Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne
In this interview with Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne, the charismatic Co-Owner and Founder of the reinvigorated watch company discusses the influence of Adolf Loos on the brand’s designs, the involvement of esteemed watchmaker, Marc Jenni, and the company’s plans for the future.
I first discovered Carl Suchy & Söhne while attending Salon QP, back in 2017. The brand was showcasing its beautiful Waltz N°1 watch.
The dial of this model is suffused with a myriad of parallel lines, arranged along a north-south axis. Unusually, the dial eschews a conventional small seconds display and features a ‘waltzing disc’. The disc which is also adorned with lines, similar to the main dial display, is barely noticeable when all the lines align. However, most of the time, the contrasting orientation of the lines stands out and confers a palpable dose of intrigue. Furthermore, not only does the Waltz N°1 effervesce with style, it also harnesses an exquisite high-end movement from Swiss movement specialist, Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture.
Interview with Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne (RP) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Carl Suchy & Söhne special?
RP: First of all the amazing legacy of Carl Suchy & Söhne. The company was founded in 1822 by watchmaker Carl Suchy who, thanks to his creativity and his innovative clocks, was appointed an official purveyor to the Habsburg Court. Later, this would also encompass his pocket watches. The brand catered for famous customers such as the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, his wife Sisi and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. This legacy is unique and cannot be copied.
Image – Carl Suchy & Söhne shop in Vienna
In recent times, we have managed to create an extraordinary contemporary watch. Our design inspiration was the Austrian architect Adolf Loos, one of the precursors of Viennese Modernism – the design era that strongly influenced Vienna’s appearance and image. The watch features the characteristics of Viennese elegance and eschews a conventional seconds hand, employing a ‘waltzing’ disc, a design feature unique to our brand. We believe that Vienna, unlike London or New York, does not march to a frenetic pace – here, not every second counts. Lastly, the Habsburg Empire used to be a famous watchmaking centre and now, once again, we are able to offer an amazing Austrian watch marque that is on a par with brands in Switzerland, Great Britain and Germany.
AD: Carl Suchy & Söhne was founded in 1822 but disappeared from view in 1914. As I understand it, you revived the brand in 2016. Can you explain a little about what attracted you to the brand?
RP: I heard about this amazing story about a family firm who were purveyors to the royal Habsburg court for three generations. The company had participated at world fairs in Paris, Germany and all over the world; it had workshops in Vienna, Prague and La Chaux-de-Fonds. I wanted to prevent this great piece of history from being forgotten and create something outstanding, while respecting the unique DNA of the historic Carl Suchy & Söhne brand.
Image – Carl Suchy & Söhne workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds
AD: I believe you are the co-owner of the brand with a background in art and design. What enticed you to the world of horology?
RP: For me, coming from a background in art and design – not a watch collector or former manager working for a big watch brand – my motivation was to prevent the company’s amazing history from being forgotten and create a design worthy of the brand’s legacy. My outsider status turned into an advantage – especially in terms of the design, creativity and art related activities.
AD: While Carl Suchy & Söhne harks back to the 19th century, the design language of your watches was inspired by Adolf Loos, an Austrian architect from the 20th century. How did Loos’ work influence the creation of the Waltz No.1 timepiece?
RP: Adolf Loos was our absolute inspiration. Carl Suchy’s prime era was around the time of Biedermeier, a very classic and conservative style. We continued where Suchy once stopped – in the era of Viennese Art Nouveau and ‘Wiener Werkstätte’ – the prime time of designers like Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt and of course Adolf Loos, who famously called ornament a crime, meaning that a minimalistic design approach is necessary to achieve outstanding elegance. When you look at our watch, it is in line with Loos’ credo.
Image – Adolf Loos
We have achieved the elegance of the watch by seamlessly connecting one material to the next – the leather straps connect the steel, the steel case blends into the glass and the dial and indexes are curved upwards on the outside, connecting to the glass and case again. The split dial with its lined pattern is directly inspired by one of Adolf Loos’ buildings in Vienna. Even the pattern on the inside of the leather strap is inspired by the ceiling of Adolf Loos’ famous ‘Loosbar’ in the heart of Vienna.
AD: The Waltz No.1 timepiece is beautifully styled. Did you utilise the talents of an in-house designer or an external agency?
RP: We hired a very young designer, Miloš Ristin, who at that time was still studying at the famous Swiss design university ÉCAL. After he totally immersed himself into the Viennese lifestyle for a few weekends, he created the beautiful Waltz N°1. While we have no in-house designer, the whole design and development process is very much in-house, meaning that I’m personally guiding these processes. We are now looking ahead to future products and I am in discussion with great Viennese and international designers. However, this is to create not only a second model for the wrist, but also a unique signature piece – a table clock.
AD: Several of your current models use the Caliber 5401 by Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture or, in the case of your skeleton watch, the Caliber 5401/180. These movements are beautifully appointed, featuring a variable-inertia balance and a micro-rotor. I was very surprised to see that your entry model is priced at €8495 including VAT.
