Interview with Georg Bartkowiak from Grieb & Benzinger
A private and exclusive conversation with Georg Bartkowiak for Presentwatch
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A conversation with Georg Bartkowiak
We are very proud to publish this interview of Georg Bartkowiak. In addition of being a gentleman and a great human being, he is one of our favorite watchmaker here at PresentWatch - (Luxury watches magazine)
Georg Bartkowiak is in charge of the Design & Marketing, Brand development, and he is also the Managing Partner at
Grieb & Benzinger
PW - Dear Georg, can you describe yourself in a few words?
Georg Bartkowiak: This is quite a tricky question as I do not like to describe myself. However I realize that I am one of these guys which never feel old and still believe I am as young as I feel.
PW - What is you favorite meal, your favorite type of music/artist and your favorite writer?
G.B: My favorite meal was Spaghetti since I was a small boy and I had my first trip to Italy with my parents. It still love it today at my favorite Italian restaurant, however I also love sushi and our really great southern German kitchen and also relax if I can cook for my family and friends.
I have no special taste in Music and listen to the up-to-date hits in the radio, but also enjoy the 80ies and - please do laugh out loud - love to listen the old ABBA hits in the Musical Mamma Mia. Also I am impressed by the classic & pop fusion music which results are sometimes amazing.
PW - Have you always been passionate about watches and watchmaking? Where do you think this passion comes from?
G.B: I grew up on a typical country side school in Southern Germany. However when I changed to an economic high school in Pforzheim in the age of 16/17 I got in touch with the kids from typical Pforzheim jewelry entrepreneurs. (Pforzheim was the German center for jewelry production). I was somehow impressed about students wearing gold jewelry and valuable watches already at school.
As my family`s business was more or less a “dirty” industry (building houses and canals) I was even more impressed by these small values. So my mind changed in this time from becoming an architect and decided to become a watch & jewelry guy. So from that time on my passion for watches got its first heart beats. Of course my father was not happy about that, but accepted that I am not interested in the family business anymore.
PW - Tell us a bit more about G&B, the story and the men behind and how everything started.
G.B: GRIEB & BENZINGER is a double name with three major enthusiastic persons behind:
- Jochen Benzinger is acknowledged as the leading specialist worldwide for hand-skeletonized timepieces and guilloché work. Jochen Benzinger is already in business since 34 years.
- Hermann Grieb is one of only a few watch restoration experts worldwide. He is known as the leading German expert for antique watches and restoration. Hermann Grieb is already in business since 38 years.
- Georg Bartkowiak is a known brand manager and skilled in product and brand CI design. Georg Bartkowiak has been in this business for 20 years.
For many years, Jochen Benzinger and Georg Bartkowiak have manufactured chiefly for big brands such as IWC, Fabergé, Chronoswiss and Tourneau, while Hermann Grieb was active in restoration.
In 2004 Jochen Benzinger (JB) met Hermann Grieb (HG) first time in Austria on “watchmaker wedding” and decided to create watches together in the near future...
In late 2005/early 2006 the first GRIEB & BENZINGER watches with decorate historic movements appeared on the market. With the next years the watches became more complicated until minute repeaters left the workshop. Being a long term business friend of Jochen Benzinger (since 1992) I joined the team in 2007 and took over brand profile and design guide lines and the brand went into its current style and appearance. With my PLATINUM line becoming successful, even more complicated watches left the workshops. In 2010 to restore the old laundry house at “Daetzingen Castle” where Hermann Grieb had originally his watch and clock repair workshop. With that we increased our workshop space for fine watch making and final assembly at Daetzingen Castle, while we kept the existing space in the Pforzheim workshop, where we do the “dirty” jobs such as guilloche and engraving. However, here we have the most impressive collection of functional guilloché machines –worldwide!
In 2011 the BOUTIQUE collection in solid rose gold cases appeared due to high demand for more affordable masterpieces.
PW - What inspire you when you make the design of a new timepiece ?
G.B: Most important is the movement and its functions. Second is the general layout of the baseplate and bridges as this is important to know where we can change the movement, skeleton the plates. Our art of skeletonization is different to the classic Swiss watch making skeletonization. The typical Swiss skeletonization means just to skeleton along the frame of the existing plates design. Our skeletonization change the plates and bridges layout – we create a totally new movement layout.
With that input we (Jochen, Hermann and I) discuss together the technical aspects (especially for the platinum pieces) and the design appearance and how we can adapt a new layout to our typical design. Very often it´s also the customers input. This is sometimes very tricky, as we have to make the customers happy and but still care about the typical Grieb & Benzinger design.
People might be surprised so far, we have done all that work without the help of computers but the classic way, by hand sketches and simply by doing it! And if the result was bad, we had to do it again. The best results have to please your eyes and that can only do the reality – a computer can show ideas but your eyes follows the real appearance, the light break on a material, and the charming overall look.
PW - What were the greatest challenges you faced when conceiving and realizing your pieces and how did you overcome them?
G.B: The greatest challenge was without any doubt the creation of the BLUE WHIRLWIND. This “hyper”-complicated movement was so small in its technical details that it brought more than once a terrible headache to Hermann to realize the technical modifications.
This movement was never designed to get a skeletonized base plate to make the Tourbillon visible from the dial view. We only had exactly ONE try to skeletonize it. One wrong cut and the movement would have been destroyed. However we did every single change step by step, controlling each function several times during modification to avoid any troubles.
