Monday, June 18, 2018

A Few Minutes with Michiel Holthinrichs

One of the true pleasures of writing about watches is meeting the people behind them.  A little over a year ago, I got to meet Michiel Holthinrichs, the creator of the truly beguiling Holthinrichs watches.  Like many people with innovative ideas - such as using 3D printing technology to "build a better mousetrap", Michiel came to the watch world from outside.  And perhaps that is why his vision was perhaps a little bit clearer and he was better able to see opportunities where others had not.

And now, a few minutes with Michiel Holthinrichs -

Courtesy of Holthinrichs
James Henderson -
What was your first watch?  Was it a gift?  Is there a story behind it?

Michiel Holthinrichs -
My first “real” watch was an Omega pocket watch from 1929. During the early years of my studies I became interested in style and classic clothing, and how beautifully (hand made) details can enhance your appearance and sense of quality.  I thought that the perfect accessory would be a classic pocket watch, with a nice chain decorating a tweed vest.  I ordered it through Ebay, and as soon as I received it, and opened the back, I fell in.. I think, love. By now, I can really say it completely changed my life, as it had a great impact on my later decisions, and the things I find important in life.  That particular watch, I will never sell.


JH -
Where did you grow up?

MH -
I grew up in an old farmhouse in a tiny village in the Dutch countryside.  My parents bought it just after I was born to have enough space for their way of life. 
Even today, the house is completely packed with the art my mother creates, car parts from the 1920s-1980s - related to my father’s profession, and old stuff my parents collect for their intrinsic beauty and quality.  Mostly old French furniture, lamps etc.

You can imagine these were quite abnormal surroundings, and as a child I wanted to break free from all that old stuff, to be more like my classmates.  Later I started to realize how valuable this was for my creativity, and my appreciation for things of quality and durability.


JH -
What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a "little boy"?

MH - 
As I child, I was always drawing. From the age of eight I wanted to become an architect, just like my grandfather, so directly after I finished high-school I went to study architecture in Delft, and the for awhile in Paris.


JH - 
You studied Architecture prior to your "current" life.  Did you every practice as an architect?

MH -
Starting from my second year of my studies I came to work at an architectural firm as a side job.  I worked there every now and then until recently.  The firm is specialized in the restoration and redevelopment of early modern architecture, and I got to study and work on some very interesting buildings designed by famous Dutch architects from that era.  This refined my interest in details in design.  

Besides that job, three friends and I formed a design collective together to redevelop interesting architectural and industrial heritage.  We did a couple of projects, but then we started to all develop into other directions.  


JH -
You compare watch making and design quite a bit to architecture.  What are some of the parallels?  

MH -
What I find the most interesting in architecture is the power it can have on society.  I strongly believe that great design, which shows that attention is paid to the people actually using it, has a direct impact on the feeling and behavior of people.  Therefore, even the smallest detail has a tremendous impact on the whole, as it shows the actual level of attention and perfection.  However, I then became really disappointed in the architectural practice, as I learned that often it is not vision nor design ambitions, but money, and developers driven by money, who are actually calling the shots.

Then came the pocket watch. I discovered that watches are actually really about beauty, especially nowadays!  There has to be a perfect balance between design, craftsmanship and technology to make it a good and appealing object, something that can make you proud of owning it, and makes you feel good. This makes that watchmaking, or rather watch designing, has a lot in common with architecture, however in watchmaking, a designer does not have to make concessions, and really make what he or she believes in. In my case: the pursuit of finding my own definition of beauty.


JH -
What makes Holthinrichs watches special?
 
MH -
Attention to details, an honest story, and a product that is a true result of a real ambition to make good design.
Every part of the watch is developed by me, and I know all the involved producers personally, so that I can learn from them, and know how to make the best design for the specific techniques.  



Courtesy of Holthinrichs
The fact that it is intrinsically driven makes the product very personal, and that will attract specific customers, who I like to work for.

A search to find true beauty has a lot of frustrating obstacles and disappointments, but the good thing is that it is never ending. 

Courtesy of Holthenrichs
JH - 
What motivated you to utilize 3D printing?

MH -
This actually started during during my studies.  4.5 years ago, I had a first design ready for production.  3D printing was really becoming a hype in my faculty.  
 




