Cast an eye over the history of popular music and you’ll find one color cropping up again and again, a wonderful leitmotiv. There’s Ella Fitzgerald under a blanket of blue, Elvis Presley wearing blue suede shoes. Miles Davis feeling kind of blue, Bob Dylan tangled up in blue, Joni Mitchell too blue for you. KRS-One lays out the original blueprint; JAY-Z takes note, then gives us three more.
Jacob Arabo knows a thing or two about that history. After all, the iconoclastic diamond designer has been supplying Grammy winners with custom watches and jewelry for more than three decades. He’s also carved out an enviable (and lucrative) niche as hip-hop’s finest purveyor of all things bling. His roster of clients, past and present, reads like a rundown of rap demigods: LL Cool J, Biggie Smalls, Diddy, Pharrell, Ludacris, Drake—and yes, Mr. Blueprint himself, the inimitable Sean Carter.
Along the way, Arabo has grown his namesake timepiece and jewelry label, Jacob & Co., into an international haute horlogerie powerhouse. The brand’s latest creation is a special edition within the Epic X collection, a line representing Arabo’s unique takes on the super-modern skeleton watch. But instead of his usual flourishes—diamond settings, multi-axis tourbillons, thematic automatons—this new piece gets redesigned with a bold original color scheme, one that echoes the skies and seas. At the age of 56, Arabo, it seems, has entered his Blue Period.
It didn’t happen overnight. Long before the Epic X debuted, before Jacob & Co. went global, before he was on a first-name basis with the hip-hop vanguard, Arabo was just a New York kid with caviar aspirations and an entrepreneurial bent. Born in Uzbekistan and raised in Queens, he dropped out of high school to enroll in a jewelry design course; by the age of 21, he had a stall at Kaplan Jewelry Exchange, in Manhattan’s famed Diamond District. Even then, he recognized the value of going big, carefully honing his jet-set persona: tailored suits, expensive haircuts, and, of course, a flashy watch.
Arabo knew the market. He felt the groundswell of hip-hop culture, too. In a prescient move, he launched Jacob & Co. in 1986, branding his diamond market expertise. From there, his aesthetic sensibilities only got more extravagant. If Dapper Dan was rap’s original high-end haberdasher, Arabo soon became the community’s own fine jeweler. The two men took a similar approach: bespoke products, seven-league-boots swagger, less-is-a-bore design philosophy. Word spread, customers flocked. He picked up a nickname: Jacob the Jeweler.
So it was written. Throughout the 1990s, if you had a platinum record but wanted a diamond watch—or a gold chain, or gem-set cross, or anything else iced-out and custom-made—you called Jacob. Lenny Kravitz called him. Bono and Jennifer Lopez did, too. After Arabo launched a dedicated Swiss watchmaking division, in 2002, Elton John reportedly purchased two dozen timepieces as gifts for family and friends.
Still, Jacob & Co. remained synonymous with hip-hop fashion culture. The brand and its founder became lyrical shorthand, a status symbol name-checked alongside Maybach and Dom Perignon. Arabo’s clashes with authority only burnished his credibility, further mythologizing his work. Ask anybody from Faith Evans to Fat Joe, and they’ll tell you: Jacob the Jeweler’s O.G. status is beyond repute.
Not that he’s rested on those laurels. Jacob & Co. has continued pushing further into the realm of high watchmaking with horological blockbusters like the Quenttin, widely cited as the first watch with a 31-day power reserve. The brand’s Manhattan flagship store recently reopened, helping initiate the next generation of hip-hop tastemakers—Migos, Lil’ Yachty, Lil’ Uzi Vert—to Arabo’s VIP experience. Last year, he released the Millionaire Yellow Diamond, an 18-karat gold watch bedecked with 276 vivid canary stones, that got the glitterati buzzing.
Which brings us to the new Epic X Chrono Sky Blue. While Jacob & Co. products are always a flex, this latest special edition shows off a different muscle group. Bereft of diamonds, it exudes a naked confidence: The technical prowess and colorful design stand front-and-center, sporty ethos on proud display. Subtle? Hardly. But if the Millionnaire Yellow Diamond was a full-fledged rock opera, the Epic X Chrono Sky Blue is a perfect 808 drum beat.
Less bling means greater focus on the mechanicals. Good thing Jacob & Co.’s self-winding, anti-shock, column-wheel chronograph calibre is a miniature marvel: The Sky Blue’s movement comprises more than 250 components and boasts a full two days of power reserve. Under close inspection, the detailing absolutely shines. Check the polished bridges, the angled and drawn column wheels, the anthracite rotor with “Jacob & Co Genève” red-lacquered engraving.
These are the surefire signs of Swiss artistry. And they’re all cleverly integrated into the semi-transparent, blue mineral crystal dial. The result strikes a neat balance on the scales of form and function: This watch offers the benefits of movement exhibition, plus the modern charms of suspended chronograph sub-banks, without the visual aggression of a full-open-work treatment.
There’s plenty going on outside, too. Measuring 47mm, the Sky Blue’s case is hewn from super-durable Grade 5 titanium and polished 18-karat rose gold. Like the movement it houses, this a technically complex design—Jacob & Co. says it’s made up of 60 unique parts—and executed beautifully. Each of the four end lugs taper over the bezel, pointing inward, as if they might converge and criss-cross. Visually, it evokes a large—or, some might say, epic—letter X. (Get it?)
Ergonomics are another highlight. Small seconds are shown at the 9 o’clock position, displayed opposite the minute counter at 3 o’clock. Elapsed seconds are read off the crimson central chronograph hand, activated by the rubber-coated pusher at 2 o’clock. Meanwhile, an ancillary crown at 10 o’clock, also clad in rubber, controls the rotating inner bezel and sets a countdown timer.
On the flanks, the blue rubber-coated main crown and color-matched chronograph pushers bring pops of contrast to a polished exterior finish. Once turned over, the sapphire and blue mineral crystal caseback allows glimpses of the watch’s inner workings. Water-resistance is rated up to 200 meters, because even JAY-Z goes to the beach. A unique blue rubber strap, replete with rose gold deployment strap, cinches the look.
It also brings a healthy dose of personality, something the high-end collector market desperately needs, and Arabo’s brand is uniquely qualified to provide. To wit, watches of the Epic X ilk often skew achromatic, drawing from a super-technical palette—carbon composites, DLC coatings, matte ceramics—giving off tactical vibes. At this level of craftsmanship, where each component is a chorus unto itself, those designs risk hiding light under a bushel.
The watch seen on these pages is a better bet. A limited-edition exclusive to Watches of Switzerland, it’s both an exclusive proposition and a reminder that serious watchmaking can be delivered with exuberance. It’s the skies and seas, and ready to be worn everywhere in between, something like a new blueprint for boutique chronograph breed. It might just be Arabo’s magnum opus.
JACOB & CO. EPIC X CHRONO SKY BLUE