Maik Panziera of Chronoswiss
Angus Davies asks Maik Panziera of Chronoswiss a series of questions about the brand, its products and his role as Head of Design.
Chronoswiss was founded in 1983 by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, a talented watchmaker who once worked for Heuer. From the outset, Lang was an innovator, conceiving many original ideas. For example, Chronoswiss made the first mechanical chronograph with a moon phase indication and sapphire caseback.
In addition, Lang was an aesthete, conceiving an elegant design language which embraced an array of eye-catching features. These included a fluted bezel, an onion-shaped crown as well as the brand’s practical patented screw-in system, which securely unties the strap to the lugs. All of these features are still employed on the brand’s models of today, some 30 years later.
Chronoswiss released the world’s first serially manufactured wristwatch with a regulator-style display in 1988. While the firm has always offered other types of watches, and continues to do so, the regulator is a fundamental part of the brand’s DNA. Indeed, I cannot think of another brand that offers so many different regulator watches.
In 2012, Oliver Ebstein acquired Chronoswiss and became the company’s CEO. The firm relocated to Lucerne, opening a new pristine workshop, where interestingly nothing is hidden from view. Indeed, members of the public are welcome to visit the firm’s headquarters to witness, first-hand, its watchmakers at work.
While Ebstein was respectful of Lang’s legacy, making watches that would continue to appeal to the brand’s loyal clientele, he also oversaw the release of new timepieces, aimed at attracting an alternative audience.
In recent times, Chronoswiss has released models encompassing vibrant hues, numerous dial depths and tantalising textures. Maik Panziera joined the company in 2013 as Head of Design and has skillfully imagined an array of models suffused with detail. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to ask Maik a few questions in order to learn more about Chronoswiss, its products and his role as Head of Design.
Interview with Maik Panziera of Chronoswiss
What makes Chronoswiss special?
Chronoswiss watches look entirely different from other timepieces. They are definitely not mainstream and are likely to appeal to people who choose not to wear the same watch as everybody else. By default, our timepieces will polarise opinion. Put simply, you either love them or loathe them.
I think we can be proud of ourselves for not following convention and adopting a different approach to the way we design our watches. Sometimes we set aside the traditional configuration of a watch with the dial, hands and movement in a specific location. For example, on the Flying Regulator Open Gear, or our Open Gear ReSec, we highlight the regulator mechanism and the dial forms part of the movement. At Chronoswiss, we consider a watch as one complete object, encompassing art and design, not merely a collection of individual parts.
Can you describe what your typical day entails?
Oh, my day usually necessitates me doing a lot of different things. As I am involved in the complete design and development process of our watches, I am heavily involved in drawing and designing drafts and prototyping. I attend a lot of meetings and frequently chat with my team. I also devote some of my time to hands-on craftsmanship, such as engraving guilloché dials, using a rose-engine lathe dating back to 1924, or making grand feu enamel dials.
Having read about your past, I noticed that you trained as a goldsmith in Pforzheim. Which skills have you been able to transfer to watchmaking?
The skills I acquired whilst training as a goldsmith have since proved very useful. In particular, I have become adept at various handcrafting skills such as filing, sawing, cutting, shaping and polishing. These skills, acquired in the early years prove helpful in my present role.
From the outset, when I design a new timepiece, I can anticipate the whole manufacturing process and the various steps needed to bring the watch to fruition. For example, I know how to approach the skeletonisation of a movement. In fact, I always make the prototypes for skeletonised watches. And last, but by no means least, I have taught myself the traditional skills of hand-guilloché and enamelling, which also comes in very handy.
Based on your jewellery background, which areas of watchmaking did you find difficult to adapt to.
I love working with metal, however, materials such as leather and fabric are not really my cup of tea.
For many years, you worked at Fabergé, a brand with a rich history of guillochage and enamelling. Are there any techniques that you have been able to apply to Chronoswiss models?
Yes, the skills I have acquired in terms of hand-guilloché and high fire enamelling are employed for making quite a few of the models in our collection.
As the Head of Design, what are your objectives moving forward?
