Justin Hast: How do you see watches?
Benoît Mintiens: As an industrial designer, I basically look at watches in a different way when compared to watch designers. I look at a watch as an outsider — an industrial designer’s point of view. My focus is on the end user. When I first sat down and considered designing a watch, my first thought was ‘who is going to use it’ and ‘why’. It seems that very few in the watch business are doing that anymore. Everything we do at RESSENCE starts with the end-user in mind.
In the early days, did you ever fear you may fail for technical reasons or otherwise?
Oh, man…(laughs)…for starters I’m not Swiss — I do not live in Switzerland — I’m not a watchmaker and at the start I had not one, not one single person in my whole circle of influence who was related to watchmaking. So, I had no link to watches basically. So yeah for sure that fear has come across me many, many times.
So, what were the greatest obstacles you had to overcome in building the brand?
I’ll answer you with a story. I went to Basel in 2009 to see Urwerk. I wanted to see them in the flesh because I really think they are very different in the way they approach watchmaking. When I saw them presenting their products, my eyes just popped — it was the first time I realized, ‘you know what, I could have my own brand’. Before that it was just a big, ‘no way’. I used to think that you have to be at least a 200 year old brand and have 5,000 people working for you. I remember saying to the guys from Urwerk that year ‘I will be here next to you in 12 months’. However, at that time, I had everything except a watch. I didn’t even know it would be called RESSENCE. I was keen for the Swiss industry not to be made aware of the technology I wanted to implement into my watches, as I needed to get my patents in place — you have 9 months after logging a patent to decide if you want to internationalize it.
I then came across a Dutch component manufacturer who could create what I needed. They were great but they didn’t have the quality of finish the big manufactures in Switzerland have. Their work looked great but very raw! I first began by molding the rubber straps myself, which was great fun. The gears and the axles were the two components I couldn’t find solutions for. The gears were so small; it was just too expensive to mill them with only three prototype watches. And by the way, my budget was my savings — which wasn’t very much! I was ok with losing everything because if I didn’t try I would never forgive myself. But with regards to the gears, I thankfully came across a company in Belgium that could laser cut the gears. That was big for me. Then the next problem was the axles. They had to fit the tubes to within a 100th of a milimeter. This was tough. But one day I saw the light. The solution to my problem was needles — the kind that you have in hospitals. So, I went to my local pharmacies and picked up a box of each model. The crazy thing was that these people knew my wife, so the next time they saw her they asked if I was okay!