Sitting across from Kay Jaeger in the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel in Basel has been one of the highlights of brand meetings for my scouting team at Skolorr this year.
In contrast to all the pomp and circumstance of watch fairs…to all the big names vying for attention with ginormous booths and ten-foot-tall logos…to all the hustle and bustle polluting the atmosphere…taking an hour to sit and talk with one of the industry’s most passionate brand owners was a welcome respite. And, counterintuitively, probably the most eyebrow-raising encounter thus far.
Kay is not a watchmaker. He is a watch lover, turned brand creator. You can tell by his surname he is one half of the artisan watchmaker Jaeger & Benzinger. His partner in crime is Jochen Benzinger, the man in the main image. A master craftsman capable of caressing antique engine turning machines into life, Jochen is intimately acquainted with the brand’s massive collection of old-fashioned tooling – tooling that enables the brand to produce timeless, classic pieces via traditional, almost forgotten methods.
One of such methods is the famous Breguet frost finish, originated by none other than Abraham-Louis Breguet himself in the late 18th century, hence the name. Jaeger & Benzinger is one of only a handful of watchmakers alive who can offer Breguet frosted dials, outside of Breguet. MB&F has used it in the LM101 Frost. Unsurprisingly, you get to admire them from some of the J&B dials in silver sterling.
Yes, silver sterling. But, that’s not the trick. The one on top of it that will blow your mind is that these pieces are eminently affordable. For what is a meticulously hand-crafted piece, you might expect to pay five figures quite easily. In the case of Jaeger & Benzinger watches, the prices start at a staggering €3,400.
Even more surprising is the level of personalisation you are able to get for that kind of cash. You might already know that in this price segment, most brands are simply churning out Asian-sourced, cookie-cutter industrialised products to achieve huge margins. No judgement here. To the contrary, with Jaeger & Benzinger, each customer is encouraged to impart his or her personality onto the watch, by choosing fonts, finishes, colours, patterns, and hands from a selection of stock components, not to mention straps, and their countless leather options. This level of customer involvement is rare. It is rarer still at this price point.
In awareness of the five-figure sums this level of work is able to command, how is it possible that Jaeger & Benzinger watches retail at under €5,000?
The truth is, they shouldn’t.
But wait: There’s more…
If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your watch come to life, you will not be disappointed. Jaeger and Benzinger offer clients the chance to visit their premises and witness their watch being made. This transparency is unusual but such a great idea when the authenticity is there.
So where does this authenticity come from? What is it that qualifies Jaeger & Benzinger to make your latest luxury watch? Years, and years, and years, of experience, that’s what.
Jochen Benzinger is a highly regarded master engraver from Germany, known for the exceptional precision of his work. Devotion to the craft has left him with a range of abilities, including skeletonising and engine-turning (a.k.a. guilloché), in addition to the engraving skills for which he is most sought after. His talents are in demand and have been employed by many other brands, most notably (without being bound by strict confidentiality like some other top names) IWC, Chronoswiss, Fabergé, Glashütte Original. He even operates his eponymous brand with prices double and beyond that of Jaeger & Benzinger’s. And yet despite this, there is an eminent humility to the man and his work for Jaeger & Benzinger.
Fully skeletonised and heavily engraved movements aren’t exactly “soft”’ on the eyes, they demand sophistication and fine taste in watches to appreciate. Though not to everyone’s taste, one would recognise that they are endlessly elegant. Jaeger & Benzinger have chosen to finish the movement using a traditional East German watchmaking technique – the three-quarter plate – a kind of “delicacy” in high watchmaking. It is patently obvious to an eye with even the slightest bit of training that Jochen’s work is the result of decades of practice, and is brought to life by his hands, but not an autonomous machine.
There are some genuinely fascinating videos of the man at work, spread around his and other websites that are worth watching to get a feel for the breadth of his experience.
So with all that said, and an awareness of the five-figure sums his work is able to command when branded differently, how is it possible that Jaeger & Benzinger watches retail at under €5,000?
The truth is, they shouldn’t. Kay probably knows that too. The quality of the work in real life is genuinely stunning. But this is a project of passion. This is the baby of two friends, who started this small independent brand to make watches they liked, on their terms, for people who appreciated the design and craftsmanship put into their creation but did not have the enormous budgets some of Jochen’s more elaborate work would demand.
Realistically, the amount of time that goes into the creation and customisation of the Jaeger & Benzinger watches should be less than what Jochen would spend on his own label, or on contracts for major industry players. But I cannot fathom how that could be, for the fact that the level of care and attention required by each of these watches is the same. The quality of what you receive is the same. The designs are consciously scaled back to provide an entry-point to true artisanal wares that were previously non-existent (or as good as).
Remember the numerous personalisation options we mentioned above? Kay takes pride in such capabilities and tirelessly makes them known to clients. I used to run an independent brand myself. I know the mechanics and economics behind it. All I can say is, it would cost ten times over for this level of custom-work elsewhere, if at all possible.
Even the packaging for Jaeger & Benzinger is exclusively created and individually hand-made by artisans in Germany, and quite honestly unlike any other. Who says a luxury watch must come in a huge box that takes up space to store and can’t be used for anything else? J&B’s inner case is essentially a long leather travel wallet so you can keep the watch flat, and slip it in any bag or luggage without fuss. I can carry a few of them in my bag, which is way sleeker than the bulk from a watch roll. This case is entirely hand-stitched and tanned and is itself a piece of beautiful fine leather goods. A German master restorer of antique books makes the outer watch box. He uses the same century-old machine and techniques for restoring book covers to build this outer box. But sorry, none of the above is for sale. Not without a J&B watch.
And that’s the key. Jaeger & Benzinger have designed watches that give their wearer access to a level of craftsmanship that would previously have been reserved for a crazily expensive, radically overwrought masterpiece. By toning down the ostentation, and jacking up the wearability and accessibility, Kay Jaeger and Jochen Benzinger are opening the doors to a different kind of watchmaking, and opening the eyes of the next generation.
For precisely that reason, team Skolorr was captivated, amidst the industry fanfare and hoo-ha.
There are loads of reasons to buy a different kind of watch. If you love rugged tool watches, or recognisable brand names, or iconic models for example, choices abound. If you are after discreet luxury representing exceptional artistry that enables you to rise above the name and game, there can be few better options available to you.
More information on Jaeger & Benzinger online.
Sky is the founder of SKOLORR, the curated hub dedicated to the pedigreed independent watchmakers. SKOLORR is official partners with Farfetch and Quintessentially, handpicking fine watches from independent brands for tastemakers and coolhunters. Sky has operated at the heart of... read more