For me, the most important objective is to create objects which inspire people or make them happy. The effect I am aiming to achieve with all my work is to pleasantly surprise the prospective wearer. Ideally, someone who doesn´t yet know the brand should say something like, “Wow, I have never seen a watch like this before.”
Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from?
I can only find inspiration when I am away from my desk and my day-to-day responsibilities. Then my mind is relaxed and able to wander. I often come up with new ideas when I am completely at ease, e.g. when hiking in the beautiful Swiss mountains. Once I have found inspiration, I have to work very hard in a disciplined way to develop the idea into a real watch. This necessitates a lot of scribbling in the beginning, and thereafter I have to transfer it onto a computer and check all the data in order to determine what´s feasible and how it can be done. The idea is often more beautiful in my head; the real challenge is to convert this inspiration into a watch that really works.
Chronoswiss is known for making regulators. Indeed, I cannot think of another brand that offers more choice when it comes to this genre of watch. In recent years, I have noticed the brand has become more daring with the use of colours, depths and textures.
Can you provide some insight into this particular design language?
The main objective is to create a harmonious colour combination. I always try to avoid the most obvious, mainstream colours, preferring more subtle shades. I also experiment a lot with how the colour changes when applied to different surfaces, such as guilloché. For example, we have recently launched the Flying Regulator Open Gear CH-8753-GREBK. Its dial is amazing with colours ranging from green to blue. It looks very different to other watches on the market.
Are you targeting a younger buyer for example?
People often ask me this, but I am not necessarily designing for a particular age group, such as younger buyers. It´s sometimes the opposite. On some occasions, our customers are about 30 and in other instances, they can be over 60. When I was a goldsmith, we used to say, “When women buy jewellery, they go for something which makes them younger, not older.” Perhaps this equally applies to men buying watches. The design of our watches needs to appeal to all age groups and, based on the evidence, it does.
At Baselworld 2019, you exhibited some new models with indexes resembling three-dimensional tubes of Super-LumiNova. I have not seen other brands exploit this know-how.
Do you have exclusive use of this technology?
The shaped blocks of Super-LumiNova are not uncommon, but most brands use them as inlays, always limited by a frame, rim or similar. I wanted to work with the pure material, with no frames or borders, so I chose to use the Super-LumiNova in cylindrical shapes, or in the case of the ReSec Chocolate, flat blocks. One of the reasons you don´t see this on conventional watches is because you need enough height to use the material in this way. As we work more and more with three-dimensional dial constructions, we have the necessary conditions for using these extraordinary Super-LumiNova markers.
Are there any new technologies that you are likely to incorporate in your designs in the near future?
Yes, we will continue to pursue our strategy of creating ‘modern mechanical’ timepieces, combining traditional handcrafts with new materials and technologies. Watches you will not see everywhere but with their own distinctive character.
Since Oliver Ebstein became CEO of Chronoswiss, the brand has embraced new colourways and various designs. Furthermore, the company has embraced new technologies like blue CVD case treatments as well as using existing materials, such as Super-LumiNova, but in new ways. I have always assumed, wrongly, the intention was to engage with a younger audience, however, it is clear that the brand is trying to engage with all age groups. One thing that these clients do share in common is a passion for design and individuality.
Maik Panziera has worked extensively within the jewellery field, working for some of the most prestigious companies, honing an array of handcraft skills. He clearly employs all of his incredible dexterity, skeletonising prototype watches, engine-turning dials and making grand-feu enamel dials. This skill-set is unusual for a designer but it provides Maik with a practical insight into what can be made and, by default, what can’t.
His design prowess is clear to see. He has repeatedly shown a love of unusual shades, elaborate dial textures and three-dimensional displays. Some of Maik’s designs place movement parts front of house, inviting onlookers to view rotating wheels and retrograde hands theatrically returning to their point of origin.
One sentiment resonated with me. Maik appreciates the brand’s models will not be to everyone’s taste. However, he does not allow this to inhibit his creativity. The firm nails its colours to the mast, releasing watches which you either love or loathe. Personally, I fall into the former category. I suspect, there are many other watch fans who share my enthusiasm for this brand and applaud its courage in daring to be different. Indeed, the world is a brighter place because of Chronoswiss thanks to Maik and his colleagues.