BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) - Steel and coal from the Titanic have been transformed into a new line of luxury wristwatches that claim to capture the essence of the legendary oceanliner which sank in 1912.
Geneva watchmaker Romain Jerome SA billed its "Titanic-DNA" collection as among the most exclusive pieces showcased this week at Baselworld, the watch and jewellery industry's largest annual trade fair.
"It is very luxurious and very inaccessible," said Yvan Arpa, chief executive of the three-year-old company that hopes the limited edition watches will attract both collectors and garrulous luxury goods buyers.
"So many rich people buy incredibly complicated watches without understanding how they work, because they want a story to tell," he said. "To them we offer a story."
The North Atlantic wrecksite of the Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank on its first voyage from the English port of Southampton to New York, have been protected for more than a decade but many relics were taken in early diving expeditions.
Romain Jerome said it purchased a piece of the hull weighing about 1.5 kg (3 pounds) that was retrieved in 1991, but declined to identify the seller. The metal has been certified as authentic by the Titanic's builders Harland and Wolff.
To make the watches, which were offered for sale for the first time in Basel for between $7,800 and $173,100, the Swiss company created an alloy using the slab from the Titanic with steel being used in a Harland and Wolff replica of the vessel.
The gold, platinum and steel time pieces have black dial faces made of lacquer paint that includes coal recovered from the debris field of the Titanic wrecksite, offered for sale by the U.S. company RMS Titanic Inc.
Arpa said the combination of new and old materials infused the watches with a sense of renewal, instead of representing a reminder of the 1,500 passengers who drowned when the oceanliner met her tragic end off the coast of Newfoundland.
"It is a message of hope, of life stronger than death, of rebirth," he said in an interview in Romain Jerome's exposition booth in Basel, where more than 2,100 exhibitors are flaunting their latest wares amid a boom for the luxury goods sector.
The company will make 2,012 watches to coincide with the centenary anniversary of the Titanic's sinking in 2012.
Arpa said the young watchmaker would unveil a new series next year commemorating another famous legend, but declined to offer clues of what is to come.
"For a new brand, you have to find something different to be interesting," he said. Asked if the next collection would be based on Scotland's legendary Loch Ness monster, he smiled and said: "Ooh. Have you found it?"