22 March 2010, Basel, Switzerland
There's a certain comedy to the Basel trade show, the showcase of watchmaking excellence worldwide. In one half, you have the engineers, dungareed and talking German, proffering watchmakers tools, machinery and services. There is a whiff of lathe grease, and thunderous machines hiss and grind. The mood is deadly serious and precise. Then across Messeplatz you find the brands, with slick French-speaking marketeers cravatted in high-camp couture proffering champagne and sycophancy until you feel it is a privilege to be permitted to hand over your currency. In return you get an exceptional product, no doubt. All of this is why this industry started to suck me in like a black hole.
In my heart, I am a creator, not a buyer or collector. I've come to Basel, on and off, since 2000 when I first became interested in watchmaking. Basel 2010 was revolutionary for me. At the show I missed it, but on the flight home, flicking through the catalogue, I saw stepper motors that were small enough that they could fit inside a watch.
In minutes, I knew saw where I had to go. By coupling these motors with new nanoWatt microcontroller technology, a whole new approach to watchmaking was possible, with a circuit board replacing the traditional ébauche. The electronics, and the new machining techniques, could open up a whole new segment for customized, mid-segment (i.e. four figures) electronic timepieces. I resolved to turn my electronics business into a watchmaking one.