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In conversation with the founders of Cvstos, Sassoun Sirmakes and Antonio Terranova

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-01:42

Sassoun Sirmakes is frequently touted as the youngest CEO and founder of a watch brand. His father happens to be Vartan Sirmakes, co-owner of Franck Muller Watchland Group, which has annual revenues in the region of CHF400 million, according to industry sources. Franck Muller annual production is in the low five figures, while Cvstos made about 2000 watches in 2008 and 2009 output will be in the region of 3500 watches.

As he tells it, after Sirmakes completed high school in 2005, he had three options - attend university, join Franck Muller or strike out on his own. He chose the third option and founded Cvstos with Antonio Terranova, an engineer who had previously worked at several major watch brands. Terranova explains that he spearheads the brand’s aesthetics while Sirmakes takes care of the nuts and bolts of running a business.


From left: Minute repeater tourbillon worn by Antonio Terranova, the Yachting tourbillon in platinum, Tourbillon with black diamonds worn by Sassoun Sirmakes  

Sirmakes decided to start Cvstos due to the simple fact that Franck Muller was already an established business, he did not want to merely “manage [a successful] business”. But the more important reason is that both Sirmakes and Terranova saw the potential in the market – 2005 was some time before brands like Richard Mille and Urwerk had taken off – for watches that looked different. Terranova put it simply, "People don't want to wear their father's watch." One also gets the impression that Cvstos is an opportunity for Terranova to execute ideas that never took off while he was at brands like Breitling and TAG Heuer.

Sirmakes does not conceal the obvious, he openly admits being his father’s son was an advantage. Referring to the initial search for a dial supplier, “When we first started, it was difficult, no supplier was doing what we wanted”, but he continues, “[but they] said ‘This guy’s father has money, so it should be OK’ and they did a few dials for us.”

Nonetheless, being connected to a large and profitable group independent from the industry giants drew the ire of some competitors. He relates the story of the inaugural presentation of Cvstos watches at the La Reserve hotel during SIHH. Cvstos had leased substantial space from the hotel for its exhibition and its banners and posters were plastered all over the hotel premises. Sirmakes says Richemont then called the management of La Reserve with the ultimatum:  remove the Cvstos material or all Richemont room reservations at La Reserve would be cancelled; Richemont had booked a large proportion of its rooms for SIHH visitors. Sirmakes’ reaction was to comply, but he adds, “So instead we put our nice cars outside [in the driveway] with Cvstos decals!”

Sirmakes exudes a confidence and enthusiasm that is genuine, but also reflective of the security of his background. On the other hand, Antonio Terranova is more subtle, possessed of a knowing and slightly impatient demeanour. Some of Terranova’s comments on various aspects of the industry are amusing yet true. Speaking about the aggressive lifestyle advertising used by some brands, he says, “A watch only gives you the time, not a good character or new personality or better life.” And when the conversation moves to limited editions, “A [limited edition] for France is not just the French flag on the dial and [the] Paris map on the back”. Terranova cites the Yachting Tourbillon as an example of a genuine limited edition, because in addition to the blue and white nautical colours, the movement has strips of wood inlay in the baseplate, recalling the planked deck of a yacht.

At the same time, Terranova’s insistence that Cvstos is nearly wholly vertically integrated is much less easy to swallow. He characterises the brand’s links to Franck Muller Watchland as a “privileged relationship”, explaining “Franck Muller has production power [so] we have some help from them,” but he notes the majority of components in Cvstos watches are not from Franck Muller, he pegs the proportion of parts sourced from Watchland at 20%. In an earlier thread on this forum several images of a chronograph calibre from Martin Braun, a Franck Muller Watchland company, is identical to the purportedly in-house Concept S chronograph movement.

Whatever the truth may be, the movements created by Franck Muller and its associated companies are frequently interesting and occasionally impressive. Aficionados frequently give Franck Muller short shrift, thanks in no small part to its ridiculous slogan “Master of Complications”, but that is doing the boffins at Watchland an injustice. The competence of Watchland is reflected in several of its associated brands, including Cvstos and Martin Braun, though Terranova and Sirmakes would be sure to note that Cvstos is far more independent of Watchland than Martin Braun.

