Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From San Francisco to Sydney: The voyage that inspired the IWC Plastiki

8300 nautical miles
129 days
3083 hours on sea

What an amazing journey! Inspired by the great voyage of Kon Tiki, David de Rothschild and his team crossed the Pacific ocean in March 2010. sailing on a catamaran made of 12,500 plastic soda bottles!

While the design and build of the boat - made out of recycled plastic - presented a great engineering challenge in itself, this group of enthusiastic ecologists wanted to bring the attention of the world to a serious issue: the world's oceans are in serious threat from pollution, particularly from plastic waste.

The Pacific Ocean alone is polluted with 100 million tons of floating man-made trash, mostly plastic. The PLASTIKI message is simple: not just recycle, but rethink!

The official sponsor of the Plastiki project was IWC. To their credit, IWC is one of few Swiss watch manufacturers who are serious about the environment (Make sure to visit the IWC website for more details!).

With project Plastiki, IWC decided to take the partnership opportunity to produce a very unique, truly limited watch: the Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth Edition “Adventure Ecology” in platinum. Total production run: 1 piece! IWC has donated the entire proceeds of the highest bid - 30,800 Euros - to “Sculpt the Future Foundation” as a way of paying tribute to the successful Plastiki expedition.

For the rest of us, IWC produced a limited run Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth Edition of 1000 pieces.

The "Plastiki" is an impressive well-built, smart looking watch. Make no mistake: this is not a watch built for a Tom Cruise size man! It is built for a sportsman who enjoys quality engineering and precision "packed" in an admirable sized case. The strong and eye-catching colour scheme (navy-blue / orange) makes this IWC Ingenieur a perfect tool-watch at both sea, land and in the office!

The IWC Ingenieur is a 'must have in Sydney' watch - the obvious connection to Plastiki project and its San Francisco-Sydney voyage is just another great reason to add it to your collection.

What a great conversation piece: take it off your wrist and tell its story: while your guest may envy the size of your yacht, they'll surely admire your new-found love for the environment too :-) Our own Plastiki Ref IW3236-03 is fitted with original IWC bracelet (special order to IWC by it's previous owner. For more details, see clockmaker.com.au/w/k3316.html

[Image source: ThePlastiki.com]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hermes: From horse harnesses to watches

The French luxury goods maker Hermes is known for silk scarves and ties, enamel bracelets, leather bags and fragrances. The business started in 1837 as a horse harness work shop. But unlike other similar Paris shops, Thierry Hermes decided to produce the best leather goods he possibly could. A few years later, his client list included Czar of Russia, and European and American nobleman. The quality and design of Hermes' goods was so exceptional that he won two first place prizes at the Expositions Universelles in Paris.

In 1918 Hermes made its first garment: a golfing leather jacket with an exclusive zipper patent for the Prince of Wales. The 1930s were golden years for haute leather bags and Hermes will remain known as having designed the famous Grace Kelly bag. At the same time, Hermes hired famous watchmakers from Universal Geneva as the brands exclusive designer of timepieces.

Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Herm├Ęs states that Hermes "strategy in the last five years has been to progressively move towards the ‘prestigious’ segment of the watch industry". Since 2009 Hermes opened 20 boutiques dedicated only to watches.

In 2012, Hermes changed its policy regarding returns and exchanges of products - buyer may only exchange item for another color variant of the original purchase. No other exchanges are permitted and refunds are never offered.

Overlooking Hyde Park, Sydney, the Hermes boutique is located at 135 Elizabeth St.

Illustration by TanyaH

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kurt Klaus: Watchmaking is still the same!

As a premium brand in the international luxury watch segment, IWC has committed itself to the manufacture of top-quality timepieces. The website proudly states that IWC was founded in 1885 and that it now employs over 650 staff, including 180 watchmakers.

Standing in the form of a shop display filled with new IWC watches, one would be under the impression that the company history was paved with nothing but everlasting success and great designs.

However, like all other Swiss watchmakers, the reality was completely different- especially during the turbulent 70s.

Of course, it is easy to fall into a trap of generalization and by so, to "invent" historical events. This is why a report from someone who was not just an insider but actual 'actor' is a priceless testimony for both watch historians and watch enthusiasts.

A recently published interview with legendary IWC watchmaker Kurt Klaus gives a credible and authoritative recollection of the seventies and eighties.

Klaus started his career with IWC in 1957. Back then, IWC was under the 'rule' of Albert Pellaton. Pellaton was "Mr IWC" - a designer, head engineer, inventor and production manager. During the 1960s, IWC was on a quest to improve timekeeping of mechanical watches and to their credit, people in Schaffhausen were leading the Swiss pack.

However, Klaus remembers the 70s as a period where IWC was brought to it's knees by the advancement of battery operated watches. Out of 350 watchmakers and staff, 250 lost their job. The working week was reduced to just 4 days and the company was on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy. IWC stayed in business thanks to their contract with Porsche and the aviation industry. Or as Klaus puts it: "amongst other things, we also made watches".

In his spare time Klaus decided to continue work on mechanical pocket watches and complications. At that time, Albert Pellaton passed away and IWC lost it's technical director. Klaus remained the last and only engineer at IWC!

