Comments:

"Unikate"

 
 By: Ron Weis : May 21st, 2007-07:36
18 months ago my wife and daughter and I traveled throughout Morocco, a land of contrasts. While staying in the 14th Century Medinas of Fez and Marrakesh, I was struck by the differences between the simple, unadorned exteriors of the riads in which we stayed and the opulent interiors where the wood, iron, tile and carved plaster were all exquisitely crafted and highly decorative. I returned from our trip thinking it would be nice to have a watch which provided a similar experience. I knew there was only one person to contact, Jochen Benzinger.  After a year and a half, after many enjoyable phone calls and e-mails, a hundred drawings and letters, we ended with the piece you see here. The dial is black rhodium-plated silver with blued steel Brequet hands. The movement has a base plate of blue-green platinum which contrasts brilliantly with the rose gold filigree of the skeletonized parts and blued-steel wheels. Notice the image of a shell under the timing balance. Nice. It was a unique and seamless collaboration and I can't say enough about what a pleasure it was to work with the brilliantly talented Mr. Benzinger.




Congratulations! It's wonderful

 
 By: DonCorson : May 21st, 2007-11:28

well done

 
 By: ChristianDK : May 21st, 2007-12:43
and congratulations. It must be quite an experience to have such a costum watch made. please tell us more about the watch and theprocess. why did you choose this watch maker?


kind regards


christian

Here's an article on the creation of a Benzinger...

 
 By: Watch Carefully : May 22nd, 2007-11:50

...written by me a few years ago:

The Creation of a Custom Wristwatch

by C. Bradley Jacobs (WatchCarefully)

Originally published in the NAWCC Bulletin
April 2004

As a collector, or maybe just an ardent acquirer, of timepieces I, like many others, have refined my preferences to a greater degree than I ever imagined when I started down this path. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to find a wristwatch that is designed just as I would like. On the market today there are many lovely watches that are simply too small for my taste; there are fabulous-looking watches that employ the same movement as hundreds of lesser watches; there are watches that incorporate very desirable movements but have high price tags or feature designs that do not appeal to me…in short, rarely does a watch appear that has nothing about it that I would change.

Adding to this frustration is the recent trend toward large watches. I am not generally one to follow fashion, but the weight and bulk of many large watches contributes to a sensual appeal that I appreciate. Most of these large watches, however, are powered by the ubiquitous Unitas 6498/6497 series of pocket watch movements—some with fantastic decorative finishing, others nearly factory stock—often visible through sapphire crystals. The prevalence of this movement has forced me to look elsewhere for a large watch. I have nothing against this movement, but I want something uncommon. Something else I find irksome is the use of under-sized ETA automatics in huge watches—precluding the use of a see-through case back, which I consider indispensible. How, then, is one to acquire a large watch with a noteworthy movement (one worth seeing) for a reasonable price?

Finally, as a collector of both wrist and pocket timepieces, I am further frustrated by the lack of opportunities to use and enjoy some of the fantastic pocket watches that are available today for much less than the price of a modern watch of lesser quality. It is this last impediment, however, that was the genesis of a solution to all of these issues: the creation of a custom-built wristwatch using a neglected vintage pocket watch movement.

I have recently become interested in a small class of American pocket watch movements made roughly around the second quarter of the 20th century. Elgin Grade 543 as provided to Jochen Benzinger Howard, Hamilton and Elgin all made 10-size movements of high grades and interesting construction. The Howard “Thin Model” (17, 19 or 21 jewels) from the 1920s has a very interesting bridge design akin to the 16s Railroad Chronometer. Hamilton’s Grade 917 forms the basis of a series of four grades (with 17, 21 or 23 jewels) of 10s movement with some lovely features. Elgin manufactured several versions of the Grade 54x series with varying numbers of jewels (15, 17 or 21) and adjustments (0-8) which were sturdy but unadorned. The plainness of the Elgin, which seemed to be a draw-back at first, eventually prompted me to take my first serious steps toward the creation of a unique wrist watch. Having already purchased a stock wristwatch case meant to hold a Unitas 649x movement, and finding that it was too small for the American 10s movements I own, I set aside the idea of having the case modified in favor of a more complete approach. Case for Elgin movement being modified on a table-top lathe I needed something more befitting a person who is picky about the end result, but unable to manufacture a watch by himself.