Cvstos watches demonstrate a high degree of complexity in case and dial construction, which reminds one of the early Franck Muller watches which were widely regarded to have outstanding case and dial work. Most of the newer Cvstos models have noteworthy movements, most notably the minute repeater with a form movement and tonneau-shaped gongs.

 

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This message has been edited by SJX on 2008-12-24 02:22:14 This message has been edited by SJX on 2008-12-24 04:54:40 This message has been edited by MTF on 2008-12-26 09:38:28

Cvstos and the idea of originality

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-01:45



Whatever the quality of Cvstos watches, the inescapable fact is the usually unfavourable comparison to Richard Mille. The similarity in design is obvious and perhaps blatant. The styling of Cvstos watches is controversial and the likeness is clear, but the question of originality and how that changes over time are worth discussing.

The Hublot Big Bang is one of the most successful wristwatches of the last 10 years, it was responsible for Hublot’s revenue jumping 10-fold in four years. Yet when it was launched there was relentless chatter about its likeness to the Offshore – the fact that Jean-Claude Biver was going after the same dollar that was being spent on the Royal Oak Offshore was indisputable.

As a result of that, or perhaps in anticipation of it, Hublot put out a press release containing an image detailing the evolution of the Big Bang from the original Hublot wristwatch created by Carlo Crocco, which was meant to state emphatically that the Big Bang was pure Hublot “DNA”. That was not very convincing but today Hublot sells so well it has become an icon in itself.





 

Going further back, the AP Royal Oak 'Jumbo' comes to mind. The Royal Oak was the pioneer luxury sports watch and it was a surprise success, at the time it was unimaginable that an expensive steel watch with no complications could sell. The Royal Oak was launched in 1972, the IWC Ingenieur came four years later, in that same year Patek Philippe unveiled the Nautilus and a year later Vacheron Constantin premiered its 222. All four watches were designed by the legendary Gerald Genta.  

Each of the later three watches was inspired by the success of the Royal Oak which created a new market for a steel luxury watch. Today the Royal Oak, Nautilus and Ingenieur are each considered cult watches each with its own legion of fans; the 222 was quietly put down and eventually replaced with the Overseas. Those four models are the only ones that have gone on to be remembered and loved. Other brands produced Royal Oak lookalikes, including Seiko who also hired Genta, but they have long been forgotten.

The pair behind Cvstos are well aware that the market for watches with distinctively modern designs – Richard Mille, Urwerk, you name it – is here to stay. And over many years and decades, being the originator of a particular design or genre gradually becomes irrelevant, except from a historical perspective.

With the resilient backing of Franck Muller, Cvstos is like to last a long, long time. If they continue to create products of this quality – the new Challenge models are big steps in the right direction – Cvstos will eventually come into its own.


 

This message has been edited by SJX on 2008-12-24 06:07:39

Cvstos Yachting tourbillion

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-01:59

I like this one a lot. Yes the idea of a yachting limited edition reminds me of the Richard Mille Perini Navi but I like the execution of this Cvstos. The movement have wood inlaid into the baseplate, recalling the deck of a yacht. Although it is an odd combination, the blue anodised titanium, platinum case and wood inlay complement each other well. And while this watch looks lightweight, it is hefty thanks to the massive platinum case. The weight is a pleasant surprise since one is accustomed to such watches being light. Another appreciated detail is the blue anodised balance wheel with white-metal screws, all Cvstos tourbillions have balance wheels which match the overall aesthetic of the watch.

What I don’t like is the blue plasma finish on the movement bridges. While the colour is attractive and the finish is cleanly done, the whole look of the blue bridges just doesn’t go with a six-figure price tag. I would prefer a conventional rhodium finished movement or if it can be managed, wood inlay on the bridges.

























1, 2, 3????

 
 By: aaronm : December 24th, 2008-08:16
How many different places is the word "tourbillon" written on that movement??
A

I agree, there is too much unnecessary text all over, dial and case

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-18:52

In fact, even worse than writing "tourbillon" is "Tourbillon 3X20 seconds". That is an incredibly inane thing to put on the dial. Oh well.

