During its heyday in the ’90s and early aughts, Chronoswiss was a brand you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing or hearing about. While a large part of the brand’s production was always centered around regulator wristwatches, its collection continued to expand through that period until the 2007 recession landed them (as well as many other luxury brands) in somewhat dire circumstance. Thankfully, the brand found new ownership in the Ebstein family in 2012, led by Oliver Ebstein who now sits as the brand’s CEO, and is slowly but surely continuing to regain its footing in both the United States and international markets. A recent visit to the brand’s headquarters in Lucerne revealed both a very familial and welcoming business structure, as well as a surprising level of internal production and development capability, especially given the scale of its past presence in the marketplace.
Located in the center of Lucerne, only a brief walk from the city’s massive Bucherer boutique, Chronoswiss HQ is compact and unassuming, to say the least. At its center, a glass-fronted isolated room contains a small cluster of watchmaking benches, where a team of four watchmakers completes the final assembly of the brand’s current collection (with one bench dedicated to in-house servicing and repair). Along the exterior of this central room, a string of vignettes displays a mix of the brand’s current collection, as well as a historical archive of the brand’s past models all the way back to the company’s inception in 1982 by Gerd R. Lang in Munich, Germany. While this type of presentation isn’t unheard of in the industry, it’s in a pair of smaller rooms to the right where things get interesting.
Taking up what couldn’t be more than 300 square feet, the Chronoswiss “creative lab” houses a handful of lathes, a significant volume of hand tools both new and old, as well as an antique guilloché machine, all of which show clear signs of frequent use. Maik Panziera, the brand’s head of design since 2013, spends much of his day in the utilitarian space.
“This is where the magic happens, as they say,” states Panziera. Though the brand relies on Swiss contractors for production manufacturing, all of the brand’s prototyping, development, R&D, as well as many custom projects are all completed in this space by Panziera alone. “Our production volume is relatively small (roughly 2,000-3,000 pieces per year), so we operate differently than most other watch brands out there. People don’t always realize we’re still a quite small operation, but it’s this size and scale that allows us to be much more flexible with what we can do.”
That flexibility has become a growing part of the business at Chronoswiss, especially in the last few years. We’ve all seen the growing demand for customization throughout the industry, and the brand continues to see increasing requests for unique creations that they’re happy to take on.
“We’ve been seeing upwards of 20 or 30 custom commissions a year lately, of varying complexity,” says Panziera. “We’ve had requests for custom dials with hand-painted details and diamond settings, dial and strap combinations to be matched to a client’s Pagani, and other interesting ideas over the years. This is the kind of stuff I love, and there’s something personal to the process that our clients really connect with, more so than buying a watch ‘off the shelf.’ ”
Panziera’s other dedicated workspace is found in another room, a few quick steps away, and provides another interesting surprise. A small oven rests on a table in the corner, alongside a collection of powders – making up the brand’s own small dial enameling workshop. It’s no secret that enameling is a dying art in the watch industry, as a lack of education and a dwindling skilled workforce sees the trade rapidly approaching extinction. Thankfully, Panziera was trained in the craft roughly 20 odd years ago and continues to create a small selection of enamel dials for the brand both in series production as well as for bespoke commissions. Among others, the Artist Regulator Jumping Hour is offered in a crisp shade of translucent blue enamel over a wave guilloché dial. Given the significant time and cost involved in each dial’s production, it’s hard to fathom a brand of this size taking on such an undertaking, but Panziera remains passionate about continuing to work with enamel in the years to come.
All text by Justin Mastine-Frost.
You can read our review of the Chronoswiss Sirius Flying Grand Regulator here.