Watchmaker Severin Wunderman

Watchmaker and philanthropist Severin Wunderman, former maker of Gucci watches and owner of Corum luxury watches, died suddenly of a stroke June 25 while vacationing in Nice, France. He was 69.

Wunderman was renowned in the watch industry for building Gucci and Corum into premiere international watch brands.

Born to Jewish parents in 1938 in Belgium, he evaded capture by the Nazis through a network set up by Belgian priest Pere Bruno, which saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. After World War II, at age 16, he emigrated to America and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Wunderman entered the watch business in the late 1960s as a salesman. A chance meeting with Aldo Gucci, head of the elite Italian fashion house, led to employment and friendship, and in 1972 Wunderman became the official licensee for Gucci watches. Severin Montres Ltd. made and sold Gucci timepieces for 25 years, developing it into a premiere brand until Gucci ended the contract in the late 1990s. In 2000, Wunderman bought Swiss watch company Corum S.A. and built it into a leading international luxury brand.

Wunderman started or worked with various philanthropic groups. They include the Severin Wunderman Family Foundation (financing research into incurable illnesses), The Severin Wunderman Collection of Child Survivor Testimonies From the Holocaust, and the British Lung Foundation. In 2004, France awarded Wunderman its highest civilian award, the Legion of Honor, for his numerous cultural and philanthropic acts.

Wunderman was an art enthusiast whose collections of great artists of the 17th through 20th centuries included the world’s largest set of works by French artist Jean Cocteau, which he donated to a museum in Menton, France, opening in 2010.

Wunderman is survived by his brother, Max; sons Nathan and Michael; and his daughters Deborah, Raphaelle, and Elisabeth.