Ever since Oliver and Eva Maria Ebstein took over Chronoswiss in 2012, they have been busy. They kept the original spirit of the company as it was founded by Gerd Lang, but have made some very interesting, and smart changes. Oliver assumed the role of CEO Chronoswiss but retained Gerd on the board.
Oliver Ebstein, CEO Chronoswiss
Elegant, youthful yet a touch of grey at the temples reveal a sophisticated investor who brings with him commercial street smarts, we found Oliver Ebstein to be extremely personable, charming, easy going and a great conversationalist.
We chatted over many issues, from his take over of Chronoswiss, his views of the brand and its products and how it was then inevitably closely tied with the founder Gerd Lang. We talked about how he kept the DNA and the spirit and ideals set by Lang, but with a new motivation, new direction and renewed energy. We touched on the core values that remain in Chronoswiss – the pursuit of elegant, aesthetically beautiful watches with a focus on the design, with expertise in magnificent guilloché and reviving the lost art of the enamel grand feu. We also briefly touched on the distribution of Chronoswiss worldwide. Welcome and eavesdrop on our conversation.
The Chronoswiss DNA
As an admirer of the brand and its founder Gerd Lang since the 80s, Oliver wanted to keep the key DNA. But as he and his wife were new to the watch industry in 2012, they brought fresh ideas and perspectives. They were previously involved in banking, insurance and pharma. And were deeply rooted in the investment trade. This gave them an interesting business vantage which many, indeed most, independent watchmaking houses lack. With this vantage, they seek to grow the company.
As with the earlier days, Chronoswiss have continued to focus on watches with a high aesthetic beauty while bringing good value for money.
The amazingly proportional and beautiful aesthetics of the case designs from the Lang years remain largely unchanged.
The value for money core value also meant that most of the movements are sourced from outside. Some 30% of the movements are based on their in-house calibers while the rest are sourced mainly from ETA with the ubiquitious 2892, some complication modules from Dubuis Depraz and from Valjoux for chronographs. They also work with La Joux Perret for the development of the large date and GMT modules.
Move to Luzern
One of the interesting things they did was to move the company headquarters from Munich to Luzern, where they are based.
We were curious if that move presented difficulties, as Luzern was known more for its flourishing tourism trade than as a center for watchmaking in Switzerland. Did they have difficulties attracting good watchmakers, both the youthful energetic ones as well as wise experienced hands? Oliver reveals that in fact, it was not an issue. Apparently many skilled watchmakers and tradesmen were very keen to be in Luzern.
The manufacture in Luzern now employs some 40 people directly involved in making the watches. Their focus remain to keep the core DNA of the brand.
Many of these new employees bring a depth of experience never experienced when the manufacture was in Munich. As an example, the enamel grand feu dials are all manufactured in-house since 2013. They managed to hire some experts who were formerly from Fabergé and with the use of old machines create magnificent guilloché dials. They also refined the technique to make beautiful enamel dials with brilliant colours.
Business matters and Chronoswiss markets
Chronoswiss now manufactures some 5000 watches a year, along two collections:
Sirius: Classic, 34mm to 40mm diameters
Timemaster: Sporty, 40/44mm case diameters
Oliver revealed that they currently have 333 doors worldwide, and key markets are Western Europe, principally Germany, Switzerland and Italy, Asia through Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. They are also currently embarking on an aggressive expansion plan to drive market share in the US.
A significant portion of the business is in the custom area, where clients often request for special guilloché designs and patterns. And also in enamel dials which are highly customizable. As the grand feu techniques are in-house, they are able to execute very fine detailing and produce a bespoken product.
With that, we concluded our very interesting conversation. What struck us was the high level of openness and honesty that Oliver brought to the table. Qualities which are unfortunately, not often found in the veterans of watchmaking. He was open in their use of third party movements and specialists. But he also threw light on their in-house capabilities in guilloché and enamel grand feu.
We also appreciate the fresh perspectives he brought while keeping with the traditions and core DNA of the brand. And wish him and Chronoswiss well.