Diamond Quasar, doing business under the Jacob & Co. brand, making my designs for private clients,” he recalls. Arabo continued the expansion of his career in jewelry-making while perfecting and polishing his skills. “Designing jewelry — to me — has always been an art form,” he contends. “And it took a lot of emotional and mental guesswork to give birth to every design. I worked unbelievably long hours, squeezing out every bit of creative juice I could, and everything I came up with is a genuine labor of love and passion.” It was that same dedication to detail and yearning to learn that would catapult him into the world of watchmaking.
In the 1990s, Arabo began collaborating with entertainers on custom designs, becoming one of the first jewelers to create statement diamond jewels for men. His innovative pieces caught the attention of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. — who gave Arabo the nickname Jacob the Jeweler — and it immediately had a snowball effect. Arabo’s name was shared within the inner circles of the entertainment industry, leading him to Sean “Puffy” Combs. “Puffy asked me to put a diamond bezel on his gold Rolex. It had never been done before on a man’s piece,” explains Arabo. “I said ‘sure,’ without knowing if it was possible. So I put my head down, got to work, and a few weeks later, he was the only rapper with a diamond bezel on a Rolex,” he says.
“Since then, I’ve had a line of people wanting to put diamonds on their Rolexes and even more people coming to me to put diamonds on their other watches,” he adds. For Arabo, diamonds are a sign of success. “When you wear them, you feel good, and when people look at you, they love it, they compliment you; that’s what show business is about,” he explains.
And while Arabo started in jewelry, he never could get watches off his mind. “I kept saying to myself, When I’m ready, I’m going to create spectacular watches,” he admitted.
And indeed, he did.
“I wanted to create a statement piece, something that was identifiably mine, and on top of that, I wanted to expand my product line. I thought if people wore my jewelry, there would be no reason why they wouldn’t wear my watch designs,” Arabo explains. So, he set out to make his dream a reality.
Arabo launched his first timepiece, the Five Time Zone watch, which completely revolutionized watchmaking by allowing customers to change the look of the watch as they desired, using different bezels and straps.
“The Five Time Zone is my quartz-powered watch collection that combined bold primary colors and had multiple time zone technology designed to appeal to men and women,” he says. “The tech features five time zones, and a world map, [which] was inspired by my clients’ jet-setting lifestyle. It quickly became both a fashion statement and a usable timepiece for those who travel. The watch was highly customizable, making it an attention-capturing, functional piece.” And believe it or not, Arabo still wears the first Five Time Zone he ever made.
Arabo went on to design some of the industry’s one-of-a-kind, limited-edition timepieces by taking risks and doing things that had never been seen before. In fact, he developed a world-first — the vertical tourbillon with an outstanding 31-day power reserve, which was later worn by film director Quentin Tarantino — with the goal of pushing the limits beyond what already existed. “When I showed Quentin the watch, I was so eager for him to wear it I offered to name the piece after him. That’s how it ended up being called the Quenttin.”
There is no denying that Arabo lives in a world of firsts. Jacob & Co.’s ethos is to be inspired by the impossible, and throughout the 36-plus years in business, he has never lost sight of that. “We have been creating and will continue to create products that are deemed impossible. The first Five Time Zone watch? I was repeatedly told that it couldn’t be done and that no one would buy it. The first 31-day power reserve watch received the same disbelieving remarks,” he reveals. “I guess you could say I live to prove expectations wrong.”
Today, Arabo has garnered the attention of many A-list celebrities, from Travis Scott and DJ Khaled to Floyd Mayweather and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as brand partners that share the same standards of excellence like Bugatti, Fast & Furious, Paramount Pictures’ The Godfather, Lionel Messi, DC Comics and others.
“We stand for fearless, innovative creativity, and we look for partnerships that break traditions — much like what Bugatti is doing in the automotive industry, or the global impact the movie The Godfather continues to generate,” he says. “The hope is always to give birth to unforgettable pieces that are representative of our partner while keeping the iconic Jacob & Co. DNA.” From the Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon collection and the Fast & Furious Twin Turbo to the latest Gotham City launch, each partnership highlights unique components of each brand, resulting in a never-before-seen watchmaking masterpiece.
Arabo still recognizes the unique demands of being a major player in the watch and jewelry business. “No matter what I create, I need to find the perfect and most accomplished source. In jewelry, we work with the best gems suppliers and jewelers. In watchmaking, the technical side is even more important. We don’t just need someone who claims they can accomplish my vision, however daring. We need it to work, be reliable, in the long run. Timepieces are special that way, and our leadership as a company relies on that: absolute manufacturing quality”
With an outstanding repertoire of timepieces, Arabo still has a favorite collection: the Astronomia collection. “Growing up, I was always interested in the mystery and possibilities existing outside earth. To design a watch featuring the solar system inside of it is a real dream come true for me,” he says. Each watch creation for Arabo transforms the unimaginable into the tangible.
As a seasoned jeweler and watchmaker, Arabo remains an industry trailblazer, unwavering in his vision. “I always try to stay ahead of trends; I never want to create anything that is mass market or can be found among other brands,” he points out. “With that in mind, I have always had to think outside the box to find different materials, color stories, and ways of wearing jewelry or watches.” Arabo is a creator, inspired by everything around him, from cars, architecture, and movies to the galaxy and solar system — the design possibilities are truly limitless.
And while Arabo never attended watchmaking school or learned about the intricate inner mechanisms of a watch, it’s his design ethos that sets him apart. “When I design, I don’t design with the limitation of what is or is not possible,” he explains. “I create, and then I figure out how to make it a reality. My ideas become possible by being persistent, finding the right team to execute my vision, and never giving up on that vision.”
For Jacob & Co., there is no slowing down. Arabo is always planning something and working on new projects. So, what is he up to right now? This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first The Godfather movie, and Jacob & Co. is working on a brand-new watch for this that will be a 50-piece limited-edition release. “The Godfather is one of my absolute favorite films, and to be able to create a watch for such an iconic work of art is definitely a highlight of my career,” says Arabo.
His enduring career is a true result of his can-do attitude. Arabo hopes to continue to evolve the brand by expanding globally, opening more stores, and pushing the limits of high-level watchmaking. “I am a huge believer in pushing the boundaries, so it’s my hope for Jacob & Co. and future generations of industry players to continue creating demand for unique jewelry and timepieces,” says Arabo. And while he has seen many luxury jewelry and watch brands come and go, he believes the secret to success is to remain best-in-class and continually innovating.
Looking back, 30-some years ago, at the beginning of his journey in the industry, Arabo has no regrets. “Everything that has happened was supposed to happen at the right time,” he explains. “I would tell my younger self not to stress so much. But, then again, that persistent pursuit of the wow-moment, the new, and the impossible would probably stress anybody out,” he adds. “Time is very precious because there’s only so much of it we can enjoy in our lifetime. I make it my mission to value every bit of every second I have.”