Watchmaker, Philanthropist Severin Wunderman, 69

Renowned watchmaker, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor Severin Wunderman, former maker of Gucci watches and owner of Corum luxury watches, died of a stroke at his home in Nice, in southern France, on June 25. He was 69.

Wunderman was a legend in the watch industry for his business acumen in building Gucci and Corum into international successes in the luxury market and for his innovative watch designs and lines.

Wunderman was born in Belgium, emigrated to the United States when he was 16 and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He initially entered the watch business in the late 1960s as a salesman. In 1972, he acquired the license to produce Gucci watches.

Wunderman, through his company Severin Montres Ltd, created and produced Gucci timepieces for 25 years, until Gucci ended the contract in the late 1990s. In 2000, he acquired Corum S.A., shortly after Corum’s buyback of the North American distribution of its watches from the Movado Group.

In the U.S. market alone, since its introduction in 2000, Corum has grown from no points of sale and a $1,500 entry price, to 175 points of sale in North America and watches retailing for $3,000 to $500,000.

In January 2008, Michael Wunderman, his son, formerly president of Montres Corum, took over as president of Corum USA.

As his business success in the watch industry and personal fortune grew, Wunderman established and worked with philanthropic and humanitarian interests. They include the Severin Wunderman Family Foundation (which finances research into incurable illnesses); The Severin Wunderman Collection of Child Survivor Testimonies From the Holocaust (Wunderman himself is a Holocaust survivor); and establishing a Jean Cocteau museum (now closed) in Orange County, Calif.

He pledged multi-millions to cancer research, and in late 2001, Corum USA donated $250,000 to support of families of firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers who died or were seriously injured in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The money came from sales of a limited edition Corum Bubble watch with an American flag on the dial and a patriotic caseback which Wunderman produced shortly after the Sept. 11.

In 2005, France has awarded him its highest civilian award, the Legion of Honor, in recognition of his numerous cultural and philanthropic acts.

Wunderman was an avid and knowledgeable art enthusiast whose collections include works of French artist Jean Cocteau, as well as many by great artists of the 17th through 20th centuries. He donated hundreds of pieces by Cocteau to a museum opening in 2009 in the French town of  Menton.

Wunderman, a gaunt man, was a survivor of the Holocaust in Belgium and, later, of lung cancer.

Wunderman is survived by his sons Michael and Nathan, and daughters Raphaele, Deborah, and Elisabeth.

A memorial service will be held at noon on July 3 at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles.