Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss
Angus Davies interviews Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss. Mr Ebstein is the CEO and owner of the highly-regarded Swiss watch company, Chronoswiss. The company has gained an enviable reputation for its Regulator watches, crafted in the picturesque city of Lucerne.
Recently, Angus Davies grasped the opportunity to interview Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss and learn more about the company he runs. During this interview Mr Ebstein describes the many tasks performed by the company in its Lucerne facility. In addition, he reaffirms his desire for the company to continue creating more, new and exciting Regulator watches.
In 1983, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, a renowned master watchmaker, established the Chronoswiss watch factory in Munich. Thereafter, in 1987, the company launched the ‘Régulateur’ hand-wound watch. This was the first ‘serially manufactured wristwatch with a regulator dial’. While Chronoswiss has always offered other complications, the ‘Régulateur’ watch has become a cornerstone of the brand’s DNA.
Over the years, Chronoswiss has released numerous award-winning watches, each with their own characteristics. Several of these models have also shared certain aesthetic details, including the brand’s iconic onion-style crown, the eye-catching knurled motif on the bezel and case-back and the screwed strap lugs. Skeletonised watches and exquisite models featuring guilloché dials also feature within the Chronoswiss catalogue.
Throughout its history, Chronoswiss’s passion for regulator watches has never wavered. In 1990, the company unveiled its exclusive manufacture Chronoswiss C.122 movement. This automatic movement proved ideal for daily wear and provided an alternative to the firm’s hand-wound calibres. The Chronoswiss C.122 movement continues to feature in several of the brand’s models.
Perhaps one of the biggest events in the history of Chronoswiss came in 2012 when the ownership of Chronoswiss passed from its founder Gerd-Rüdiger Lang to the Ebstein family. At this point, Oliver Ebstein assumed the role of CEO.
In 2013, Chronoswiss established a new workshop in the Swiss city of Lucerne. This workshop, where the company continues to operate from, incorporates extensive facilities for enamelling, skeletonisation, guilloché. The following year, the Maison opened the, ‘House of Chronoswiss, allowing members of the public to view watch production at close quarters. In addition, this site acts as a museum and brand boutique.
Over the years, Chronoswiss has sent me press samples for evaluation. I have written about several models and have always been impressed with their quality and design. However, I have never had the chance to speak to Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss and enquire about the company he deftly manages. Recently, Mr Ebstein acceded to my request for an interview and I compiled a plethora of questions, eager to learn more about the firm I have admired for many years.
Interview with Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss (OE) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Chronoswiss special?
OE: I guess there a number of factors which make Chronoswiss special:
- Our avant-garde design has always appealed to people who consider themselves individuals. They like to be different and don’t subscribe to mainstream tastes. Also, owing to our small size and independence, we can actually do what we believe in. For example, we launched cryptocurrency-inspired watches and accepted Bitcoin as a means of payment.
- We are the pioneers for Regulator wristwatches and follow a unique strategy, offering one collection comprised solely of Regulator models
- Our love for details such as a knurled bezel, an onion crown, screw-down strap bars, carefully bent hands, etc.
Chronoswiss Flying Regulator Night and Day
AD: Chronoswiss is synonymous with regulator watches, however, you also offer chronographs, big date watches, retrogrades etc. Are there any additional complications you might offer in the future?
OE: Although we offer some other watches in the Sirius and Timemaster collections, our focus is clearly on Regulators. Our approach, which makes us stand out from other brands, is to offer a whole collection of Regulator watches, many with special features and complications, so it will never get boring. For example, this year we have already launched a Flying Regulator Open Gear, where the Regulator mechanism becomes visible on the dial and the Flying Regulator Night and Day, with a 3-D-night and day display. Trust me, there are other exciting complications in the pipeline.
Chronoswiss Flying Regulator Open Gear
AD: Some of the Chronoswiss Regulator watches are endowed with incredibly complex dials with multi-level indications, numerous details such as blue screws and, in some cases, guilloché. Do you make these dials in-house? The dials must be very expensive, yet your watches are keenly priced. What is your secret to offering such incredible value?
OE: These special 3-D-dials are a feature of the so-called Flying Regulator models. These watches feature displays for hours, minutes and seconds which seem to hover above the lower level of the dial. They are indeed very sophisticated in terms of construction and execution. The whole design is done in-house, including prototyping and the development of the guilloché pattern. A few dials, e.g. the one for the Flying Regulator Open Gear Anniversary Edition launched to commemorate 35 years of Chronoswiss, are even decorated by hand, on our historic rose engine machine. We prefer to invest in our products and spend less on marketing in order to deliver excellent value for our customers.