- SJX

Cvstos Concept S Minute Repeater Tourbillon

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-02:03

The most notable by far is the Concept S minute repeater with tourbillion. Cvstos markets it as the world’s first water-resistant tourbillion, of up to 100 m no less. But that is as much a gimmick as a technical achievement.

At first glance it is hard not to disparage a minute repeater that is presented in a blackened case with a red anodised tourbillion case. But the chimes are clear and well audible, and the typical buzzing of the snail is barely audible so it does not obscure the chiming.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the movement is tonneau shaped and so are the gongs. The last time a manufacturer tried a form movement with similarly shaped gongs – JLC with the Reverso Minute Repeater limited edition in pink gold – the result was inconsistent and often terrible sound. Cvstos assures me all production pieces of the minute repeater will have similar sound, that remains to be seen but if it is true it will be quite an achievement.




























I am the lucky exception

 
 By: Gary G : December 25th, 2008-20:12

I am often complimented on the excellent sound of my Reverso Repetition Minutes with its shaped gongs!  Crystal clear and surpirsingly loud for the size of the case -- and in my opinion superior to many other repeaters I have heard (OK, it's not even close to the AP Titanium GC, but then again, what is?).

If I'm not mistaken (and I might be, others please correct me), the shaped gongs and pretty much the entirety of the original Reverso RM design by Eric Coudray was imported into the Master RM -- with the addition of an acoustic linkage to the crystal.

Best,

Gary G

Cvstos Concept S Flyback Chronograph and Automatic

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-02:09

The earlier Cvstos watches were not impressive, especially the entry level models. Not only were they aesthetically uninspiring, they were almost entirely based on various ETA calibres.

The new Concept S watches are a big step up; all the watches depicted are prototypes, you’ll note the caseback of the automatic is engraved “chronograph”.

They are well made, displaying a high level of construction and finish in the case and dial, as well as in the movements. Even if the movements are not wholly in-house, the watches are still impressive, especially the flyback chronograph.

Both the automatic and chronograph movements are based on the same base calibre as can be seen from the movement architecture, but the chronograph is integrated as a proper chronograph should be. Both movements have plasma finished bridges (plasma treatment is some sort of coating) in black; this look has been overused but it does match the aesthetic of the case and dial, and more importantly the overall finish of the movement is good, especially for this type of watch. Often brands neglect to finish a movement properly when they cover it in black PVD and often customers don’t notice. The movement can do without the meaningless engraving on the rotor though.

One shortcoming with the chronograph is the legibility of the subdials. The time is easy enough to read, but because there is so much visible from the front, it is difficult to focus on the subdials to read the elapsed time and the oddly shaped minute counter does not make it easier.

Concept S automatic








Concept S Flyback Chronograph
















 

thank you , do you known who make new movement for CVSTOS?

 
 By: LVT : December 24th, 2008-03:18

Except the originality of design , I always evaluate CVSTOS is good in ratio of price/ finishing . I am impress with new chronographe one , I would like to see it by my eye in next trip to Malaysia .  Other concern is black coating of case , It would be painful when it is scratched .

 

Movements and the coating

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-04:48
Cvstos says all movements are largely in-house but it is likely that at the very least a significant portion of the calibres come from Franck Muller Watchland.

As for the coating, Cvstos says it is a plasma coating that only they use. It is used in other industries but Cvstos is the only watchmaker using it. I've yet to research this but Cvstos claims it is tougher than normal PVD coating.

- SJX

Cvstos - way to go!

 
 By: tony p : December 24th, 2008-05:29
A long way to go, that is.

Jiaxian, thanks for this excellent and informative report. You make the valid point that watches such as the Ingenieur, the Nautilus and (more recently) the Big Bang all started life as "me-too" efforts, but gradually attained their own measure of iconic status.

The implication, I suppose (although admittedly you don't quite spell it out this way - no doubt deliberately) is that such a happy fate may well be in store for Cvstos' current slew of rather derivative designs. According to this theory, once we reconcile ourselves to the blatant design similarity with another famous brand, we will start to notice and appreciate the unique points of difference which make a Cvstos watch desirable in its own right.

