The marketing departments at large watchmaking companies would like us to believe that they have a room somewhere in Geneva where three gnomes (probably called Klaus or Johan) assembled that Omega, Rolex or Panerai you’re wearing (see #womw on twitter)
I can’t be certain, but I think the reality might involve a large factory somewhere, clean rooms, shift work, and all the other glamorous aspects of modern high volume production.
I was lucky enough today to meet a very different watchmaker.
Fred Dingemans, is CEO, Chief Designer & Engineer, head of marketing & sales and coffee maker at DMH, a very small scale (2 per month) watch manufacturer located in the Dutch countryside.
At 24 or so watches per year, Fred is never going to be the next Nicholas Hayak, and he’s very happy with that.
I ordered a watch a bit over a year ago, and it’s still a few months from completion. That fact that I was going to be nearby, in Amsterdam, and wanted to visit, didn’t move me up the waiting list. Fred is adamant that he wants to treat his customers the way he expects to be treated, so it’s strictly first come, first served. And for the last few additions to his order book – which now numbers over 70 – it’s going to be about 3 years until their DMH is on their wrists.
Fred was kind enough to meet me at the station (great trains in Holland, Australia could take a lesson from them) in a slightly ratty but mechanically sound Triumph TR5. I would have been happy enough to just take a spin in the Dutch sunshine in this beautiful classic and go back to Amsterdam, but the workshop beckoned.
In a small shed at the bottom of his garden Fred makes his cases & dials on an old (1940’s) lathe & a milling machine that were both his father’s, along with a few odds & ends that he’s fabricated himself to make the process easier.
This wasn’t a factory tour conducted by some bored lower level functionary who knew the presentation by heart. No, this was a peek inside the life of someone who is passionate about what he does, the process, and of course the end result.
Fred showed me all sorts of things, explained what had been difficult during the early stages & what he’d done to work around the problems. He was even kind enough to answer what I’m sure were some fairly inane questions.
We talked at length about the importance of good quality drill bits and how hard it is to tap 0.9mm thread inside a 0.8mm tube
Could he make more than two watches every month? Of course he could, but that would cut into the time he has for tinkering with and driving either Triumph (he’s got a motorbike in addition to the car) and would impinge on his holidays. He’s one of the lucky ones who is doing something he loves and is passionate about, and he’s managed to get his work / life balance just where he wants it.
Ordering a watch from a small independent watchmaker isn’t the easy choice – that would be a Rolex or some other big brand – but having sat in the watchmaker’s kitchen drinking coffee and chatting about why the Dutch all seem to speak such good English (TV isn’t dubbed, it’s broadcast with subtitles, like SBS does) means my DMH, when it arrives, will mean that little bit more to me when it’s #womw.