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Interview with Jorg Hysek

by Jerome Pineau
28 January, 2011
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This is a text version of Jerome Pineau’s radio interview with star guest Jorg Hysek.

Listen to the Jorg Hysek interview here.

Jorg Hysek was born on 14th May 1953 in East Berlin. His family moved to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1960. He began his own company in 1984. Jorg won the Grand Prix of Geneva for a cuff watch designed for Vacheron Constantin. With his reputation firmly established, he began working with prestigious watch brands including Breguet, Cartier, Ebel, Boucheron, Tag Heuer, Seiko and Tiffany & Co. Today he is is one of the most celebrated and sought-after designers in the world.

Jerome: Today Meehna. I am sitting in the offices of a gentleman called Jorg Hysek, and Jorg Hysek is one of prized and most famous watch makers in the world, He has been called the superstar of watch design and I am in his office oin the little town called Lunes. Jorg has worked for some tiny little brands like Rolex, Brugeut, Gartier, he has done stuff for Tag Heuer and he has done things for Seiko. He started his own company, and now he runs a outfit called HD3, they just released a project which was amazing successful at GTE. Hello Jorge.

Jorg: It is a pleasure to be here to be together with you and I am fine with that. And we have the pleasure to start the show together.

Jorg Hysek’s background

Jerome: Jorge I like to speak to you about your background. and how you became the legend you are today. You were born in 1953, and studied at the central arts school in London, and I think you studied sculpture. I am not sure. Can you walk us through how a genius like yourself is born, and trained. What did you learn, how did you get to where you are? How did you become a designer how did you start out?

Jorg: I started in Switzerland at a technical school, and in a short time after three years I have don’t have too much pleasure in the technical school. Two reasons, I think was the limited of my life to strong, there was only one girl in the whole school. I was 18 at the time, and I was thinking of a time to change.

Lucky my father understand that, and I say I want to make a full free job and I want to go to artistic job. I don’t know at that time if I want to go painting or sculpture. Then very fast a I find a good place in Germany for making painting and sculpture. After that I went to London, and I must say what a wonderful time, and I make sculpture in aluminum. And at that time you are young. I had the feeling my sculpture was exceptional.

I never sold any pieces, when I come back from the school my fathers says he is happy with what I am doing. And he said it is time to make money. At that time I was 22 or 23. I was in Switzerland? I have to make a decision, what can I do in Switzerland with the culture? To make cheese or chocolate there is no reason. And in the watch industry I would say that a watch is very similar to a sculpture, but much smaller. That was quiet new at that time. Then I start to make some drawings. I was very lucky to start with Rolex to be with them. I worked three years with them.

Working at Rolex

Jerome: How did you get into Rolex did you just apply?

Jorg: I was very lucky. I made drawings for watches that already have nothing to do with the Rolex group, but the presentations of the drawings was very artistic. The people there was liked very much my presentation, and said why not you can start here. I learn a lot of things there, especially to become a little bit more serious. But after three years, and so many drawings, it was not very motivating as never a watch came out by Rolex that I designed. So I decided it was time to make my own company.

Watch world mentors

Jerome: When you started out did you have mentors to help you out? Did you go to people, did you have support? Or were you left alone with your own talent?

Jorg: I would say I work alone on that. At that time you don’t have any freelance designer in the watch industry. Maybe you have two or three. That was different then today, today you have big groups, you have two or three groups. At that time all the brands was completely independent, it was very easy to have contact with them. You just take the telephone, and make the number and say you want to talk to the boss. Then you really can talk to the boss and have a meeting with them. At that time I just made presentations of the drawings. In those days I just sold drawings.

Jerome: Those days have gone have they not?

Jorg: Yes, this was in 1975 to 1980.

Jerome: So then off you go and you started working with Breguet, Cartier and Ebel, all these people. Did you go to to one to the next, or were you doing them one at time?

Jorg: Always a little bit success story. The first one was Ebel, I made drawings, and then I had contact with the boss at that time at Ebel, he said he very much like my work and said I could make all our designs. Then one have one success in one company, because in that time there was no freelance, maybe there were only two or three freelance in the market.

When you have one success in the market, then all the other people call and ask can you make a drawing for me, can you make a drawing for me. Then I start to work with other companies.

Success breeds success

Jerome: You get to that point where everybody and his mother is calling you, and everybody and his mother wants a piece of Jorge. How do you pick your clients? You have to be real careful not to over expand yourself. You got to pick the right clients, how do you make that call when you are starting out?

Jorg: I would say of course you have to take the right clients, and every client has a history. They have already have an image, and when you make a Tag Heuer or make a Breguet it is completely different. It is very important for the designer to work with the history of the brand. You don’t have to change the whole story. It is different when it is a brand what not such big success, so come and make a completely new product.

