Watches: Silent Partners

  • James D. Malcomson

Steven Grotell knows the value of keeping a low profile. In the two decades since the architect-turned-watch-designer began working in the business, he has learned the extent to which his clients, including some of the larger luxury houses, desire to keep the collaboration of specialists such as himself a trade secret. He is also aware that as an American working in a very Swiss craft, his status is all the more tenuous. "The fact that I was an architect and industrial designer allowed me to enter a door that is typically closed to outsiders," he explains. "In the process, I got to know the very best artisans and specialists working in all parts of the industry."

These artisans will be the featured attraction as Grotell embarks on his first watchmaking effort under his own name, a series of 22 one-of-a-kind jeweled timepieces for women. This first batch of watches ($25,000 to approximately $375,000) features a delicate capsule-shaped case with a hinged lid upon which the various artisans ply their crafts in different combinations. Calling on his past contacts, Grotell has enlisted known masters like engraver Kees Engelbarts and gem-setter Dick Steenman to contribute wholly or in part to the design of each watch. "I got a great response when I asked the various crafts people to play in my orchestra," says Grotell, using a favorite metaphor. "Many of them had never performed together." But as a sign of the enduring covenant of silence enforced in the watch industry, Grotell’s enamellist, recognized as the top contemporary talent, asked that her name not be mentioned—at the request of the prestigious Geneva brands that make up her client base.

Prestige does not seem to be a prominent motivator for Grotell himself. He has eschewed the traditional name on the dial in favor of a row of discreet hallmarks placed on the case, preferring instead to let the artisanship do the talking for him. Pieces such as the one containing a micro-mosaic of 4,000 slivers of Venetian glass now being prepared should convey the message adequately. "My greatest joy is seeing a woman wearing one of my designs that was picked by her or for her," he says, "and watching her wear the piece with grace and confidence."

 

Steven Grotell, 212.837.2658, www.grotell.com

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