15 Years of Fratello

How we started and where we are today
Robert-Jan Broer
July 22, 2019
MIN READ
15 Years of Fratello

Exactly 15 years ago, on July 22nd 2004, we did our first post on Fratello.

The first post on Fratello, after a little test article, involved Panerai (you can find it here, but don’t expect a lot of entertainment). It was 2004, and I decided to start a little blog about watches, where I could write about the things that I’ve come across on forums and other websites that involved watches. It was a ‘blog’ as what any blog was about in those days. Today, the definition of a blog is a bit different, I guess. The blog Fratello transformed in something more serious over the years, and today it is a very well-read online watch magazine (in the first half of 2019, we had around 655.000 visits and 952.000 page views per month on average).

How Fratello started

When I started Fratello, I just finished my studies (Information Management) in The Hague (The Netherlands) and had my first position in IT. When I was younger, I had no idea what I would like to do or become. That changed when my parents brought a computer into our home in 1989. I quickly learned how it worked and started to develop an interest in computers. So in the end, in the 1990s, I also decided to go into that direction with my studies, and I do hold a few degrees in Information Technology (and Information Management as well as in IT auditing).

As a kid, I also had an interest in watches. But since I was born in 1977, the watches I liked were mainly digital (and later on, Swatch watches). One of my earliest recollection of having a digital watch was when I was 7 years old (in 1985), and I loved it. I also remember that during one of our family holidays, I wanted a certain Casio digital watch (which my parents finally bought me at Dixons in Canterbury). I still have it to this day (although I recently discovered it wasn’t working anymore and I had to replace the movement using a ‘donor’ watch I found on eBay). Below, an image from early 1985 of our bloodhound and me. I was sporting my first digital watch.

Growing a bit older, I never realised you could have a profession regarding watches, and never did I even consider it. Also when I started to like mechanical watches, and wanted to learn everything about those, I never even considered doing something in that direction professionally. Since 1998 or so, I was on forums like TimeZone and WatchUseek (I also was a moderator there at some point) and was in close touch with people like Chuck Maddox to discuss watches. It was a great time. There wasn’t much (confirmed) information out there on certain watches, so sometimes it was a real puzzle to get it to the surface. I contributed to these places quite a bit, and it was a great little group of enthusiasts who were running these digital places. It was perhaps social media 1.0. I only had my Omega Constellation that I received as a graduation gift in 1998, and that’s it. Only a year later, in 1999, I bought my first mechanical watch (aside from a Swatch automatic): a Speedmaster Professional. Some other vintage watches followed, like a vintage Seamaster 600, an IWC caliber 89, a Bulova Accutron Spaceview, a Rolex Datejust. I was still a student (with a job), but keep in mind that the prices were completely different back then. I basically spent all the money I made at this job I had on the side (at a publisher, go figure), on watches.

From a blog to an online magazine

When I graduated in 2003, I started working at this company that handled claims. It was a tough period for those in IT, as the bubble just had burst and there were basically no jobs out there. What a difference with the years before 2000. Anyway, I accepted this job but got bored very quickly. Already at the time, I registered the domain FratelloWatches.com as I had some ideas about buying and selling vintage watches. We still get a few questions about the name ‘Fratello’ now and then. My last name is Broer, which translates into ‘brother’, but Broer is not something that is pronounced easy except in Dutch. I then decided to go with Fratello, which has the same meaning, but in Italian. It is pronounced everywhere the same.

Selling vintage watches is something that never properly took off, as I was starting to become my own best customer. So in 2004, I decided to use this domain for a blog about watches. The forums like Timezone and WatchUseek were a great place to be, and I learned a lot, but I also felt that there were a lot of repetitive questions and topics. So time to do something different. I wanted to share my ‘findings’ (be it a cool story I read somewhere, or a nice watch for sale, or the announcement of a new book) on my little platform. I installed WordPress 1.0 (I kid you not) and started writing on Thursday, July 22nd, 2004. About a book on Panerai, the StyleBook II.

