Serge Michel, Armin Strom
Angus Davies chats to Serge Michel, Armin Strom. The Founder of the Swiss firm provides a fascinating insight into the company he jointly runs with his childhood friend, Claude Greisler.
During this interview, Serge Michel, Armin Strom explains what makes the brand special and the reasons for the firm’s incredible success.
Mr Armin Strom was renowned for producing skeleton watches. He would remove extraneous material from movements using traditional methods. In 2006, Serge Michel took over the eponymously named company, Armin Strom. Thereafter, Serge encouraged his childhood friend, Claude Greisler, an accomplished watchmaker, to join him in his new venture.
In 2009, the two founders of Armin Strom inaugurated a new facility in Biel / Bienne and commenced making watches. This was a challenging time for the watch industry owing to a downturn in the world economy. However, the economic woes afflicting other companies proved fortuitous for Armin Strom. The young company was able to acquire high-tech machinery at very favourable prices.
Within the confines of its modern production facility, state of the art plant sits cheek by jowl. Despite its comparatively small size, this practitioner of fine watchmaking is capable of making virtually all movement components, save for mainsprings, jewels and assortiments. Indeed, most watch brands lack this prodigious in-house capability.
Beyond its mechanical prowess, Armin Strom has gained a reputation for the embellishment of components with engraved scenes. For example, a ‘water’ model will often feature a curved bridge decorated with an aqueous scene. Furthermore, the Maison upholds traditional finishing methods, including Côtes de Genève motif, anglage and perlage. Indeed, Armin Strom successfully pairs time-served craftsmanship with contemporary design.
While the company sources cases and dials externally, the design of each model originates within the confines of the brand’s modern atelier. In 2014, the company unveiled the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Water which became the recipient of a reddot design award in 2015.
Armin Strom has always had an innate capacity to innovate. This was manifest in 2016 with the unveiling of the Mirrored Force Resonance. The brand’s innovative clutch spring granted a mesmerising spectacle with said spring pulsing with life. More pertinently, by exploiting the phenomenon of resonance, the movement, the Calibre ARF15, delivers a degree of precision and stability which outperforms that found on many tourbillons.
Since Serge Michel took over the Armin Strom back in 2006, the Swiss company has come a long way. I was therefore keen to learn more about the brand’s success and gain an insight into the company’s future plans.
Interview with Serge Michel (SM) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Armin Strom special?
SM: It’s the spirit that surrounds the brand. Armin Strom is still a young brand but it has developed enormously in the last few years. We can take inspiration from traditional watchmaking and adapt ideas to modern-day watches. Several innovations, such as our unique resonance clutch spring, perfectly illustrate this.
AD: A couple of years ago, Armin Strom unveiled its ‘configurator’, a revolutionary marketing concept at the time. In the same year, it also launched the Mirrored Force Resonance, a technically ground-breaking watch. Based on these two examples alone, Armin Strom has demonstrated an impressive capacity to innovate. Can you provide a clue as to the next ingenious concept you have up your sleeve? Will it be marketing based, technical in nature or both?
SM: It will be of a technical nature. The marketing at Armin Strom is always based on our in-house skills. The “configurator”, you call it a marketing concept, is the same. We can offer such a special tool because we are capable of doing so. Almost all the parts of our watch movements are produced in-house. This flexibility allows us to offer the possibility to individually configure our timepieces.
AD: In recent months, Armin Strom has unveiled two new Masterpiece models. Both of these watches are limited to just 8 pieces each. Will you produce more super high-end Masterpieces in the near future?
SM: Yes, the team is eager to develop more complications. The Resonance as a system brings a clear advantage to a watch movement. We will keep on developing this know-how and we will add complications to it, such as with the recent Dual Time Resonance and the GMT complication.
AD: The Masterpiece models, and one version of the Mirrored Force Resonance, feature guilloché dials. In addition, your company has also produced a grand feu enamel dial. Based on your company’s predilection for artisanal crafts, is it possible that it will offer watches featuring miniature painting, gem-setting or hand-engraved cases?
SM: We already work with a hand painter for our enamel dials. Hand engraved cases were a bit trendy a few years ago. We do have the skills in-house but for the moment we prefer to focus on decorating movements.
AD: Armin Strom has demonstrated that, despite its modest size, it can deliver highly technical watches. For example, the resonance watches feature Armin Strom’s own, patented clutch spring. Clearly, resonance delivers an incredible degree of precision. Do you envisage combining resonance with other complications such as a chronograph?
