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Interview with Elizabeth Doerr

by Jerome Pineau
28 April, 2011
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Elizabeth Doerr

This is a text version of Jerome Pineau’s radio interview with star guest Elizabeth Doerr.

Listen to the Elizabeth Doerr interview here.

Interview with Elizabeth Doerr

Jerome: Our guest today needs no introduction. So I am going to give her a very short one, because everybody knows her. For decades she has been a horology ring maker. There isn’t much she does not know about watches and the people who love them actually. You know everybody in the business, and everyone has come to her for advice at one point or another.

And as a matter of fact that is how I met her a little bit over a year ago when I was starting out in the business. She was actually very kind enough to talk to me when I wasn’t anybody. I am still a nobody but even a worse of a nobody back then. And she has offered advice and insight ever since then. I have run tonnes of ideas pass her since then.

Anyway she is an accomplished journalist, writer, publisher, watch expert and I mean that in the real sense of the word.

Welcome to the show Elizabeth Doerr.

Elizabeth: Hi Jerome, thanks so much for having me today. Wow that was quite an introduction!

Jerome: Thanks again for coming on the show. You do me and the show and our listeners a great honour. Where are you talking to us from today?

Elizabeth: I am talking to you from the place I live, that’s in Karlswood, Germany

Jerome: Quick question before we get going. What watch are you wearing today?

What watch Elizabeth Doerr is wearing

Elizabeth: I’m not wearing one today, at the moment. I am sitting in my office working. I usually don’t wear one it is disturbing with the keyboard I find. But at the moment I am wearing a Graham Swordfish because I am testing it. I am doing a series of test reviews for World Tempus, which is one of the web sites I write for. At the moment both the French editor in chief and I have a Graham’s Swordfish on.

Watch Publications and writing history

Jerome: Awesome, and so speaking of publications. World Tempest, Revolution, International Watch. You’ve written for everything, every publication, every journal magazine probably. Can you give us a quick list of all the major ones you have contributed to over the years.

Elizabeth: Well you have just named all the major ones I write for. They are my bread and butter. I also do a number of lifestyle magazines in the USA which includes Elite Travellers; Cigar Aficionado, Dupont Registry. And various magazines in other parts of the world like the Hour Glass Magazine which comes out in Australia and south east Asia.

I and was editor in chief of Wrist Watch for fifteen years. I just stopped doing that last year to pursue other interests.

Getting started in the watch world

Jerome: So how many years total have you been in this business exactly?

Elizabeth: I have been doing this for twenty years. I went to my very first Basel world, Basel fair as it was called then in 1991.

Jerome: I want to go back to the origins to the sources. How did you decide to dedicate your professional life to horology? Was it a family thing? How did you fall into that place?

Elizabeth: It is an interesting question. I don’t think anybody in this area grows up and says I want to be a watch writer, they kind of fall into it. And I think everybody in the watch world, unless you are a watch maker who usually come from several generations of it. I think you just kinda find it. So that is with me. I had moved to Germany in 1988 after graduating college and doing some grad work and I started working at a publishing house in Germany. At that time, they did publications – more or less did publications – on automotive things, a magazine called Ferrari World that kind of thing.

In 1991 the publisher bought a licence from another publisher in Italy, who was trying to make a family of magazines throughout the world. He bought the licence to make the magazine and we bought the licence to make the magazine, which would have in the same family International Watch. It is how I made those connections so I began my work basically in the watch world because a publisher asked me to research into the watch world and were considering making a watch magazine. And back then there was only really one and in the US there were two.

It was fairly uncharted territory. It was a very exciting time.

Jerome: So being a woman was it weird for you to be getting into this man’s world of horology. Were you one of the first gals to do this. How was that?

Elizabeth: Yeah, That’s a good question, that has not been easy. In fact when I began in 1991 I was not a writer, that took a while. I was actually doing other things for the magazine I was in charge of the circulation, the marketing, the ad sales all the things that go with the magazine. I wasn’t really writing anything it took a while to discover that side of myself but I became very interested in watches right away and knew I loved that area and it took a few years to realise I could write this stuff too.

So when I started I was a woman and young. I was in my early twenties at the time. So I was not in one of those positions that command power, so I really had to put on iron elbows to work my way up fight my way up into a position learning how to become respected by my peers who were all male.

Watch world mentors

Jerome: Did you have a mentor? Not only learning those technical things. but also help you up with those elbows things too.

