Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Few Minutes with Martin Pauli

Those of you in the US are familiar with the "most interesting man in the world" Dos Equis commercials.
Well, I can safely say without fear of contradiction - Martin Pauli has proven to be THE most interesting interview I've had in the past three years of the Tempus Fugit blog. 
Courtesy of Martin Pauli
Designer, artist, writer, traveller and dare I say it, "appreciater of life"!

And now, a few minutes with man behind Angular Momentum, Martin Pauli - quite possibly the Watch World's Most Interesting Man!
Tempus Fugit - What was your first watch?  Was it a gift?  Is there a story behind it?

Martin Pauli - The first watch I received from my uncle in Denmark when I was 10 years old or so. Since he was wearing his watches on the right wrist I also did it and still do.

TF - When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you "grew-up"?

MP - Honestly spoken I never had any dream about the future I always lived in the presence. 14 day before I left school I even didn’t know where to go. Fortunately my parents took care and finally they managed me to start an apprenticeship as a display artist.

TF - Where did you go to school?  What did you study?

MP - I grew up in my parent’s house overlooking the river Aare, in the middle of nature but only 5 minutes away from the city of Bern, where I went to school.

After nine years of primary and secondary school I began an apprenticeship in a department store in Bern, which was famous for its shop windows at that time. Beside the apprenticeship and training I attended the school of arts and crafts in Bern.

After I finished the apprenticeship, like all Swiss men I had to complete my military service.
After I completed my military service I returned to the department store and made a quick career advancement from display artist to chief display artist to the art director to the marketing director to the deputy managing director of the retail store chain! 

And then I decided to leave the department store business after a few years being a board member of the department store company holding company. At that time – I was around 32 - I decided that retail was not my life.

So I founded my own company for project development. Over a period of years I had the chance to help create and realize some National exhibitions for Federal offices and International exhibitions for other customers, developed restaurants and specialty stores, made some experimental objects for McDonalds, and worked on project developments for shopping centers and the like.

TF - How did you become involved in the watch industry in the first place?

MP - One day I was given a job by the office of economic support of the Canton of Solothurn to help some guys developing a watch brand around a patent concerning revolving disks.
That was my first involvement in the watch industry. It took me around a year to develop the brand including the name (Angular Momentum), the logo and the product design.

Finally the person in charge of the office couldn’t raise the sufficient funds to help the guys starting up the project and of course I couldn’t be paid for my work.

However, I kept the concept as my property and founded the Angular Momentum watch brand in 1998.
Since I didn’t know much about watches, I worked with OEM manufacturers and honestly speaking, it was the beginning of a terrible nightmare that did not end until 2004, when I decided to stop working with suppliers and to do things myself.
The funds to start this quite expensive production came from a dealer in Japan who has sent me a substantial order.

TF - You are known as a one of the truly independent watch makers out there.  
Was this always the plan?

MP - In the beginning my plan was to build up a watch brand and maybe to sell it one day.
But already in 2000 the watch industry went through heavy changes, the demand for mechanical movements increased tremendously, lead times for movements went from 3 weeks up to 13 months and to make it round, Mr. Hayek decided to stop selling movements to third companies.

Then a heavy crisis took place after 9/11 and it took the industry years to sell out their stocks.
After a few years business increased again and the big groups started to purchase the best suppliers in Switzerland for screws, dials, hands, case making and so on which again made it difficult to work. As an example; lead times for screws went up to 48 weeks in 2004. I still remember a little story: One day Peter Baumberger of Urban Jurgensen stopped by my atelier completely flipped out. He had to wait 40 weeks for screws he had ordered for his new movement and as they arrived they had to be returned because the quality was not good enough.

However one day I had to decide to change something and to go the way of doing things by myself.

JH - More than just watchmaking (as if that wasn't enough) you seem to be a truly creative person.  What other arts do you pursue?