In the course of reading printed and on-line articles about everything watch-related, I came across information about a man in Pforzheim, Germany who does engraving and engine-turning (guilloché) and skeletonization of watch movements and will build one-of-a-kind wristwatches to suit his customers. Jochen Benzinger is his name. I contacted Mr. Benzinger about the prices of such pieces to see if he might be the man to help me realize my dream. Several of Benzinger’s custom-built pieces are powered by the Unitas 6498 movement, so I suspected that he could provide a wristwatch case large enough to accept the American 10s movement. After a few e-mails discussing options and cost, we decided that I should send him some photographs of the movement I had in mind for incorporation into the watch.

The sharing of photographs led to further discussions, the result of which was that I felt this was the path I should follow in realizing my vision. I shipped an example of the 21-jewel Elgin Grade 543 (that I had bought, uncased, from a US supplier) and, for good measure, included a 15-jewel Grade 546 for Mr. Benzinger to use for spare parts or practice. We discussed still more options—such as the extent of engraving and engine-turning to be done on the piece—and debated whether to skeletonize the movement. Budgetary constraints dictated that the case be made of steel rather than precious metal, but white metals are my preference so this was no disappointment. After a handful of messages back and forth I felt that I had made my preferences clear to Mr. Benzinger and I was comfortable that he would improvise based upon his talent and experience to complete the decoration of the movement.

The Elgin 543, as indicated above, is a plain-looking piece, but is not without its interesting features. caption Typical of Elgin it has a sweeping train bridge, the lines of which I wished to keep intact, if not emphasize through decoration. Also, as this movement is the 21-jewel variant, adjusted to 5 positions, it features a swan’s neck regulator and many cap jewels set in oblong plates screwed to the movement. The jewels are also somewhat large and nice to look at. The dial-side of the movement features three of these cap jewels and a fairly large and interestingly-shaped piece that covers and integrates with the setting and winding mechanisms. I decided that my timepiece, to be truly unique and interesting, would forego the use of a traditional dial and would instead show the dial-side of the movement, decorated with guilloché. Some blued screws and perlage, along with a rose gold-plated 9:00 sub-dial, were Mr. Benzinger’s contributions to my idea. The dial, made of a thin sapphire disc, is printed only with hash marks for the hours, small dots for seconds, and an off-set Benzinger logo in an oval. The intersection of the sub-dial by a couple of the jewels adds some tension to the design and reinforces the utilitarian nature of the original design. This Elgin grade was designed for function, not beauty, and the decoration of it in the course of this project was meant to celebrate this, not hide it.

At various intervals during the process, Mr. Benzinger and I had discussions regarding some of the details, but other details were decided spontaneously, as he was working on the watch. My initial vision did not involve any skeletonization of the movement—I felt that the original landscape would be best suited to engraving and rose gold plating—but Mr. Benzinger saw something more. He suggested that I consider what he called “light skeletonization,” which is what you see in the finished product. If this is “light” what does he consider extensive skeletonization? Visit his website (www.jochenbenzinger.de) and see the flowery skeletonization of some Unitas movements, or the industrial look of others, or the initials carved from plates and rotors, or the dragon motifs he has created for a special customer. In comparison, the work on my watch is conservative.

The decoration of some of the less obvious parts (winding mechanism and wheels, pallet bridge, etc.) were left entirely to Mr. Benzinger’s inspiration. Having made my initial suggestions, I was content to let the harmony of the entire piece be the responsibility of the master. Although we were in contact frequently during the project (I was writing an article on his business and conducting an interview with him) weeks would go by without discussion of the progress of my watch. I was hoping in part to be pleasantly surprised with a sudden notification of its completion, yet I was also anxious to know how things were going. To satisfy my curiosity, and because I indicated I’d like to chronicle the experience, Mr. Benzinger provided me with photos at various points along the way. Some are included herein.

