Manfred Brassler, MeisterSinger
Angus Davies chats to Manfred Brassler, MeisterSinger about the brand he founded in 2001.
During this interview, Manfred Brassler, MeisterSinger explains what makes the brand special, the external sources which influence his designs and much, much more.
MeisterSinger is an unusual watch brand. The company does not subscribe to shocking aesthetics, fussy designs or mechanical complexity. However, its watches remain distinctive. The secret to the brand’s success is that it makes single-hand watches which are imbued with a becoming simplicity. The design language is timeless, proffering lasting appeal and notable elegance.
Manfred Brassler founded MeisterSinger in 2001 and has been responsible for the brand’s artistic direction and the styling of some exquisite watches. During Baselworld 2019, I took the opportunity to sit down with the man who has created his own genre of watch, the single-hand timepiece.
Interview with Manfred Brassler, MeisterSinger (MB) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes MeisterSinger special?
MB: The first thing people notice is the single hand. However, there is a certain philosophy behind this. When I established the company in 2001, watches were becoming increasingly complicated with numerous functions shown on the dial. I wanted to return to basics, to an era when a pocket watch appeared quite simple, but housed impressive craftsmanship. I believe the secret to design is the collection of little details which, in isolation, are not spectacular, but when combined deliver great beauty.
It is interesting that our inaugural watch, designed some 18 years ago, remains a very popular model. Its appeal has not diminished over the years.
AD: Do you design all MeisterSinger models or do you have colleagues who share this responsibility?
MB: Up to now, I have been responsible for all of the designs, but I am 65 years of age and clearly we need to plan for the future. Recently we discovered that an employee in the company has a real aptitude for design. We are both working together at present and it is my wish for him to take over the responsibility for design in the future.
AD: What external sources influence your designs? For example, architecture or art.
MB: I believe that things which make sense and are simple, have power. I have furniture at home that is 20 years old and it looks better each day. The same with cars, Audi models 20 years ago had very clean lines. All the lines led to the boot of the car. Each line made sense.
A common problem afflicting many designs is that because we can do something, we do it, irrespective of whether this is a good thing or not. If you look at Bauhaus, it led to extraordinarily basic ideas that still look modern some 80 or 90 years later.
A good friend of mine, who has sadly passed away, was a designer and once said to me ‘you cannot improve the basic design of your watches. When you try to add to an additional element they lose something, but conversely you can’t take anything away without it feeling incomplete’. He also stated ‘you have reached the optimum conclusion, don’t change it!’
The historic centre of Münster
AD: MeisterSinger is indelibly linked with single-hand watches. Over the years, you have released models with jumping hours, day-date, moon-phase and power-reserve indications. Are there any indications or complications which you would like to introduce in the future? For example, a chronograph or a tourbillon.
MB: Our MSH01 movement was a very big step for us. It worked from the beginning without any problems. However, the disadvantage with this movement is that we are known for watches within a certain price range and by using this movement it takes our brand into another price segment, competing with companies such as IWC for example.
In terms of our own movement, we currently have our hand-wound model, hand-wound with a power-reserve indicator and an automatic watch. There will definitely be more steps to come, but I won’t tell you about those models yet!
AD: To date, all of your models feature stainless steel cases or, more recently, DLC-coated stainless steel. In the future, do you envisage offering watches in forged carbon, titanium or 18-carat gold?
MB: We do not intend getting into lots of materials like, for example, Hublot. This is not us. However, we have introduced bronze for 2019. We are quite late bringing this material to market. It took two years of development, but the result, in my opinion, is one of the nicest bronze watches on the market.
The bronze we use fits with the MeisterSinger ideals. It has longevity which is consistent with our timeless design language. Where some bronze cases are subject to aggressive patination, readily turning green, our bronze evolves quite gently. One of the things we established during our product development and testing programme, was that the bronze is easy to re-polish. The case can be polished merely by wiping it with a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola.
AD: MeisterSinger is renown for delivering high quality, keenly priced timepieces. What is your secret?
MB: We have an incredible quality-focussed production culture and excellent relationships with our suppliers. These suppliers provide our cases and crowns. In truth, at this moment we have less choice for our movements.
It makes life a lot easier when you have a superb case supplier. I have enjoyed the relationship with this supplier for the last 9 years and we have never had a problem.
The secret is working with good people, who are enthusiastic and know what they are doing. In terms of pricing we don’t look to inflate the price to a point the market will stand, we cost out the production of a watch and add a fair margin.
AD: While your watches are not marketed as gent’s or ladies’ models, I am sure many female buyers are drawn to your watches based on their size, styling and the presence of a mechanical movement. Why don’t you market watches as ‘ladies’ models?’
MB: As you say, we do not market our watches as ‘gents’ or ‘ladies’. Many years ago, I remember a gentleman looking at a former model with a 36mm case and he was about to buy the watch, however, when he heard it was a lady’s timepiece he changed his mind, saying he could not buy a woman’s watch. For this reason we never categorise watches by gender.
AD: What does the future hold for MeisterSinger?
MB: A couple of years ago, I wondered how I could divest myself from the business when I became older. Then, John van Steen, who was very successful at growing MeisterSinger sales in the Netherlands, expressed a wish to invest in the business. We now share the role of CEO. I don’t have to step back, because he has stepped forward. John is loving his new role. Now, I don’t have to think about selling the business.
We hope to double our sales volumes in the next 5 years and we are looking to invest more funds in the business.
John van Steen
Interviewing Manfred Brassler proved very enjoyable and most refreshing. He is humble and very honest about the successful company he founded in 2001. While he talked about several of the brand’s strengths, he did not sugar-coat the challenges the firm has faced in the past.
The company has carved out a niche with its single-hand watches. The slow march of the single hand instills a sense of calm and encourages the wearer to pause and reflect. However, the brand’s watches are not gimmicky, instead they are infused with a lasting appeal.
While the watches are made in Switzerland and feature either the brand’s own in-house movement or calibres from third parties, the design takes place in Münster. It is the company’s design prowess which has led to the successful creation of several elegant watches that will not succumb to the indignity of changing fashion. Indeed, these watches possess a lasting appeal. During our chat, Manfred revealed that the perfect design requires no additional elements to be added and should not need anything to be removed. It is this scenario which determines the optimal appearance.
MeisterSinger’s HQ in Münster
There is clearly a new evolution of the brand’s in-house movement in the pipeline, however, Manfred was not willing to divulge more details! Indeed, based on its ambitious expansion plans, I suspect there will be many more novelties in years to come.
It was refreshing to hear that MeisterSinger base its prices on the cost of production rather than what the market will bear. Moreover, Manfred’s friendly relations with his suppliers means quality and price do not have to be mutually exclusive.
I left my meeting with Manfred, impressed by the man and the company he jointly runs with John van Steen. Enduring aesthetics, free of the superfluous, quality components and superb value for money are all attributes which MeisterSinger watches possess. However, most of all MeisterSinger watches are about the appreciation of time itself. Life would be sweeter if everyone embraced the MeisterSinger mindset, taking time to savour each moment.