Angus Davies chose to visit Zeitwinkel Watch, a relatively young brand in the world of horology, and discover more about the small watch brand based in St. Imier.
This detailed article about Zeitwinkel Watch provides an insight into the brand’s novel approach to watchmaking and includes details of the caliber ZW102 and caliber ZW103.
Zeitwinkel Watch, a relatively young brand in the world of horology, resides near the centre of St.Imier, a village located in the Jura. The small watch brand chose this location for its historical renown for creating high quality Swiss movements.
Watch movements is one area where Zeitwinkel have expended much energy and sought competitive advantage. Indeed, the company took the brave and bold step to create two in-house movements to power its range of models. This decision is not for the faint-hearted as it necessitates much skill, patience and investment. Moreover, many large well-known brands, who ubiquitously populate watch retailers’ windows around the globe, have, for many years, shied away from taking this step.
At Baselworld 2013, I handled various models from the Zeitwinkel Watch range and was profoundly impressed. Indeed, I have previously written about my liking for the Zeitwinkel 181° and Zeitwinkel 273° models on ESCAPEMENT.
Visiting the Manufacture
Recently, on a warm summer’s day, an opportunity arose to visit the Manufacture. I relished the prospect of seeing fine watches being made close at hand and grasped the opportunity before the cold winter climes arrived.
The atelier is compact and I immediately noted there was a distinct absence of machines typically found in larger companies. However, this should not cause alarm as Zeitwinkel’s approach to production, although highly innovative, still results in a high quality product.
I was introduced to Klaus, a Master Watchmaker of German origin, who is the Production Manager and a man clearly proud of his domain.
A unique angle
There are two movements within the range, the base caliber ZW102 and the date caliber ZW103. Both feature a mainplate and bridges made with untreated German silver. This is an unusual approach as many competing brands use rhodium plated brass. However, the joy of the untreated German silver is the patina it acquires with age. I am a fan of brands which use untreated German silver in the construction of their movement components and suspect I am not alone in this predilection for the material.
Examining the mainplate, there is perlage in evidence, but surprisingly it is presented in different sizes to enhance the aesthetic appeal. I use the word, “surprisingly” as this is a costlier approach to execution and in some companies, the financial types in grey suits would discourage it from happening. However, there appears to be a compulsion at Zeitwinkel Watch to do things correctly even when it may adversely effect the margin derived for the product.
By way of contrast, the company exercises much prudence and financial logic when producing components. For example, one reason for the absence of equipment is that the company hired machinery and made a large batch of parts. The company now has a large parts inventory and is able to create many watches for some time to come. This approach has avoided huge capital expenditure which would otherwise have placed undue financial pressure on the small firm.
Additionally, there is commonality between the two calibres and they share many components. This would please many accountants as it allows the company to enjoy some economies of scale. Moreover, mainplates can have some parts applied and then, at a subsequent point in time, be made into caliber ZW102 or caliber ZW103 as demand dictates.
The Zeitwinkel way
During my visit, I looked at several models and admiring the 273° with galvanic silver dial, I wondered why blued hands only featured on the subsidiary seconds and power-reserve indicator. The brand has chosen not to use blued hands for the hour and minute display. Furthermore, scrutinising the movements, no blued screws were in evidence. My host explained, “this is not the Zeitwinkel way”. He went on to say that the design codes of the brand dictate restraint and conservatism, too many blued components could look unduly flamboyant, a trait the brand is keen to avoid.
I watched with incredulity as my host pointed out each detail of the movement construction. Perlage was in evidence on the mainplate and bridges. The oscillating weight was partly open-worked with straight graining on the upper surface. Expertly applied Côtes de Genève motif was present on the bridges. Indeed, there were many notable attributes to the movements which were being created.
Timeless design and intrinsic longevity
There is a purity to the design language employed. The highly regarded designer, Jean-François Ruchonnet, was involved with the appearance of the Zeitwinkel watches and he has bestowed a timeless quality to the models created. They do not appear unduly classical or excessively modern. This is no small achievement and the result is a range of watches which will no doubt retain relevance and eye-appeal despite the onset of years.
Zeitwinkel Watch have said they do not wish to create numerous new models every few months. The introduction of new models, possibly with additional complications, will be gradual. They are keen not to render existing models to the discounted area of the retailer’s window as new models arrive.
Zeitwinkel intend to provide a range of models which benefit from longevity and remain within their catalogue for years to come. This represents a refreshing alternative to the approach of some brands who seem to work with short product life cycles. The intrinsic obsolescence of some models can prove tiresome after you have saved and subsequently acquired your dream watch.
I enquired of my host about distribution of the Zeitwinkel Watch products.
“One of our major tasks now is to increase our presence in the different markets. It is not easy, as the retailers have a lot of pressure from the big groups and are a little fearful to invest in new brands. To counteract these problems we have our own web shop to be able to serve our customers if they do not have an official retailer around the corner. We are currently launching, what we name ‘Meeting Points’ in some European countries where we can meet clients by appointment” remarked Peter Nickolaus. Moreover, with service centres established in Germany, China, Japan and the United States, there certainly appears to be infrastructure in place to maintain the watches post-purchase.
The brand makes no secret of its size, my host proudly proclaimed at our meeting, “Small is beautiful” and based on my observations at St. Imier, I see no reason to disagree.