He’s been referenced in rap songs by Kanye West and 50 Cents as ‘Jacob the Jeweler’, and is widely credited with bridging the gap between high jewelry and popular culture. Which is another way of saying Jacob Arabo is the one rappers and Hollywood A-listers have turned to for their bling jewelry for more than three decades now.

Arabo started his business when he was just 21

The son of immigrants from the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, Arabo founded Jacob & Co in Manhattan’s jewelry district in 1981, when he was just 21. In 2001, he created his first wristwatch – he made the Angel for his wife Angela – and since then he’s produced some stunning timepieces that retail at prices starting from $200,000 and go right up to $1 million and beyond. When he launched the Quenttin in 2006, it was the world’s first 31-day power reserve and vertical tourbillon.

Today, the brand is best known for its Astronomia line of watches, which bring a striking celestial representation to the wristwatch. Here’s more from the man himself.

On making it in a Swiss-dominated industry

JA: My first steps in watchmaking were not easy. During my first visit to Baselworld, no one wanted to work with a jeweler from New York unknown in Switzerland, so I started with simple movements but a very strong design. As a former jewelry learner, my early creations were pieces featuring the most precious gems in terms of colors and integrity of source. I then brought that jewelry know-how to my watch collections in order to create timepieces with exceptional stones.

A vertical tourbillon with a 31 day power reserve

It takes strong dedication to be able to break through such an industry. I wanted to create statement pieces with that wow factor as well as finding a way to create highly complicated watches. I began developing a grand complication with the Quenttin launched in 2006: The world’s first 31-day power reserve and vertical tourbillon.

On his involvement in the watchmaking business

I find it very important to be involved in the whole process of creating a watch, whether it is coming up with a design or the final product, as the watchmaking world is a great passion to me. My goal as the founder of Jacob & Co is to set up a lifestyle for my clients – I want them to experience the brand’s philosophy that lies behind the spectacular designs. I also have a great team in Geneva and I work very closely with the R&D engineers. We design all our movements in-house, which is a unique selling point, and will continue to do so.

On the success of the Astronomia line

The Astronomia has received critical acclaim

The Astronomia line (pictured above) started with me wanting to offer my clients a kinetic movement in constant motion that emulates the beauty of our universe. At first, this challenge seemed to be only possible in a dream. However, we kept pushing our boundaries, and through hard work, we made it a reality. The Astronomia Triple Axis Tourbillon changed the perception of Jacob & Co in the watch industry.

The excellence of this great complication is due to its spectacular mechanism presented with a 360-degree vision as well as showcasing the beauty of the universe on your wrist. You will not find such a watch anywhere in the industry and the Astronomia line took a lot of time, patience, devotion, creativity and passion to become what it is today. Such complications represent the unprecedented level of technicality that Jacob & Co masters.

On creating custom watches for celebrities

The brand is known for its blingy designs

Everyone from David Beckham to Jay-Z, even Dolce & Gabbana came to me for a watch. We also have a lot of female celebrities like Rihanna and Lady Gaga wearing our jewelry during events like the Red Carpet Grammys, the Oscars, Cannes Festival… you name it! I recently created a watch with Madonna for the Raising Malawi charity, it was a custom 20.6 carat diamond watch with a tailor-made dial. I am very proud to have been a part of raising $7.5 million.

Read the full interview in our SUMMER 2017 print edition out on newsstands now.