A private royal commission for the Sultan of Brunei kick-started a glittering future for this young high watch brand, opening the door to a whole new business for Avantist founder, Keeran Janin. And after working on a watch with Martina Navratilova in 2017, he has now teamed up with one of the biggest names in golf, to create La Majesté Arm Edition, inspired by Thai golfer Kiradech ‘Arm’ Aphibarnrat.
“Sportspeople are a natural fit because of the dedication and hard work it takes to become the best. My ambassadors are personal inspirations,” says Janin, who started Avantist in 2015. The company now has an output of over 100 watches a year, all hand-crafted in Switzerland, and operates with the kind of approach that includes Janin’s personal phone number for after-sales care.
The €6.93 billion luxury watch market is dominated by a handful of household-name brands; Rolex, for example, has 22% market share. Switzerland is the world’s biggest luxury watch exporter, with names like Patek Philippe and Longines dominating the market. Harnessing Swiss expertise is vital, but to really stand out against such competition takes a very special differentiator. For Avantist it’s the personal touch.
All in the detail
The Brunei-born entrepreneur studied technology, which he now marries with a life-long interest in the craftsmanship inherent in fine watchmaking. “The engineer in me had always been interested in the amazing way that so many complicated parts can be designed and assembled into such a small space,” says Janin.
After taking his first steps in the jewelry business, he was inspired to turn to fine watchmaking when his family moved to Geneva and set up Avantist in Singapore in 2015. He spent the next 12 months building relationships with partners that shared the same progressive approach and in 2016, Janin was approached by a group of business leaders in Brunei to make a watch to mark the Sultan of Brunei’s Golden Jubilee. It was both an honor and “my way to try my hand in this great industry”.
The commission would be the first watch in the Majesté Series, a personalized timepiece packed with thoughtful detail, like the names of the Sultan’s children and a bespoke ergonomic case. The Sultan was photographed wearing it throughout the Jubilee celebrations and a few months later, the Golden Jubilee Legend Series was launched, in which each limited-edition watch features a piece of a flag waved at the Sultan’s coronation.
Honoring “interesting characters who forge their own paths”
Around the same time, he met Martina Navratilova and was inspired to share her story in a watch. The Legend Series was born, celebrating five of the former tennis champion’s major victories through the inclusion of string from the tennis racquets Navratilova used on-court at each match, visible underneath the dial, in another personal touch that was a big win with fans.
La Majesté Arm Edition watch launched in late 2019, with a floating skeleton tourbillon movement set onto a transparent sapphire crystal plate, surrounded by baguette-cut sapphires and finished in the golf champion’s signature green. In a feat of engineering, the case itself is also crafted from a single piece of transparent sapphire crystal, which means the complex movement is visible from all sides.
“Arm represents a really interesting pioneer in the true sense of the word. He’s the first Thai golfer to play on the PGA, he plays by his rules and lives to the beat of his own drum. He doesn’t look like the typical image of what you might think a pro golfer should look like,” says Janin. “I’m drawn to interesting characters who have achieved so much by forging their own path.”
Whether the client is Middle Eastern royalty or a private individual, the design process is always the same. “It begins with pencils down, sketchpads closed, and first understanding the client,” which includes meticulous research into each person’s watch-wearing past to identify trends and preferences. “One to two-dozen loose concepts” are then refined with the help of top-tier watch designers into a bespoke piece for each client.
Watchmaking is a time-heavy process, each Majesté Arm Edition takes six months to make. While the brand’s reputation is growing, staying within a manageable production rate allows Avantist to maintain the high level of personal service for which it has become known. Janin is understandably keen not to grow too fast.
He still views himself as an industry outsider and is energized by the craftsmanship in Switzerland to look to the future and “create something truly novel, a complication that is completely new, making my mark in watchmaking history.” And with his unique perspective and undeniable energy, it looks like this is one independent watch brand that could play David to the industry’s Goliaths.