Normally they say OK ,we have a story we wont have a new product. You have to see it and feel it. Of course as only work with three of four brands, you don’t work with ten brands at the same time.

Jerome: Who do you think are the new promising watch designers in the world and on the market now? Are you keeping your eyes on the new guys, do you have an opine on that? Do you have a couple of people who you think these guys are really promising, or gal’s for that matter?

Jorg: No, the big challenge in that job I would say, is the computer design change that. When I was starting you had to make all your designs by hand, and when you made your presentation the marketing people can recognize that you have an artistic feeling. As you make very good drawings, and you have experience in that job.

When the computers comes out, a lot of people started making drawings by computer, and the for the different people, they were not coming from the marketing people see the drawings are very good, they not see if the idea is very good. Now is your chance. But ten years ago you have some many products that looks very similar.

Jerome: I think we have a caller. Good day you are on the air where you calling from? Caller I am just listening.

Jorg and Fabrice

Jerome: Listening but no question. Sorry Jorge. I want to talk about about Fabrice and Veleadye there are two people you have surrounded yourself for about 15 years. They are your partners in crime, there the people you work with everyday. Tell us a little bit about how you met him, and have you worked with him for 15 years. Just to me as little bit about works out, how doe the trio work?

Jorg: It is a wonderful story, especially Fabrice. He was coming for nearly 18 years to join me, he came to make a presentation of a drawing he was asking a different art school to go, there was no chance for him to go there. I looked at the drawing and I saw he had talent. And OK you can start of course, the beginning was a very low salary, but already after six months he has a good salary, as after six months he made wonderful drawings. And especially in the designer job, it is not a question of the paper you have, or the school you have, it is a question of what can develop the talent. He has worked together for eighteen years, and that is just a wonderful story.

Jerome: I take it his salary got a lot better too?

Jorg: Yes of course.

Jerome: How do you manage this? Do you have the final word? Is it a consensus type of management? How do you make decisions all three of you?

Jorg: Fabrice is not salary, he is a partner you know. The decision is what is important what we make especially in the design. Difficult to make at every thing alone. When I make a drawing or faberge make a drawing, I say I think it look better like that. It is not a critique, it is to maker the product better. We never feel upset or like that, we really have the feeling that each remark help to make the product better.
There is respect from each designer, sometimes when a designer works alone another comes out with a remark and the feed back sometimes has a bad reaction. But for us it is like being a family.

Jerome: That feels like it from being here. There is a quote on the web from you saying that you hate financial people, they interfere in the creative process, such people have completely taken over the industry. My question is without that money though, would it have been possible for you to have succeed as much as you did? What are your thoughts on that?

Jerome: What I mean about the financial people is that more and more now when you make a presentation to a brand, a presentation of a new product. The first thing is lets feel your emotion, I hate that before the emotion comes out the financial people comes out and he has absolutely no experience in the design job, and he makes designer remarks. When he has a solution I accept it every time, when he has no solution, he just says some stupid things. That is what I never accept.

Jerome: I guess you have a short fuse for those guys. Understandably so, is that true for every brand and client, or the big ones or small ones?

Jorg: It is not relating with the brand, it is more relating with the people. You have people, you have a wonderful feeling who respect your work. And that is quite independent from the brand.

HD3

Jerome: I want to talk about HD3, is it a manufacturer on its own?

Jorg: It is not really a manufacture, HD3 is a brand, and we are 80 percent the designers. HD3 was started seven years ago, and we make very expensive products and very expensive watches. We don’t have watchmaker background, we have designer background.

Then we work with the watchmakers and then we say OK we make a design, and say its OK its accepted, and we think we can produce. Because we don’t have a watchmaker background, I will say that sometimes the quality of the product was not 100 percent, in fairness.

It was very difficult because the watch maker would say it was good. But we just had to say OK, if they so it’s good, it’s good. Then we had a very bad experience with BNB and that’s why we changed direction.

Jerome: BNB was a major supply and went bankrupt right?

Jorg: That was 80 percent of the product was made by BNB, that is why we had a very hard year last year.

Jerome: I can imagine that. A kind of a disaster. Tell me what is the message behind, what are you trying to communicate?

Jorg: The message is to always changes in the designs of the watch industry, That’s what we want to do,that is a designer can always say he is is good when he is on the front of the design, and not making coffee or influencing over products. That’s why we changed completely with the Slyde product, because after the bankruptcy of BNB, it was a big decision to go back and find other watchmakers. I had the feeling from a designer point of a view that we go back, and I has already the feeling two years ago, that the watch industry have to change. Not the whole industry, but from a designer point of view we have to change something, that was a big decision, and that’s why we changed our product with the Slyde product.

