A Craft That Takes Its Time

in Wetzikon, Switzerland

Calmness, a steady hand and perfectionism: These are qualities needed for the delicate art of watchmaking. Michel Scholl combines them in his watch business in Wetzikon, Switzerland.

The shutters open with a creak at precisely 8:59 am. Spotlessly clean shop windows appear. A new day begins. Michel Scholl expertly sweeps some stray leaves from the entrance and greets passers-by with a friendly «Good morning!»

An automatic door leads to the shop itself. In glass display cases, selected timepieces and jewellery await their new owners. Small spot lights help show the sparkling accessories at their best. The room is bright and finely furnished with a grey slate floor. Rado, Meister, Hamilton, Omega – The names of well-known watch brands are prominently displayed. But it isn’t just famous luxury brands that are sold here; Michel Scholl has a good eye for selected watchmakers from all over the world. He offers a wide range of watches: «We sell watches worth 50 to 100’000 Franks.»

The workshop is separated from the shop floor by only five stairs, but it feels like a journey back in time. The workshop is full of antique wooden furniture. Small tools are neatly arranged on the work surfaces. Every drawer and every box was carefully labelled long ago. But modern machines, like the one for testing how waterproof a watch is, are also here, ready for a new day. With Michel Scholl, the watch business is in its third generation. Which is why the workshop feels like something from his grandfather’s day. The office is in a third room. Upstairs, above the shop, there are two residential floors. The grandparents lived in the three-story house last. Walking up stairs to the apartments, more witnesses to the passing of time can be found: old pictures in delicate frames. They exclusively show watchmaking motifs.

Philipp Scholl sits at one of the work tables, concentrated and lost in his work. A second glance reveals that Philipp is Michel’s twin brother. Philipp works part-time for the family company, and when he’s not helping timepieces regain their rhythm, he does the same for music – Philipp is a professional drummer and plays for a few jazz bands. He learned the watchmaker’s craft on the side and seems to have a natural skill for this delicate work.

Like so many trades, the business of watchmaking is changing: «I do ask myself how I could reach the new generation. Many well-known brands have their own monobrand stores now and don’t need intermediary dealers like me anymore. Additionally, people travel a lot more these days and buy things everywhere.» For comparison: «My Grandfather had the same regular customers for 50 years – that is almost inconceivable today.» The needs of today’s regular customers have changed a lot: «Customers often do their research before they come here, so they have a better idea of what they want and are also more likely to buy certain brands.» Watches are still prestigious objects. And despite the rise of internet shopping and more frequent travel, the expert’s opinion and know-how are still sought after. «We really appreciate our customers’ trust and it simply makes us happy when a customer is content and satisfied with their decision.»

Michel Scholl is adapting to modern times in order to keep his grandfather’s legacy and love for watches alive: «In these days of regional and temporal independence, we need to stand out through our services and our competence. We have to be prepared for everything.»

And what about the jewellery that is sparkling alongside the watches in the glass display cases? Scholl smiles, this mustn’t be the first time he’s had to answer this question: «It’s traditional.» Brief history lesson: In Geneva in the 15th century, Swiss reformer Johannes Calvin was so disgusted by displays of wealth that he forbade the wearing of jewellery. Goldsmiths were forced to find alternative ways to practice their craft – and watchmaking was born.

Michel Scholl himself wears a Porsche timepiece on his left wrist: «Of course the customers look at what I’m wearing. This is a fully automatic watch with a GMT-function. That means it can show me an additional time zone. If I choose Bangkok for example, the watches hands all move to show the time in Thailand’s capital. It’s amazing!»

«I like how varied watchmaking is. Fixing up old watches is wonderful work.»

When someone follows you around all day, asking questions about your job and showing an interest in what you do, it’s easy to get a bit over-excited – and so it is with Michel Scholl. To demonstrate the components and functions of an automatic clock, he promptly takes a large one apart. With it he can show us the inner workings of this clock. It is clear that, even after years on the job, Michel Scholl is still passionate about watchmaking. «I like how varied watchmaking is,» he says. «Fixing up old watches is wonderful work, I really enjoy it. And when people’s emotions come into play, even better.»

