*Please note that thanks to the excellent work of Olivier Muller this interview is also available in French
A few weeks ago we told you about the amazing Qatar watch from Master Watchmaker Thomas Prescher. Held in the highest international regard for his exceptional skills, Mr Prescher has created some of the most awe defying timepieces ever seen, including the Triple-Axis Tourbillon. Renowned for his creativity and determination, Mr Prescher recently took a break from his busy schedule to talk to us about his career as a watch maker, the challenges he’s faced and essentially what drives him to do what he does.
Not be missed, please enjoy our interview with Master Watchmaker Thomas Prescher.
TWL: Have you always been passionate about watches and watchmaking? Where do you think this passion comes from?
TP: When I was twelve an aunt of mine presented me with some crystals. They became my hobby. I decided to become a goldsmith to work more with crystals. While I was still in school I did some work experience in a Jeweller shop and this is where I came into contact with watches for the first time. It became my new passion. Two years later I decided to start my career as a naval officer. I quit the navy after six years to realize my true dream and about a year later begun my apprenticeship as a watchmaker.
TWL: When you were first starting out did you ever think “Yes, I can become a Master Watchmaker and create some of the most complicated movements the world has ever seen?” Did you ever think that you would not succeed in achieving this goal?
TP: The first time was during my apprenticeship when my master asked me behind closed doors if I have done private work without asking his permission beforehand. I swore that I had not and asked why. He said that he found a complicated lever of an old chronograph in the cleaning machine. I wanted to know why this guided him to me. He said “you are the only one who has the skills to make this by hand, all the others would have asked me if they had found this”. Well it came out that it was somebody from another department but it told me that he saw something special in my work.
The second time I knew I could achieve great things was when I was able to finish my four year apprenticeship in three years. I was the first ever to be granted this special permission in IWC and I also managed to submit the best exam in Switzerland that year.
Last but not least, I was given permission to make my first Tourbillon as part of my apprenticeship, an almost unheard of challenge for an apprentice watchmaker!
Thomas Prescher Calendar QP1
TWL: What other watchmakers do you admire and why? Is there anyone in particular who stands out in your mind as having made a significant contribution to your knowledge and success?
TP: I would prefer to describe more what I admire as opposed to whom, and so in this way it will be impossible for me to miss anyone’s name out!
I admire strength and discipline in following ideas and visions to fruition, as well as the patience to realize things, even if that takes a long time. I also admire the strength and determination required not to give up, even if the target is not realistic.
I must make special mention though of several people who had a particular influence on my professional career. The person who made the most significant contribution to my handcrafting skills was my master, who taught me to continually search for improvement. I would also like to acknowledge Richard Habring, who not only convinced my master to grant me the opportunity to attempt the construction of a tourbillon but also gave me basic plans for the movement. And for sure Richard Daners who answered all my questions when I got the chance to make my first handmade watch as an employee.
In large part the knowledge I have now I got from many old books, networking and also most importantly from trial and error. I have also learnt an incredible amount from the restoration work I have done on the watches of old masters, who taught me through their watches what could work and what was better not to do.
TWL: What inspired you to create the first ever double axis tourbillon pocket watch and a double axis tourbillon wristwatch?
TP: I saw the picture of Randal and Goods multi axis Tourbillons in a table clock in a Tourbillon book and I thought to myself how nice but senseless this is to equilibrate different position in a clock which does not change positions. This must be done in a portable watch.
I started with a pocket watch but upon presentation to the public I learnt that the world was not waiting for pocket watches. I created the Triple Axis Tourbillon wrist watch for the next year, because the same people who originally said that the double was impossible were now asking for a third axis, again with the intention that this should be impossible for me to achieve.
Triple Axis Tourbillon Regulator Sport – The tourbillon with three axis – first and second axis turn once per minute, third axis turns once per hour
TWL: After the stunning success of those two remarkable pieces in 2003, you followed them up with the Tourbillon Trilogy at Baselworld 2004, where you unveiled the first ever triple axis tourbillon wristwatch. Did you ever think that you would not be able to achieve this remarkable feat?
TP: I knew it was possible but several times during the process I was ready to go throw it in Lake Biel. However, I refused to give up and instead continued to squeeze the piece, so to speak, and force it to give up its resistance. Finally I won the battle with the Triple. Making it is still like riding a full blood Arab Horse. Very difficult but it brings fun and satisfaction.
TWL: What were the greatest challenges you faced when conceiving and realising these pieces? How did you overcome them?
TP: To create the watch as an entire piece of art. From a technical perspective the greatest challenge was to realize that a constant force in the carriage is more or less a must for a system like mine. It was also very difficult to synchronize the arm of the Tourbillon with the minute hand. That took me nearly the half of the time.
Overall though, the most difficult thing was the realization of a prototype financed 100% out of my own pocket. No bank was willing to help. So I did nearly everything with my turning machine and through this process gained a lot of knowledge.
In my opinion the only way to overcome the problems of an independent start up is strong will, hard work and patience.
TWL: Looking back now, would you have done anything differently? Why?
TP: I have only one life and I am where I am because I have done things the way I have. So following this logic I would do everything the same, because I am happy now!
If I had a second life I think I would do many things different to make it easier for others and also for myself, although if this would result in the outcome I intended, I am not sure at all.
Mesmerizing – the inner workings of the Qatar watch.
TWL: Recently you announced the successful completion of the custom made Qatar watch, from your TempusVivendi range. What was the most enjoyable aspect of designing and creating this timepiece? What did you find most difficult?
TP: I am very pleased by the positive comments this watch has received. For me the most enjoyable but at the same time challenging aspect was the coat of arms. At first glance it seemed like they were almost made for my system, but this was to be misleading. I had to change so many things especially as the swords had to be carried from the external side and not from the centre. It took me a month to develop this new system and another again to make the new parts.
A very nice aspect is that I always have the opportunity to come in close contact with a new field of things when I do the research for a watch like this. I discovered a new and extremely interesting country and culture.
In the end the most difficult thing was to make the design balanced so that it shows perfect harmony in both positions; showing the time and swords up.
TWL: How long does it take you to design and manufacture a custom piece from start to finish?
TP: Depending what the client wants between four weeks and two years. The Qatarwatch took me three months.
TWL: What is the most unusual request a client has ever made from you for a custom piece?
TP: Can you make me this mechanism for a Quartz watch!
TWL: Finally, out of all the timepieces you have ever made, which is your favorite and why?
TP: My new Mysterious Automatic Double Axis Tourbillon with calendar on the oscillating weight. When I first had the idea I thought this is now beyond even my limits. So I started to realize each part of this watch as a single part and then I have put all the parts together to form one extraordinary watch!
Make sure you keep your eyes out for this amazing new piece from Thomas Prescher later this week!