Courtesy of Holthenrichs
I wanted to have full control over the process, so I needed to find a producer nearby.  However, the numerous details on the design, and the low quantities that would be produced made it practically impossible to use conventional methods.  As 3D printing provides a lot of opportunities for design, it was the way to make the details I desired, and the best thing is that it permits production in low quantities or even unique pieces.
Courtesy of Holthenrichs
The 3D printed product has a course exterior surface, which I think can add to the design.  Where smooth surfaces are desired, handicraft work (like that of a goldsmith) is required. 

Courtesy of Holthenrichs
This results in beautiful contrasts, and in my opinion really adds to the already existing crafts in watchmaking.  I really do think that this can be “A new craft in watchmaking”. 

Courtesy of Holthenrichs
JH -
You have two current pieces in your collection (correct?), has one proven to be more popular?
 
MH -
Correct! I started with the Ornament 1 – Ruthenium. 
Courtesy of Holthenrichs
A watch with a dark dial, very distinctive and discrete, just what I think is very stylish. Soon after the launch I made a version with a silver dial to be a more classic counterpart. Together they are limited to 250 pieces.



Courtesy of Holthenrichs
As a tribute to Delft, the beautiful city where I studied and started the brand, I made the Delft Blue. A very limited model (10 pieces) with a handmade Delft Blue inspired dial, and a bespoke hand engraved movement. The engravings are done by befriended Dutch engravers, real good and nice craftsmen. Thereafter the movement is finished in my atelier. 
Although this piece is more exclusive in numbers, and in pricing, it proves to be popular. I think a client willing to buy a watch from a small brand, or directly from the maker, they really appreciate a unique product, showing the authenticity of the brand.

The next steps will show new case designs, and bespoke artistic dials, made by me in my atelier.


JH -
As an independent watch brand, what are some of the bigger challenges that you are facing?

MH -
Proving your right to exist. Exposing what you can make (and developing that), and prove to be worth it to be interesting.

Why would anyone be interested in my work.

The designer has to be very loyal to his beliefs, “vision” and intuition, making decisions based on that.  This sometimes can be really hard, as there is so much to learn.

For every independent starter some of the biggest challenges is to really stay put




JH -
Who is the "typical" Holthinrichs customer?  

MH -
This surely is the niche customer with good taste. Someone who looks behind the famous brands (sometimes he already owns those famous model) to find interesting small and creative companies and really special and original watches.

Some customers insist to have a numbered version, in case the brand may become famous. They believe I my work, and my brand. This of course gives me some great motivation!

Some of my customers do not buy my watches as an impulse purchase, take their time to get information about the brand, and the watches I make. Because they are very involved in the making of the watch, and the client can have direct contact with me, they often purchase it as a family heirloom piece, dedicated to a special event (a wedding for example), or a special remembrance. This makes working on the watches very special.


JH -
You've taken the (somewhat) bold decision to open your own shop/boutique.  How has that been received?

MH -
Jups! Well, bold…: it is just the thing I had to do! There was no choice, and I tent to listen to my intuition, as it points me in directions I really want to move intrinsically, and thereby giving me a lot of energy to go ahead.

I opened it to be able to have an proper atelier clients could visit, and to strengthen my website and online appearance. The impact is immense, locally but also international. Although I opened it very recently, I directly noticed the neighborhood embraces it very warmly (a watchmaker I your street, how interesting is that these days!?), and I can surely say I already have made some extra sales which I would not have done without.


JH - 
What is right with the watch business?

MH -
In the better segments, the innovation, creativity, the sense of beauty, and the appreciation for what has been beautifully made and durable.


JH -
What is wrong with the watch business?

MH -
The fact that it is very speculative: marketing is often telling fake stories, and prices are rising beyond reason.


JH -
Who else is making watches that interest you?

MH -
There are quite a few. Obviously I like the niche, and my focus in on design. Movements are really important, but when the overall is ugly, what is then the point?

To name some:
Grönefeld brothers: Bold (movement) design, great finishing and materials.

Lundis Blues: Great case design, and really loyal to their original concept, and their own capacities. Furthermore simplicity in variation with great style.

De Bethune: Gosh what great designs!
 

 
JH -
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

MH -
I would be building my own architectural firm. However, would that really be a real option?


JH -
What Advice do you have for the next Michiel Holthinrichs?
 
MH -
I really feel honored for being asked that question, and personally I am not sure jet if I am already in the position to answer this. However, I do think one should really listen to his heart, and do what it says. It will not always be the easiest thing to do, but would it make you happy? It sure does!

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