Sunday, July 3, 2011

An interview with Eva Leube

A few weeks ago I blogged an introduction to Eva Leube and her first watch. Here is part two, an interview with Eva, in which she talks about how she came to live in Australia, and more about how she created "Ari".

AP : Manly is a very unexpected place in which to find a Swiss trained independent watchmaker. How did you come to end up in Sydney?

EL : While on a Rolex vocational training course in Geneva in ’99, I was offered work within the company in Sydney. I arrived in Australia in 2000 for the first time. 2004 saw me going back to Switzerland once more to work for Ulysse Nardin and Thomas Prescher, during which time I also married my Aussie boyfriend. He found it too cold in Switzerland so by the end of 2007 we were back in Sydney with our new son Ari and I started my own business.

AP : You worked at Thomas Prescher for a few years. To what extend do you think that period has influenced your approach to watchmaking today?

EL : My watchmaking career started off with many years of repair and restoration work for Antique stores as well as for Ulysse Nardin, Rolex and other workshops in different parts of the world. These were great years, also very educational and important in forming a good foundation. But in 2005 Thomas Prescher introduced me to all aspects of the very different world of independent watch-manufacturing. 

From the start, Thomas has been very generous and open sharing his knowledge, experience and his new ideas. We built his complex mechanisms, including double-retrograde time indication and multiple-axis flying tourbillons part by part, all by hand. I learned a lot from him and went home every night with a great sense of achievement. It gave me a whole new appreciation for traditional watchmaking of the past and for the old masters that have paved the way with their inventiveness and their fantastic work over the past centuries.

AP : Have you always wanted to be a watchmaker?

EL : I always wanted to learn a craft. My mother told me that, growing up, she had often visited a watchmaker near her family home. I immediately liked this idea. Her father must have given us the technical mindset. He was a physicist who told us that we will be able to understand any sort of mechanism if we just looked at it long enough. He had a wood turning lathe in his house and showed me how to use it when I was little. We used to make things like candle holders and nutcrackers together.

I started my apprenticeship when I was 16 years old, gained my masters certificate in watchmaking at the age of 23 and find that I still love my profession, with its technical challenges and creativeness. Watches tell not only the time but also a story about the period they were built in; about the technical advances and fashions of that time. 

AP : I alluded earlier to the unexpectedness of there being an AHCI candidate in Sydney (or Australia, in fact, as we are not known for being a “horological hotbed” as it were). Do you think that the “tyranny of distance” is an issue nowadays, or does the internet, social media etc mean that distance and where the watchmaker is, are no longer issues?

EL : The internet and social media certainly help to market a product. They quickly got me in touch with many international watch enthusiasts which might have been a drawn-out process ten years earlier.

Concerning the manufacturing process, I would have had more outside help available if I lived in Switzerland or Germany. But the positive side of building my watch here in Australia is that it turned out very uniquely “me”. Doing my own drawing, milling, turning, case making, etc has been so exciting and rewarding that I probably would have chosen the same path had I lived in Europe. It is the most time consuming but also the most creative way to build watches.

AP : You named your first watch after Ari. Was this quite a natural decision or did you have other names in mind?

EL : When my son Ari was born in 2007 I set up my own business and started building the watch that had long been in my head; he has been my little and yet very important milestone.

AP : How much of “Ari” is made by you (case, movement etc)?

EL : I designed and made the technical drawings for the complete watch with its mechanism and all case parts. I built the movement and the case including crown and buckle. A Swiss company makes the sapphire glasses for me and the bracelets are custom-made by hand in Germany. The watch is beautifully hand-engraved by Sydney’s Master Engraver John W. Thompson.

AP : What sort of movement is in the watch?

EL : My construction is based on an old pocket watch movement that I had, a Record 302. The very few parts I have used from this movement are, however, heavily modified. 

AP : Tell me a bit about “Ari” and the challenges you faced with the curvature and movement design/ placement.