Jerome: The Slyde product people have seen it on the web. Meehna you have seen it at GT right? It is a UFO, I don’t want to call it an anti watch, it’s just mind boggling. It is a completely different way of looking at horology, am I wrong on that?

Jorg: The approach was very important of course, as when you slide on the screen, it is similar to the I phone, or like that. We work on a complete new watch philosophy, which means there is no gadget on it. There be only the watch movements, and we will work watch makers to be given input to make other movements. To buy a watch is an emotional action, and I want the Slyde to be a full watch with the technology. Of course we can make quickly a great gadget, but that will absolutely not a gadget,

The Slyde

Jerome: Meehna you have seen the Slyde, I like to get your expert horology expert opinion on that. What do you say?

Meehna: I think the slide is really progressive and foreword thinking approach to horology. I really like the story behind it. You said after BNB went bankrupt, and I really can imagine that was a big blow to HD3, and to making the movements. And you had this sketch from 2008 that you said you made it during Christmas. And instead of being discouraged with what happened with BNB, you went and did this watch. Can you tell me a little bit more about the impetuous to getting this done, and going back to this design?

Jorg: The story starts when the BNB went bankrupt, and for the next two weeks you think everything is the end. Your life and business if finished and everything, and after two weeks you think again about what direction you have to go. One evening I drink with a very good friend of mine, and a bottle of wine ,may be it was two. We have to change something in the watch industry, especially for our philosophy. That was the beginning, and from there one of the first things to check out was to see if it is possible to do it or not? I have no experience in the electronic world.

I know it is possible,you may not be possible in that size, it was very important for us that the watch was completely water resistant for 50 meters, must be sapphire glass, cobalt and all that point we had to check out. We had a guy called Alex an electronic engineer, he check it, and when he say it is possible to do, then we start designing.

One day I see a car, and don’t remember, it was like a buggy. I see apart of it and I see a watch and I start to design the watch.

Meehna: There’s is an inevitable comparison to the Ipod Nano, which has been converted to be on the wrist, and there have been all these funny wrist bands that have been made made. I want you to explain. Your watch starts at about $5000 (4000 euros). People are going to make that comparison, and you can get an Ipod Nano, and get a similar experience by strapping it on your wrist. Why would somebody pay so much more money to get a Slyde? When they can get a sort of similar experience on their wrist with an Apple product?

Jorg: I would sat that it is exactly the same to compare a Hugo, Rolex with a Swatch The Swatch is exactly the same, the Swatch has three hands and a chromo, and is also a only $100. It is more the question of the motion. It is true that the Nano you can read the time, and you have many gadgets on it. You cannot compare.
Some people have the Swatch one day and then the next day they are happy to have an Omega. An emotional part of the value is not only on the electronic. The value of the slide is of course, because on every gadget what is in the slide is to do with time.

I would say the production costs, and the quality of the materials, titanium, fire and water resistant. It is everything, it is completely done with the Swiss standard of the watch industry.

Jerome: Where can people find out more about the Slyde? Where do they go? Contact information? Website?

Jorg: The website is not open, it has a teaser on it. It will open three weeks before Basel.

Meehna: have another question that is kind of a follow up to the Ipod Nano. I understand what you said about the having the emotion of a product. When you are dealing with electronics, it is a pretty disposable world. And every year or so people are updating their electronics. This an electronic product, it is watch. I want to know what you feel about that? Do you think it will be dated in a year in two years?

Jorg: We also have the upgrade of the software that will be people and buyers like to get. We always have the upgrade of the electronics, and in two or three years the the display will change, you will have three dimensional display. We follow up that evolution of course. With at three dimensional display, you can make other things you cannot make today. You will have in the slide toullion at three dimensional display. That will coming out in three years. Today you have a three dimensional coming, but it is not a 100 percent yet. We have to have glasses, you don’t have ready the perfect view.

Meehna: To conclude, you still can have the case of the watch, and you can just make upgrades. Do you don’t have to get a complete new model?

Jorg: Of course, With the electronics by computer, every time we make a change, he can have a free upgrade on his watch.

Jerome: We are coming to the end, I have some quick questions? What are the brands you admire the most?

Jorg: Very difficult. Bourgia is good. It is very good.

Jerome: What is the most important event in the history of your company?

Jorg: The creation of the company.

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

Jorg: My wife.

Jerome: What is your favorite time of the day?

Jorg: Between 6 and 8pm.

Jerome: We call it cocktail time. Thanks for coming on and thanks to Meehna too.

Jerome Pineau | Website

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