Five Questions for the Watchmakers

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 In Featured Articles, Popular Posts, Watches

Salon QP opens its door to the public today and it will run until Saturday 14 November. You might look at it as the last major watch exhibition of the year (2015). Or you might see it as the kickoff to the exhibition season – SIHH and Baselworld are not that far off. Regardless the point of view, it’s an event we at TCI look forward to each year. It’s extremely satisfying to see the new timepieces in the metal – and just as satisfying is chatting with the people behind those watches.

This year to celebrate the kickoff of the Salon we decided to approach the independent watchmakers. Those who have chosen to go it alone or are leading a small team of dedicated horologists in the pursuit of timekeeping excellence and innovation.

Several ACHI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants) watchmakers are participating in the Salon. We thought it would prove interesting to find out what watchmaking means to each of them. So we contacted Robert Bray, Svend Andersen, and Christiaan van der Kaauw and asked a few questions, striving to gain some insights into the inner sanctum of their watchmaking worlds.

Robert Bray is a clockmaker behind Sinclair Harding luxury clocks.

Svend Andersen is a co-founder of ACHI. His Andersen Genève watches feature unique calendar complications.

Christiaan van der Klaauw is the founder of his eponymous brand, which specializes in watches with astronomical complications.

When did you first know you wanted to make watches?

Robert Bray: The day I visited Sinclair Harding in 1996 when Mike Harding (the founder) was 1 week away from retiring and closing the business for good. Before that I hadn’t any experience in making clocks but had spent the previous 23 years working at a company making small extremely precise gearboxes for Aerospace, defence and medical applications – so I had a some knowledge of gears.

Svend Andersen: After I finished school the only place I could find for my apprenticeship as a watchmaker was Denmark.

Christiaan van der Klaauw
40 years ago we started to make grandfather clocks. Every clock had one or more astronomical complications on it. And then, after 20 years we started to make watches, also each one with one or more astronomical complications in it.

How long have you been making watches?

Robert Bray
Just 20 years.

Svend Andersen
Since 1958 and with pleasure!

Christiaan van der Klaauw
The atelier was founded in 1974 in the Netherlands, and we started making watches 20 years later. Last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary. Until today, Christiaan van der Klaauw Astronomical Watches is the only atelier in the world that is completely devoted to the design and the production of exclusive, hand-made astronomical watches.

What is most important to you in your work: the manifestation of the science of horology, the mechanical engineering of the piece itself, or the aesthetic of the design?

Robert Bray
All three are equally important in my eyes. For me the mechanical engineering is not as difficult as the aesthetics. I consider myself still to be an apprentice in the field of Horology. Every day throws up a new challenge and consequently every day I learn something new.

The aesthetics are very important and I can spend a lot of time trying to get it looking right, but it’s funny, many times a simple assembly, well-engineered and well finished doesn’t have to be embellished with decorations in order for it to look great.

For the mechanics you have to put yourself back 100-150 years to a time where there were no electronics and everything was controlled by mechanical levers, ratchets [and] gears – they didn’t have the luxury of the exotic materials we have now or the machine tools but the way the engineers overcame problems is an inspiration.

On the Horology, I am self-taught, I love rediscovering old techniques and tend to try and work out the solutions to problems (e.g. escapements) before I research to find out what I should have done. The ability to test finished movements is critical to feedback what is actually happening – the new iPhone6 with its slo-mo camera is a Godsend.

Svend Andersen
You have to have all of those elements together. The most important [thing] when you want an elegant and wearable timepiece, is to adapt the mechanism and technical performances to the design.

Christiaan van der Klaauw
All three parts are equally important; in our watches you cannot have one without the other. We need the science of astronomy, the mechanical precision for our astronomical complications and our own signature design to be different and recognizable from the rest.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Robert Bray
Customers mainly, problems, everyday life.

Svend Andersen
Principally from demands of high-end watch collectors who are requesting something special, something exclusive, something unique.

Christiaan van der Klaauw
Astronomy has fascinated mankind as long as we know it. It is what gives us the basic of time, our months and days. Time in its purest form.

The Netherlands has a very long tradition of astronomy. It started with astronomer Mr. Christiaan Huygens who invented the Pendulum, which gave us our ‘second’. And our neighbor astronomer Mr. Eise Eisinga, who made the oldest still functioning planetarium in the world. There is a long list of famous Dutch arthromeres until this day. So it is quit natural that a Dutch master watchmaker is specialized in astronomical complications.

Ultimately, what is watchmaking, to you? What are you trying to say with your work? What is the legacy you want to leave?

Robert Bray
The 3 best buzzes in this job are seeing the clock tick for the first time, standing back and looking at a new design finished ticking away, and seeing the delight on the customers face when I show them their clock for the first time.

What keeps me going are the day-to-day challenges making a product which ultimately people don’t need nowadays and seeing our young team of engineers/clockmakers grow and improve.

I don’t need our clocks to say anything, rather I want the person who may have to service them in 20-30-50 years’ time to say: “This is a really well-made clock”.
And the legacy, is a thriving company, which hopefully my family will be able to push further when I am long gone.

Svend Andersen
A passion! All my life I have shared and transmitted this passion to other watchmakers, like Frank Müller & Felix Baumgartner among others.

Christiaan van der Klaauw
We see our watches like a painting, it is a handmade piece of art that you cherish and will be there long past our time, forever. It goes beyond the function of just giving you the time. That means in the first place it must give the wearer the feeling of luxury and happiness. And secondly we make the wearer a little bit more conscious with the beautiful and authentic world of astronomy and the universe that we live in.


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