Gisbert L. Brunner was born in 1947 and has worked with every sort of precision timepiece, though mainly wristwatches, since the 1960s. He has now published more than 15 books on the subject. He is also in demand the world over as a public speaker.
A little background on the protagonists of today’s blog post. On July 7 1989 Michael Bernd Schmidt, alias Smudo, Thomas Dürr, alias Hausmeister, Andreas Rieke and Michi Beck performed live for the first time in Stuttgart on a stage they’d made themselves from wooden pallets. The band was called Die Fantastischen Vier. The quartet are the first hip hop group to sing in German.
That same year, the watchmaker Chronoswiss – then still based in Munich - launched its first Kairos Regulator chronographs. The 500 gold wristwatches, which used the classic manual winding Valjoux 72 calibre that was made from 1938 to 1974, were largely sold out before they had made it to the licence-holders as part of the mechanical renaissance.
In 2014, Fanta4 celebrated the 25th anniversary of their stage debut with a new CD called Rekord. In November 2014, Oliver Ebstein, the owner of what is now a Swiss watchmaker, and the band’s manager, Andreas “Bär” [Bear] Läsker, announced that they would work together on a chronometric project. The result being 100 limited editions of two different wristwatches:
- Stainless steel case with a DLC (diamond-like carbon)-coated bezel and stainless steel bracelet (€6,144)
- Stainless steel case, DLC-coating and rubber bracelet (€5,944)
One significant feature of the Timemaster F4 Limited Edition, which suited Michi Beck, as the group’s design guru, down to the ground, is how prominent the figures 2, 4, 8 and 10 are on the dial. “That lent itself perfectly to the immortalisation of our signifier loco - the figure 4.” The classic black-and-white contrast also suited the Fantastic Four’s artistic aspirations.
The movement inside the case: an Eta 7750 that is as robust as it is reliable and accurate, dubbed by connoisseurs as a timekeeping “tank”.
The wristwatches do not have a transparent back, but the band’s famous logo is again to be found on the underside.
I had the good fortune to hear Smudo and Michi Beck’s take on watches and working with Chronoswiss before they took to the stage for their gig at the Trabrennbahn [Trotting Track] in Hamburg on August 22 2015. Here’s what they had to say:
Thank you Smudo and thank you Michi for taking time out before you go on stage to answer a few questions about watches. Smudo, how long have you been passionate about watches now? Has it already been 26 years?
SMUDO: No, not at all. I can’t actually recall when it started exactly.
What did you wear before you wore a Chronoswiss?
S: I wasn’t a watch guy at all before. It’s only really started now. It started about four or five years ago and has snowballed ever since. But there was never really a eureka moment. I think with me it’s a case of getting older and having more money. My eyes have only been opened to this kind of jewellery in the last few years. I know lots of people who got started with watches much younger but for me it was always something for the over-40s. It’s hard to say. First you have to look at the jeweller’s case and then all the technology that’s gone into it.
So did you wear a watch at all in the past?
S: Yes, of course, but then I’d lose them every so often. The first time that I set out to buy a watch, if I remember rightly, was seven or eight years ago.
What did you go for?
S: In 2005 I got my pilot’s licence so obviously I had to get an aviator watch. So that’s my particular story. Before that I received watches as presents every now and again. But I’d never bought one. I can remember the odd promotion watch. There was a G-Shock.
S: …exactly. But as I say, I kept losing them. It was only when I got to know more about watches that I took better care of them.
What about you, Michi?
Michi Beck: The first thing to say is that you need to have disposable income for this kind of thing. That happened in the late 90s for me. I went to Bucherer in Switzerland and bought myself a Rolex Oysterquartz.
But that’s a very unusual Rolex…
MB: Yes, you’re spot on there. You simply wouldn’t believe how often I’ve been told that it’s not a real Rolex at all because the second hand jumps its way round and doesn’t go round smoothly. There were a lot of a-little-knowledge-is-a-dangerous-thing types who tried to convince me that it was a rip-off. But a few years later I was really proud when someone sitting next to me on a plane said, “Oh, you’re wearing an Oysterquartz. You don’t see many of those around.”