Trouble is, i'm having difficulty right now in seeing what those unique points of difference might be. Ah well, that's just me - I know someone who bought a pricey rose gold Cvstos right off the shelf, just like that, simply because he liked the look, the heft, and the quality of it. (I thought it impolite to enquire whether he had inspected any RMs before he pulled the trigger on his Cvstos...)

Certainly i'm impressed at Messrs. Sirmakes and Terranova's gumption in throwing themselves in to the deep end of the complication pool, with minute repeaters, integrated chronographs, tourbillons and the like. So long as those complications actually work, the standard of finishing continues to improve, and (most importantly) they start to find their way with truly original designs and concepts, I wish them the very best of luck.

Cheers
Tony P

Well the thing is...

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-06:12

The current products are good. From what I have seen, Cvstos doesn't need to improve its finishing or construction, rather it needs to maintain it. Of course it can be better, think Patek or Chopard LUC, but that is the nth degree of mass produced fine finishing that is achieved only by a handful of firms. Truth be told, the movement finish on the entry level Cvstos watches exceeds that of the entry level Richard Mille - the RM010 and RM011 though the RM011 is not entry level price - but of course Richard Mille wins hands down on originality.

- SJX

I disagree.

 
 By: ThomasM : December 24th, 2008-11:43

Hi, SJX,

I haven't seen the latest products or production, so my comments in this context may well be malapropos, but the Cvstos pieces I have seen are acceptable and interesting if inextricably tied to the qualifier, "for their price." But remove that qualifier context, and I would hardly compare the CLASSICAL (ie, using classical standards) finishing levels with PP or Lange; not even AP or VC.  Certainly not KV or PD. 

RM models (especially their "entry level" models based on Vaucher movements) essentially sidesteps this issue entirely - there is no "classical finishing" (whereas the Cvstos pieces I've seen do, even in the pieces depicted in this thread - bevels, edges, large expanses of flat surfaces with graining, etc.)

So comparing the two is a bit of a red herring, in my very humble opinion...(obviously I don't imply an "intention" with that red herring comment...)

TM

Cvstos doesn't need to improve its finishing or construction?

 
 By: ling5hk : December 24th, 2008-16:56

Hi SJX,

With all due respect, I can't agree with your above statement.

Let's put aside the issue as to whether Cvstos is similar (some says copycat) to RM or otherwise.  When I held Cvstov, it gave me hefty feel but certainly not refined finishing.  It has long way to go to improve its finishing to that of RM's standard.  Again, I will put aside the issue of reliability of both watches for the time being.

My honest view is that Cvstos may be (I said may be because I am not sure but I think it is quite likely) digging its own grave by moving to close to RM and it becomes the shadow of RM.  Whether you like it or not, Cvstos has been crowned by the small community here as the "poor man RM".  To me, only rich "poor man" can afford Cvstos.

I like to see the rise of a new brand with a totally new idea on their work.  Sad to say, I have yet to see that or the so-called  originality in Cvstos.

 

Regards

Ling

ThomasM and Ling, we are referring to different watches...

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-18:57

When I wrote about Cvstos not needing to improve its finishing, I was referring mainly to its Concept S watches, which I understand will become the flagship collection.

I do agree the most common Cvstos watches, ETA-equipped and thoroughly uninspired, are in fact not that well made, even for the price. The newer line is excellent, and while it is hard to tell from my photos (lighting in the restaurant was terrible and I had no lightbox), the movement finishing is good.

- SJX

That's some great...

 
 By: DRMW : December 24th, 2008-19:23
Hello SJX,

That's some great pics if you took them with only the restaurant lighting!  Very impressive.  You must be taking lessons from AnthonyT as he does some amazing photos with the worst possible lighting conditions!

Thanks for the scoop on Cvstos!

Happy Holidays SJX!

-MW

If you look VERY closely you can see the floral pattern on the white tablecloth

 
 By: SJX : December 24th, 2008-19:33

No shots of the dim sum though. smile

Merry Christmas!

- SJX

C'mon SJX!

 
 By: DRMW : December 24th, 2008-19:35
You had delicious Dim Sum and you didn't take pics for the WFED forum???? LOL

Now I can't wait to check out

 
 By: Jester : December 26th, 2008-13:40
these Concept S lines of watches at my dealer given this bold statement from you! Merry Christmas!