How have you delivered a watch of this quality for the money?
RP: Of course it was a stretch. We could have used a standard ETA-movement, but we wanted to work with Vaucher Fleurier and Marc Jenni, who adapts the movement and handcrafts the watch, because Carl Suchy & Söhne has always been the best of the best.
We did not want to be in the mass-premium segment, rather we wanted to operate at the top level. Therefore, Vaucher, who is working with brands such as Parmigiani and Richard Mille, was a logical partner. I did not want Carl Suchy to turn in his grave by using a cheap movement and producing an inferior watch. That would have been unthinkable. Furthermore, selling our watches at keen prices may be a consequence of selling half of our watches directly to the public.
AD: How do you convey this impressive value for money to the watchbuying public?
RP: We convey the value with our amazing dealer network, including retailers such as Laurent Picciotto of Chronopassion Paris, The Lavish Attic in Hong Kong and Noble Styling in Tokyo. All these retailers share a passion for independent brands. Having a background in art and design, Carl Suchy & Söhne brings an exclusive look and feel to the way its products are presented. This is manifest with the way we receive personal customers in the beautiful Viennese Looshaus. At exhibitions and events, we always try to focus on every detail so that the customer experience is very personal, very direct and very luxurious.
AD: Carl Suchy & Söhne is a small brand, which was only revived in 2016. What attracted renowned watchmaker Marc Jenni to work with you?
RP: As Carl Suchy & Söhne were one of the best watchmakers in the past, a Viennese firm not a Swiss Maison (he smiles), I think Marc was drawn to our company’s legacy and he shared our passion for the project. I suspect this was his motivation, rather than the money. As a third generation watchmaker from Switzerland, helping a 200 year old Austrian start up, it must have been an interesting challenge for him. He did an amazing job.
Image – Marc Jenni
AD: What skills has Marc Jenni brought to your company?
RP: He was essential in sourcing all the parts of the watch from the dials to cases, even the leather used for the straps. He worked only with the best suppliers and produced a watch made entirely of high quality Swiss components. Marc Jenni is highly regarded in the international watch business, so he also complemented my lack of experience in this field.
AD: How do you distribute your products?
RP: Through our dealers, a very selective network that we hope to extend, together with direct sales via our showroom in Vienna and online boutique. In the first year of our launch, we were able to sign up retailers in six cities worldwide. We are now targeting the US and have recently appointed an agent, based stateside to handle sales.
AD: To date, your watches have displayed hours and minutes with a ‘Waltzing Disc’ at 6 o’clock. Do you envisage offering watches with complications in the future?
RP: For sure we have many ideas for new watches and new complications. Of course, every new model is a huge effort in terms of time and money. As we are a small start up and not a million dollar company, we have to take it slow. At the moment our main focus is on making the Waltz N°1 better known than it is now. As you can see with the model’s rotating seconds disc, it is not enough for us to just add a standard complication that many other companies have. If we choose to offer a GMT or chronograph in the future, it has to incorporate a twist that only Carl Suchy & Söhne can offer.
AD: What are your aspirations for the brand?
RP: In the 19th century, Carl Suchy & Söhne was known as one of the best watchmakers in the world. This is where we want to return to in the future and to be known as one of the world’s coolest watch brands – cool in an elegant way, refined and sophisticated.
I am always surprised that each month, I hear of yet another new watch brand. Often, I ponder how many of these fledgling companies will survive in the long term. It is for this reason that I generally wait and see if a horological start-up flourishes or disappears into the ether.
The resurrected firm of Carl Suchy & Söhne has passed its probationary period and looks destined to prosper in the long term. There are several factors which heighten its chance of success.
Image – Vintage Carl Suchy & Söhne pocket watch
Firstly, the design of the Waltz N°1 is beautifully resolved. It brims with eye-appeal and the dial is a paragon of readability. The Austrian firm subsequently introduced a skeleton watch and a high-end model encased in gold. However, the commonality of each model is clear to see. When a company employs a consistent design language, the consumer can better understand what the brand represents and buy into the persona of its watches. Carl Suchy & Söhne clearly understand this.
Beyond the brand’s aptitude for design, it has demonstrated it understands the importance of using a high quality movement. Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture craft movements to an exalted standard. For example, the Caliber 5401 incorporates a variable inertia balance which confers superior precision to a movement featuring a balance fitted with a simple regulator. Moreover, by engaging Marc Jenni, a highly respected watchmaker, Carl Suchy & Söhne has shown it is determined to deliver beautifully finished, precise and reliable timepieces.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for any independent brand is product distribution. Often retailers are unwilling to engage young brands. However, Carl Suchy & Söhne has attracted the patronage of some of the world’s most prestigious retailers, including the legendary Chronopassion of Paris.
Based on the above observations, I suspect Carl Suchy & Söhne will continue to thrive, hopefully conceiving further watches infused with a distinctive Austrian style.