The main plate of the movement being decorated on an antique rose engine:

Photo courtesy J. Benzinger

This series of images shows the transformation of the Elgin movement’s main bridge from original to decorated state:

The part as delivered to Jochen Benzinger:

Photo courtesy J. Benzinger

Engraving getting underway (notice there is very little in this photo that gives away the final design):

Photo courtesy J. Benzinger

Skeletonizing almost complete:

Photo courtesy J. Benzinger

In situ:

The


I was appeased but still anxious about the final product. Would it be the watch about which I had been dreaming? Would the moment I actually beheld the completed watch match the expectations and the enjoyment of the concept and process of creating it?

The completed custom watch I’ll try to be brief and restrained in attempting to describe my feeling upon the watch’s arrival from Germany several months after my initial contact with Jochen Benzinger. First, you must know that I caved in to temptation and accepted Jochen’s offer to provide me with photographs of the watch prior to its delivery. He had sent me large digital images of each side of the watch. Even in the images, I could tell it would be more fantastic than I had hoped. The arrival of the watch itself, a couple days before Christmas, brought back emotions similar to those I felt as a child receiving a gift that had been longed for over the previous months. In the moments before unwrapping the watch I questioned whether I had been a good enough boy and whether the item would be everything I had imagined. It was and is. I had embarked upon a quest to create a dream watch. Not THE dream watch, mind you, but a watch which I can be proud to wear for the rest of my days, for several reasons. The concept of this watch is something of which I am proud—the result justifies my choice of this plain but potentially exceptional movement. The ownership of a work of art created by one of the modern masters of a timeless craft also is a source of pride. Rear view of the completed watch The friendship that I have begun to forge with Jochen is also a source of happiness. And, in an obscure way, I am pleased to be the owner of a watch which just might be the only wristwatch in the world built around the Elgin Grade 543 movement (I may be the only person who finds this appealing but that’s part of the experience, too).

In order to recall the humble origins of this watch, I asked Jochen to inscribe some movement information around the rear bezel. In the beginning I had hoped that the original engraved information on the movement could be kept intact. As I intended only for the movement to be engraved and not skeletonized, this seemed feasible. Once we had agreed to skeletonize the movement I asked that the text “Elgin 543” and the serial number of the movement be included on the watch. This is an Elgin at heart and I did not want to disassociate this information from the material that remained of the movement. This watch owes much to the defunct American giant and is as much an Elgin as a Benzinger, for both parties are/were experts in separate eras but complementary fields.

***

The Benzinger with an original Elgin 543These six photos by C. Bradley JacobsSigned *JB* beneath the balance wheel

Dial detailAdditional dial detailThe author’s initials engraved on the clasp  

See this watch & more on Benzinger's website...

...and an Interview I conducted with him.

 
 By: Watch Carefully : May 22nd, 2007-11:57

An Interview with Jochen Benzinger

An Interview with Jochen Benzinger

by C. Bradley Jacobs (Watch Carefully)

The following is the second part
of a feature on Jochen Benzinger that was published
in International Wristwatch Issue Number 73, November 2003

CBJ: I suspect that many aficionados of fine watches have seen your work without knowing it, could you tell me some of the watch brands for whom you have done engraving?

JB: Glashütte Original, Martin Braun, Jörg Schauer, Christiaan van der Klaauw, Nivrel, RGM, TWC (Towson Watch Company), BLU (Bernd Lederer Uhren)

What other sorts of engraving work do you do, besides timepieces?

Jewelry, lockets, silver cutlery, fine pens, cufflinks, silverwar, picture frames,
“Fabergé” eggs (engine turned)…

How many “unique watches” does your workshop produce annually?

The quantity [of watch output] depends on the size of the companies’ special series; about 200 pcs. per annum. Complete unique watches total 1-2 per month.

What regions represent your largest markets?

Europe (France, Netherlands, UK), Asia (Japan, Taiwan, China) and the USA to an increasing degree.

Do you have a signature style you employ on your unique pieces?

The typical style of my work is the combination of movement parts being engraved and engine turned by hand. You won't find this kind of combination anywhere else. And also the combination of hand engine-turned, hand-skeletonized and hand-engraved parts/movements--all being done by one man with his own old machines--is offered by nobody else in the world.

Do most customers have strong ideas about how they want their piece decorated, or do they generally defer to you?

Very few customers have their own or at least just vague ideas, most of them want us to create something suitable for the movement/watch for them.