Recently we have seen quite a few new

 
 By: Geo : December 24th, 2008-06:44
watch companies that WERE able to start from scratch
and develop a watch without other brands DNA.

Urwerk, Vianney Halter, Hautelence, Greubel Forsey, Vianney Halter, Sarpaneva and Kari Voutilainen f.i..

Cystos had a shameless start and is not worth mentioning.
If one bares in mind that they have Watchland behind them, these gentlemen could have come up
with something more original.
Sorry not to be more positive. But stealing design concepts makes me furious.
Geo

I'm intrigued by the level of disagreeableness, Geo . . .

 
 By: Dr No : December 24th, 2008-11:21

. . . for even though it's certainly true that RM created perhaps the only truly original marque in recent memory, their level of originality in nominal aesthetic terms is not deeply profound - after all, there are scads of barrel-shaped designs littering the history of watchmaking. RM's claim to fame lies in the fusion of technically purposeful mechanics with an aesthetic that mimics scientific instrumentation; the shape and construction of their cases are derived empirically as well (at least, that's my understanding), and it is the cumulative effect of technically pertinent mechanics combined with purely functional form that create the basis for RM's claim to fame. The superficial similarities between RM and Cvstos designs are just that - superficial. I don't think anyone feels that Cvstos is anything other than purely derivative . . . they may well be a success, but few will ever accord any significance to them other than what is their due as a copycat. Cordially, Art

Ironically, I'm again in the awkward position of ...

 
 By: ThomasM : December 24th, 2008-11:36

"apologizing" (in the classic greek sense) for positions which may or may not coincide with how I personally feel...

Hi, Geo, Art,

Geo, interestingly, you mention Vianney Halter. I wonder in what aspect you include Vianney here? (I love Vianney's work, and I have a deep affection for the man, eccentricities and all) Not to be coy, but I am a bit confused given that most of his "designs" were essentially "commissions" to "fill" Jeff Barnes designs, if I understand the history correctly?

Art, "RM created perhaps the only truly original marque in recent memory" is also an interesting remark. RM certainly has achieved an importance and respect as a marque far outsized from it's commercial import, from a number of pieces and overall quantitative output standpoint, but I would hardly use the terms "only truly original marque in recent memory."

Urwerk comes to mind; Greubel-Forsey as well.

 

I'd be very interested to read the parameters around which you base this comment (not disagreeing with it, just curious to understand more.)

I see Cvstos as being derivative of RM designs as Hublot is of the AP Offshore - either you see it, or you don't.

I don't pretend to know the "real" inspiration behind both, my feelings (such as they are) are based strictly on "observation" and feeling, which seems is about the standard that is being applied in most discussions of this sort.

Cheers,

TM

;-) . . . well, I did cover myself with the qualifying 'perhaps' . . .

 
 By: Dr No : December 24th, 2008-12:03

. . . that preceded my statement, but you're right, Thomas, in assuming that I'd neglected both Urwerk and G-F in my thoughts when I was composing my reply. Urwerk is certainly a highly original marque at the same level as RM in my humble opinion, and G-F is as well, although not to the same extent, as they share a podium with a few contemporaries [Prescher, Muller] . . . they might enjoy the highest level on that podium (a matter I'm not going to even attempt to assess), but I wouldn't consider them as exclusive progenitors of a genre, as RM certainly qualifies. Cordially, Art

curious, Art...

 
 By: ThomasM : December 24th, 2008-12:18

can you be a little more specific about "genre?"

With G-F, I'm pretty sure you mean "multi-axis tourbillon" (and if so, in fact, they are the first, even if not by brand; guess who was responsible for the original FM MAT?...) but I'm not sure what you mean with RM and Urwerk. RM and Urwerk are distinguished by their almost unique case designs (not the broad general silhouette, which you rightly point out is well established in the case of the tonneau shaped RM, but in the details...an RM is definitely immediately identifiable, to my eyes, and in a way not done before. Same with the Urbwerk...) and to a certain extent, their movement executions (in the case of RM, thanks to, mostly, Renaud et Papi; the Vaucher based movements are on an entirely different level, sophistication and design wise...)

