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Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 9:15:43 AM
by grace chen
Oliver and Eva Ebstein, MD and AG chairman of Chronoswiss.
The Swiss successors to a German watch house aim to preserve its identity.
WHEN Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, founder of Chronoswiss AG, sold his company to Swiss couple Oliver and Eva Ebstein in 2012, he did not just say, “Here, give me the money and the company is yours”.
According to current Chronoswiss AG chairman Eva, 33, Lang was very picky about his successors. “When we met him in late 2011, he had already met 10 to 15 interested parties who were willing to buy his company. But he was not certain they could preserve its independence,” she recalls.
In fact, it was Lang who got in touch with the Ebsteins, through their finance consulting firm in Lucerne, in 2011, and when he did, he made clear the last thing he wanted was to sell his beloved manufacture to a big company that might only be interested in buying the brand for its marketability.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see the company grow,” asserts Oliver, 38. Lang just didn’t want mass production lines. For Lang, robots and machines can never challenge the human hand.
Lang started Chronoswiss in his home basement in 1981 in Germany and soon made his name with the Régulateur, a multiple-dialed wristwatch. Like many European watch industry veterans, Lang had a very strong sense of pride. Case in point: In the 1980s, when mechanical watches were almost phased out by the quartz movement, Lang remained steadfast. Instead of following the herd, he set up a repair shop for chronograph watches in his basement. His logic was simple. So what if the quartz movement was at an all-time high? Let’s not forget about a whole generation of people who still used mechanical watches.
By sticking to his guns, Lang found his niche: customising chronograph watches for well-heeled clients. His steadfastness was vindicated, of course, when mechanical movements made a comeback in the late 1980s and Chronoswiss went on to become the success that it is now.
When the Ebsteins met Lang in 2011, he was already 69 and had been in the industry for 30 years. “He was very tired from weathering the ups and downs of the watch industry,” recalls Eva at an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
“In Europe, people generally retire at 65. Lang continued working because he couldn’t find the right successor. He knew his daughter, Natalie, also a watchmaker, would not be able to succeed him. She was a busy mother with two children. When we took over, she just gave birth to her third child,” Eva says.
As new owners of Chronoswiss, the Ebsteins have maintained they will honour Lang’s wishes to continue the company’s tradition of craftsmanship and high-quality mechanical watch components. The company’s latest release, the 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Régulateur is an example. To achieve the blue finish in the leaf-shaped stainless steel hands, for instance, one of the processes is a heat-treatment of 300°C.
Within the two sub dials are chessboard-inspired engravings designed to stand out from another series of barleycorn etchings. These fine decorative patterns formed by a series of interlocking circles are all done by hand and encased in a polished, coin-edged bezel. Anti-reflective sapphire acts as covers for front and back, revealing in the back the watch’s mechanism, which oscillates at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour. Crocodile leather straps with pin buckles or folding clasps are the finishing touches.
So marketwise, what happens to a well-loved watch brand when a different captain takes over the helm? Executive director of Chronoswiss in Malaysia Sharon Lim says, “There will be some initial scepticism but people must understand a brand does not belong to only one person. A lot of brands in the past have changed hands. Hublot and Vacheron Constantin are two examples. They were sold between eight to 20 years ago and today, they are doing well under new owners. In the end, is it about preserving the brand’s DNA.”
Chronoswiss has an 18-year-old history in Malaysia. It was Lim’s father, the head of the Cortina Watch Centre, a Singaporean watch retail house with 25 stores across Asia, who first brought it in. Lim established a personal connection with Lang at the Mustermesse Basel (now known as Basel World, an international watch exhibition in Germany), during the 1990s.
“At that time, Asia was an emerging market. When we brought in Chronoswiss’ style of big watches, the trend was still gaining acceptance in Asia. But it was appreciated by collectors and we rode on that,” says Lim, 47.
Her experience must be reassuring for the Ebsteins – Oliver admits that they are new players in the industry. Still, Oliver is confident Chronoswiss will be able to maintain long-term relevance, especially in the Asian market.
“We will keep to tradition but we will also progress with the times. As you can see, the Régulateur is already into its 30th edition. In the end, the art of maintaining a classic timelessness is to achieve a harmony with subtle modernity,” he says.
Chronoswiss is distributed in Malaysia exclusively through Cortina boutiques located at Fahrenheit 88 and Suria KLCC malls in Kuala Lumpur, Plaza Gurney in Penang, and the Borneo Hypermall in Kota Kinabalu. For further information go to cortinawatch.com.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Chronoswiss, watches, 30th anniversary, Oliver Ebstein, Cortina
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