You’ve indicated in our previous correspondence that a watch movement’s original design is important to consider when deciding upon appropriate decorations, Can you elaborate on the ways you find inspiration?

Most of my work depends on the form of the bridge that is different in many watches. It also depends on the degree of skeletonizing a customer wants or the style and the form of the movement itself.

Will you tell me about some projects you have completed that were especially satisfying?

I am proud of every project that is completed to the customer’s satisfaction. I personally like the dragon movement we have done for a Chinese customer. We also developed a special movement with 200 diamonds for a German gem trader which looks very special.

Have you engraved any rare, historical movements of which you are especially proud?

No. Most pieces we do are favourite pieces of my customers, to them very special, but not historical.

How does being located in Pforzheim reinforce the historical perspective of your art? Do you gain inspiration from working in a traditional center of renowned craftsmanship?

The whole work I do was only possible in Pforzheim. Pforzheim was an important center of the jewelry industry since the 17th century. Here, all machines and tools were traditionally available. Nowadays most of the important supplier companies are still located in Pforzheim.
Although Switzerland is famous for its watch industry – you wouldn’t find that many century-old machines as easily as you will in Pforzheim.

Early in your career you associated yourself with the firm Kollmar, what was Kollmar involved in before you took over the firm?

Kollmar was a pure engine turning company. They had no sons or any other family successor who wanted their workshop. Kollmar was a customer of the company where I made my professional training and I was offered it at the age of 24. I did not even have a master craftsman diploma, which is needed in Germany to lead a company. I needed a special permission and obtained my diploma about a year after taking over Kollmar’s company with most of their machines. Among others it was they who taught me their craft.

Your workshop includes many old machines. Can you tell me a little about the process of rescuing and restoring such a tool?

I got many of my machines from companies who didn’t want them any more or who put their money on more modern technologies. I also got some directly from the museum. A friend of mine is specialised in restoring old machines and he is helping me for years now. Many of the machines were in a very desolate and poor condition. We first need to completely undo them, clean and replace the parts (if necessary; very often we use quite simple constructions that are normally used in a completely different context, just because we cannot get original parts any more) and re-assemble the machine again.

You engrave by hand and without the aid of a microscope. To me this seems especially remarkable considering that many of the pieces on which you work are so small that even trained watchmakers use a loupe to assemble them. Do you take extra pride in your ability to work in the manner of the old masters of your craft?

You cannot say I’m especially proud of that. It actually comes by chance that a gold engraver is not trained using a loupe, whereas watchmakers are. They use it already during their training to be a watchmaker, engravers don’t. In the meantime I use glasses that double what I need to see, at least for the very tiny pieces.

With all of the effort and dedication you have displayed in reviving these crafts, I imagine you would hate to see the practices lost. Are you active in teaching the arts of engraving and engine-turning to another generation?

At present we do not have a trainee (mainly because of lack of time), but we did so in the past. Some of them have also been awarded prizes for what they have learned during their 3-years-training in our workshop. I myself have functioned as a member of the board of examiners for many years, being responsible for holding exams and practical tests of the trainees.

You mentioned that Kollmar had no heirs willing to continue the business. Do you have offspring or other family members who are involved in your work?

We are a real family company... My dad (a real handyman!) who is already retired is doing lots of the engravings done by a machine, helps keeping the machinery working and runs most of all errands such as taking and bringing stuff to the photographer, to the watchmaker (for undoing and rebuilding the movements) or to the goldsmith who does all kinds of galvanizing, parts of the skeletonizing and so on, he takes parcels to the post office - he is the "good soul" behind my job.

My wife is doing all the office stuff. She responds to most e-mails, is doing the translations, takes care of the internet in connection with an advertising agency and does the marketing (as long as she's got the time..., being a mum and pregnant again! My son is only 18 months old and already shows interest in my machines - however not in the way I always want him to! He loves all kind of buttons, levers and everything that can be moved in some way! I will for sure never urge him into something, who knows how our industry is developing in the future...

What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy?

