THE ESSENTIAL JOURNAL
many of the finest pieces had weighted rotors attached to their movements, making for the centrifugal force of wearing it to cause the winding. Those were “automatic” watches and tended to be the most sought after.
average, these types of brands rarely make more than a few thousand pieces a year, sell direct to customers online, and have a gregarious camaraderie about them, staffs rarely numbering more than a half-dozen watch-lovers.
After learning some basics, the scientist, the Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing nerd who built models and tinkered with old film cameras was satisfied by the intrinsic workings of watches. It was no longer entirely about the design or aesthetic, the status, but how these perfect machines worked that fascinated me. Over the years after buying the Monaco, I did not have the financial means to continue along such high-end collecting. I bought a couple of vintage Rolex’s (often considered an epitome for unique automatic mechanical movements) but sold them as soon as I could, just to have had a look, just to fetishize the marriage of design and function. Vintage watches became my purview, being less expensive and having myriad options for intriguing design and engineering choices. Once I exhausted that, I became fascinated with “micro-brands”. There are at any given time, about 30-40 small, family-and-friend-owned companies in the U.S. making watches. They tend to source their materials from the same places that larger conglomerates build, such as Swatch (Longines, Hamilton, Tissot, Omega) to Miyota (Citizen, Bulova, Eco-Drive). These micro-brands assemble, quality-control and design their lines all around the U.S. On
One such of these small brands was being built, sold and serviced out of North Carolina, the brainchild of long-time watch enthusiast Fred Bernhardt Amos. His wife, Jamie, handled shipping and logistics, with assistance by his teenage son, Philip, who would go on to design their most popular and iconic piece, the shark-tooth-inspired Diver. They had a local watchmaker on staff, a third-generation tinkerer from Eastern Europe, Frank. After reading glowing reviews on enthusiast websites such as WatchUSeek and TimeZone, I made an investment on a Globemaster. It was a very sturdy dive watch, meaning it was heavily water-resistant, with a scratchproof sapphire crystal and 60 minute timing bezel. It also featured an independently adjustable hand for a second time zone. The movement, or motor, that drove the watch was made by Swiss company ETA, the conglomerate that makes some of the finest components in the world. These features, in an automatic watch, rarely cost less than $2,000 and my cost from Bernhardt was well under $1,000. Fred and I struck up a friendship, mostly via email, and he was very forthcoming in his business model. As a collector himself, he became frustrated
with the lack of affordable options, the huge margins needed by the bigger companies to satisfy large runs of watches and the advertising budgets to support those sales. He surmised that if he could keep inventory low, with almost exclusively limited editions (my Globemaster was number 396 of 400) and sell entirely through word-of-mouth, online and through pre-existing customers, he could sell watches to everyone, giving even the working man an opportunity to wear a well-designed, classic and capable timepiece. A friend and colleague of mine, David Greening, had also become interested in horology, and together, we made a small investment in the fledging Bernhardt Watch Company. Over the last few years, we have seen exponential growth, with no fewer than a half-dozen new models cycling in and out, revenue tripled, and also have been able to maintain the home-grown, family-oriented business style. Fred’s philosophy has not changed, with components continuing to be of the highest grade, his own, personal attention to support and service, as well as a continued drive to sell through our own reputation. It truly is a small, familial and accessible business thriving in a marketplace dominated by huge corporations, bureaucracy and decisions by committee. With Bernhardt, we not only handle our decisions around the dinner table, but because of howaccessible Fred and the team are, allow our customers to have the kind of insight, input
and dialogue we would all like to have with something as personal as a watch. The credo, the stunt word we use to describe Bernhardt Watches is “proven”. Visiting our website or threads on the enthusiast forums, a reader will constantly see “proven” as our hallmark. We are “Proven to Lead”, “Proven to explore”, “Proven to Inspire”. As our credo, it represents not simply how we want our customers to feel about their new watch, but how we view them ourselves. As a family company, we need our endeavours to inspire us, to give us hope and faith, to prove that what we are doing is right. Few things are as fulfilling as proving to oneself that you can accomplish your goals. As we make our watches, we are proving it to ourselves, and as you wear them, to you as well.
THE ESSENTIAL JOURNAL
Published on Apr 2, 2015
The Essential Journal Issue 4 featuring Number 1 Savile Row Gieves & Hawkes, British School of Watchmaking, Jane Shepherdson and of course,...