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A timeless tradition
By Nadia Badarudin
A family new to the industry of fine watches intends to stay true to the origins of the famed brand it took over, writes Nadia Badarudin
WHEN Oliver Ebstein talks about his first encounter with fine wristwatches, nostalgia overwhelms him.
Ebstein’s interest in luxury timepieces sparked after he was given one as a present by his grandfather when he was a teenager.
“It was a 1953, hand-winding chronograph model, and it has always been part of my family heritage.
“I fell in love the moment I laid my eyes on the watch — the mechanics and features fascinated me. That was how I began to appreciate fine wristwatches,” says the 37-year-old chief executive officer of Chronoswiss, a well-known Swiss brand associated with exceptionally exquisite timepieces.
Launched in 1983, the brand name is a neologism derived from Chronos, the Greek god of time, and Swiss for watch craftsmanship and origin of the components.
Ebstein made headlines in the watch industry when his family took over Chronoswiss from its founder and master watchmaker Gerd-Rüdiger Lang at the 2012 edition of Baselworld, an international watch and jewellery industry trade show held every spring in Basel, Switzerland. The entrepreneurial Ebstein family became the talk of the town at that time because they were new to the industry, with Oliver himself coming from the corporate finance world and with zero experience in premium watchmaking.
KEEPING TRADITION ALIVE
After 30 years of making fine mechanical wristwatches, Chronoswiss has influenced the industry like none other. Maintaining its reputation is not an easy task, says Ebstein, but he thinks that he has what it takes to propel the company to greater heights by keeping it rooted to its tradition, know-how and values, as introduced by its founder 30 years ago.
“Chronoswiss founder, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, and my family believe in the family-run business. And when it comes to such a business, it is important to ensure that there is always an understanding and an alignment between the history of the company and the present,” he says.
He adds that one cannot simply revolutionise a strong brand and forget its origin. “Revolutionising a brand is good, but with Chronoswiss, making subtle changes while staying focused on making fine watches in the best Swiss tradition is key.
“And being a Chronoswiss fan has also helped me to learn the trade faster and better,” says the soft-spoken watch aficionado.
Ebstein says each Chronoswiss watch tells the story of hard work, diligence and perfectionism of a skilful watchmaker. Each masterpiece is handmade, and judging from its quirky extravagance as well as meticulous designs and precision, it is no surprise that only a limited number of watches is produced every year (Chronoswiss only produces about 8,000 units per year).
Ebstein says the watchmaker’s philosophy of making a fine watch is simply “take your time”.
“Proportion is important, and making sure that the hands and dial are aligned is difficult. It may take weeks or even months to get the precision. It is all about commitment and dedication, and taking the time,” he says.
Although Chronoswiss watches evolved over time, the changes are subtle and the brand’s DNA remains intact. And that, Ebstein says, has given it a competitive advantage.
Over the years, Chronoswiss timepieces are still recognisable from the hint of timeless retro designs and signature features such as the oignon-style crown, the unmistakable case with its screw-down fluted bezel, screw-mounted strap lugs as well as the open back case.
“We do little changes because we don’t want to be like other Swiss watch brands that have lost their identities.
“I see the same Chronoswiss face today as it was 30 years ago. Just like the Porsche 911, the car has gone through slight changes and the look is more modern as it evolved, but it is still recognisably a Porsche 911.
“Why do we need to change the basics when they are already good for the last 30 years?”
Headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland, Chronoswiss exports premium watches to some 400 specialty stores in 35 countries.
In addition to a few Chronoswiss watches, Ebstein still keeps the timepiece from his grandfather in his collection (he has about 30 fine watches).
“The brand no longer exists today, thus making the watch more valuable. I keep it as a reminder of what my grandfather has taught me — a fine watch is like an investment for the family.
“The piece is going to be more valuable over time and is a family heritage that will benefit the next generation.”
Chronoswiss watches evolve, but are still recognisable.
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A timeless tradition respected
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