Luckily, my work is one of my hobbies but doesn't leave me with a lot of spare time. I enjoy collecting and restoring old engine turn machines, designing and building watches. When I still had more time I had an ultra-light plane (a trike), but I have given up as I had hardly time left. Nowadays I rather go biking, play squash once a week, am part of a music band (preferably playing old Stones songs...), I read a lot, collect old cookery books and enjoy cooking myself - going along with a good old bottle of French wine (we get them more often than Californian wines but I also like those). Last not least I should say that my family doesn't see me a lot ([on workdays] I leave the house at 7 am and only return home at around 7.30 pm) and so I spend most of my time with them.

Would you care to make any comments about yourself or your work?

Something that makes our watches really special are the hand engine-turned dials in Sterling silver. In contrast to many big and renowned companies whose dials are not engine turned by hand but only good pressings with a good finish, we engine turn all our dials ourselves using old original engine turn machines. Their watches look more and more like "being fallen out of a machine", meaning one looks like the other, always a bit too perfect, without a "soul" and its very own character of a hand-made unique watch.

I hope your image of me and my work is now clearer to you. Maybe I put a bit too much stress on all the hand work we do, but this is in the end what makes our watches a BENZINGER, not a copy of some brand watch. This is very important to me.

just beautiful...... thank you....

 
 By: teckmeng : May 23rd, 2007-01:35
cheers
teckmeng

Fantastic watch it is....never seen such colourful movement before...

 
 By: Jacky : May 21st, 2007-20:31
Thanks for the photos smile Never know this watch exist. Cheers.




Regards
Jacky

Stunning

 
 By: Gizmotron : May 22nd, 2007-11:42
Absolutely stunning, well done.  Jochen Benzinger does amazing work.

Very nice!

 
 By: Watch Carefully : May 22nd, 2007-11:45
Welcome to the Benzinger Owners Group (BOG?).
That's a very distinctive watch. Congratulations.
It is indeed a pleasure to work with Herr Benzinger.
Cheers,
Brad

 

my experience with the mild mannered man of steel and gold and platinum

 
 By: Ron Weis : May 22nd, 2007-13:58
Thanks for the articles and comments. I had a similar experience with Jochen. I bought one of his "Mechanique" watches a few years back so I was familiar with his work. I knew I wanted a highly decorated movement, so, of course, I contacted him. Over the length of our collaboration, we discussed many variations. I wanted something more roccoco than the piece I already owned. Something unique. Knowing I am an artist, he eventually came up with the brilliant movement design with that amazing color scheme.

The dial was another thing altogether. I told him I wanted it to be minimal, preferably with a brushed silver dial. My original idea was to have Arabic numerals which were carved into the surface, concave impressions which would cast a subtle shadow. We spent several months on the font for the numbers. It was determined that he could not do this because the dials he had would be to reflective. We agreed he could engrave the numerals into the dial and then paint it white. There were problems from the beginning. The readability was compromised, the designs just weren't 'singing'. At one point he sent a dial with the comment, "It didn't look too bad". Not a good sign. We tried getting rid of the numbers and adding a sub-seconds dial at 6 o'clock. The small seconds hand floated on the dial like a lost balloon. After all the time and communications, the numerous drawings, the e-mails, the phone calls, the returned watches, we were very close to abandoning the idea altogether. We agreed to try one last time, to leave the dial as minimal as possible and preferably some version of brushed silver. We agreed that his name would not appear on the dial. That's the kind of guy he is. (He will thus post an image of the movement on his site and not the dial.) You can imagine my state of mind when the package arrived a couple of months later. With some hesitation, I took a deep breath and broke the postal seal.

You all know that "Wow!" feeling. I saw the dial and knew we had a winner. "Wow! It's gorgeous! But what is that material?" I couldn't believe it. And when I turned the watch over, I jumped out of my chair going, "Wow!, Wow! He did it. He did it."

Like I said, it was a pleasure to work with the talented Jochen Benzinger.

Fabulous chronicle.

 
 By: Watch Carefully : May 23rd, 2007-08:09
Your experience and Jochen's dedication should be a guide for other watch companies who purport to catering to the aficionado.
Congratulations on an ambitous project well concluded!
Brad

BAG instead of BOG?

 
 By: MTF : May 23rd, 2007-05:49
BOG may be too exclusive as there may not be too many members to be included.
What was it that Groucho Marx said about club memberships?

How about Benzinger Appreciation Group (BAG)?

smile
MTF