But aesthetics are also very important. «I enjoy the constant search for new designs.» One of his varied tasks as a watchmaker is customer service, which is very important to him. The doorbell rings often. Another co-worker greets customers at the door, but it is often the watchmaker’s expertise they have come for. He handles many different questions and requests: from a simple battery replacement to the sale of a new watch or the repair of a larger clock or children’s watch.

12:00 pm, lunch time. The window shutters are let down again and security measures are taken. Michel Scholl looks a bit worried: «Security is an important factor in this business. Everyone has heard stories in the news: and things like that. We have to protect ourselves, and train our employees too. It’s very important.» He makes sure the lights are off and leaves the store. Next door to – Scholl Watches – there is a Thai restaurant where he orders lunch.

During the meal, the conversation turns to his twin brother, Philipp: «He didn’t want to be in charge, that’s why we work so well together.» And their sister? «She’s happy to lend a hand if we need help, but isn’t really involved in the family business.» The biggest challenge Michel faced after taking over the business was with the staff: «Suddenly, the son was the boss. It took some getting used to for everyone, including myself. And there is the constant comparison with my father.»

Michel Scholl began his four-year watchmaking apprenticeship in 1992, working in his parent’s business. «Of course I often asked myself if this was really it. But I only really confronted the question in my final year and decided that this definitely is what I want to do.» He worked for another watchmaker for a year. Then, in 2003, he began taking on more leadership responsibilities in his parent’s business.

Michel's workplace
Michel's workplace

After lunch, he goes back to the workshop. Michel Scholl’s passion for watches is ever-present: His eyes shine when he picks up his grandfather’s old utensils, when he uses antique tools and when he works on high-class watches. He is also proud of his work. He still uses tools from past generations: «I’m thrilled with the quality!»

«Our craft takes time, many people don’t understand this. Just imagine how many tiny parts it takes to make a watch» Michel says, and emphasises that watches need to be handled with care. When he wears his coat and an eyepiece around his neck in the workshop, he looks like a doctor with a stethoscope. The eyepiece, or ocular lens, is a kind of magnifying glass, which can magnify 2.5 to 10 times. It is probably the watchmaker’s most frequently used tool and comes in different shapes and colours. Michel uses one with a nice wooden casing.

«Watchmaking is a traditional craft and I associate tradition with values. Values which should be upheld and lived by.»

Is there a dream watch he would love to wear on his own wrist? «Yes, one with a minute repeater. If you activate a slide-piece on the watch, it chimes the time. So for example 10:20: Ten strokes for 10 o’clock, a for 15 minutes and five more strokes for the last five minutes. What I really appreciate is the combination of handicraft and sound.» Speaking of this high art of watchmaking, his eyes light up. His attitude towards his craft is an almost romantic one: «Watchmaking is a traditional craft and I associate tradition with values. Values which should be upheld and lived by.»

The day passes in seemingly no time at all. At 5:50pm, he looks at the clock on the workshop wall and, taken aback, says: «Oh, is this clock correct?» Of course the clocks in this shop can be trusted, and slowly he starts tidying up. closes at 6:30pm and Michel Scholl heads home. Tomorrow night, he’ll be performing on stage, playing bass, and he still has to pack. He plays in three separate bands. One of them, , describe themselves as a natural anti-depressant: Pleasant pop-sounds with a jazz basis, good mood guarantied

After spending an entire day with Michel Scholl in his store and workshop, something has changed for the authors: Watches will never look the same again. Now, the image of a watchmaker comes to mind, bent over a tiny steel spring, his face only centimetres from the work bench, with an eyepiece in one eye and the other tightly shut. The tip of his nose almost touches the spring as he calmly, expertly, with almost imperceptible movements, fixes the tiny part into the clock mechanism. A watch is no longer just a watch; it’s a work of art.

Want to know more about Michel Scholl? Read his Profile