The management accepted his proposal for a new watch with a moon phase - based on a pocket watch design. In order to play safe, IWC set the production run to just 100 pieces, but even that seemed like almost unsellable quantity. The new model premiered at Basel fair in 1976 and to everyone's relief, IWC sold the entire lot by the end of second day.

According to Klaus, these were the most difficult days of Swiss watchmaking and IWC in particular. The recovery was slow and painful, but thanks to a small number of watch aficionados who preferred the traditional "ticking" watch over the accurate, but heartless battery operated 'novelty'.

In 1985 Klaus completed the design of the IWC Da Vinci perpetual calendar which was then regarded as 'something you can not get from a quartz watch'. As a reward for a successful design, Klaus was put in charge of a small but deducted team of watchmakers who re-positioned IWC's presence and led the renaissance of Swiss mechanical watchmaking. The next model on repertoire was a minute repeater. "This is how IWC became to be known as an engineering brand" said Klaus.

Future of watchmaking?
"I am an optimist. While we now use better materials and have advanced manufacturing facilities, the watchmaking itself is the same as it was 60 years ago, when I fist started. It's still the same".

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back to roots: There is something special about being known as the last watchmaker...

My recent visit to my ex-homeland was yet another opportunity to reflect on my watchmaking roots.

As most of you know, I am a third generation watchmaker and both my father and grandfather are still alive and kicking.

My father can be best described as 'technologically redundant'. At the peak of his career, watchmaking made a sharp turn from mechanical watches to digital, battery operated timepieces. That meant a slow death for many skilled repairman who were forced to either adopt or disappear. According to them, battery replacement was nothing more than 'a job for a half-trained monkey'.

Surprisingly, my father quickly embraced the new trend with both hands! It was obvious that a quick battery replacement meant less hassle with customers, more pay per hour and a 5 hour siesta (a siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal).

It also allowed him to devote his life to his two only passions: good home made food and religious debating. Nowadays our family watch repair shop is frequently visited by farmers offering fresh daily produces, cheese and eggs, and keen Bible students. And according to my father, his early seventies are proving to be the best years of his life!

It goes without saying that a visit to my father's shop was both brief and formal. I guess my father felt the same - after all, second hand watch dealing in his books is at the same level of attractiveness as bacon.

A visit to my grandfather was really something I was looking forward to. A 320km drive was a small sacrifice to see the man who is still regarded as a true watchmaker.

Grandpa started his watchmaking apprenticeship in 1938 and spent his entire life working on mechanical watches. I saw him last 10 years ago when he was recovering from a serious illness. Today, he is probably the most enthusiastic 90 year old watchmaker you'll ever find.

For the entire time we talked watches. He was keen to learn about my business; the watches we sell, repairs, customers and the usual 'workshop' stuff.

Together, we browsed online our entire stock. While he was not overly impressed with Rolex or Omega, he patiently waited until we reached the "other" section. At this instance, I finally realized why I always loved Zenith watches: they are grandpa's favourite brand too! He was a bit disappointed that there were no Vacheron in stock, which is another brand he regards highly.

"Do you remember my Atmos clock, one I bough brand new in 1960?" - he proudly asked? Of course I did! Who can forget his stories about Jaeger Le-Coultre, the "one and only true maker of fine Swiss clocks and watches".

His most recent job: a repair to a pocket watch which came in with no balance assembly! In surgery, this would be called a heart transplant. "I had to start form scratch - do the math's, make the hair spring, modify a balance wheel, make a new balance staff. It took me almost 2 weeks, but the watch is now within 3 seconds per day!"

( My father shrugged his shoulders, opened another bottle of non-alcoholic kvas and started his lament with "... I would reject this job straight away..." at which point my mother kicked him out)

"Would you like to see my new set of drills?" Proudly, grandpa showed me a small container. A few seconds later, he was drilling a tube with an inside diameter of just 0.175 of a millimeter. On his hand-powered lathe, of course. "It comes with all attachments- have a look!"

"There is something special about being known as the last watchmaker in a radius of 30 km", he continued. "I am known as someone who does all 'impossible to repair jobs' for other watch repairers. Of course, there is no money in it (he could only charge 50 Euros for the two-week balance wheel job) but I have plenty of time, and after all, what else would I do?"

I showed him 'the most travelled watch' and explained the story behind the project. "This looks like Unitas 6497!" he proclaimed after turning the case back. He quickly put his eyeglass on: "...except it is now stamped ETA?" I explained that ETA bought Unitas in 1990 (or there about) but I was amazed with his attention to detail and willingness to stay updated. "We use to fix truck loads of Unitas. Fine movements, reliable and good timekeepers. No wonder they are back in fashion!".

The day passed quickly and it was time to head back east. The trip to grandpa's modest workshop was the highlight of my three week journey. It was also a great opportunity to introduce my boy to a real watchmaker. Who knows: maybe one day, he too, will decide to 'get into watches'. Choosing between selling, repairing un-repairable watches or battery fitting is not an easy choice :(

But after all, blood is thicker than water, and yes, time will tell.