The world of high-end watchmaking can often be a sober and serious place. But in the world of RJ, haute horology and a sense of wonder aren’t mutually exclusive. The brand’s playful timepieces have smiles built right into their DNA.
Founded in 2004, and relaunched last year under the creative direction of CEO Marco Tedeschi, RJ has made its mark on modern watchmaking thanks to surprising collaborations. These draw inspiration from pop culture iconography, ranging from Marvel and DC Comics superheroes to beloved video-game characters like Super Mario, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man. If you’re looking for a tourbillon with an artisan-crafted Pokémon dial, this is where you’ll get it. There’s even a pavé diamond and pink sapphire-encrusted Hello Kitty timepiece.
“We attract a wide range of people who want something different and, most importantly, something fun,” Tedeschi tells Watch Journal. “It’s essential for me to have a product you can identify by the wrist. There is simply no way to mistake an RJ for anything else in the world.”
That is certainly true of the brand’s two newest pieces. The first is a colorful callback to Batman’s original nemesis, The Joker, offering perfect “timing” with Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as the grinning villain in theaters now. The Clown Prince of Crime made his DC Comics debut in 1940 and has been the arch-enemy of Gotham City’s crime-fighting bat ever since. The Joker’s distinctive look—purple-and-green clothing, exaggerated facial features—come through in RJ’s laser-engraved titanium tribute, which features hand-painting and is limited to 100 pieces. It’s a killer chronograph in every sense.
For those after a more conceptual homage, RJ is also offering a timepiece inspired by another one of Batman’s iconic foes: Two-Face. Calling on the villain’s conflicted nature, one half of the watch is pristine, while the other half is cleverly “burned away” (just as the character’s face was in the comics) to expose the skeletonized movement inside. It’s exactly the type of timepiece that attracted Tedeschi to RJ.
“I was interested in the brand for two main reasons,” he says. “The first was the main concept, which was the core product having a material that has a fascinating story incorporated within the watch, and, of course, the collaborations.”
For Tedeschi, leveraging those partnerships is the key to success moving forward. That means bringing more of RJ’s watchmaking in-house and starting to produce its own movements in Geneva. Here, he sees opportunities to make his company’s timepieces even more unique.
“We are going to increase the collaborations, and the idea is to work on the character differently,” he says. “Before we used to have a dial…. We are now, being a manufacturer, able to incorporate the collaboration with the movement itself.”
The addition of in-house mechanicals will no doubt yield unconventional results. But diving into the unorthodox is simply a matter of course for RJ. In addition to the pop culture-inspired collaborations, the brand is known for its DNA Concept watches, which bring history-making material to the wrist. One such watch used steel from the Titanic; another contained actual moon dust. The RJ6919, released earlier this year, has pieces from the Apollo 11 spacecraft integrated into the bezel.
(Tedeschi, on how RJ sources these fantastic materials: “It [the metal] was sourced from the original refinery, even from the same batch of steel they used in the Titanic. For the Apollo, we bought the various artifacts from different parties at an auction.”)
The CEO is staying tight-lipped about what surprises will be coming our way soon, allowing only that RJ is “currently following other sales to purchase additional unusual materials.” What Tedeschi can reveal is that the shape of the watch, with its distinctive case protective “bumpers,” will always remain the same.
“The shape is quite simple, integrated within the case, we will never exclude having the case shape without the bumper in the future,” he says. “The essential thing is to have those four elements at 30 degrees from the primary axis. That’s how we define the RJ watch.”
That faith in the DNA is a large part of the brand’s bright future under Tedeschi. It’s also a statement of confidence in RJ’s place in both popular culture and watchmaking. This is why Warner Bros and DC Entertainment are continuing to join forces with Tedeschi, bringing their most infamous characters to life as rare, limited-edition watches. Seeing the finished Joker product, it seems that faith is well-placed. For collectors with a comic-book bent, the only question left is this: Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?