By  on April 19, 2005

NEW YORK — In another case of fashion and celebrity making for surprising bedfellows, 130-year-old Swiss watch brand Audemars Piguet is creating a line of watches to celebrate rap star Jay-Z’s 10 years in the music business.

The limited-edition selection, called the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Jay-Z 10th Anniversary Limited Edition series, will be unveiled during a press conference today at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

“Since we met [four years ago], Jay’s bought a lot of the watches,” said François-Henry Bennahmias, chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet. “He’s known in the music world for appreciating nice things. He’s pretty low key, actually.”

The watches, which will retail from $23,500 to $69,500, will be available exclusively at the Audemars Piguet store on 57th Street here beginning in June. Already, 17 of the 100 watches have been sold.

“They might be completely sold out before the store even gets them,” Bennahmias said.

Fifty watches will be offered in stainless steel, 30 will be made in rose gold and 20 will be done in platinum. Each one will be engraved on the back with “Royal Oak Offshore Jay-Z 10th Anniversary” and Jay-Z’s signature. In honor of his decade in the music industry, the number 10 on the dial will be set in diamonds.

“It was a joint effort,” Jay-Z said of the design collaboration.

To take the idea of gift-with-purchase to a new level, a 40-gigabyte Apple iPod loaded with Jay-Z albums will be thrown in with each watch. It also will be inscribed on the back and read, “I’m so far ahead of my time, I’m about to start another life. Look behind you — I’m about to pass you twice,” a line from Jay-Z’s song, “Hovi Baby.”

Total sales from the series will reach about $4 million, Bennahmias said. Of that amount, $500,000 will be donated to the S. Carter Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 by Jay-Z, whose given name is Shawn Carter, and his mother, Gloria. The fund provides financial assistance to promising students accepted into any accredited institution of higher learning.Jay-Z is an enthusiastic watch collector, with a collection around 30 pieces, including Audemars Piguet and  other brands.

“At first, I just liked watches; I didn’t know about their complications and movements,” he said. “The price tag was high and I was like, ‘What? What’s that for?’ Now I know — it’s a good investment.”

This is not the first time Piguet has brought some star power to the brand.

In 2000, the firm teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and created a chronograph for “Terminator 3.” Bennahmias, who is also friendly with singers Alicia Keys and Usher, said he has two celebrity athletes lined up to do limited-edition watches for charity, as well, but he declined to name them.

“In the next two or three years, we’ll be launching one or two pieces that will be associated with celebrities,” he said.

Bennahmias said he has no intention of extending Jay-Z’s limited-edition series into a full collection. “We’re good enough at what we do to bring new collections of watches to the market every year,” he said. “The goals here are to give back and celebrate. Boom, we go in, we sell it and we move on."

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