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iW Interview: Pim Koeslag, Watchmaker & CEO

More than ten years ago, while working as the chief watchmaker at Frédérique Constant, Pim Koeslag dreamed about developing a minute repeater. With the enthusiastic assistance of the Geneva firm’s CEO Peter Stas, Koeslag spent several years on the project, eventually creating a repeater with a tourbillon. Stas then suggested they create a new watch brand dedicated entirely to exceptional high-end timepieces.

That brand was Ateliers DeMonaco, and has since its founding in 2008 the small maker of high-end, complicated timepieces has thrived. With Koeslag as its technical director, the company has developed very specific manufacturing techniques that allow Ateliers DeMonaco to punch well above its weight among its peers.

The firm, which only produces about 150 watches each year, regularly includes tourbillons, flyback chronographs and repeaters in its range of offerings, all intricately finished to haute horology standards. Indeed, one collection, called Poinçon de Genève boasts its namesake Geneva Seal certification right on the dial.

Pim Koeslag revels in his dual role as a CEO and as chief watchmaker.

Since its debut timepiece in 2008, the Ateliers DeMonaco manufacture has developed these four patents:

Perpetual calendar with “EaZy adjust” system
The firm’s Quantième Perpétuel collection is made with an in-house developed perpetual calendar with an EaZy adjust system allowing to set the time, date, day, week, month and (leap) year by just using the crown.

Ateliers DeMonaco Admiral Chronographe Flyback Armure.

The “eXtreme Precision 1 minute” tourbillon
The Ateliers DeMonaco tourbillon collection is made with an in-house developed eXtreme Precision 1 minute tourbillon, an unusually accurate tourbillon movement.

Flyback chronograph with direct return to zero mechanism
The chronograph is directly activated by the unusual 4 o’clock pusher. Its flyback hammer is programmed to action and disengage the chronograph clutch wheel, engage the brake, and turn the chronograph’s second and minute wheel all at the same time.

The Ateliers DeMonaco Flyback Chronograph features a pending patent for its direct-to-zero mechanism.

Geneva Seal with ‘Freebeat’ regulation system
The patented Freebeat regulation system allows Ateliers DeMonaco to regulate the length of the hairspring with an adjustable crémaillère (straight bar with teeth on one edge, allowing it to be fixed at different length) rendering obsolete the need for the regulation pins. This avoids interference.

Appointed Ateliers DeMonaco CEO last year, Koeslag added an entirely new list of responsibilities to his work at the firm. iW caught up with this busy watchmaking CEO in New York recently as he commenced a U.S. tour with his latest collections.

A look at the back of the Ateliers DeMonaco Poinçon de Geneve, or Geneva Seal. The firm's Freebeat Regulation System permits the length of the hairspring to be easily adjusted.

How does your work at Frederique Constant differ from your role as CEO of Ateliers DeMonaco?

For Frederique Constant, my work is more on the technical front. There I focus on technical research and development. I work to plan the future technical developments for the brand, as well as day-to-day technical operations with the manufacturer in Geneva. I am also responsible for the industrialization process there.

At Frederique Constant the focus is on larger quantities and a specific price structure. There are two general types of work here. One involves the modifications where, for example, I would place the moonphase or date module on a Sellita movement for larger quantities. The other aspect is creating the manufacture movements, and this past year we introduced a Frederique Constant flyback automatic chronograph.

The Frederique Constant Flyback Chronograph Manufacture, at $4,295, is an incredible value.

That is a huge development. It took us six years. We also have a moonphase movement with the date, which is nicely done. The manufacturer part is growing very quickly, which is very interesting.

When I started in 2001 with the first Frederique Constant manufacture movement, we had only a hand-wound movement with a ‘heartbeat’ at 6 o’clock. At that time I was the only watchmaker developing this. Now we have more than sixty watchmakers. It’s a different kind of situation. In fact we are growing so well that we are building a second building next to our current facility in Geneva. This will double the size of our current manufacturing facility.

Ateliers DeMonaco La Sirene Ruby

We are growing very quickly. Not only are we making complications like the automatic chronograph, but also we are making greater quantities then we had in the past. Today we are building around 20,000 manufacturer movements per year.

How does that compare to your work at Ateliers DeMonaco?

At DeMonaco, we started in 2008, and we started with a very complicated minute repeater tourbillon. From there we built the company up. Today we have six different movements and six different collections. All of these are quite complicated. We have a minute repeater tourbillon, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, the Geneva Seal (a newer watch that is very important to us), a chronograph and an automatic movement.

Ateliers DeMonaco Poinçon de Geneve, or Geneva Seal.

DeMonaco has become a high-end watch brand. I was initially focused on the design and technique only but now I’m also focusing on the marketing and the commercial side.

This is the second year I have been in charge of the entire company as its CEO. This means much more travel, private dinners and press conferences. But this also means designing and creating the catalog, which I also love. I love to create things to make something else beautiful.

Tell us about Ateliers DeMonaco’s newer pieces?

The new Monte Carlo piece presents the link we have with Monaco, but it also represents what we want to create. This example is a unique piece. The level of art and craftsmanship is really crazy. If you look at the dial, has the image of the Casino of Monte Carlo. This is fully hand engraved on an 18-karat gold dial. And the dial is actually three different dial pieces on top of each other. We start with three dials and then cut everything out. Then we hand engrave it. And then we assemble. It creates a lot of depth on the watch---the dial takes 200 hours of craftsmanship.

The Tourbillon Casino de Monte Carlo features a hand-engraved, three-level dial.

One of our most important pieces this year is our Geneva Seal watch. We introduced the first Geneva Seal watch a couple of years ago. The Geneva Seal remains such a high-quality hallmark, and we are only the fifth brand to obtain the Seal. Also, our steel chronograph is our new entry-level model. The price point is $13,500, and its cased with a type of steel that’s five times as hard as typical steel. It’s 1200 Vickers, which basically cannot be scratched. In twenty years it will look exactly as it does today.

The new Ateliers DeMonaco Tourbillon Oculus 1297, now with a black titanium case. The number 1297 pays tribute to Monaco’s Grimaldi Family and the year when Francois Grimaldi seized the fortress of Monaco from a rival Italian faction.

Does Ateliers DeMonaco do much custom work?

Yes. That’s has become a large part of our sales. This Tourbillon Casino of Monte Carlo is something that really shows what we can make. We have sold many unique pieces. We created a watch for the Princess of Monaco, called the Mermaid, which is her nickname because she was an Olympic swimmer. The flower inside the watch is a Protea, inspired by her since she comes from South Africa and that is the national flower of South Africa.

Ateliers DeMonaco Tourbillon Grand Prix de Monaco 1966

In another custom piece, the person wanted us to use Tanzanite in it, so we made a special version in Tanzanite. We pre-cut the stones, took a plane to visit the customer at her house and then we matched the color of the stones to her jewelry. This is what she wanted, and created the watch.

Some of these custom watches we make public and others remain private.

Where can our readers find Ateliers DeMonaco watches?

We have retail partners in the United States (Little Treasury, Gambills, MD, J.B. Hudson in Minneapolis, and Madison Jewelers in New York City) and we are in discussions with another potential partner. This fall we visited many customers across the United States. Since we have a limited production of about 150 pieces per year, these sorts of events are perfect for us. For them it’s very nice. Not too often does a watch company CEO and designer and watchmaker –all one person in our case– visit with them to discuss the watches.

Ateliers DeMonaco Ronde de Monte Carlo with Tanzanite set into flower shape.

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