Friday, July 21, 2017

In Honor of Belgian National Day

When we think of Belgium our thoughts might first go to:

Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide infoweb

 Or possibly this guy -

Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide infoweb

Or as we are in the final days of the Tour de France -

Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide infoweb
But as this is allegedly a blog about watches, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at two of my favorite watch brands (which just so happen to be based in Belgium) and the guys behind them.

Gavox is the no-longer-small micro brand launched by Michael Happe.  Based in suburban Brussels, Michael has created some truly wonderful watches, and I am the proud owner of two of them.  He has an ability to take the seemingly mundane, and sprinkling in the secret spice that makes the ordinary something special.

In case you missed it, here is a repeat of my interview with Mr. Happe.  This first ran in 2014, about 2 and a half years ago -

A Few Minutes With Michael Happe

Wendy and I had the very good fortune to spend some time with Michael Happe over lunch and a beer in Brussels a few weeks back.  That will be a different post ; )  But that planted the seeds for this interview which you'll find below.  And now, a few minutes with Michael Happe -

Tempus Fugit - What was your first watch?  Was it a gift?  Is there a story behind it?

Michael Happe - My first watch was a Kelton which I received when I was 8.  It was supposed to be water resistant to 25 meters  and I loved it.  However from time to time, when I went swimming with it, water leaked in.  This is when I started getting a closer look at the movement. 

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

MH - I wanted to be a pilot and Astronaut.  The sky, space and sciences were great sources of inspiration for me and are still today. 

TF - What did you study in school?

MH -I graduated from university with a Diploma in Agricultural Engineering.  I loved my studies and learned so much. I do believe this is one of the best programs if you want to study all science topics. 

TF - What got you into the world of watches in the first place?  

MH - At the age of twelve I discovered the LCD and Quartz revolution and started collecting watches.  Later the mechanical watches caught my attention. And now it is a dream to make my own watch brand. 

TF -  So what is the idea behind GAVOX?

MH - My aim is to make technical and ergonomic watches that are easy to use and possessing useful functions.  Moreover, to offer this at the best quality for a fair price.  I offer watches in three categories: higher (aviation and space exploration) farther  (land and see exploration) and deeper 
(ocean and depth exploration) .

TF - I know that it is hard for a "father" to choose his favorite "child", but which is your favorite GAVOX?
MH - This is a difficult question for me to answer.  On one hand it would be the Gavox Squadron as this was born from a collaboration with the Belgian Air Force and myself, and I am so pleased that many pilots wear these watches with pride.
Courtesy of Gavox

Courtesy of Gavox
On the other hand I love the Gavox Legacy Navy, my first automatic watches with a lot of hidden detail to look at.

TF - What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far?

MH - My biggest challenge was and is the creation of the 
Gavox Aurora. This watch will bring some real innovation and I challenged many suppliers to produce the best parts that they could. This watch will be very innovative and unique. 

TF - What has been the most successful GAVOX model? 

MF - The Gavox Legacy Collection is very successful.  I often receive happy customer feedback telling me the watch is better in real life than in pictures.

TF - What is your strongest market?

MH - Europe and all English speaking countries. I sell mainly through my web shop to clients who want something unique that is offered in small series. 

TF - Who else out there is making watches that interest you? 

MH - I love all smart and simple innovations like Oris has made with the Big Crown ProPilot and Aquis Depth Gauge.  I appreciate the people who have managed to get mechanical and simple devices to measure altitude and depth in a watch.  I also love many of the watches from Sinn and Nomos.

TF - Having visited Belgium recently I was surprised by what a "watch place" it was.  Has it always been this way?

MH - Belgium was always kept in the shadows regarding watches with very talented people working in Switzerland after a good watch study scholarship in Belgium.  However in terms of Belgian watch brands it mainly took at new turn in 2005 with Icewatch.  Today  We have great watch maker full of ideas in Benoît Mintiens with his great brand Ressence.

TF - I understand that you have a few "famous" customers, can you tell us a bit about some of your more "well-known" GAVOX clients?

MH - James, I understand your curiosity ;-)  Out of respect of my customers, I can't disclose this type of information.

TF - Please tell us about your partnership with some of Belgium's flying squadrons.

MH - It started with my passion for aviation, I was a glider pilot and was trained on a Cessna.  I have many good friends who are pilots who flew in the Belgian Air Force some years ago.  They introduced me to two Belgian squadrons and we developed a watch that fit their needs and specifications. Their logos have been integrated on the dial and case back of the Gavox Squadron. 

TF - What do you like to do in your "down time"? 

MH - The first thing I like to do is to take some time with my wife and children, playing board games, visiting museums and going on city trips.  I love meeting new people and discovering new culture.  I also have other passions like volleyball, whisky, folding knives and art.

TF - What advice do you have for the aspiring watch "start-up"? 