EL : Bringing the idea of this curved watch from my head onto paper and computer as a workable 3D construction was the greatest challenge. The curve of the movement is the actual “complication” in my watch. If you take the wheels of a flat movement and place them at an angle to each other you will run out of space and clearance straight away. Therefore, the mechanism had to be completely re-worked. 

Another challenge resulted from the arched shape of my watch: Instead of working from sheet metal, the blanks for all the curved parts like the case parts, mainplate, all bridges, etc. had to be milled out of solid blocks of material. Many massive, round holders had to be made for the blanks to be mounted on for further machining. Finally, more tools had to be produced to finish the curved parts once they were done and I had tested the performance of the movement. I was happy to meet a very experienced Swiss toolmaker, Jens Frei, who lives locally and who very generously offered advice and the use of his workshop, he had the necessary big machines.

AP : One thing that fascinated me when I tried Ari on was that the curve rested over my wrist perfectly, as it did your wrist, and other wrists, all of which were quite different in size and shape. How did you achieve this? Is there some sort of “magical” universal formula?

EL : Nothing magical. When I started drawing the movement I tried out different diameters on several wrists and calculated an average. The result was a curve dramatic enough to be quite visible but at the same time not too strong so that a working movement was still achievable. 

AP : How many different versions will you be producing “Ari” in, and how much customisation will you allow customers?

EL : I build the case in 18k gold or platinum 950. The crown and buckle with pin are made in a material to match that of the case. The movement carries two dials made out of 18k gold. The customer can choose the colour of these dials as well as that of the 18k gold chatons. As almost all parts of the Ari are hand made, some aspects of the movement decoration can be discussed as well. The watch comes complete with the finest custom-made leather bracelet to the customer’s specifications as well as three anti-reflection sapphire glasses.

AP : We chatted a bit about the coat of arms that you have engraved on the caseback, but which is also on your business card. Could you please tell us a bit about how you came to develop the coat of arms and what it represents?

EL : There is an existing “Leube” coat of arms, first documented in 1767 but probably older than that. It started my interest in heraldry, a subject which becomes more fascinating the more you study it. I simply had to draw my own coat of arms with my own symbolism. Taking all the rules of Central European heraldry into account, this was quite a challenge in itself. 

Coats of arms stem from a time when, except for some members of the church and of the courts, most people were illiterate. Heraldry was a sort of picture language that used strong colours and symbolic images. The two most expressive symbols in a coat of arms are firstly, the content within the shield, in my case the reversed escape wheel of my Ari watch, and secondly, the head crest displayed on top of the helmet, for which I chose the oak tree. 

I am of German descent and grew up with Grimm’s fairytales so oak trees have to me always been mysteriously beautiful and a symbol of strength. It fascinates me that a small acorn contains such life force that it grows into a massive tree that is able to live hundreds of years.

AP : How would you describe your philosophy of watchmaking?

EL : I am a great admirer of handmade art and history. When I visit galleries, I like to study the old paintings. They allow us a fascinating glimpse of the days before industrialisation when everything we see in the painting was still made by hand. 

From the furniture, carpets, candles in their holders, to the glass windows, garments, shoes, fabrics and, most importantly, the fantastic clocks and early watches. Along this vein, I aim to create time pieces of long-lasting value.

Many thanks to Eva for her time and for giving us a fascinating look into her first watch. If you want to contact Eva about Ari, you can visit her website here.



initialjh said...

thank you for a great interview and it's great that we've a world-class watchmaker in Sydney! :) I look forward to the production model and look forward to other models! :)

kewpie said...

great interview!! really enjoyed reading it and finding out how people journeyed to be where they are! and to think people say sydney siders are boring!! haha.. well, ok, Eva is technically an import.... thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

It is indeed an interesting interview.
Eva may well technically be an import but nevertheless she is an independent watchmaker and she is desiging and building her horological creations in Sydney!
This has to be a first and I don't think we are going to see any other independent watchmakers setting up her anytime soon.
It is great to have a feeling for the ideas and philosophies behind Eva's creations and a sense of what drives her.

WHTL said...

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