MP - During my apprenticeship I have learned to create and produce things for shop window designs, from a three meter high Styrofoam statue of a Ganesha made for a Sri Lanka promotion to a double size copy oil painting of a Monet original painting. Also during my apprenticeship I took courses for graphic design, scientific drawing, engraving and more. From 1980 to 1987 I worked as a custom knife maker as a passion and had the chance to exhibited my work at many knife shows around the world.
Courtesy of Martin Pauli
I stopped knife making after CNC machines appeared in the industry. Then I focused on jewelry making and metal working. This ultimately was the foundation that enabled me to manufacture a complete watch with my own hands. Today I am intensively studying crafts like “Urushi” Japanese lacquer and am in continuous contact and exchange with various lacquer artists in Japan. Recently I have also started making pottery on a potter’s wheel.

TF - Where did your interest in Japan and its arts come from?

MP - My first contact with Asia was when I was very young and became interested in martial arts. I studied Taekwondo in Bern at the Dojang of Kim Myung Soo who was the highest authority and technical instructor of WTF at that time. Unfortunately he passed away in 1994. Already a few years before, I decided to stop training in Taekwondo and to swap over to Kendo.

Already when I was making knives I became attentive to Japan and its exceptional knives and especially swords and sword fittings and the exceptional quality and beauty of Japanese arts & crafts.

In 1992 by accident I discovered a rare Japanese traditional art "Suiseki".
Courtesy of Martin Pauli
Suiseki is called the “Japanese art of stone appreciation”. Its simply collecting natural stones, which suggest landscapes, scenes of nature or religious personages, and to decorate them in the Tokonama in combination with scrolls and other matching objects. It is a highly complicated art that still keeps me excited today. However, to learn more about this art I had to study Japanese to be able to read books and catalogues on the subject and soon I went to Japan where I met Mr. Matsuura Arishige, the president oft the Nippon Suiseki Ky├┤kai who became a friend and my teacher. Since then I find myself traveling to Japan as often as my work allows me to. I write articles on Suiseki for International magazines and travel around the world to give lectures on Suiseki and the Japanese view of nature.

TF - You seem to be one of the few enterprises out there not living in fear of a shortage of movements.  In fact, it seems that you are a bit of a "green" watch maker in that you seek out "old" or discontinued movements.  What are the advantages of this?

MP - Switzerland has not developed the watch but has developed and refined the industrialized production of watch movements. In 1793, the Fabrique d'Horlogerie Fontainmelon FHF made its first steps toward high quality mass production of watch movements followed by A. Schild, Eterna, Unitas, Peseux, Valjoux and countless other specialized movement manufacturers. Already in 1900 FHF had produced 1’000’000 movements per year sold to Tissot, Tudor, Girard Perregaux, Bulova, Dugena, Longine, Elgin, Gruen and hundreds of other watch companies.

In 1980 the so called Quartz crisis hit Switzerland and hundreds of watch and supplying companies closed down, and thousands of people lost their jobs. The government then decided to unite the most important movement manufacturers, among them FHF, A. Schild, ETA Eterna, Unitas, Valjoux, Peseux to become the Ebauche SA. Later, after Mr. Hayek had purchased it, the company was renamed ETA SA and again later to the Swatch Group.

However, the entire knowledge of 200 years of industrialized movement manufacturing has remained in the Swatch group, and it is therefore hard to understand that the Federal Competitive Committee accepts the decision of the Swatch Group to stop delivering movements to third party companies because it is obviously a strategic decision and another step to control the market.

In the past few years I have invested all my funds in buying high quality historical movements and I know that there are still many around.

It is important to know that these movements were manufactured in the golden era of Swiss Watchmaking, let’s say between 1955 and 1980, and are of excellent quality.  Sometimes even better than the movements produced today - and this is not only my opinion. In this era, the manufacturer has had the challenge to make things as good, reliable and durable as possible. Today it seems that things are made as only as good as necessary.
Courtesy of Martin Pauli
TF - Your technique of literally painting the underside of a watch crystal is at once so simple and confounding.  How did you come up with it?

MP - Many years back I became fascinated with glass painting, which is literally a technique of painting with brush and paint on the reverse of glass.

