Nov 20, 2023
In California, in the early ’70s, Kirk Rich, a third-generation employee at his family’s watch shop, began to make waves in the luxury timepiece industry for his dial modifications. At the time, Rich wasn’t the only person repainting faded dials, or adjusting brand names on Tudors or Rolexes per customer whims, or swapping out indicators to create the “California style” featuring both Arabic and Roman numerals. But his name passed to dealers around the country and inspired generations of third-party watchmakers. Since then—and even though modifying a wristwatch can disrupt its resale value—watch customization has grown into a collectors’ market of its own, led by names underscored with defined aesthetics, such as Bamford Watch Department and Artisans de Genève.
Joining the California modification heritage forged by Rich, LA-based fine jewelry brand Luna Skye is set to release a 15-piece reworked vintage Rolex capsule collection, comprising five units of three different styles. The foundation for all 15 watches is a two-tone Rolex Datejust 36 on a jubilee bracelet—10 feature fluted bezels, five are domed. Each yellow gold and steel watch was sourced by an expert dealer in LA and carefully restored before the customization work.
“The two-tone Datejust 36 is the perfect embodiment of the classic Rolex and, personally, I grew up watching my mom wear hers all the time,” says Samantha Conn, Luna Skye’s founder and creative director. “It’s something that I had a really strong personal tie to. I wanted to start with that.”
Conn started Luna Skye in 2013 as a brand for fine jewelry staples—items that could be worn frequently (or even every day), through every season. Her intention was to build collections of pieces that avoided jewelry trends, and that paired well. Fans of her jewelry releases already include Meghan Markle (who wore the brand’s graduated three-prong diamond choker to a charity event in New York), Angelina Jolie and Miley Cyrus.
Conn was always intrigued by watches as a means of creative expression, but intimidated by the market. In early 2023, inspiration for a vintage watch reimagining struck. “When designing these watches,” she says, “the difference was that instead of coming up with something that was just true to us and our creative vision as a brand, we tried to tie it back to the bones of the Rolex design.”
“There are so many reimagined Rolex watches out there that take away from the beauty of the design that the brand is known for,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that we kept the integrity of and respect for the classic design while adding my own personal touches.”
All three styles, wherein signature Rolex numerals or hour markers on the dial have been replaced with gemstones or whimsical 14-karat gold accents, highlight a different theme. The Good Luck iteration incorporates a gold cowboy boot and horseshoe on the dial; two baguette-cut diamond indexes are joined by a set of stars, each with its own diamond. The Dark Mermaid has a custom black dial with gold oceanic accents, including an anchor, a starfish, a fishbone and a seashell with a diamond. It’s an homage to Conn’s Southern California upbringing. The final style, Emerald, has been adorned with a mix of baguette and round emeralds, as well as sparkling star accents and Luna Skye’s signature gold honeybee.
A new two-tone Rolex Datejust 36 with a fluted bezel and jubilee bracelet retails for $12,700—on the secondary market, the same model sells for $13,000 and up. Luna Skye’s prices, which range from $20,195 to $21,925, reflect the material, labor and scarcity, Conn says. But resale value isn’t guaranteed. “Our demographic isn’t going to be your diehard Rolex guys,” she says. “This is for someone looking for something a little bit different. It’s something that nobody else has. It’s a conversation starter, rather than something standard or something for the buy-and-sell Rolex market.”
Conn decided to keep the modifications subtle, so that a sustained look reveals more than a passing glance. “A Rolex is beautiful on its own,” she says. “We wanted to highlight that and not overpower it or overshadow it.”