Home Lifestyle Customization Becomes a Watch Brand’s Calling Card

Customization Becomes a Watch Brand’s Calling Card

Customization Becomes a Watch Brand’s Calling Card

The men behind Jurmo Watches say their clients often fall into one of two categories: those who know exactly what they want, and those who have little or no idea and need some direction.

That is because the Finnish brand, founded in 2017 by Martin Kalland and Kim von Gerich, produces mechanical timepieces that can be customized, calling for a bit of decision-making. (Think ordering a pizza or getting a tattoo.)

Many watchmakers outsource customization and charge hefty fees for the service, but the men said they aim to produce more affordable watches, sometimes for just a few thousand euros. “For those who know what they want, we are at a point where we can do almost anything here for a reasonable price,” Mr. Kalland said. “For those who don’t know, we try to narrow things down to a few options.”

Most of the customization at Jurmo involves small alterations — the shape of the hands or the color of a dial — to one of its four models, which sell for 2,000 to 3,000 euros ($2,225 to $3,335) on its website. But the brand can make more significant modifications, too.

“Our goal is to make watches for people that are meaningful to them,” Mr. Kalland said.

With its combination of manual tools and high-tech machinery, Jurmo produces most of its parts in-house, with the exception of the movements, which come from the Swiss supplier ETA; sapphire crystals; gaskets; springs; rubies and straps or metal bracelets. It now sells about 120 watches a year, half of which are customized, the rest are from its collection.

Also, the income from the annual production and sale of as many as 4,000 parts to more than a dozen watch brands worldwide — which provides about 30 percent of the brand’s revenue — helps to keep both its custom jobs and its own line of timepieces affordable, Mr. Kalland noted.

When two computerized numerical control, or C.N.C., machines arrive this fall, the company expects to at least triple its parts production capacity.

Jurmo also executes customizations for other brands, and requests it cannot meet are outsourced to someone who can, Mr. Kalland said during an interview at the brand’s 180-square-meter (1,940-square-foot) headquarters in a brick building on the Aalto University campus, just outside the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

On a recent July afternoon, some of Jurmo’s six employees operated lathes and laser-cutting machines, or worked at watchmaking benches or on laptops. Vikenty Gryaznov, who has designed watches for more than 20 brands including Konstantin Chaykin and Gelfman, was half-hidden behind a large monitor. Techno music played in the background, adding an upbeat feeling to all the activity.

“In every project you get new challenges,” said Mr. Kalland, 38. “I would say that my main job is to be a solution-maker.” He is the company’s head of production, having trained himself with YouTube videos on watchmaking; Mr. von Gerich, 35, is the financial director.

At the request of Tamás Miklós, a collector in Hungary, Jurmo recently customized one of its R0 watches: replacing the automatic winding mechanism in the timepiece’s ETA 7750 flyback chronograph movement with a manual wind system and changing the sapphire glass case back for a flat titanium one. The result, Mr. Miklós wrote in an email, was a thinner timepiece that better suited his wrist.

To show support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, Mr. Miklós also ordered a vibrant blue and yellow sunburst dial and had an engraved version of the Ukrainian coat of arms, a shield with a trident, added to the case back. The completed watch was about €4,000 — about €1,000 more than the original price.

“The watch became the crown jewel of my collection,” wrote Mr. Miklós, 44, adding that the collaboration was almost as meaningful to him as the timepiece itself. “It’s made me realize that I should shrink my current collection and focus more on unique pieces.”

Following the tradition at Jurmo, the watch was called Hope for Ukraine. “We give every project a name,” Mr. Kalland said. “I don’t want projects to be numbers. I want them to be personal.”

Another client, who commissioned a blood-red textured dial to symbolize his Christian faith and the difficulties a chronic illness has caused him, was concerned that coordination issues associated with his illness might result in damage to the watch. But Jurmo arranged for the stainless steel case to have a treatment known as ice hardening: subjecting it to extreme subzero temperatures to increase its durability.

Mr. Kalland said the watch, which he and the client named Discovery, was a bespoke model rather than the adaptation of a Jurmo timepiece; the client said he paid about €6,000.

Some requests, however, can increase prices significantly: A client once asked that 56 diamonds be set in a bezel, which required the advice of a goldsmith, and that 11 more diamonds be placed on the custom mother-of-pearl dial. The alterations increased the price of the watch, a Jurmo model, to €7,000 from its original cost of about €2,000, Mr. Kalland said.

Both men said they are very careful to avoid mimicking others’ work or violating copyrights. “We’re not putting Nike on a dial,” said Mr. Kalland, who is aware of the pitfalls as he attended law school, but did not graduate because he decided to pursue watchmaking. “We’re not printing logos or doing something that looks like something someone else did. If we are unsure, then we won’t make it. So far we haven’t had a customer propose something we couldn’t do.”

The business — and its name — has its roots in Mr. Kalland’s unsuccessful search in 2015 for a watchmaker who could create a dial with an image of Jurmo, an island his family used to visit in summer while sailing off the southwestern coast of Finland.

“I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I just make it myself? How hard can it be?’” recalled Mr. Kalland, who eventually gave the watch to his father as a 50th birthday gift.

The dial project a success, Mr. Kalland and Mr. von Gerich, who attended Arcada University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki together, considered starting a dial modification business, but finally turned to customized watches.

When the pandemic pushed deliveries of parts from weeks to months, the men decided to acquire machinery, much of it secondhand, to produce their own.

“It was a challenge, but we got the time to build up everything and the time to focus on figuring out what we wanted to do and what not to do,” Mr. Kalland said. “And we realized the mind-set was that we wanted to do as much ourselves as possible.”

Some industry observers have noted their success. “To be honest, I thought Martin and Kim were a bit delusional” when they first took on custom watchmaking, Matti Airaksinen, chief editor of the Finnish watch blog Tyyliniekka, wrote in an email. “But they believed in themselves and they have worked a lot.”

“They give consumers an affordable possibility to have a watch with a personal touch,” he continued, “which is impossible if you ask the big guys.”

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