Despite what the name suggests, and while the brand can claim true Swiss roots, William Wagner Geneva is the world’s first Swiss luxury brand from Dubai.
The brand is founded by Ramzi Charaf-Wagner, grandson of the late William Wagner (born 1907); a man who enjoyed a long career working as a craftsman for large Swiss watch manufacturers in Geneva.
Charaf-Wagner makes a successful attempt to revive the family legacy. He launched a brand that mainly creates commission-based, bespoke objets d’art, including, for the time being, exceptional timekeepers and writing instruments. Further down the line, the brand is eyeing expansion into leather goods, blown glass items and basically whatever the client desires.
“It is not true that it has to be launched in Geneva or Paris. The old maisons, they do it like this,” Charaf-Wagner tells Aficionado. “When you look at the big luxury markets, they are not necessarily in Geneva, people in Geneva don’t buy luxury anymore, the US is still a big market but the European market is not strong. That’s where they build it, but that’s not necessarily where they sell it.”
Despite being the family’s foremost legacy, watchmaking is not the focus of Charaf-Wagner, at least not for the time being, for economic reasons.
“It is nearly impossible nowadays to compete against the big [brands], once in a while, maybe every ten years, you’ll have one [brand] that is able to get in,” explains Charaf-Wagner, without completely ruling out the possibility of tapping into that market later in the future.
For now, the former banker decided to delve into the niche bespoke market. He will be bringing well-known artists to design William Wagner Geneva products, while keeping their signature – not a very common practice for most luxury brands – to produce a varied, yet limited, range of bespoke items.
“I like to find these unique artists who are living somewhere in their house or garage, who don’t have much exposure, and then to take them to the next level under my brand with their signature, that’s what I’m aiming for,” Charaf-Wagner adds. Jean Kazes, the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest clock pendulum, is one of three artists creating bespoke pieces for William Wagner Geneva. Currently in his eighties, Kazes has designed timepieces for the industry’s most recognisable names including Patek Philippe, Cartier and Chopard. Long before turning his passion into a business, Charaf-Wagner has been a lover and collector of objets d’art. He tells Aficionado that he had come across Kazes’ work years ago and owns 11 of the artist’s pieces, part of his personal collection.
“I realised: why not bringing his work to a different part of the world? He is very well known in Switzerland and he had a lot of clients in the [former] Soviet Union,” Charaf-Wagner adds, noting that shedding light on the work of not-so-popular artists in the Middle East is what prompts him to collaborate with them in the first place.
For instance, Phil Abernethy, the second artist designing William Wagner Geneva pieces, is well known in Canada and the United States, but Charaf-Wagner found that Abernethy “makes some very esoteric and very different types of pendulum clocks,” and decided to include him in the brand producing items for the Middle East. “I thought some tastes might be alike – those of the US, Canada and here – so why not bring his work to this part of the world where he has no exposure?” Charaf-Wagner asks.
The third artist is Grayson Tighe, the designer of bespoke writing instruments, whom Charaf-Wagner met through Swiss watch brand Blancpain. Tighe had designed a limited-edition pen for Blancpain that happened to land in Charaf-Wagner’s hands. Charaf-Wagner explains that when it comes to writing instruments, competition is fierce, with brands such as Montblanc and S.T. Dupont dominating the industry. To stand out and underline the exclusivity and premium craftsmanship of William Wagner Geneva’s writing instruments, Tighe created a limited-edition, Dubai Expo 2020-themed pen, currently displayed at Art Space Dubai, along with other pieces from the collection. “The Expo 2020 pen is made from titanium and any colouring that was done on the engraving, it was done by hand. The colouring is not a dye, it’s electro-magnetic [radiation] on titanium, and every frequency would give you a different colour,” Charaf-Wagner describes.
For the Expo 2020 pen, the brand tried to match the colour of Expo 2020 and created a 30ml inkbottle that holds the logo of the brand and Expo 2020.
Regarding his future plans, Charaf-Wagner reveals that he is potentially looking to create cufflinks with Grayson Tighe. Other future plans include cigar humidors, cufflinks and blown glass items. Moreover, Charaf-Wagner is looking for artists from France, the United States and even the Middle East.
Products from William Wagner are not available in stock; as the artists would either develop a commissioned piece from scratch, catering to the client’s preference, or would alter an already exiting piece to make it more personalised, again with the client’s taste in mind.
“We sit with the client, to see where they want this piece to be and get their feeling and we show them ready pieces in order to inspire them,” notes Charaf-Wagner. After deciding on the basics of the shape and size, the client gets to choose the material; “metal, glass, gold or more silverfish, and we can even have different colours.” Afterwards, William Wagner’s team sends a rendering of the piece to the client. Once all the details are agreed upon, the contract is signed and the artist is commissioned. However, he emphasises that the commissioned products take months to be created, depending on the client’s requests, design complications, size and add-ons, such as gems or other decorations, which can be added to the pieces.
“William Wagner makes sense, it is a legacy of my grandfather that I want to rejuvenate and bring to the next level, so when I am an old man my kids can take over,” Charaf-Wagner concludes.