SM: The field to add additional complications to the resonance mechanism is open. However, we always have to ask ourselves whether it make sense or not.
AD: The hand-engraving of movement components is another delightful detail found on several Armin Strom models. Do you have to recruit staff who already possess the necessary skills to perform such engravings or do you train existing employees in performing these tasks?
SM: Hand engraving is a skill which is not usually taught at watchmaking schools. Juliane, who works at Armin Strom, does hand engraving exclusively for our brand.
AD: While the styling of your watches could be described as avant-garde, they incorporate many traditional finishes, such as perlage, Côtes de Genève and bevelling. Can you provide some indication of the time spent on these tasks when making, for example, the Mirrored Force Resonance?
SM: Decorations have always been of upmost importance to Armin Strom. We employ traditional techniques but also incorporate new innovative finishings. The time spent to fully decorate an ARF15 movement from our Mirrored Force Resonance collection takes as long as it needs until we have achieved the desired quality. That quality extends to all of the 226 individual pieces within this movement.
AD: I believe you met Claude Greisler while you were both at school. Am I correct when I say that you focus on the sales and marketing tasks, while Claude looks after product development and production? Based on this, who conceives new products? Is it market led or technically driven?
SM: As it usually is with creative teams, they have many ideas. From the management perspective we have to decide on a general product strategy and choose what aspects to focus upon. These decisions are often driven by demands from the markets. However, we take a broad view on everything and the development team working with Claude have huge scope to come up with new ideas and solutions.
AD: Some watch brands have voiced an intention to sell their products through mono-brand stores or their own boutiques. Could you envisage Armin Strom adopting this approach?
SM: The only advantage of a so-called mono brand boutique is the branding and the image you can communicate to your customers. I personally like to work with multi brand boutiques where customers can walk in and explore a wide spectrum of creativity. At this time we don’t plan to open an Armin Strom boutique.
AD: Armin Strom operates within a highly competitive arena and yet it is very successful. What is the secret for this success?
SM: Ten years ago we invested in product development and in-house production. This has proved to have been a very shrewd decision. We are able to control each step from the design to the final production stages including the quality control. Everything takes place under one roof, making Armin Strom very unique.
AD: What are your aspirations for Armin Strom?
SM: We need to keep the focus on innovative products. Armin Strom is driven by the will to make innovative watches and to come up with new thrilling technical solutions. For sure, there is more excitement to come.
I have interviewed Claude Greisler previously and, therefore, I found it interesting to hear the thoughts of Serge Michel on this occasion. Since the two men joined forces in 2006, Armin Strom has enjoyed much commercial success with both men sharing ideas for the betterment of its clientele. Clearly, their respective talents complement each other’s skills and both individuals possess a desire to unveil new watches, imbued with innovative features.
Being a ‘Manufacture’ is at the heart of Armin Strom’s paradigm. The worldwide economic woes of 2008 provided this small firm with the opportunity to acquire an impressive array of modern plant at very keen prices. Indeed, despite touring many watch factories, I have seldom witnessed so much movement capability under one roof.
This expertise is coupled with incredible flexibility. A client creating their ideal Armin Strom using the brand’s online configurator tool can have their ideal watch made to their own personal specification.
At Armin Strom, craftsmanship abounds. Traditional movement finishing and hand engraving uphold long established watchmaking techniques. However, the Maison is not averse to using ‘new innovative finishings’.
When Armin Strom unveiled its unique and highly innovative resonance clutch spring in 2016, it caused a stir within the watch industry. Despite the modest size of this Swiss firm, it demonstrated an impressive ability to deliver true innovation. Based on the comments by Serge it sounds like there will be further resonance models in the future equipped with new complications as well as other Armin Strom ‘novelties’.
Lastly, I thought Serge’s comments about mono-brand boutiques were very interesting. Serge stated that he likes to work with multi brand boutiques where customers can walk in and explore a wide spectrum of creativity. In addition, he clearly states that Armin Strom has no plans to open its own boutique. At a time when many retailers are seeing some mainstream brands choosing to set up in competition and sell their products directly to the public, this must prove a refreshing sentiment. It is for this reason, as well as for creating sublime watches, that I think independent brands will gain greater visibility on the high streets in years to come.