What is luxury? Luxury was the topic of conversation at the lunch we had with Beat Weinmann, CEO and cofounder of the brand Ochs und Junior. The brand’s technology and design maestro, Ludwig Oechslin, recently retired curator of the Musée International d’Horlogerie, was absent for our gastronomical affair, which happened in Lucerne, far, far away from the bustle of Baselworld 2014. Given that the discussion centered on luxury, you may be surprised to know that the Ochs und Junior’s headquarters sits several blocks away from the prestigious retail enclaves near the lake, and appropriate to the minimalist ethos of the brand, the shop/headquarters sits in an unassuming storefront. Inside is a spartan workshop with large tables for viewing Ochs und Junior watches, which as a rule have an unadorned, industrial feel. Where are the fashion models who waited on us in Basel? Where is the champagne? Where are the precious metals, which are polished to within an inch of their lives? In a word, where is the luxury? “Here, have a glass of plain mineral water and take a look at more than meets the eye.”
Despite indications to the contrary, we were looking at luxury: a watch made of rusted metal for a metallurgical tycoon, a calendar watch with enough bright colors as to double for the Brazilian flag, and fanciful choices of other case metals, even some precious metals on the dials. Another notable option was what might be the most durable, water-proof, leather strap available – made of sturgeon. No caviar with Ochs und Junior, just actual sturgeon and compelling conversation over Swiss cuisine. To understand the luxury of this brand is to journey back in time and consider the luxury of owning a watch in the past.
We shared with you our esteem of the rivalry between Henry Graves Jr. and James Ward Packard as it was described in the book, A Grand Complication. Before realizing they were dueling partners, these men, possessed of business acumen and/or engineering skill, conceptualized watches that had never existed before, watches unique to their imagination, and asked watchmakers to build them. Luxury, then, was a bespoke watch from genesis to completion, sometimes including either a trip to Switzerland, or a visit from a Swiss watchmaker bringing you the finished watch. Luxury was a custom-made experience, which included a personal relationship with the watch company.
How personal can luxury be today? Is the term luxury anachronistic or even an oxymoron? We might hear, “We have this watch in a leather strap or a steel bracelet. It also comes in gold, a few in platinum. Yes, there is also a black dial version.” When it comes to the consumer being a part of the creative process and having the watch function as an extension of his imagination, the sales person could shrug his shoulders and suggest adding a rubber strap. In other words, personalized luxury is limited to a few extraneous choices, the same choices everyone else has, and customization has receded mostly to a nostalgic tale of the past. A past, by the way, which established haute horology.
Ochs und Junior accomplishes old-world bespoke luxury. What Ochs und Junior does is couple the legendary watch making capability of Ludwig Oechslin with the personal sales contact of Beat Weinmann. Behind the brand, Ulysse Nardin has a significant financial investment, sharing some movements with Ochs und Junior (or is it the other way around?). Ochs und Junior uses the UN-118 caliber, and Ulysse Nardin uses complications pioneered by Ludwig Oechslin. The relationship is fruitful for all, but especially for the consumer. With Kering Group’s acquisition of Ulysse Nardin, we trust the synergy between all companies will continue. In addition, Ochs und Junior works with the Sauber Formula 1 team to machine and manufacture certain parts. The company has an eclectic approach to delivering luxury.
The above pictured Ochs und Junior Moonphase is a case in point (by the way, it is one of the most accurate moon phase indications ever made, and only with 5 parts… Not bad!). A customer can speak with Beat and share his dreams or venture to the website’s “custom” tab for any of the four models: moon phase, annual calendar, date, or two time zones. This customer had a fanciful color scheme that represents the earth at the center of the dial in green, the sun at twelve o’clock in yellow, and the rotating moon. The moon face further illustrates the customization possibilities. The customer wanted the moon to be luminescent at night, which a solid silver moon couldn’t achieve, and a pure SuperLuminova moon would lack silver’s daytime shine. The solution? Mixing SuperLuminova with silver filings so that at night, the darkness of the silver resembles the craters on the moon. This is but one example of the partnership between Ochs und Junior and the customer. Strap, case, and dial become a playground of dreams. Not only is a one-of-a-kind watch achievable, but old-world luxury lies behind simplicity and unpolished metal. Such is Ochs und Junior.
More about the watches and the Ochs und Junior Headquarters: