Last year saw the introduction of the Old Mind, a beautiful tourbillon watch with a hand-guilloché dial and immaculate finishing. It was made by two young watchmakers who recently founded their own company, called Van Bricht. Visiting their workshop, one can’t help but fall in love with their enthusiasm. In the Wallon countryside, three young men are living their dream in a converted garage. With ancient machinery, old methods, bright new ideas and a fridge full of Belgian beer and watch fluids.
There is nothing really memorable about the garage in which Van Bricht decided to start making watches. Yet, at the end of my visit, Bernard van Ormelingen (22) says to his colleagues and me: ‘we are creating memories here. In ten years’ time, we’ll say: this the place where it all started’. Bordeaux has its ‘garage wines’… Belgium has ‘garage watchmaking’ (and in both cases, that’s not a bad thing, at all).
As I arrive, the mood is up, and the guys are genuinely excited. They have big news to share: ‘We’re going to Baselworld this year. With our own stand at the fair, in Les Ateliers!’
It is a milestone for this young company. Bernard van Ormelingen and Sébastien Lambricht started the Van Bricht company in 2019 and called it after their own last names. Although it may sound quite Dutch (or Flemish), their garage is on Wallonian soil (the French-speaking side of Belgium), in a village called Louvrange, about 30 kilometres south-east of Brussels. The young watch company introduced its first watch in the summer of 2019, a beautifully finished piece called ‘Old Mind’.
Old Mind, classic watchmaking
The specs on this watch reveal a lot about what Van Bricht stands for. The design is classic yet modern and made with old techniques. It has a white bleached (so not painted!) silver dial, a steel polished and brushed 40mm case with almost no bezel and a beautiful leather strap that was handmade in Italy. The movement features a tourbillon that was bought from BCP tourbillon in La Chaux-de-Fonds. But, as van Ormelingen assures me, ‘everything is remade from a to z. All the conception is done in Belgium. The bridges, the baseplate, the adjusting, the hammering, it’s all done by us.’
The founders got to know each other at the watchmaking school of Namur. Lambricht is specialized in casing and movements. To say that van Ormelingen is specialized in decoration and computer design is somewhat of an understatement. He is pretty much obsessed with it. During my visit at their garage-manufacture, he spent most of the time adjusting and readjusting his 120-year-old, 700-kilo Lienhard guilloché machine. He restored it himself with some help from his father and grandfather after he acquired it some years ago in Canada. ‘It was shipped to America before the first world war, and came back two years ago.’
Top-level finishing and decorating
The Van Bricht Old Mind Tourbillon is available with two different guilloché patterns (moiré and barleycorn), both of which are equally mesmerizing. And 100% hand-made by Van Ormelingen on one of his two ancient Lienhard machines. This is one of their signatures, he tells me. ‘The guilloché pattern is centred around the tourbillon in our watches. Normally, a guilloché (…) is centred in the middle of the dial.’
Turning the watch over, the magic continues. Somehow, the men succeeded in placing the glass caseback very close to the movement (with just 0.003mm between the movement and the glass), which gives a stunning view of the movement. Van Ormelingen uses different techniques to decorate the calibre, but most striking is the hammering with a special trident tool. The bleaching of the silver dial is done the traditional way: with acid. This guarantees a deeper silver-tone and adds credibility to the name Old Mind.
A lot of the polishing is done by a third companion, Guillaume Melin. The result of his work is a number of black-polished parts and very finely detailed pieces. He uses different materials and techniques, from boxwood to copper and steel to do the polishing. ‘It is all handwork, the traditional way, all the way down to the last micron. I’m constantly checking and polishing with my eyes and pure fingerspitzengefühl (instinct). The screws, hands, bridges, they’re all done by hand. This just gives us the best results,’ he says. His work is best seen in the large open-worked tourbillon aperture at 6 o’clock and on its cage.
The watchmaking department of Van Bricht measures a few square metres. But the atmosphere is relaxed, and although it is Saturday afternoon at the time of my visit, the three men are working mostly in silence. In one of the corners, I spot a small photo frame holding a sketch. Van Ormelingen jumps up happily and starts telling enthusiastically. ‘With this very sketch, everything started.’ It was made early in the morning, after a long night of conversation about watches, the evening they decided to start their own brand.
Against all odds
Both Van Ormelingen (22) and Lambricht (30) are still quite young. And they come from Belgium. Both of these facts haven’t really helped them, they tell me. When they made a trip through Switzerland in search of suppliers, they weren’t always taken seriously. Even the watch school they came from was sceptical about their ideas. ‘There was some envy. They didn’t believe we did all this finishing and guilloche ourselves. They asked us for the waste chips of the dial to prove we actually did it by hand.’ (In an earlier conversation I had with Bernard, he told me even his parents were pretty much against it).
It also makes it harder to get clients for their timepieces. ‘Some customers were really interested’, they tell me. ‘But they not decided to buy because they thought we were too young to invest in. I understand that, but we don’t care. We’re happy and proud to do this. And the best reply we can give is our product.’
The current sales numbers of Van Bricht are nothing to worry about, though. At the moment of my visit, they had made about nine watches of the ‘Old Mind’ series, with some others still in production. They also produce completely bespoke watches, which are made to order. ‘At the moment, the waiting time is about 4-5 months. That is about the time we need to produce the pieces. By the time Baselworld comes, we hope to have sold out the first series.’
One can’t help but notice that these guys are dead serious about watches. They actually have patents pending for both their casing system and a new buckle. ‘Normally, a watch strap wears out quite quickly because of the way everyone straps their watch to the wrist,’ Van Ormelingen says. ‘So we invented a slightly longer buckle that eliminates that problem.’ A minor detail, sure, but it shows their watchmaking-heart is in the right place. Real watchmakers care about those details.
The Old Mind costs a serious EUR 45,000, and that might still be the biggest hurdle for these young watchmakers. It’ll be difficult to compete in that segment, as they’ve positioned themselves between the greatest watch companies in the world and the established independents. Even an entry-level Laurent Ferrier is cheaper (though, without tourbillon).
Dreaming in Wallonia
Nothing in the landscape surrounding the manufacture-garage suggests that watchmaking would be a good idea here. It is not inspiring at all, to be honest. But inside their workshop, and their minds, things are completely different. It feels a bit like these men have embarked on their own dreams, and they completely forgot about the outside world. ‘We had a dream, and just went with it,’ Van Ormelingen says. ‘We thought, well, if it doesn’t work out, at least we have a really great watch for ourselves’.
For the moment, their entire production capacity is working on the 25 pieces of the Old Mind. But new plans are in the making. ‘First, we need to sell all of our watches, and then we will buy new machinery. The goal is to make as many parts as possible by ourselves. We already have a great idea for our next piece. Although, to be honest, we’re not sure yet if it will even work the way we’ve got it in our minds. We’re going to find out.’
At the end of my visit, the guys open their fridge. Next to a couple of packaged watch oils, they keep a couple of beautiful Belgian beers and some lost Coronas. While they open their beers (Bertinchamps Brune and Triple, look it up and try!), their enthusiasm is irresistible. ‘This is a big adventure. Every watchmaker dreams of creating his own watch. But we’re actually doing it. We are just living our own dreams.’
More details at www.vanbricht.com.