Except the skeleton and guilloché works, we also wanted to have a mysterious function – so what is most impressive at a Tourbillon: the Tourbillon function! So we had to find way to have this mysterious function around the Tourbillon. So we decided to exchange the original gold drive wheel for the tourbillon and replaced it by a sapphire wheel. However, bear in mind this wheel had to be 0,2 mm thin only! When we had that wheel done, we realized that it was still 0,05 mm too thick and touched the Tourbillon while being in motion.
Due to construction and space issues, the only reasonable solution was to modify the Tourbillon cage! So as a matter of fact we had too modify the three screws in the Tourbillon cage as well as the base and threads on the opposite site inside the Tourbillon cage for each 0,025 mm! However the result worked fine. It took us about 15 months of high end watchmaking to get that masterpiece done. This specific movement was never made to be modified anymore – however we are more than proud that we have been able to do that. That has shown tremendously the competence of our workshop which made even more collectors being interested in our brand.
PW - How long does it take you to design and manufacture a custom piece from start to finish?
G.B: It depends on the watch series. If we have to produce a watch form the BOUTIQUE line we might be able to supply a watch within 3-4 months.
If a customer wants to get a brand new design, a one-of-a-kind development it might take between 9 and 12 months. This sounds very long, however we have to create a complete new watch including casing. Bearing in mind that a series production in the watch industry takes up to 2 years we are quite happy to do a one-of-a-kind in just half time!
PW - Can you describe a bit the profile of your buyers ?
G.B: Years ago, we made a definition about “the typical customer”. However the years have shown: this was all nonsense. The customers are exactly as our watches: very unique...
The things they have in common are: they love watches and share their watch passion with us and they have a lot of financial freedom to afford also their horological dreams.
We have met old money customers, a lot of self-made customers, doctors, lawyers, industrial entrepreneurs, new economy entrepreneurs, also from music/showbiz.
Where ever they came from, whoever they were, they had all one thing in common: Every single one of them was great to deal with as they do not buy things from us they need for daily living, but we create products for the customer`s heart and therefore we fulfill wishes and make these people happy. And they have shown it - even the toughest business got a peaceful and happy smile in his face when he received ”his” personal tailor made watch.
PW - What is the most unusual request a client has ever asked you for a custom timepiece?
G.B: I like that question, as I get this very regularly. But to be honest, it never happened that we got “these” unusual requests for which we are still waiting for...
PW - What other watchmakers (also independent) do you admire and why? Is there anyone in particular who stands out in your mind as having made a significant contribution to your knowledge and success?
G.B: There are some people which I really appreciate. I only wish to name three as they really impressed me.
One of them is Gerd Rüdiger Lang, founder of Chronoswiss. People do not realize his importance in the watch industry as he was a believer in the mechanical watch even in the dark days. His vision supported the come-back of mechanical watches. I met him early in my career when I still was a greenhorn. But Mr. Lang did never treated me as a greenhorn but I guess he realized my talent and he had more than once helping advices for me.
Another one – not as famous as G.R. Lang was a watch maker I worked with in the mid/late 90ies: Horst Wegwert, former IWC technical director. He was also involved in the first titanium watch developments for IWC and Porsche design. He taught me things you will not get to know at any watch making school and he brought me first in touch with hand engraved movements… an input that is still one of my guides in cooperation with my today`s partners.
But, it´s not all about watch making. It´s also about the way to interact with your business friends and suppliers, and that leads to F.A. Porsche who I got to know in the late 90ies, when Porsche Design by IWC was an established brand. He was an example of perfect business behavior to business contacts even if he was one of “the famous families”, never arrogant, always a down earth Gentleman with an open ear for young talents and a good sense of humor.
PW - Out of all the timepieces you have ever made, which is your favorite and why?
G.B: This is very hard question: I have made so many watches since I stared in 1992. And every new “icon” was important for me and my development.
However there was one watch which I got commissioned for the Sultan of Brunei in the mid/late90ies. I created a design in the national colors with dark red enamel dial in a 18K yellow gold case and yellow alligator strap with red stitching. The box was a huge box shaped as “treasure box” covered with yellow leather and red alligator straps to close it. The Sultan liked the design but did not buy the watch as it was YG which he is not allowed to wear due to his religion. However I was asked to sell the box as he liked it a lot…. I love this story as it was my very first VIP watch.
But going back to the present: the BLUE WHIRLWIND one of our latest masterpieces is a watch that will always be in the top three of my favorite watches as it has shown what we really can do. And even collectors that did not notice us before, realized us since that days.
This watch is also the guide to a new Grieb & Benzinger era...
PW - What are your plans for the next 6-12 months?
G.B: We are going to expand our white gold designs in the BOUTIQUE line due to tremendous demand. We are going to present the “Grey Tulip” in Q1/2013 also a grey POLARIS both in 18K white gold.
The PLATINUM line will get a tremendous input. So far we have just used historic movements for our one-of-a-kind watches. However form 2013 on we will also use contemporary movements. We have found great suppliers which are going to produce amazing ebauches for us. So we will appear in due course with a new Minute-Repeater with flying Tourbillon. Of course this will not be the only 2013 surprise, just wait and see.
PW - Presentwatch is planning to launch a new concept, called « secret sales », to promote unique timepieces/masterpieces and put in relations watchmakers and watch collectors? Do you like this concept, would you be interested in being part of it?
G.B: This is a concept according to my taste. Please keep me informed about that. It will be a pleasure for me to be part of it!
Thank you Georg Bartkowiak from Grieb & Benzinger!
GRIEB & BENZINGER - Schloss Daetzingen - D 71120 Grafenau - www.grieb-benzinger.com