Rose engine lathe being used for engraving a dial
AD: I have toured your production facility in Lucerne. Clearly, this location is remote from most of the watchmaking activity which takes place in Switzerland. Does your location influence your products?
OE: The vicinity of the mountains and the beautiful lake of Lucerne is definitely inspiring! However, it is also important to note that Lucerne has a long tradition of watchmaking in Switzerland. For decades, many people, even royalty, came to Lucerne to buy their watches or to have them specially made here.
House of Chronoswiss, Lucerne
AD: Chronoswiss watches have a unique appearance. Do you design your watches in-house or use a freelance designer?
OE: We are in a fortunate position. We design our watches in-house, which is very important for us.
AD: I have noticed that some of your movements are from third parties. What enhancements do Chronoswiss typically perform in-house?
OE: This is correct. For some models, enhancements such as perlage or guilloché are performed by hand in our Atelier.
Chronoswiss Atelier, Lucerne
AD: Can you advise which tasks are performed at your Lucerne atelier?
OE: All Chronoswiss timepieces are manufactured within the Lucerne atelier. Depending on the respective model, we perform embellishments on the dial and/or movement. These include grand-feu enamel, guilloche a la main, skeletonisation, perlage and satinage. We do T1 to T4, meaning we assemble the whole watch in Lucerne. As I mentioned previously, we also do the design and prototyping of all our watches here.
Working on an enamel dial
AD: When I visited your site in Lucerne last year, I was surprised to see that the company makes bespoke watches. Furthermore, you also have the capability to offer grand feu enamel and guilloché dials executed on a rose-engine. I have never seen you communicate this service. Is this because you are trying to be discreet? What is the starting price of a bespoke watch?
OE: Yes, we do offer bespoke watches. These are not communicated in marketing campaigns, but we do talk about them and often show these watches at exhibitions. Depending on the details, prices may vary. However, the starting price is not too high. For example, if you’d like your family crest on the dial, this type of modification would start at around €2,000 in addition to the regular price of the watch.
Guilloché and grand feu dials
AD: Chronoswiss is a family business, owned and operated by yourself and your wife, Eva Marie. Could you envisage other members of your family joining the company at some stage?
OE: Life is beautiful, let’s see what happens! At present, it is too early to say if my daughters will participate one fine day.
AD: What are your future aspirations for Chronoswiss?
OE: I would like to see our brand live long and prosper for another 35 years and beyond! We hope that Chronoswiss continues to flourish and look forward to creating many more, new and exciting Regulator watches.
Chronoswiss Grand Regulator Limited Edition
Since its foundation, Chronoswiss has repeatedly demonstrated its technical expertise. During its history, the company has produced classical three-handed models, chronographs and even a minute repeater tourbillon (2000). However, the company has an impressive pedigree making regulators. Indeed, I can think of no other brand so well versed in making this genre of watch.
Chronoswiss Flying Grand Regulator
The company’s Atelier in Lucerne is open to the public and provides a fascinating glimpse into a world of high-end watchmaking juxtaposed with traditional artisanal crafts. Enamelling, guilloché and open-worked dials are just some of the skills performed in-house that many companies choose to outsource.
It is a function of its modest scale, that Chronoswiss is able to offer bespoke watches. The capacity to personalise a watch with a unique dial design clearly proves appealing to those clients wishing to celebrate their individuality.
In terms of individuality, Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss clearly understands that many of his company’s customers are drawn to the brand because its watches are not mainstream. Indeed, by virtue of their styling and the fact they are made on a limited basis confers a distinctiveness which many would-be buyers will appreciate.
Chronoswiss was founded 35 years ago. In the last six years Oliver Ebstein, Chronoswiss has been at the helm. While his tenure has been comparatively short, his positive influence is clear to see. Today, this brand is in rude health, frequently releasing attractive models and delivering excellent value for money. One reason for this success relates to the independence of the company, performing many tasks in-house. Most pertinently, in my opinion, the biggest reason for this brand’s success is that it is extremely adept at meeting its customers desires. This is a company which focusses on making regulators and, based on my experience, it is very accomplished at doing-so.