My initial contact with watchmaker Thomas Prescher was under the most unfortunate circumstances. Revolution’s logistics partner had left a package of magazines on his doorstep as they wouldn’t fit in the mailbox. Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue, but the Prescher workshop was closed for the watchmakers’ holidays and some opportunist burglars took our beautiful magazines as a sign that the coast was clear for a little night shift work!
Although polite, Prescher was none too pleased with us and requested to be removed from our mailing list. I duly removed him from our address database, but something was obviously amiss as our Fall issue ended up in his mailbox again. After another phone call and some double-checking of lists, I was sure everything was good, but come Christmas, I received yet another call from Prescher.
Over 12 months and a number of phone calls later, we both started to see the funny side of the mystery magazine delivery, and I suggested that if he is going to receive our magazines, he might as well be featured in it!
So one sunny Spring day I drove up to meet Mr. Prescher in his new workshop to apologize in person and to get to know him a little bit better.
Born in Germany, on the coast of the North Sea, in a village in the middle of nowhere, Prescher had to amuse himself as a child. School was a 45-minute bus ride away, the library was an even longer bike ride, so he spent his time tinkering with bicycles and lawnmowers, taking them apart and putting them back together again.
During high school, his classes ended around lunchtime, so he decided to look for a part-time job to occupy his time. “I was always bored, so I started searching for work and found a position working for a jeweler doing small projects like making rings and soldering gold chains. Seated next to me in the workshop was the watchmaker who would work on his watch repairs all day. I was fascinated by him and his work,” he shares.
But watchmaking wasn’t ready for him, or he wasn’t ready for watchmaking, and at the age of 19 he enlisted in the German Navy and spent the following years traveling the world. “The navy wasn’t for me. I knew one day I would be put in the position where I might have to take someone’s life and decided it was best to leave.
“During my time in the Navy I was an avid reader of books and magazines about watchmaking and decided to look for an apprenticeship,” he explains. At the age of 25, apprenticeships in watchmaking proved hard to find. Luckily, IWC agreed to take a chance on him and although he was the oldest apprentice of the year, he excelled, finishing his apprenticeship a year early and producing a tourbillon as his montre école, the end-of-studies watch project.
His career then took him to Audemars Piguet’s service department and then on to the Gübelin central repair workshop where he repaired some incredible timepieces. “At Gübelin, a collector came into the shop and presented us with 365 watches for service and repair, among which there were 40 grand complications and 20 tourbillons – all really wonderful timepieces, and he wanted one watchmaker to do everything, and that lucky person was me.
“I got the chance to work on Breguet watches from the master himself, A. Lange & Söhne minute repeaters, even a Japanese temporal linear watch from the 1700s with springs made of bamboo in oil,” he says.
After Gübelin, he went to work for Progress Watch to set up their after-sales department, followed by a stint at Blancpain where he was in charge of production. When he was let go, he decided that the only way to go was independent. “It wasn’t an easy time, my son had just been born, but I started with restoration work, which paid the bills, and then worked on my own watches at night.”
He founded his company in 2002 and started work on his Double Axis Collection, selling a piece during his first Baselworld. When some engineers at the show challenged him to make a triple axis piece, he went away and came back the following year with a trilogy of pieces. “I presented the trilogy to Michael Tay from Singapore’s The Hour Glass, who bought it on the very first day of the show,” he remembers.
The following years were incredibly creative for Prescher, producing a number of pieces using different materials, including 13 pieces for the Kremlin. Times were good until the economic crisis of 2008 when many clients canceled their orders.
“We continued on as best we could, but I had a serious accident in 2008 that put me out of action for about a year. I was 46 years old and once you have looked mortality in the eye, you think about your life differently.
“When I started working again, my priorities changed and the question of life/quality balance became essential for me. I went from eight employees to just me. Nothing changed in terms of my watches, except perhaps that my clients now have to wait longer! It is a new feeling for some guys, but hopefully they appreciate the watches more,” he laughs.
In his workshop, Prescher has everything from a 5-axis CNC machine to galvanizing equipment and ancient machines to make his own tools. His bench has new movements and antique pieces that all provide enough entertainment for Prescher to never be bored again.
As I take my leave from Prescher, I am grateful that our magazine fiasco led me to meet this fascinating watchmaker. My only dilemma now is, do I send him a magazine, or not?