When Kurt Kupper took over the position of CEO at Swiss luxury music box company Reuge 12 years ago, he asked his predecessor who the target market was. “Customers,” he was told, “are essentially between 75 years old and the cemetery.”
“It was really dusty,” he says with a chuckle, joking about the brand’s positioning back then. The current collection, however, is anything but dated. These gleaming, ornate pieces range from delicate, bejewelled singing bird boxes (where a mechanical bird dressed in real feathers emerges and whistles a lively tune) to immense, multi-cylinder movements capable of producing over 24 elaborate, lilting melodies. “What we’re trying to do always is come up with things that are different,” says Kupper, who presides over the brand’s private and by-appointment-only exhibition at the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver. It is the first time Reuge has shown its pieces in the city.
In an already niche industry, Reuge stands alone. Founded by Charles Reuge, it has been actively crafting music boxes since 1865 inside the quiet village of Sainte-Croix; in fact, it is the only luxury manufacturer of music boxes left in the world, with a firm belief in doing well one thing and one thing only: extracting wonder and emotion from the mechanical.
“People don’t smile that much anymore,” says Kupper. “We need to put a sparkle in the eyes like we had at Christmas, and that’s our job: to go to the heart of the people and not the wallet.” Kupper, who previously worked as COO of luxury timepiece brand Hublot before assuming his role with Reuge in 2006, was drawn to the possibilities to be had with these musical wonders. “With the music box,” he says, “we appeal much less to the money and more to the art.”
From just a single glance, it’s impossible not to be drawn into the fascinating and imaginative design that each Reuge creation holds. There’s the limited-edition Journey box, a colourful, nautical-inspired movement with a bur oak inlay derived from over 450 individual pieces of wood; or the Highland, a contemporary piece that, when opened, reveals a leather-lined interior with space to accommodate two crystal glasses and a treasured bottle of wine or whisky—they make listening to classic melodies like “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and George Gershwin’s “Summertime” all the more special. Considering that a standard music box takes around three months to produce (even longer for commissioned pieces), Reuge’s handiwork is both innovative and timeless.
It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that many of Reuge’s clients and recipients are celebrities, dignitaries, and heads of state. This includes Barack Obama, the sultan of Oman (who gifted a pair of singing birds to Prince William and Kate Middleton for their wedding in 2011), and the president of Azerbaijan. “We went to Baku to see the culture and the architecture,” says Kupper, who incorporated details such as the first lady’s favourite cultural instruments and the rug pattern from the president’s hometown into a perfectly personalized gift.
There is an undeniable feeling of nostalgia connected to the twinkling notes of a Reuge creation (for this writer, a piece called Anastasia sparks memories of playing with her mother’s jewellery box and winding back the theme from Love Story). With the ability to inspire lasting meaning and emotion, these musical treasures are truly something to behold.
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