Text by Robb Nudds
Elka Watch Company has teamed up with Amsterdam-based Ace Jewelers to bring us a deliciously retro series of watches in four languages (yes, you read that correctly). Behind the collaboration are two watch industry veterans, following 23 years of helming various Swatch Group initiatives, Hakim El Kadiri decided to start his own watch brand. He named his new project Elka, the nickname bestowed upon him as a child. It wasn’t until he had made this decision that he discovered there had once been a brand with the same name based in Amsterdam and owned by the Kiek family jewelers.
Founded by Louis Eduard Kiek and named after his son (Ernst Louis Kiek Amsterdam), the Elka-branded timepieces were sold in the family’s Leidsestraat boutique. The brand disappeared during the 1970s with the advent of quartz watches but left behind a legacy that would inspire a young Dutch jeweler born into the industry around the time of the brand’s demise.
Alon Ben Joseph is a second-generation jeweler and co-owner of Ace Jewelers along with his brother Amir. Following Kiek’s closure in the year 2000, the Ben Joseph family acquired the store. For Alon, this was a significant moment. Being a passionate Dutchman, he had grown up loving Elka-branded watches and amassed a small hoard of them. It seemed only a matter of time before the iconic Dutch retailer and the lost legend of Leidsestraat came together for a project celebrating both the brand’s past and its bright future, guided by El Kadiri’s hand.
The very best collaborations are born out of genuine friendships and a shared enthusiasm for the project. Hakim El Kadiri and Alon Ben Joseph have known each other for 15 years, since El Kadiri’s time with Hamilton.
Soon after Elka’s rebirth, the two friends began brainstorming ideas for what would become the Diversity series. Exciting as the ideas were on paper, it wasn’t until they saw the watches in the metal that they realized just how well their concept would play out in real life.
We’re used to seeing a rainbow of colors whenever a brand releases a new series, but a quad of languages? That’s rare. Regarding colors, therefore, Ace and Elka chose to keep things simple: all four dials are the same shade of blue, and it is truly stunning.
The gradient dials swoop toward the center in a subtle dome that draws you into the watch. The shade is richer than navy but more characterful than royal blue. It has a slight oceanic quality to it and can appear almost gray from some angles before bursting into life when tilted even slightly toward the light. The crisp white pad printing (in whatever language you choose) and elegant leaf-shaped hands provide excellent balance and legibility. The big question is, which language would you go for?
There will be 25 pieces of each dial made and the scripts you have to choose from are Hebrew, Eastern Arabic /Hindi, Chinese, and Arabic.All four of the Ace x Elka watch company diversity series pieces have identical specifications. The watches measure 40.8 mm in diameter and are powered by the La Joux Perret G100 automatic movement, which sits behind a closed and signed case back, which fits well with the overall aesthetic of the watch that clearly draws its inspiration from the brand’s1960s golden era.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Hakim in person at the Time to Watches event during Geneva Watch Week. Alon, my co-host on The Real Time Show podcast, was kind enough to introduce me to his old friend. I was charmed by his openness and his willingness to share his struggles and successes not just with us, but with other small independent brand owners exhibiting at or visiting the fair.
The warmth between him and his watchmaking peers is palpable. Is this important? In the modern landscape of independent watchmaking, I believe it is. So often when it comes to independent brands, it is the makers we buy rather than the watches. What would Schofield Watch Company be without Giles Ellis? Or anOrdain without Lewis Heath? Could you even imagine Arcanaut without Anders Brandt and James Thompson, for example?
The emotional connection one sires with one’s timepiece is important. Liking the people behind the brand genuinely matters. Speaking candidly, I’ve known several instances of watch lovers selling pieces because there was bad blood between them and the company. In that regard, Elka is off to a flying start and, will, I’m sure, prosper on the back of not only goodwill toward the man and his brand but also because, when under scrutiny, these handsome and fairly priced watches pass the test.
ACE X ELKA WATCH COMPANY DIVERSITY SERIES (HEBREW, EASTERN ARABIC/HINDI, CHINESE, AND ARABIC)Movement: LJP G100Functions: Time onlyCases: 40.8mm, 10.8mm thick, 46.5mm lug-to-lug, polished stainless steel, water resistant to 30mDial: Domed blue gradient dials with either Hebrew, Eastern Arabic/Hindi, Chinese, or Arabic numeralsStrap: Beige Nubuck Availability: Each model is limited to 25 individually numbered pieces and will be available end of September 2023. The first seven of each style are bundled together in collectors setsPrice: USD 1,950