The Early Days of Cvstos

  |   05-01-2017


CEO Sassoun Sirmakess discusses tatoos, the meaning of luxury, Kim Kardashian and big plans for the brand.

Sassoun Sirmakess has grown up in the world of Swiss Haute Horlogerie. He is the son of Vartan Sirmakes, Co-owner and Executive Board of the Franck Muller Watchland Group. At a young age, Sassoun was exposed to the luxury watchmaking industry, he said: “I’m from a watchmaking family. They own a big watch brand so I was thrown into it. At the age of 12 my father told me to work with him at weekends. By 18 years old, once I finished my studies, I joined the family business and for a few years I worked in different departments and learned more about watchmaking.”

He’s born and raised in Geneva, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. Today, at 29 years old, the young entrepreneur can proudly say he has created a successful young luxury watch brand that has been growing for over a decade. He’s an ambitious man and feels he has a long way to go, but his life changed when he joined forces with designer Antonio Terranova, who worked for brands like TAG Heuer, Breitling, and Zenith. Together they founded Cvstos in 2005.

With Sassoun’s background, it is no surprise that the ambitious young entrepreneur knew how to market his high-end watch brand. Terranova’s creative collaboration has made Cvstos one of the most distinctive brand’s with a high-tech approach to exclusive watchmaking. The duo have boldly created a pioneering style for a new market demand. It embraces a particularly modern approach to design, one that manifests itself in the perfect balance between traditional watchmaking and state-of-the-art innovation.

How did Cvstos begin?

I was 21 years old when I met my partner Antonio Terranova. He use to design for a lot of brands before, mainly men’s watches. We wanted to make a young brand that focused on  high luxury and sport. I have relationships with sales people and distributors all over the world and my partner was more  involved in the design aspect of the brand. He designed a few models and we launched in 2006. We sell in Geneva, Dubai, US and London and we are constantly developing the brand but the DNA is high luxury, sport, technology and design.

Were you nervous launching a new business?

When you are 20 years old you don’t really think about how are you going to achieve things or how you actually feel about things. When you are motivated by something you just go do it.  It is only when you grow up and have family and kids that you become more anxious or more nervous. When you are starting a company you just look forward and not backwards. It can take up to three years to be established so you don’t have time to be nervous. You are only nervous when you have problems. I was lucky from the beginning because I had orders so it made me turn the company around.

Did you always want to be a young entrepreneur?

At 17 I knew I would join the family business but I did not think I would have my own brand. It was only when I finished school and I was working with my dad that I realised I wanted to do something for myself. Once I met my business partner, I discovered the entrepreneurial life. Once you are really alone it is a totally different feeling: you have to pay bills for the office, pay rent, pay salaries, you have to make sure money comes in. It’s different.

What is the style of the brand?

It is not a classic style. In watchmaking you have two or three different sections: there is traditional watchmaking of mechanical movements; digital watches like Casio and smartwatches like iPhone. My background is traditional, but I focus on sport and luxury design. We have a large collection; we have things that are sporty, from yachting-styles to artistic designs. We have the pure traditional and sport aspect and a high-end traditional movement like Cvstos Challenge Minute Repeter Tonneau Tourbillon. We have three or four styles in different materials like rubber, titanium and aluminium in brown and blue.  We have the Sea-Liner and Yachting Club lines, and the most recent collection is the ladies collection.

Where is your name from?

Cvstos means time keeper.  It’s taken directly from the Latin term for ‘guardian,’ the name Cvstos was freely inspired by the boundless creativity of an exceptional team of complimentary talents, each one fired by a burning passion to produce one-of-a-kind timepieces.

Who are the Cvstos man and woman?

We sell a lot to Russians and our customers are mainly men, usually with a young mentality and certainly not someone who is old with a classic watch. He is someone with a showy lifestyle, and someone who likes sports. Before we were 95 per cent men, but now I have another designer who brings ideas like flowers, butterflies and roses and we are going to make more designs like this for women.

What has been the advantages growing up in the watchmaking industry?