Not being argumentative, I don't have a dog in this fight, as they say, but I'm always curious to explore the underlying assumptions in statements like these.

Cheers,

TM

Where Urwerk is concerned, Thomas, I would accord them the same . . .

 
 By: Dr No : December 24th, 2008-13:08

. . . level of respect for originality as RM due to their uncanny parallels of fusing unique case designs and mechanical innovation to create entirely new genres; neither has a precedent when viewed in total, even though there are certainly critical aspects of both that existed prior to their respective appearances. The cause for my neglect of Urwerk in my original reply to Geo is simply a matter of personal indifference to the product . . . their creations simply do not resonate with me as do RM's. I have a mountain of respect for Urwerk, but little affection . . . with RM, their adherence to classic design frameworks that concomitantly encompass truly original design formulas makes them a potentially great marque that will be viewed in decades to come in the same light as the great established houses of watchmaking. I'm not sure that Urwerk has that same potential . . . that's the seminal reason for not listing them initially. Re G-F and multi-axis tourbillons: I was under the impression that Prescher was a contemporary . . . am I mistaken about this, too? Frankly, I either forgot that Forsey was behind the Muller MAT, or more likely, never even realized it. Cordially, Art

Thomas Prescher is a lone wolf and the public appearance of his pieces

 
 By: ThomasM : December 24th, 2008-16:04

in the MAT genre is pretty much contemporaneous with the others; he was indeed a pioneer in this field (which latterly included the beautiful gyrotourbillon, an Eric Coudrey conception and execution, if I'm not mistaken)

Whether someone ORIGINALLY was the well spring for all the latter conceptions and executions, I'll leave that to the historians and and journalists and principals to duke it out...

Horological WWE, anyone?

;-)

TM

ps: I understand your point about remembering those that appeal to one's sensibilities, "historical" trivia notwithstanding. And we don't even have to agree for this to happen!

smile

At least one progenitor!

 
 By: Gary G : December 25th, 2008-20:36

I for one, still find it cool that after 500 years of watches, KV was the first one to come up with the idea of a decimal repeater -- would love to know of an earlier example, but I'm not aware of one.

Then there's Volker and the hard linkage of seconds hand to minute-hand position (if he can get it to production)...

At least one other that I was thinking of when I started typing this, but it's slipped my mind! (advancing age coupled with Christmas dinner wine, I suppose!).  Oh yeah -- the JLC use of the "third face" of the Reverso cradle to contain a perpetual calendar display fueled with a single pusher from the main Reverso case.  I have a professional interest in these moments of orthodoxy-breaking insight, and would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of the JLC design team when someone came up with that one.

I actually asked Kari how he came up with the decimal repeater idea, and he said that he didn't remember!  I'm guessing that modesty was at play, but would welcome any other reports/insights on this one.

I also find the Halter Barnes story interesting and little-explored -- almost as if it didn't really happen, although it clearly did!

Best,

Gary G

I know the idea was being explored by at least one other company many years ago...

 
 By: ThomasM : December 25th, 2008-21:28

but since they didn't release it before Kari, they have asked me to keep the information non-public.

I seem to recall a/some vintage/antique pocketwatch repeaters being "decimal" but don't specifically remember which.

I'll bring the subject up again if any of the above changes (ie, I'm given permission to share who was working on it, or if I remember which vintage/antique repeater had it.)

TM

Thanks, Thomas

 
 By: Gary G : December 25th, 2008-21:42

It's one of those elegant ideas that in retrospect seems so obvious that I'd be interested in learning more if future events permit.

In the meanitme, all the best wishes for your health and happiness -- I'm sure that you know that many people, myself included, care sincerely about you and your well-being.

With warm regards,

Gary

Thanks, Gary, and thanks to all the very, very kind people who have

 
 By: ThomasM : December 25th, 2008-21:46

sent the thoughtful private emails; my email server (Blackberry) is still a bit wonky, so my apologies if I didn't reply to each and all of you, but know that I appreciate all the kind thoughts and remembrance.

TM

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