It was a memorable experience to attend the 2013 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix with Armin Strom’s owner Serge Michel and technical director Claude Greisler. Swiss watch manufacturer Armin Strom has been a sponsor and official timing partner of the Marussia team for the past couple of years. As such, its logo—and its Racing Collection watches—were on full display during the 3-day November event at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
“Claude and I have always been crazy about cars,” says Michel. “And Claude takes a lot of inspiration in designing our movements from the car industry.”
My groupie status allowed me into the Marussia garage, which was a well-coordinated blur of activity, and a real thrill for me. Ewen Honeyman, partner services director for the team, was my guide and passed along some fascinating facts about the 80-member Marussia team and F1 racing in general. I briefly met 22-year-old Marussia driver and brand ambassador Max Chilton, who hails from England, as he literally ran through the space in his driving attire emblazoned with the Armin Strom logo. But the best part for me, undoubtedly, was the opportunity to speak with Michel and Greisler one-on-one.
I’ve been a fan of the Biel/Bienne-based Armin Strom for a while, with its limited production of artfully skeletonized watches. As watchmakers go, it is a relatively young brand, dating to the late 1960s. During the early years, the eponymous founder starting creating his own watch collection in the workroom behind his shop in Burgdorf, Switzerland, where he sold and repaired timepieces of all kinds. It wasn’t long before Mr. Strom found his true passion in hand-finished movements and skeletonizing, winning various awards in the process.
Though the founder officially retired in 2011, his spirit is still very much evident in the finely crafted skeletonized watch collections the brand now offers, along with its own Manufacture movements and one-of-a-kind pieces. What began as a small boutique brand over 40 years ago has continued to evolve during the ensuing decades, garnering worldwide fans—and a staff of 20—in the process. The collections now comprise a range of materials (including titanium, 18-karat rose gold and steel) and distinct designs. Collections include Gravity, One Week and Racing, among many others. And just this month, the brand celebrated the U.K. launch of its Tourbillon Gravity Fire with a micro rotor winding mechanism at a reception in Kent, England. Guests included, not surprisingly, Max Chilton. This limited edition (50 pieces) watch features flame motif engraving—a hallmark of all the Fire timepiece movements—and an 18-karat rose gold case.
Following is an excerpt from my Armin Strom Interview with Michel and Greisler:
“What is the single most important influence (besides Mr. Strom) on the brand and its products today?”
Serge Michel: Being an independent Manufacture gives us the freedom to be creative in terms of the design of the movements. Certainly, it is Claude Greisler who influences today’s esthetic look of the brand.
“How has the art of skeletonizing evolved over the years?”
Claude Greisler: With a young team designing and manufacturing the collection today, [we use] a modern and technical way of skeletonizing rather than the classical way that Mr. Armin Strom used to do.
“Which collection(s)/calibers do you feel best represents the spirit of the brand and why??”
Claude Greisler: There is not a single collection or caliber that represents the brand the best. With our clear movement design we have a consistent look throughout the complete collection.
“What niche does the Armin Strom fill among the various watch brands available??”
Serge Michel: First of all, Armin Strom is a complete Manufacture with an extremely high production depth. We put a clear focus on the design of our movements and will always show the beauty of them from the front side and the backside of the watch. The decoration of our movements (including hand engravings) is very important to us. Also, we are an independent and family-owned brand.
“What is the US-dollar price range of your watches??”
Serge Michel: They range from $10,000 to $140,000 within the regular collection. In addition, we are doing unique pieces on request for customers. These pieces can be much more expensive.
“How would you describe your customers??”
Serge Michel: More a younger clientele, between 30 and 55 years old—trendsetters, sports car enthusiasts.
“What part of the watch production process do you find most satisfying??”
Claude Greisler: The assembling to the finished movement. After the long [process] of developing and designing all the single parts and then the CNC production on our machines, followed by many further steps of decorating the single parts, it is great to see when the movement is finally ticking!
“Where is your largest market?”
Serge Michel: Our customers are collectors worldwide. We have many clients in Europe and the Middle East, but lately we are seeing a growing demand from the U.S.A. as well.
“How would you describe the relationship between watches and cars?”
Serge Michel: I think it is not a myth that people who appreciate great cars also love nice watches.
“What has been the brand’s biggest challenge during the past few years??”
Serge Michel: The communication that today Armin Strom is a complete Manufacture and not a boutique brand that is “only” skeletonizing watch movements. When we took over the brand in 2006 there was Mr. Armin Strom and one watchmaker, and today we have 20 employees and a fully equipped Manufacture. Today we are a brand.