Courtesy of Martin Pauli
 This art was executed in Europe as well as in China especially in the early 19th century. One day while I was in a reverse painting project I looking up a book on painting and painting technique. There I realized that there is a big difference between painting with paint and painting with pigments. Based on this information I found a technique of painting as I do today on the reverse of watch crystals or dials. It is not painting with paint, it is painting or arranging pigments in oil that allows me to produce miniatures completely without disturbing brush strokes.

TF - You are known for doing quite a bit of custom work. What is the most challenging commission you have received?

MP - My most challenging customer was a princess from Saudi Arabia. We met once or twice a year to look up her sketch book to create crazy watches and jewelry. One very challenging commission was a timepiece called Belle Epoque, a watch with digital time display decorated with Belle Epoque style medallion, set with millesgrain and close to 8.000 ct. old cut diamonds.

TF - I realize it might be difficult to choose, but do you have a favorite creation?

MP - I don’t have a favored creation. I am manufacturing 60 to 100 different watches every year and as soon as I have finished a work I am not interested in it anymore because new ideas catching my attention.
Courtesy of Martin Pauli
 My personal watch is a 36.00 mm classic watch with solid mother of pearl dial, diamond polished indexes and historical hand-winding movement.

Who else out there is making watches that interest you?

I am in contact and meet with fellow independent watchmakers once a while like Thomas Prescher, the Groenefelds, Vianney Halter, Kari Voutilainen, Daniel Strom and others. But for me as a watchmaker lesser focused on the complicated movement aspect but on the overall design and Metiers d’Art of a watch I have a deep respect and highly appreciate the watches made by Bovet, on my opinion some of the most beautiful watches I have ever seen. And I like the wonderful and subtle watches of Urban Jurgensen & Soenner but from the time before Peter Baumberger and his master watchmaker Derek Pratt passed away. Today UJ watches are still great from the technical point of view but they completely lack of all the fine aesthetic details that were important not only for Peter Baumberger.

If you weren't doing this, what do you think you might be doing?

Honestly speaking, I have no idea. I have never planned my life and I just try to do what I like to do, what I am best .

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I literally don’t have a "job" and therefore no spare time in the common sense. Watchmaking and the various arts & crafts are my passion. Of coarse I like going out, love fine food, travelling, visiting exhibitions and museums and so on but what keeps me happy is to dive into a new craft or a new project as a few weeks ago when I became interested in Indian miniature painting.

Who is the next "Martin Pauli" out there?

Again a difficult question. I am a very curious person and thirsty for knowledge and my methods for achieving a task are probably very unique. I am never preparing myself and thinking for hours or days before I do something. I just do it and if there is a problem I will find a way to solve it. And I am working very fast.

What advice do you have for aspiring independent watch makers?

I am not a "watchmaker" in the traditional sense. I never learned repairing or making movements though I service and clean the movements that I use form my watches. The classic watchmaker school teaches the basics of watch movement repair but not to make a watch, a watch case or a dial.

Today young watchmaker students aren’t even trained in the  “finissage” of a movement. I heard that Philippe Dufour was "house banned" from watch making school after he went there to give the students a lecture in movement finishing.

Today the industry (particularly) the three big groups Swatch, Richemont and LVHM do not want skilled and curious watchmakers.  They need simple watchmakers who repair and assemble watches for little money. Whatever specialists they need are trained within the company. Some decades ago almost every jeweler and watch retailer had their own watchmaker who repaired and took care of the watches they sold. Today all watches for service and repair have to be sent to the manufacturer because they refuse to supply spare parts. One reason I guess could be, that no person outside the manufacturer process has the chance to see what finally is inside a watch. My advice for ambitious young watchmakers is to try to find a job, even if it is employment that is limited time-wise, or even a non-paid job with one of the independent watchmakers. Thomas Prescher has just employed a very gifted young watchmaker from Denmark. I Also recommend getting a job at one of the few specialized companies like Renaud & Papi specializing in high end movement making for the big brands, where the Groenefeld Brothers have polished their skills

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