Яodask – a brand that represents three centuries of craftsmanship and a passion for time
May 29, 2018
London’s elite circle of billionaires and multi-millionaires has been on the alert since one of the world’s most exclusive watch brands unofficially launched its latest ‘must have’ wristwatch costing a cool £1m-£3m.
The so-called ‘standard’ Яodask Uniqua – totally bespoke and made to the client’s exact requirements – is just £1m but, if you want the finished item to be extra special and you have at least another £2m to splash out, then you have the additional option to sit for one of the world’s top portrait artists and have his finished oil painting transferred onto your watch dial.
No two Uniqua watches are the same.
“It doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate where the word Uniqua comes from,” said Global CEO, Jowita Penkala, head of the Яodask company since her father Wojciech Penkala died four years ago in 2014.
“The company only produces up to 60 timepieces a year,” she says in her matter-of-fact Polish accent, adding without so much as a flinch, “but six of them account for between £6m and £18m of company turnover. They are handmade and, needless to say, we have a waiting list.”
She is the fourth generation of the family to continue the watchmaking dynasty which began in 1881 and, these days the former catwalk model is more likely to be seen rubbing shoulders with financiers and the rich and famous, than checking out Paris and Milan’s latest fashions.
“I saw very early on in life how the world’s elite consistently craved two things: those artefacts they could never have and those items no one else could realistically afford. Their never-ending quest was always to find something unique and certainly money was always their last consideration.”
It was that observation that prompted Jowita, her late father and brother Mariusz Penkala, now the company’s Master Watchmaker, to evolve Яodask’s ‘Uniqua’ offering.
“We have already sold a number of Uniqua’s’ around the world, particularly in Russia and the Middle East,” she said, “and we are getting huge interest from the London market. Our strategy is ‘word-of-mouth’. That’s it, so you only know of us if you are in the know!”
Initial uptake for the Яodask Uniqua was brisk when it was originally launched 12 months ago in other parts of the world, so much so that the company quickly decided to introduce another layer of one-upmanship.
Яodask can now fly a leading portrait artist to any part of the world to paint whatever the purchaser requests, their thoroughbred horse, family members or even the individual himself.
The resulting painting is then transferred onto the Rodask Uniqua watch face courtesy of one of the world’s finest dial artisans’, in a process that can take several months alone.
“Overall, creation time really is determined by a range of factors,” said Jowita. “People usually ask when they will get to see the finished item, but when did you last go to Bugatti and commission a one-off car and as ask the same question? They will probably say, ‘it takes as long as it takes’” she smiles.
Яodask is a hybrid word inspired by the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. Яod, which is pronounced ‘Rod’, is a reference to the Russian word for bloodline, the ‘SK’ at the end of the word representing a subtle reference to the Polish city of GDANSK, where it all began.
“We have always been strong in Poland and Eastern Europe, particularly Russia,” she said, “bearing in mind that Яodask had its origins in Gdansk, and my father was considered among the best European watchmakers of his generation, certainly in Russia.”
It was a pedigree passed down by his father and grandfather before him and, by the 1960’s, the Polish Communist Party knew of the Penkala watch dynasty as Wojciech was selected for elite horology training in both Switzerland and Moscow.
But it is not just the gossip of Europe’s fashion houses that now remain hidden behind this businesswoman’s veneer of well-manicured professionalism, but a raft of ‘discretions’ amassed across three centuries by her forebears, watchmakers to Europe’s political elite.
“My father eventually became personal watchmaker to members of the Soviet government elite,” added Ms Penkala. Wojciech may have died in 2014 but his son, Mariusz, now continues the family tradition as the fifth generation, his son Krzysztof lines up to take the reins from his father and auntie, Jowita, depending on where he shows the most promise, as a horologist or businessman.
Meanwhile, London is already sitting up and taking note that a new, elite watch has arrived in town.
One of our early breakthroughs was when a leading concierge company, agreed to list Яodask in its elite gift catalogue.
“The company is represented in many countries across the world and, thanks to its concierge team of Lifestyle Managers, we quickly saw the positive outcome of that relationship, which resulted in several trips to Dubai and the United Arab Emirates early on. “Undoubtedly, we have always positioned ourselves in the elite section of the market place and have no shame in saying that our target market is multi-millionaires, billionaires and oligarchs.
“When you are talking about the finest materials on the planet, put together by the world’s best craftsmen and women, it is not hard to crash through the £1m mark and, with respect, anyone who has a look of astonishment on their face is probably not our target market for the Uniqua,” said Ms Penkala.
An Expanding Range
Which is why the company also has three aspirational timepiece ranges, the Zvezda, Strast and Иskra, which range in price between £30,000 and £250,000+, the Uniqua being reserved for clients who never ask about price!
“We have always sought to stay true to our roots and, because so much of our market has been built in Russia, we have taken much of our branding inspiration from Moscow, the Cyrillic alphabet and Eastern Europe generally, with more than a passing nod to the amazing engineering of Geneva” said Ms Penkala.
The entry range, Zvezda, is a reference to the Cyrillic word звезда meaning ‘star’, while
Strast has its origins in страсть meaning ‘passion’. “We thought long and hard before adopting the word Иskra (искра) for one of our premium ranges because it carries its own hint of irony, a riposte by the modern aristocracy if you like.
“It means ‘spark’ and was the name of the Bolshevik newspaper behind the Russian revolution. On the one hand it represents the beginning, where change began if you like, but, at another level, and somewhat ironically, it has come to represent a brand for modern society’s new elite and in total contrast to its original usage by the Proletariat.”
Яodask sources materials for its watches from some of the finest suppliers in the world, many of whom don’t even advertise or have a website.
“The watchmaking industry is a very secretive and closed world where doors only open at the introduction of trusted individuals, however, I have been lucky enough to travel the globe in our quest to work with the best people and materials in the world, and I never cease to be amazed when I meet elite craftsmen working in side-street workshops, so often making tiny parts for some of the world’s most expensive timepieces.”
“Яodask is a brand that represents three centuries of craftsmanship and a passion for timepieces. When you say the word Яodask, certain people think of the elite secretive world of Soviet Russia. Me? I am just the great granddaughter of its founder, charged with taking the brand history forward into the 21st century but, deep down, I’m just a watchmaker’s daughter.”