Pim Koeslag, Ateliers deMonaco
Angus Davies chats to Pim Koeslag, CEO of Ateliers deMonaco about his professional background and the high-end brand he manages, including the company’s patented systems and the production of bespoke watches.
In 2008, Pim Koeslag, Robert van Pappelendam and Peter Stas established Ateliers deMonaco. Initially, the brand operated from a workshop in the sun-kissed principality of Monaco.
Peter Stas is probably best known for establishing the luxury marque, Frederique Constant, with his wife and co-founder Aletta Stas. While Frederique Constant is synonymous with making affordable luxury watches, Ateliers deMonaco operates within the rarefied heights of haute horlogerie where price is of less importance. The brand’s watches encompass technical virtuosity, flawless finishing and, in some cases, artisanal crafts. Perhaps, most noticeably, the Maison has gained a reputation for crafting unique pieces and bespoke commissions.
Ultimately, Ateliers deMonaco relocated to Geneva where it now operates under the same roof as its sister brands, Alpina and Frederique Constant. In May 2016, Citizen Watch Company Ltd announced it had signed an agreement to acquire Frederique Constant Holding SA, including all three of its watchmaking brands.
Despite the change of ownership, Pim Koeslag remains CEO of Ateliers deMonaco as well as being the Technical Director of Alpina and Frederique Constant.
Recently, I met Pim Koeslag, a son of The Netherlands, and seized the opportunity to learn more about him and the high-end company he deftly manages.
Interview with Pim Koeslag, Ateliers deMonaco
What makes Ateliers deMonaco special?
We are a very innovative brand, able to explore many new, groundbreaking ideas. Of course, this is not just because of me, but because we have a talented research and development team and some fabulous watchmakers, experienced with working on high-end timepieces. We have patented several unique devices and systems not found elsewhere.
Can you provide a brief overview of your background to date?
Initially, I attended a goldsmith school in Amsterdam. At the time, I wanted to be a jeweller or goldsmith. In the first year of school I studied watchmaking, working with gold and silver and studying hand engraving. However, after just one week of attending college, I knew I wanted to be a watchmaker rather than a goldsmith.
I finished watchmaking school and then did an internship at Grönefeld, where I learnt a lot. Thereafter, I was named best watchmaker at the watchmaking school and the school arranged for me to go Patek Philippe for a couple of weeks of intensive training.
However, I first met Peter Stas while I was still at the watchmaking school when a group of the students, myself included, travelled to Geneva in order to visit Patek Philippe, Rolex and Vacheron Constantin. While in Geneva we were also keen to visit Frederique Constant because it was owned and operated by a Dutch couple, Aletta and Peter.
During our visit, Peter asked if anyone would be willing to help him with the development of a movement. He had the idea of making a manufacture movement but, at the time, he lacked the know-how and resources. I step forward and offered to help.
The week after, I returned to Geneva and started work on the project. Peter also brought on board one student from the watchmaking school in Geneva. That is how I began working for Peter. We unveiled our first movement, the hand-wound Calibre FC910, at Baselworld in 2004. It proved a huge success. Today, Frederique Constant has made 29 different calibres.
I believe you were instrumental in the creation of your company’s most complicated watch to date, the Tourbillon Répétition Minute.
What made you undertake such a complex task?
Despite creating numerous calibres for Frederique Constant, I had always dreamt of making a minute repeater. I suspect this desire came from having spent time at Grönefeld and Patek Philippe. Eventually, having discussed my idea with Peter Stas several times, he agreed to my developing our own minute repeater.
Once created, the minute repeater movement was presented to Peter who agreed that it looked beautiful and sounded wonderful. However, at the time he was not sure how it could be utilised. It certainly did not fit with the Frederique Constant collection, as it was too high-end.
Peter came back to me a couple of weeks later and suggested we set up another brand and he asked me if I would like to participate in this new company. Thereafter, Ateliers deMonaco was born.
Today, the brand has produced six different in-house movements and typically makes 150 pieces per annum. We are now able to produce beautiful watches, including unique pieces.
How long did it take to develop the Tourbillon Répétition Minute?
It took 4.5 years to develop the watch.
I know when Ateliers deMonaco unveiled its perpetual calendar it was incredibly robust and also very user-friendly. Did you adopt a similar philosophy with the Tourbillon Répétition Minute?
Yes. There are various safeguards in place to reduce the risk of any potential damage.
I think this can be attributed to our experience with Frederique Constant where we make products for people to enjoy. We always ensure everything works reliably. This philosophy also applies to Ateliers deMonaco products.
