Back in March, during my annual pilgrimage to Baselworld, I was invited to a private viewing of the R60 Diablo, a mechanical belt buckle designed by Roland Iten, a Swiss maker of men’s mechanical accessories.
At first, I was reluctant to add another appointment to my already-packed schedule. But when I realized the viewing was taking place at the Three Kings Hotel on the Friday night of the fair, at the same location and more or less the same time as the annual Patek Philippe press dinner, I knew I could squeeze in a quickie visit before joining the Patek festivities.
So I went. Thankfully. What I saw that night was wild and totally unexpected—and under embargo until today, which is why it’s taken me this long to say anything about it.
Eighteen months in development, the R60 Diablo is the brainchild of Iten and Claude Sfeir, a watch and jewelry collector who cut his teeth in the jewelry business in Beirut in the 1970s. Together, they’ve created a mechanical men’s accessory unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Courtesy Roland Iten
For starters, the piece features a calibrated buckle mechanism with 109 components in 18k red gold and white gold and a dash of titanium in the chassis architecture—all handcrafted, polished, and assembled by master craftsmen under Iten’s supervision in Geneva. It is a feat of engineering I didn’t know was possible with something as utilitarian as a belt buckle.
Iten, it must be said, is obsessed with calibration. I’d seen his trademark buckles before—notably, on Greg Simonian, president of Los Angeles–based Westime—and knew their signature quality is that they open and close with minimal friction, thanks to the rolling click–calibration patent that Iten obtained in 2008. What’s more, everything Iten makes is designed for one-handed operation, which he gamely demonstrated for me using a mechanical wallet of his own invention.
“My passion is that I like to sketch mechanical things—I love mechanical objects,” Iten said. As he spoke, he glanced at his wrist, which was adorned with a timepiece from the celebrated watchmaker F.P. Journe.
“A belt buckle is like a car,” he continued. “You can have a Fiat or you can have a Bentley.”
We can all imagine what the Fiat of belt buckles looks like: small, simple, nondescript. Now let me describe the defining element that makes the R60 Diablo a Bentley:
The device has been built around a diamond of remarkable size, color, and transparency. The 60.66 ct. stone—valued in excess of $9 million—boasts an orange-brown color that looks like a glass of cognac was poured into a modified kite cut frame and frozen solid. The VS2 diamond owes its limpid appearance to the fact that it is a true Golconda diamond: It was discovered in the Golconda region of India nearly 160 years ago and is a type IIa diamond, meaning it is among history’s rarest and most coveted stones. In a past era, it would have been described as a gem “of the finest water.” Relying on a unique suspension system, the diamond appears to float above the buckle plate.
Courtesy Roland Iten
Courtesy Roland Iten
What Iten and Sfeir have rightly emphasized is how rare it is to see such an impressive diamond embellishing a men’s accessory. Their shared vision is to place more important stones into the men’s sphere, on everything from belt buckles to wallets to walking sticks.
The Diablo is on view through 5 p.m. (Central European Time) this Wednesday at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva. Should you happen to be there, swing by and check it out. After Geneva, the buckle will embark on a global tour that includes stops in London, New York City, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Presumably, a collector in one of those locations will snap it up. (A portion of the sales will be donated to the Norman Schureman Memorial Scholarship Trust at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., after a professor who was Iten’s mentor at the institution where he received his degree in product design.)
My sincere hope is that the buyer wears the Diablo—which means devil for those of you who don’t speak Spanish—with pride, as opposed to placing it somewhere for safekeeping. He’d be making one hell of a statement.