German watch brand Grieb & Benzinger came to be as the result of an interesting coincidence. Hermann Grieb, an expert in historical watch mechanisms and their restoration, and Jochen Benzinger, notable for his guilloché and engraving talents, met at the wedding of a fellow watchmaker. As the two shot the breeze, they stumbled upon the idea of combining their talents into one product – a super-exclusive watch using a rare historical movement restored, refurbished and enhanced.
It was a great idea, but it could so easily have been just another nice notion that never comes to fruition if it wasn’t for Georg Bartkowiak, a brand manager and expert in technical and creative product development. He spotted the potential in his friends’ abilities and became the driving force behind the brand. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here, Bartkowiak shares the brand’s unique concept and explains why true luxury simply cannot be available to the masses.
We love the concept. Can you tell us a bit about the thinking behind it?
Our shared passion for art and craftsmanship ultimately led to a revival of the historic forms of watchmaking that were lost for a long time. Not even the big players could bring these old art forms together and as such crafts were lost in the era of computer and CNC/CAD production.
The Grieb & Benzinger style of production is ‘real’ watchmaking that links back to the olden days when Breguet created its masterpieces, which are today still considered watchmaking marvels. A Grieb & Benzinger is not just a watch; it represents heritage, and above all real passion for the art of watchmaking.
You work with movements from the likes of Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Söhne – companies at the pinnacle of watchmaking. There must be a lot of pressure to do justice to these amazing pieces?
Yes of course, but at the same time although we use and recreate these pieces, we build a completely new interpretation of masterpieces that fit within our DNA. The selected movement is ultimately simply a raw material for us, and once we have finished a project every single component has been treated and differs to its original state. It is technically incorrect to say that Grieb & Benzinger has reworked a calibre from any brand; we have actually created something new out of it – a typical Grieb & Benzinger masterpiece!
Do you consider watchmaking a science or an art form?
Both descriptions are actually correct. However our tendency is towards art. Working with such historical knowledge relates more to arts I believe.
With the increasing introduction of modern technology in watchmaking, what is your view on the way the industry as a whole is going?
Modern technology is not bad at all. In fact, the results are perfect watches with a perfect finish. Modern technology also makes it possible to create more and more hyper-complicated mechanical masterpieces, which, of course, make collectors happy.
At the same time, these advantages lead to disadvantages: All watches are similar, lined up in a row next to other perfect ones. There is no space for individual products or alternative styles. In my opinion, being different and standing out from the crowd is the key to success.
What do you define as true luxury?
True luxury is rarity and uniqueness. A brand that produces a million watches a year and markets itself as ‘luxury’ is, in my opinion, questionable. If a so-called ‘luxury product’ is accessible to a million people, it is rather mass, and its successes can be attributed to the brand’s marketing team. Being unique, being rare, being accessible to only a few, this is luxury.
Is the Middle East a big market for you?
It is indeed a good and very interesting market for us. As we don’t offer any mainstream products, we are in touch with more discerning customers who are very well informed and aware about watches. These clients understand and appreciate the fact that we are different and unique.
What kind of people do you count amongst your clientele?
Our clients are aware about branded goods and the luxury market in general, but they are all looking for something special with a little something extra – that’s what our customers have in common.
Have you got a personal favourite timepiece that you’ve worked on?
For sure, the project closest to my heart in the Middle East is the ‘Baba’ Zayed watch, which I created with my friend, Arnie Hira. I have had lots of very positive comments from Emiratis who really appreciated that we didn’t create a typical commercial watch, and took the time to learn about their history. We placed HH Sheikh Zayed’s head at the seven o’clock position since he was the father of the seven emirates. On the back, a falcon is skeletonised and engraved onto the movement, and we have used the UAE colours in a very discrete manner.
Some masterpieces such as the Blue Merit and The Blue Sensation might also be called my favourites, since the Merit is perfectly reflective of high-end German watchmaking, and the Sensation perfectly links our crafts: restoration, modification, guilloché, skelentonisation, hand-engraving, dials with rare Breguet frost finish and the base finished in blue platinum coating – a coating which is worldwide unique!
What does the future hold for Grieb & Benzinger?
A lot of challenges! We are due to launch our very first in-house developed highly complicated movement: a tourbillon with remontoire. This has taken almost eight years from dream to reality. This movement was developed totally from scratch; every single screw had to be specially produced, not a single part was taken from existing supplier stock. I am sure the future will hold many more of our own developments.