Were you shocked when people tried to tell you it was a rip-off?
MB: I wasn’t shocked, but I was definitely a little unsettled. Then I started to get more interested and bought a GMT Master. The one I’m most proud of after the Chronoswiss is a Nautilus by Patek Philippe. It’s from the 80s and all gold. I’m really very proud of it, that and the Chronoswiss story.
When do you wear the Patek? Because it really is special…
MB: It’s in my safe now but like a classic car that needs to be driven regularly so that it doesn’t just sit there rusting I bring it out every now and again.
S: I’ve got to say that I’m exceptionally fond of this Chronoswiss with our logo on the dial.
Speaking of which, how did you feel when you got that call from Chronoswiss suggesting you work together?
S: To tell the truth, we thought it wouldn’t work at all to start with. We’re a hip hop band. What are they on about? Since when has our style of music ever hand anything to with something you strap onto your wrist?
S: We liked the fact that Chronoswiss always brought out their limited editions on a specific theme. And obviously we always try to do something new with our music. Like getting to grips with a genre. At Chronoswiss they told us they wanted to do the same thing. And then they came up with the idea of a special, high-quality, limited-edition collector’s item. I liked the idea myself.
Did all four band members first have to agree?
MB: We certainly had to give it some thought at least. You don’t go out on a limb with another company just like that. Plus there are people who pretty much love watches in our number.
So what tipped the scales?
MB: The whole thing for us was actually a bit hip hop. But we were working with a very good watch company and we even had influence on the technical side. That made us very proud, especially as the watch is the number one item of jewellery for a man. That combined with a bit of hip hop posing and that grand seigneur feeling is what prompted us to go through with it.
Was it all very spontaneous? Was everyone equally convinced it was the right thing to do?
S: It wasn’t all that quick. First we had a nose around, found out more about Chronoswiss and what they get up to in the watch sector. It wasn’t really something we discussed, but it did take a bit of research.
But the idea of designing a watch yourself is cool in a way, isn’t it?
MB: It’s fantastic.
S: Really fantastic. What more can I say!
MB: Things might have been different ten years ago. But in 2014 the band celebrated its 25-year anniversary. So we thought that the watch would also be something of a milestone in our history. Let’s do something that we’ve never done before. Plus we’d be able to wear the watches ourselves.
S: And then it became a real ego-trip. It was great…
MB: The fact that it was a limited edition also made the decision easier for us. That meant there was a time limit to it all. It wouldn’t go on for ever. That really was what we wanted.
You’re both wearing different versions of the watch. Michi, you’re wearing the DLC-coated version and Smudo, you’re wearing the steel version with the link bracelet. What were your criteria when selecting your special watch?
MB: First and foremost I wanted to stress that we took on board the views of Thomas D who’s vegetarian and is committed to animal rights. So there was no question of a watch with a leather strap. But we had no qualms with the rubber option. The steel bracelet was actually only an afterthought. Our first idea was of course for it to be all black.
S: And I’ve got nothing against a certain degree of opulence. But I didn’t decide until I’d seen the designs. I really liked the black and metal mix.
MB: I have more simple tastes. Obviously my gold Nautilus isn’t a low-cost option but it’s not an opulent watch either. Of all the watches I own, this Chronoswiss is actually the biggest.
How many watches do you own now?
S: I have five.
MB: I have eight. And I like that, and the number isn’t going to go down any time soon.
Could you imagine making a second Chronoswiss limited edition?
MB: Let’s wait and see how the first one sells for now. But we can certainly say we’ve got a taste for it now. So it’s not unthinkable.
S: I wouldn’t rule it out entirely either.
Do you wear the watches when you’re performing too?
MB: No, we don’t wear watches at our gigs. They say you shouldn’t play golf while wearing a mechanical watch. And there’s quite a lot of movement at our gigs too. So, no, no watches.