On your website you describe the ‘eXtreme Precision 1 minute tourbillon’ as ‘one of the most accurate tourbillon movements in the world today’. Can you quantify this level of precision?
We have a patented system for ensuring the tourbillon cage is optimally balanced. The system includes fixing weights to the tourbillon cage. These weights can be adjusted in order to alter the moment of inertia.
The cage comprises of approximately 80 components and weighs 0.6 gramme. As the escapement is positioned on one side, the cage will prove heavier on that side. As the cage rotates, the heavier part of the cage will draw more power, impacting on the amplitude and ultimately the precision of the movement.
Our system, using various weights, ensures the weight is distributed evenly throughout the cage, delivering a balanced state and ensuring energy is consumed uniformly.
When the watch leaves our Manufacture, the daily variation in rate is between 0 and +2 seconds.
Some of the Ateliers deMonaco models are embellished with examples of métiers d’art such as grand feu enamelling and hand-engraved dials. Do you engage local artisans to undertake this work?
Yes, we engage specialists who are experts in a particular artisanal craft. It does not make sense to perform these tasks in-house because we have an array of individuals and specialist firms nearby which possess these types of skills. We focus upon what we know and let the artisans specialise on what they know. These artisanal skills have existed in this region for a long time and we are happy to play our part in perpetuating these crafts.
I note you offer a bespoke service.
Yes, this is a big part of our business and, if I am honest, it is the part I like the most (laughs).
How far does your bespoke service go?
We have done bespoke movements, but this is unusual. Most bespoke commissions focus upon individual dial designs with some encompassing stones, enamelling, engraving etc.
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to try on your lovely watch, the Poinçon de Genève which, as its name implies, is endowed with the Hallmark of Geneva.
How many additional hours are spent in fulfilling the requirements of the Poinçon de Genève?
I have stopped counting! It is one of the most demanding standards I have ever encountered.
Is that in terms of the quality of the components, the finishing or the chronometry?
Everything. Basically, if you mess up one of these areas, you will probably need to start from the beginning again. It starts from the research and development process and continues all the way through the production phase, decoration, assembly, testing and final inspection. The requirements of the Poinçon de Genève are incredibly tough.
Innovation seems to be at the heart of your company’s DNA. I know you have four patents relating to your movements. I would like to explore one of these patents in close detail:
The ‘Freebeat’ regulation system. How does this differ from the ubiquitous index adjusted balance or a variable-inertia balance? What are the benefits this approach confers?
The hairspring is fixed using a ratchet system. This allows the effective length of the hairspring to be adjusted while being held securely in position, hence there is no requirement for curb pins which could cause interference.
In addition, there is no conventional stud and adjusting the rate proves easier than with a variable-inertia balance. The balance wheel is also ‘clean’ which mitigates turbulence and, as a result, aids precision. Lastly, the system delivers impressive levels of isochronism, again aiding precision.
What are your aspirations for Ateliers deMonaco both in terms of product development and the company as a whole?
To continue being innovative, special and exclusive.
Pim Koeslag clearly has an inquisitive nature. He has an unwavering desire to challenge accepted norms and deliver horological advancement. However, despite his prowess for innovation, he remains very modest, often making reference to the contribution made by members of his team.
The brand has four patented innovations relating to its movements. During our meeting we explored two of them, the ‘eXtreme Precision 1 minute tourbillon’ and the ‘Freebeat’ regulation system. Both systems are exemplars of ‘blue-sky thinking’ and confer superior precision for the betterment of horophiles. Pim and his colleagues possess a willingness to look beyond the horological landscape in their midst and explore uncharted territory.
Beyond its technical creativity, the people behind Ateliers deMonaco possess well-honed skills, creating objects endowed with a prepossessing beauty. The visual allure of the brand’s products extends to exquisite dials, some bespoke, enriched with traditional artisanal crafts. Moreover, the beauty of an Ateliers deMonaco timepiece is not restricted to its face but extends to its internal organs. Indeed, the peerless movement finishing bestows much eye-appeal and stands testament to the time-served skills found at the Maison’s facility in Geneva.
During my time with Pim Koeslag he never boasted or came across as unduly flamboyant, and yet his work stands testament to his creativity and technical expertise. Likewise, an Ateliers deMonaco timepiece is not an example of conspicuous consumption, rather an understated paragon of fine watchmaking, ideally suiting discerning individuals. It seems there is a high quotient of Pim within the DNA of this luxury marque.