It was not a dream for me to make a brand, it was more of a challenge in the business because I knew how to make a watch. I can’t actually ensemble it together – you need watchmaking skills, but for this you can learn at school. If you want to launch a watch brand then you need to go to the right suppliers and make the parts: the strap, the decor, the crown – and put the movements together. I was lucky because I was in the family business so I knew what machine to buy and what people to hire. I didn’t need too much advise.

In April 2006, we presented at an international watch show in Geneva. I knew the brand would work in the Middle East. I knew the right people like Seddiqi and Damas. I knew people to make it an international brand and even though not everyone took it, I made it  global by taking it to the watch shows. The first thing about making a watch is that people need to like it. If they like your watch they will order it. In 100 clients there may be 20 orders.

How has  the brand progressed since 2006?

The first year was tough; it was a big challenge. There has been highs and lows. Financially, we’ve never been in the red so there has been no pressure there. The lows: it takes time to build a brand and it is competitive because the quality has to always be good.

How long does it take to make a watch?

If you start a new brand it normally takes three years. We did it in one year because I know how to do it, but it depends how complicated you make your watch. You can make a watch in one week, but not my type of watch.

What is your most complicated watch?

The ‘Minute Repeater and Tourbillon movement’ is the most complicated watch. ‘Minute Repeater’ is the sound and ‘Tourbillon’ is the thing that turns. It is not really for a women. With a mechanical watch, sometimes you loose time and sometimes you win time – it depends how you wear your watch. If you are active, the movement is effected because it has a spring and lots of mechanical parts. If you are calm the movement will also be different.  It is as if your watch is living and it needs looking after just like a car. Then there is also gravity to consider. At the end, with mechanical parts and gravity you have some small things that affect the timing. The Tourbillon has its own centre of gravity, so the watch is more precise. That is why you pay a lot more for the movement. A watch like this, without a Tourbillon is about £8,000 but with a Toubillon it would be about £90,000.

What makes your band special and innovative?

It is the combination of the look and the mechanism inside.

Greatest obstacles?

The crisis in 2007 and 2008. Then with the Euro it was tough. It has been stable the last three years. This year is tough, but it is ok. Advertising is also expensive. It is tough to be everywhere. We have brand ambassadors like Gérard Depardieu. Then you have to advertise the ambassador too. There are financial obstacles if you want to go to the next level.

Who would you like to be your new female ambassador?

We need a ladies icon now. I’m thinking maybe Margot Robbie, but perhaps Kim Kardashian or someone in between. We are trying to define our lady customers we don’t know yet. This is the first year for woman. It’s been positive but unfortunately we need more people to see the reaction. January is the launch with the watches and if I can find someone in March that will be for the big collection. Maybe someone British?  We need a girl who is nice and down to earth and the person needs to attract the press too.

Do you wear a watch everyday?

Sometimes I do but sometimes I don’t; I like to feel comfortable without wearing one sometimes.

Greatest achievement?

Nothing yet, but I hope to create a big brand.

How important is the Middle East for brand?

The region is very important but so is everywhere in the world. In this local market everybody travels so all the countries have the same importance. If someone goes to NYC and sees the brand he will come back here to Dubai and buy it. He knows he can buy it all over the world, so every country has the same importance.

What does luxury mean to you?

To be able to do what you want when you want to. If you want to take a week off you can; when you want to invest in something you can; if you want to buy something you can. This is physical luxury. Family and kids are also luxuries that you cannot just ‘get’.

Hopes and dreams in 2017?

To work on our ladies watches, to develop the brand and our collections. Also, to be less stressed sometimes. Sometimes we stress out about things that are not important.

Any collaborations coming up?

I like what Philipp Plein does. I’m also doing something with a tattoo guy. He’s from Geneva and is world-renowned for his brand Inkvaders Tatoo. He’s tattooed some famous musicians. It costs €1000 per hour for a tattoo and there is a three to six month waiting list. When he draws it is amazing. He’s designed our flowers and crazy skulls, dragons and a Phoenix.

By Hershey Pascual