Elizabeth: The elbows I learned by myself. I think my mentor was the guy editor in chief of the magazine, we were in uncharted territory together. His name was Peter Braun he’s a very respected and a very wonderful person. A great writer and one of the best in the business without a doubt. We always had each others back, and as he was writing about it he understood the technical aspects more than I did. He tended to help me out at the beginning when I needed it. Soon thereafter I became friends with watch makers and learned most of my knowledge first hand I would credit Martin Braun who was so patient with me in the hours and hours of explaining things to me.

Jerome: Wow, how nice is that. Advice from the top guys. If somebody came to you and said I want your life. I want to do what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished. What advice would you give to a person starting off in the field?

Tips on the watch industry

Elizabeth: That’s a really good question as well I think I absolutely fell into it. I can’t say if you had aimed to reach this goal it would be an easy road. I think wanting to get there would be harder than accidentally getting there. Any advice I would give to anyone starting out is to learn to the basics of writing, learn a foreign language French or German or both.

Study the basics of the technology, best way to do that is to pick up the book by WatchMaking by George Daniels and reading it cover to cover and ingesting it.

That would be my biggest piece of advice for the basics and moving onward once you’ve got those basics covered the best thing you can learn for yourself is to make those relationships, networking.

Lifestyle

Jerome: I want to talk about your fun and luxurious lifestyles.

Elizabeth: How often do I travel every month? On a good month I’m gone every week and I would say from February through to June that’s the case. July, August it calms down as here in Europe the summer holidays are taken very seriously. November and December after the Grand Prix in Geneva, it calms down a bit. Which is thankful. Its a tough life sometimes. Being on the road is great fun, but you still have to get your work done.

Jerome: I apologise for cutting out every so often. You do international travelling mostly right.

Elizabeth: Most of my travelling is done in Switzerland, I travel from Germany to Switzerland and back most of the time. Some overseas travel, depends what’s happening in the world, where and by whom.

Memorable manufactures

Jerome: Tell me what’s the most amazing manufacturer you have ever visited and why?

Elizabeth: Just one?

Jerome: We only have twenty minutes.

Elizabeth: Just off the top of my head, I would say I have seen two that blow me away in comparison to the rest. They will not be everyone’s choice. I pick Lange & Sohne and Jaeger Le Coultre, for two reasons. Both of them are incredibly complete, they can do almost everything in those manufactures.

Lange because the technology and historical circumstance. All the technology is brand new and state of the art. They work with materials that others don’t. And they also make their own balance springs. And I
spent an afternoon in this little workshop, just looking at the balance springs and learning how they are made. It is mind boggling. No one else lets you in there to see this. It’s incredible.

Jerome: You went flying with Tutima in California. What was the most exciting event you went on.

Elizabeth: Every event is exciting. We went to a Tutima in California and flew on acrobatic planes, it was an incredible experience. They taught me how to loop and do hammerheads. I was allowed to fly the plane. We spent two full days flying in the beautiful California sun. It just doesn’t get better than that. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like a job.

When you get on the air plane and you have to write up the story, and you’re dead tired you know. The events are cool and the brands go a long way to make you feel welcome. And offer you an experience like no other. Even if its just going to a factory to see how a watch is made, and seeing the balance springs come to life when they are put together is incredible.

Memorable people

Jerome: Who is the most amazing horology person you have ever met , interviewed or even written about?

Elizabeth: I would have to say that that honour would have go to George Daniels. Simply because he is so legendary and he has accomplished so much in his life, he welcomed me to his home a few years ago. I felt so honoured to be speaking to him and being able to recap the incredible things he has done for our field.

Elizabeth Doerr consulting

Jerome: Do brands actually come to you for consulting advice?

Elizabeth: They do sometimes with new brands starting up. I have to say I have never taken one cent for it, as I really think it will compromise me. I am happy to give advice, but I will never take payments for it.

Watch journalism

Jerome: Got ya. I am curious if over the years have brands changed their attitudes to journalists like yourself or not. How has the relationship changed do you think?

Elizabeth: For myself my relationship has changed in the fact it has gotten deeper. They have gotten to know me and I have gotten to know them, and we both know where we stand with each other. Attitudes to journalism in general, I think the blogger landscape has changed it a bit. I cant say it is changed for better or worse I think it’s a new breed coming in with a new style. There is much to be said for it. I think it’s great. I have learned a lot from bloggers.

Jerome: You do. Do you think brands are doing a better job of communicating as the years go by? Not just because of the bloggers interest but just overall in general. Do you think they are getting better at it?

Elizabeth: Not really. I think they have set attitudes towards it, and they spend a lot of money researching how to communicate. I don’t think they are doing it as they should have. They have had a few lucky breaks. I think that the advent of social media has helped everyone. I don’t think you can chalk that up to the brands. Now they need to learn how to harness that energy. I think they communicate pretty much to the same quality as they have always done, it takes somebody who knows what they are looking for to find the real thing.

