There are rare watches, and then there are RARE watches. Grieb & Benzinger specialises in the latter, the German company sees mechanical watchmaking as an art form, and sources historical or rare watch movements, passing them on to its artisans for refurbishment and serious decoration, before putting them into precious metal cases for the lucky owners.
Excessive-rarity is part and parcel of a huge chunk of the luxury watch industry today. We realise that term sounds like an oxymoron but bear with us. In years long past, the term ‘luxury’ was garnished only on products that were a cut above the rest, and were uncommon or rare. What the latter means is you weren’t likely to see these products on every third person’s wrist, unless you were in the right circles, perhaps in the upper echelons of society. In modern times, luxury seems to command the same or higher price premium as before but rarity has been taken out of the equation.
If you look at traditional high-end brands such as Patek Philippe, we’re now seeing estimated production runs in excess of 50,000 watches per year. While Patek’s more complicated watches are made in far smaller numbers, the very fact that there are that many watches being produced by the brand takes away from its luxury equity. Thankfully, when it comes to independent watchmakers, rarity is still part of the luxury formula for certain brands – Laurent Ferrier for instance has produced fewer than 800 watches in total since it opened its doors back in 2010.
This brings us back to Grieb & Benzinger. The company doesn’t actually have a production run, doesn’t have boutiques or retail points of sale, the watches are discussed and sold through personal appointments with CEO Georg Bartkowiak, who maintains 1:1 relationships with each of the company’s clients. This might explain why when you first started reading this article, you probably sat there thinking ‘who?’ when you saw the name Grieb & Benzinger.
The company itself was founded in 2005 by three partners, on the backbone of master watchmaker Hermann Grieb. Grieb specialises in looking for high-quality vintage movements that have famous provenance, and once sourced, he sets out restoring the movements to full working order (if necessary). The refurbished calibre is then passed on to the company’s artisan team, which transforms the movement into mechanical art using their considerable talents, and an arsenal of tools.
The brand says its artisans can perform intricate engraving to produce geometric or floral shapes, can create guilloché patterns, can fully skeletonise the movement and even add color to steel parts using their knowledge of heating techniques. The brand can even coat components in blue platinum using a galvanically applied coating process developed by the company’s master goldsmith, Albrecht Bolz.
Grieb & Benzinger’s watches are typically designed by one of the brand’s three co-founders, Georg Bartkowiak, with the focus on satisfying clientele’s needs while creating timepieces that are different from everything else on the market.
The brand has produced a few unique timepieces since its inception but two pieces in particular standout, as the brand says they are unlikely to ever be created in the present or in the future. The first is the 49mm platinum encased Blue Sensation, which uses a refurbished and fully decorated movement made for Tiffany by Patek Philippe back in 1889. The second piece is known as the Blue Merit, this 41mm platinum timepiece uses a modified calibre L902.0 from none other than fellow German brand, A. Lange & Söhne. For long time Lange aficionados, that calibre number should have immediately resulted in raised eyebrows because it was the movement Lange used in its Tourbillon Pour le Mérite watches, which were produced between 1994 and 1998. Only 200 of those watches were ever produced by Lange.
An intriguing solution
Traditionally, serious collectors have had to hope, and wait, to run into a unique or rare timepiece with provenance. Grieb & Benzinger offers a different approach that enables buyers to create a truly unique and rare timepiece using components from other watches. If you’re wondering if there are actually people that would want to take a great modern or vintage watch and build something entirely different (high-end vintage collectors generally prefer their watch to be as close to original as possible), we can assure that such buyers exist. We can certainly see the appeal of this approach.
The Blue Sensation carries a cost of approximately US $262,000, whereas the Blue Merit will cost you about $420,000. While these are not what you would call inexpensive timepieces, keep in mind that both are beautifully hand-finished, unique pieces that are unlikely to ever come up for sale. We’d also like to point out that at the recent Only Watch 2015 charity auction (our story here), a unique Tudor Heritage Black Bay (a fairly standard tool watch with a current movement) sold for approximately US $374,000. Still think these two Grieb & Benzinger watches are expensive?
To learn more about Grieb & Benzinger, click here.