Ulrich Kriescher is a third-generation master watchmaker. Whether it’s at his workshop in Würselen, Germany, or on the German fix-it TV show kaputt und… zugenäht! (“broken and sewn shut”), Kriescher is no stranger to answering customers’ questions and getting their favorite timepieces up and running again. Today, he’s taking questions from the Chrono24 watch community.
Chrono24: As a watchmaker, do you think there’s a quality difference between an in-house movement and an ETA caliber at first glance?
Kriescher: There probably isn’t going to be a big difference to the untrained eye. For most people, an ETA movement looks exactly like a lot of in-house movements. Take, for example, the Rolex calibers 3035 or 3135. Along with the fact that they’re movements, you can’t see through the case back, and they don’t have any finishing or decoration that make them stand out. And when it comes to accuracy, an ETA more than holds its own against most in-house calibers. ETAs have stood the test of time. In the eyes of watchmakers, they’re made for the ages and nice and easy to regulate. Another reason I’m a fan of ETA movements is that, without them, some people who are new to watch collecting and have budgets of less than $1,000 or even $500 might otherwise never have the chance to own a mechanical watch.
Chrono24: What was the main reason that you became a watchmaker?
Kriescher: I come from a watchmaking family. Three generations have produced six master watchmakers so far. At three years of age, I was playing with alarm clock parts under my grandfather’s workbench. I’ve always loved watch mechanics and everything about them. If I hadn’t become a watchmaker, I guess I would have become an industrial mechanic. In any case, I would have gotten into something with lots of gears and moving parts.
Chrono24: Which component do you think characterizes a watch the most?
Kriescher: There are two for me. First, I’d say the oscillation system, which, simply put, is the heart of a watch. It’s also very sensitive; it can be pretty disastrous if something goes wrong with it. Just like with a heart surgeon, working on the oscillation system is always a challenge, which is why it’s so exciting. Watch hands are another important component. They’re what let the owner know whether the watch is running accurately and operating properly.
Chrono24: If you had to pick a favorite movement, which one would it be?
Kriescher: That would absolutely be Rolex’s caliber 3135. There’s hardly any other movement out there – at least in my opinion, and based on my experience – that’s better and more well-engineered. It’s easier to assemble than even the most “everyday” ETA movement. The 3135 has all the right dimensions, edges that fit perfectly, and specifications that hardly ever deviate – not to mention that its construction is straightforward and efficient. Its manufacturing impresses me time and time again. Sure, you’ve got Patek Philippe calibers, for example, that are maybe a little better looking and technically sophisticated, but I’m talking from a watchmaker’s perspective.
Chrono24: Besides a time and date display, what are your favorite watch features or complications?
Kriescher: I like “only” minutes, hours, and seconds. No date, no chronograph. Sir George Daniels, the creator of the co-axial escapement, said it best: “The watchmaker’s job is precision and nothing else.” Every watch’s function diverts power from its movement, which takes away from its precision. And precision is what I feel most obligated to achieve.
Chrono24: How often would you take your watch in to a watchmaker for service?
Kriescher: A wristwatch needs to be brought in for service every five to seven years. The watch’s oil ratios are no longer what they used to be after this amount of time. Without the right oil/lubrication, you’ll start to get too much friction, and friction leads to wear. I’m not saying that after five or seven years, the watch isn’t going to be working perfectly fine anymore or that you’re even going to notice that it requires service. But with watches, particularly ones with a lot of different functions, precision declines over time, and that’s something that doesn’t always end well. It’s just like with a car: You might be able to drive for 100,000 miles without changing the oil. But what’s the engine going to look like after that? And is it really worth it to cause that much irreparable damage? If you’re buying a luxury watch, keep this in mind, and have it serviced accordingly.
Chrono24: What, in your opinion, does the future hold for the watchmaking industry? What’s going to be the next “giant leap” forward?
Kriescher: If we’re being honest, the watchmaking craft is already as good as dead. There simply are not enough watchmakers being trained these days. That’s a real shame, and I haven’t seen any signs of the situation improving in the past few years. But I don’t want to paint too bleak of a picture: Although mechanical watches are an anachronism, with quartz and smartwatches basically making them technologically outdated, their popularity is still going strong. I’m not sure if we can really talk about “giant leaps.” The silicon spiral is, in my opinion, an innovation that appears to have solved the major problem of a watch’s susceptibility to magnetism. Another issue for me is water resistance. There are plenty of diving watches that boast how deep they can go beneath the sea. But as a watchmaker, I also know that water resistance can be affected by factors like heat, pressure, and previous bumps the watch has taken. It’s not uncommon for me to repair water damage in watches that are actually supposed to have high water resistance.
Chrono24: What are some things watch owners can do to take care of their timepieces?
Kriescher: I think proper professional cleaning is important. Bring your timepiece to your watchmaker once a year for them to clean the case and movement. Sure, you can get the dirt and grime off of the bracelet yourself with water. But the layperson probably isn’t going to be able to get to the inside of it to clean the pins, for example. There’s also the risk of doing more damage than actually getting the bracelet clean. And soap is not what you want to be using to clean your watch because it contains softeners that can seep past the watch’s gasket and cause serious damage inside. I also recommend taking off your watch before showering.
Chrono24: As a watchmaker, do you think a watch winder is a must-have?
Kriescher: You only need a watch winder for a watch with a perpetual calendar function. Once set, you should be letting this watch run for good – or at least until its next service. Customers who set this kind of watch themselves often end up damaging it. With every other timepiece, a winder won’t do any damage to your watch. They really are, however, basically just a gimmick.
Chrono24: Which was the first movement that really caught your attention, and why?
Kriescher: That was, without a doubt, the movement with an alarm function that I dis- and re-assembled on the very first day of my apprenticeship. It was the first time I got to see a watch’s mechanics and what makes it run. You could say that I finally understood how everything works.
Chrono24: Based on your experience, what’s the most frequent mistake that watch owners make?
Kriescher: That has to be how they understand and handle water-resistant watches. I’m one of the few accredited watch appraisers for court proceedings in Germany, so I see this issue a lot. The whole phenomenon of water resistance got started in the watch industry about 50 or 60 years ago, and since then, there have been all kinds of marketing done with it. But the problem is that it’s generated the assumption from customers that water resistance means a watch will keep water out of its case for its entire lifetime. In reality, all this does is guarantee a certain feature of the timepiece when you purchase it. Simply put, if you bang your watch on the door while leaving the store, this could cause misalignment or damage to the movement, bezel, or case back, which could negatively impact the watch’s water resistance. A completely “waterproof” watch that never lets a single drop of water in under any circumstances over the course of any amount of time simply doesn’t exist. Although this is something watch brands don’t like to admit, as a watchmaker, I often have annoyed customers in front of me complaining about this exact problem. Owners could really do themselves a big favor by being a little more careful and understanding with their watches.