Jerome: Do you have a preference, one brand, these are the best guys at communication right now.

Elizabeth: I like the way Jaeger Le Coultre communicate. They have a personal way of doing it. They prefer to build communication and relationships, rather than broadly communicate. I personally like that. As when I go looking for what I need it is easy to obtain. But I can’t say that they are overall the best at communication. I think that wouldn’t be true.

Blogging vs Print

Jerome: When you compare blogging and digital communication versus print. Do you think print will disappear or will they co-exist?

Elizabeth: I think they will co-exist. I think the watch consumer, somebody who is interested in finding out about watches, likes the feel of paper and loves to look at glossy photos. And I think that those make a big difference. I think they will to continue to co-exist, but I also think they will do so in a changed form than what it is now.

The wrist watch economy

Jerome: Where do you see the industry headed in the next ten years. And do you think we are out of the crisis at this point?

Elizabeth: Yes, we are out of the crisis. Speaking for myself in Central Europe it was even noticeable. In the outer markets that were the markets that were bringing the brands the big money in recent years. I think it was highly noticeable. But I do think we are out of it. The people who like fine watches and do buy them are back and doing so. I realise the brands are kept above water by Asia in the last three years. But going forward Asia will not be the sole market.

Jerome: What’s going on in China? A lot of brands seem to be betting the form on China. Is that wise?

Elizabeth: I think it’s wise they are taking China into account these days. I do think China kept a lot of the big brands above water for the last three years. I do think it’s very intelligent of them to be taking their taste into consideration as well. But they should not forget the markets that put them where they are, because they are all coming back.

Jerome: What about the USA market, do you think it is coming back?.

Elizabeth: I do, and do you know how I can tell? My publications that in the past few years were quiet, are back in full force, looking for stories again so I can tell that it is back.

Basel

Jerome: What did you see at Basel this year? What were the top pieces you saw there?

Elizabeth: Basel was fantastic this year. I was so thrilled about all the creativity at Basel this year. If I had to pick three or four top pieces I would definitely go with the Opus 11, that is an incredible piece with a never before seen display. It takes a genius to come up with. I really loved the Corum Golden Bridge automatic. I think putting automatic into that design was a stroke of genius, and technically quite impossible.

I really liked what I saw at Zenith. I think their direction is fantastic. They are appealing to the everyday guy again, with pricing with looks with visuals and with solid beautiful technology. I really like what Zenith are doing. And pretty much everything that every independent watch maker made.

Jerome: A buddy on Twitter, between the Zenith elite ultra thin and the Nomos Zurich, which one would you pick? Tom Hanx on Twitter.

Elizabeth: Hello Tom Hanx. I know him from Twitter as well. To pick one or the other, that’s tough ….that’s a very hard question. My heart often goes out to Nomos as they are so underrated, they do not get enough recognition in my opinion. I would probably go with the Zenith in this case, as the visuals appeal to me a tad more. But I do own three Nomad watches and I would put money down on Nomos any day.

Jerome: It caught my eye in Salzburg, and I saw the Nomos watches in the window, and I stopped in my tracks. Tom you got your answer from the top expert and go ahead and get yourself a Zenith.

Three final questions for Elizabeth Doerr

Jerome: I have three questions for you I ask every guest who comes on the show and I’d like to post them to you if you can hear me. Can you hear me? .

Elizabeth: Yes I can hear you.

Jerome: Wow this is great! Love live wifi.

Elizabeth: You said long live wifi and then you went out Jerome

Elizabeth: Nope, I didn’t catch that one.

Jerome: All right let’s try again. If you were not in the watch business what would you be doing?

Elizabeth: I knew I wanted to write and I would probably be a journalist for a music or tennis magazine, those were my interests when I was growing up.

Jerome: Who is the most important person in your life?

Elizabeth: My family. All three. My kids and my husband.

Jerome: And if you can still hear me. What’s your favourite time of the day?

Elizabeth: My least favourite is ten after ten (laugh), my favourite time of the day is between five and six in the morning , when the world is just waking up, I feel energetic.

Jerome: Thank you so much for participating in our show and I really apologise for the technical hurdles. This is what you get when you travel, and I apologise for that and the struggle. (laughs) I hope you can hear my apology! Again thank you so much for coming on the show I look forward to maybe we cook hook up on my way back. And thanks for sharing all the insights you have with our listeners. Thanks for your participation. Take care and I will see you soon.

Jerome Pineau | Website

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