MH - Stick to your dreams and face the challenge, it will only make you stronger.  Ask advise but follow your instinct.  If you believe in your product your will reach your client .  Good Luck and have fun!
But wait, there's more!  Another interesting guy doing interesting things is the man behind Ressence, Benoît Mintiens.  Here is a repeat of my conversation with him from 2011 -

A few minutes with Benoît Mintiens

One of the most talked about people at BaselWorld this year was the creator of the Ressence watch.

So now, a few minutes with Benoît Mintiens -

James Henderson - What was your first watch, was it a gift? Is there a story behind it?

Benoît Mintiens - My first watch that i can remember was probably a transparent Swatch. It worked for 6 months I think.  I found it very fun to see the components... but my first love was the Bulova Accutron Space view.  It is such a beautiful concept to give time with a wavelength!

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

MB - It was only at the age of 18 that I discovered that design was a profession.  Before that I thought of being an engineer or something.  As a kid I used to design things all the time and build them, being an industrial designer was the perfect solution to translate my hobby into a profession.

JH - Where did you go to school, what did you study?

BM - I have a Master degree in Industrial design and a Master in Business administration.  ( 7 years in total... )

JH -  When people think of Belgium, watch making is maybe not the first profession that comes to mind.  How did you get started in the watch industry?
BM - This is a very long story.  I had always been attracted to new watch concepts but was realistic enough not to love them to much. The Ressence project started with a friend who asked me to design a watch with lots of diamonds - but for men.  While working on the project and after TAG Heuer launched their Diamond fiction watch, my friend left for Hong Kong and I was left bitten by the watch virus.  So, I decided to design a watch for me.

JH -  Did you ever consider doing something else for a living?

BM - My job ( the one that pays the bills at the end of the month ) is as a consultant in industrial design.  My work for Ressence is for serious fun!

JH - You've now been at it for awhile.  How is the Ressence brand evolving?

BM - Ressence is a niche product for people that can appreciate the values I have tried to put into the product.  For the moment people are buying a watch concept, to some extent, Ressence is only a name.  The brand will have to build from that.  As this needs huge marketing resources, this will take time.
For the moment my priority is to develop new models.  

JH - Thinking back to the start, were there ever nights where you woke up in a cold sweat, wondering if things would work out?

BM - I still have sleepless nights.  I think it is normal ( I hope )! 
My biggest concern being the difficulty to produce the parts.  
I don't know why but it is very hard to get your parts in time.
And as I'm only starting, I need to go through a learning curve with every step.

JH - What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

BM - The biggest challenge was to create a network of suppliers.
Not being Swiss, not being a watchmaker and not living is Switzerland, I can tell you it is not easy to start for the simple reason that I did not know where the start was...

JH - Having spent a little time by your booth at BaselWorld it seemed as if your watch was one of the hottest things this year - what do you attribute the Ressence's popularity to?

BM - I can not judge because I did not move from my booth.
When I listen to the reactions from people that pass by, they 
usually stop for the unconventional design.  They found it 
attractive and start looking closer. At that point they think the 
watches are fakes/dummies.  In fact they are working models!
I often hear: Oh, the display is printed on the (plexi) glass?  
The ones that know a lot more than me about watches say -
"oh, yeah, I see it's a regulateur but different"...
When they see that the screen they saw, is animated they usually smile.

JH - Who else out there is making watches that interest you?

BM - I'm too much of a Belgian to give names ;-) 

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

BM - Running a design company

JH - What is a typical "day in the life" of Benoit Mintiens?

BM - Are you sure you want to know this?
Get up, get my kids cleaned up, bring them to school, and  go to work.  As a designer I work within a European agency.
I often work for French clients like SNCF, Veolia, RATP.   
But I also do some work for Browning,  Frisk, Thalys, Siemens, Bombardier, etc... 

A project usually starts with the question why, for who and how.
For example, for the moment we are designing the new tram for Basel.   ( yes, in Switzerland )

Depending on the project you need to focus on different aspects.
If you're asked to design a new TGV for SNCF, you first have to think:
How do people what to experience a high speed journey?   What does it mean to be French in a European high speed market? Who are the travelers, what do they need? 
What is their mindset in the morning and in the evening? etc... 

JH -  What do you like to do in your spare time?

BM - For the moment my spare time is reduced to zero because  of my double activity.  But when it is good weather I like is to drive my old-timers. ( after years of working on them... )

JH - What was the inspiration for the Ressence?

BM - This is impossible to say.  Why does anyone have an idea?
One day I just had it (the idea).  What can I say, the guy that can 'generate' idea generation is called God I think?   No?  Essentially, creativity is 5% inspiration and 95% labor.

JH - What advice do you have for the future Benoit Mintiens out there?

BM - I understand this question as "what advice would you give to yourself?"
In the short term, try to stabilize my activities and balance it better.
In the longer term, transform Ressence into a brand.

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