By focusing on one-handed automatic and manual-wind watches, German-based MeisterSinger seeks to alter our perception of time. The suggestion, to slow down and enjoy time rather than battle it, has been the company’s mantra since Manfred Brassler started the company in 2001.
We spoke to MeisterSinger Managing Partner John van Steen during a stop at the Orlando Watch Company as van Steen and Mühle Glashütte Managing Partner Thilo Mühle toured several U.S. retailers earlier this month. In our interview, excerpted below, van Steen discusses time, the origins of one-hand timekeeping and why MeisterSinger no longer makes ‘ladies’ watches.
iW: Why should a collector buy a MeisterSinger watch?
Van Steen: We sell the most precious watches in the world. This is because on a MeisterSinger time passes a little bit slower.
Time is the most precious thing in the world because you cannot buy it. Time is the same for everybody – for the billionaire and for the guy living on the street. We are living in a society with a lot of stress and people are always running behind time. They seek the next moment of happiness or joy, and when they reach that moment they start looking again. People are always looking for new things to discover, but not really stopping to look at those things.
With a MeisterSinger, time seems to pass a little bit slower. This gives you more time to enjoy those moments that are more important. Is it more important to earn an extra $100, or to spend additional time with your loved ones? What is more important, and what will you remember in a year’s time?
Your moments determine your quality of life. That is why people should buy a MeisterSinger watch. You are making the statement that ‘this is my time, and I decide what to do with it.’
Also, people will often ask you if your watch is broken because it has one hand, which give you the opportunity to talk about your watch. This is the philosophy behind our brand.
What is the history of one-handed timekeeping?
Telling time started with a single hand. Look at church clocks and sundials. Look at the first watches Breguet made in large quantities. These were single-hand watches.
Look at the Westminster Abbey in London. One of the four clocks there is still original and uses a single hand.
In Europe you still find many single-handed clocks. In Rome, the presidential palace has a single-hand clock that tells time every six hours. Every day the hand rotates four times. This used to be fairly common in Italy. Of course, when Bonaparte conquered Italy he changed that to the twelve-hour clocks.
We are bringing back an historical aspect of telling time into wristwatches.
Once we had a limited edition Benjamin Franklin watch for the United States. The hand rotated six times each day, telling time in four-hour increments. Of course it was more difficult to read the time.
We sometimes do special editions like that which are not 12-hour or 24-hour based, but it is really a niche product. But, since the function of a watch is to tell the time is, we our sure that the function is clear on a MeisterSinger.
Are consumers generally now aware of how a MeisterSinger watch operates?
Every small watch brand has the difficulty of conveying its message to consumers. We are selling something exceptional. If you are selling something exceptional, you have to explain it. We could spend millions of dollars on marketing money to do this, but we don’t have millions of dollars to spend. Thus, we rely on our retailers, and channels like YouTube. But mostly we are a brick and mortar brand. We need good retailers that are able to transmit our message to the wearers.
Which MeisterSinger debuts are you focusing on in 2019?
We introduced our bronze line this year. It consists of three of our best selling models, namely the No.03, the Perigraph and the Metris. Obviously, bronze is not new, but we are combining it with our steel blue dial with what we are calling the radium-colored numerals.
Also, we’re focusing on Vintago, a vintage 1960s model. This is a type of extension to our Neo collection, which is more about the 1950s. And where that collection uses a Plexiglas crystal, the Vintago has sapphire glass.
When does MeisterSinger decide to add additional functions to its watches?
We add functions because consumers request these. But they cannot be too complicated.
A few years ago we offered the Paleograph, and that was quite expensive and there was more than one hand on the watch. Of course the other hand has additional functions, but they were still additional hands. It was less popular.
People like our brand for our ‘less is more’ aspect, so we have to be careful not to make a dial that is too crowded. The models in our Classics Plus collection that are most successful are the Pangaea Day Date, with two discs and just one hand, and the Perigraph with only the date. The Lunascope moon phase watch was introduced last year and was extremely successful.
Are MeisterSinger watches unisex?
Yes. We once made the mistake of introducing what we call a ladies watch. Plus we notice that male consumers who wanted to buy the watch put away their credit cards once they discovered what they wanted to buy was called a ladies watch. Women who see a gentleman’s watch don’t care. So we decided to not complicate our sales with these categories. If a man wants to buy a mother-of- pearl dial watch, who are we to tell him that this is a ladies watch? Midsize is a better word. We start at 35mm and also have 36mm, 38mm, 40mm and 43mm watches.
Does MeisterSinger make its own movements?
We are a German watch brand with Swiss made watches. This means we have a production facility in Switzerland where we have designed our own movement. That movement, which is not a manufacture movement, is in the Circularis, with a five-day power reserve.
We developed this movement and bought the components at different factories, and then we assemble it. This is used only in our Circularis line; all of the rest are either ETA or Sellita-based. The Lunascope uses an ETA and the others are Sellita.
How do you design watches at MeisterSinger?
Primarily this is done by Manfred Brassler, our founder and my managing director, in combination with Jens Bierwirth. Jens started making our advertisements and has since been designing. In fact next year we will introduce the first model completely designed by him. Our only experience using an outside designer was with cases.
Of course every design is discussed by our entire production team, which I am a part of. We pay close attention to what is selling.
Are certain watches more popular in the United States than elsewhere?
When we look at sales around the world, there are really no differences between most markets. But the potential is there, yet it will be difficult where most people want to have two hands because they feel the need to always be ‘productive.’ But this will change. We started last year in India, and I was surprised when we exceeded our expectations.
What else would you like our readers to know about MeisterSinger?
We make an extraordinary product that offers a more relaxed approach to time. Also, we have a product with an authentic story that you can tell to others. Very few products offered that ability.
Many watch brands are only marketing machines. There is no spirit or soul behind them. Also, with MeisterSinger you get a product that very few people have because our production is still limited to less than 10,000 pieces per year. If you spend $2,000 dollars or $3,000 on a MeisterSinger watch, you’ll have something that not too many people will also have. Next year you can expect something extraordinary that we have worked together with Mühle Glashütte to create.
Do you feel you compete with the Apple watch?
I think it is more of a threat to watch brands closer to the exact price level, especially when they offer nothing extra by using a quartz movement. An automatic watch is attractive to young people who are not used to wearing a watch. I think they will find a combination of wearing a smart watch and an automatic watch for different reasons. These will be combined and alternated, as with clothing.
There are also many more channels through which you sell watches today. So it is not just to create a message for young people, it is also important to know how you reach them. It is a challenge for traditional watch companies to find these new channels.
How do you manage your online sales?
In Germany we have our own online shop. This will slowly extend into other countries. But in our online shop, our brick-and-mortar retailers participate. We give our online buyers the option to pick up their watch at the nearest retailer. If they pick it up at the retailer of their choice they receive a free desk clock. We share the cost of the clock with the retailer, and the retailer receives a new consumer in their store. From there he can create a regular new customer.
The other step online is that we support our retailers to sell on their own websites. We believe that retailers need to be active online. Sales are small now, but the first searching is always done online, so you need to be there. Online sales are increasingly important, but they will never completely substitute for the retailer.