One of the first brands that embraced the way we were working, was Linde Werdelin

From that moment on, almost all of my spare time was spent on watches. I went to tradeshows since the late 1990s, but now I also decided to cover them on the website. Every watch I bought or trade got featured with actual hands-on experience. At the time, it was difficult to get ANY information from brands, as they didn’t understand what I was doing and believed that the internet wasn’t very important to them. Some even thought (and I get the feeling that some still do) that the internet would go away, it was something temporarily, while watches are forever. I even received the occasional “Why would you publish online if you can buy a print magazine on watches?” (yes, that was you, Jaeger-LeCoultre, now offering watches in their e-boutique). It all changed around 2008 when brands started to realise (perhaps) that they could use the internet in their advance, at least for getting awareness for their brand and watches. One of the first brands that embraced the way we were working was Linde Werdelin. It took a few more years before the big brands followed and started to invite us to their manufactures. Today, everyone can get an invitation to visit a manufacture, but in 2007/2008, you even sometimes had to push hard to even get a press release. Because obviously, we weren’t journalists or even press. I evidently am not educated as a journalist, but doing proper research about a watch or a watch brand is something I always enjoyed doing so. The writing was (and sometimes still is) more problematic, I never had a proper education in (English) writing. After 15 years of writing, things have improved for sure, but I will never be as good as a Native English or American writer.

Fratello Magazine

A screenshot of our website some years ago.

Since 2008, and visiting a few Baselworld exhibitions, we got more collaboration from the watch brands, and some of them were eager to work with titles like ours. Omega was one of the first that took things seriously when they asked me in 2011 to come over for a meeting with their CEO in Baselworld and wanted me to say a few words about Omega on video. Bert Buijsrogge also came on board of Fratello and took care of all photography. Till that time, I was using stock pictures or did my photography, which never came anywhere near what Bert was able to produce.

We just love watches. And we want to share that passion with our authentic, unique and interesting stories, with a personal touch.

Fratello being my brainchild, and putting all of my spare time literally in it since 2004, it was great to see it grow more prominent, getting more visitors and more attention from brands. It was all still a hobby, and nothing professional. Meanwhile, I worked for an investment bank, and it sometimes felt like having two jobs at the same time. One that paid the bills, and one that gave me joy. It is a great scene to be in, even if it’s not your fulltime job. The watch journalists and editors all over the world are an exceptional group of people and the events we often visit(ed) together, are like little (and some times big) reunions. Some of them really became good friends. It was around 2013 that Bert and I thought it would be cool if we could expand and make it something more professional. We already did events with brands and collectors and did a re-design of the website. In 2014, Ebner Publishing (who own titles like Uhren Magazine, Chronos and WatchTime) came in the picture for Fratello, and we decided to work with them. It gave us the means to grow bigger and to put more resources in developing our audience. We also got more writers on board, Gerard Nijenbrinks, Balazs Ferenczi and Michael Stockton joined us as well at that time. With this excellent team, we were able to publish more and have a broader focus on things we want to cover. Besides covering novelties from SIHH and Baselworld and performing hands-on reviews of those new watches, we also made sure we put focus on (collecting) vintage watches. I don’t need to recap our story about Speedy Tuesday and what did for us (you can read that here), but it was certainly something that really gave us (and still does) a lot of exposure.

Fratello Today

Our team now consist of 9 editors that contribute regularly and a few that write their occasional article for Fratello. Besides that, we have hired our first full-time employee per June 1st, Daniel Müller, who is head of operations. That might suggest we have some bigger plans for the future, and we have indeed. Behind the scenes, a lot is going on, and we will keep you updated on the things we are developing. We also started to explore channels like podcasts and video recently, to bring you more watch related content, in a different way than you’re used from us. Last year, in 2018, we also decided to buy back Fratello from Ebner Publishing. It is now a Dutch company that we were able to establish with the help of a company that was willing to invest in us (and who also happen to own Chrono24). It allowed us to do a total redesign of the website earlier this year, hire more writers (and thus put more content on the magazine) and enable us to work on exciting future projects. Although Chrono24 is an entirely different company, we can rely on their expertise for several things, like translations and doing e-commerce. We will hopefully update you soon with more information about those topics.

We will continue to write about watches and the watch industry like we always did. We will have a broader scope, as we have more writers in our team now, and we will continue to develop our video and podcast content. I am super proud of what we’ve accomplished as a team, our relationship with a lot of brands and their representatives and of course, the relationship we have with our readers. For us, the reader (you) are most valuable to us. I think we have proved that with our events, our articles and the fact that it always has been the reader that we have in mind when discussing new ideas and developments. For me, it is not a job, it is a huge part of my life (and it has been, in the past 15 years) and I hope it will be for the next 15 years as well.

Thank YOU for being a reader of Fratello, some recently, but we also know quite a few people who have been from the very start. It has been an incredible journey in the last 15 years, and I can’t wait to show you our next steps in the near future.

Have a great week!

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Robert-Jan Broer
About the author

Robert-Jan Broer

Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more

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