INTERVIEW: Master Watchmaker Gilbert O. Gudjonsson 45th work anniversary
To celebrate the 45th work anniversary of Master Watchmaker Gilbert O. Gudjonson, JS Watch Co. Reykjavik introduced the limited edition the Islandus 45 Years Anniversary Edition that we have presented here.
I was curious to learn more about the Master, about his early days as a watchmaker and on his views on the current state of watchmaking in Iceland.
Mr. Gudjonsson, may I start by congratulating for your anniversary and thanking you for taking the time to share some stories about you and J.S. Watch Co. Let’s go back to the young Gilbert O. Gudjonsson. You mentioned in the press release that you had an interest in mechanics from a young age. Would you develop on this? Why watches? Why not, let say, cars?
When I was a young boy, I often travelled with my father around Iceland’s countryside, as he was a Radio Mechanic and his work was to put up Radio antennas and radio beacons for Aircrafts. It was then that my interest in mechanics started and when I turned 16 I decided to start to learn Radio Mechanics but soon, I found out that it was not for me so my father talked to a local watchmaker that he knew and asked him if I could come and work for him for free, fixing clocks and that was when I found my true passion. This was back in 1966 and I was very lucky to start at this time as all the watches and clocks were still mechanical and I loved taking them apart and putting them back together. I loved the work and the watchmaker was really happy with me because I was ready to work nights, weekends and even skip summer holidays just to be able to fix watches and clocks.
Upon completing your apprenticeship, you worked at a watch repair shop, and then in 1977, you opened your own shop. That is pretty much about the same time the quartz crisis started to shook up things. What can you tell me about the early challenges of starting a watch repair shop?
Well I have to admit that soon after I opened my own shop the quartz era started and the first quartz watches were all digital with red glass, I was shocked that the only thing you could do with the first movements was either to replace them completely or just change the battery, but soon better quartz watches came along that was possible to fix so that was a big relief.
What was the most difficult problem you had to solve as a watchmaker?
The most difficult thing is and has always been to get spare parts for many watches, old and new, but I don’t recall having many problems fixing watches; of course some jobs are harder than others and take more time.
When did you start thinking about building your own watches?
The seed for the new venture was planted when Julius Steinar Heidarsson, an avid watch collector, was picking up a vintage model that had been repaired in my shop and we started along with my son Sigurdur to discuss the possibility to make our own Icelandic watch brand.
I was trying to find more info about the history of JS Watch Co, but I could not find many details online. Would you tell me about the history of the brand? When and how did it all start?
We founded JS Watch Company Reykjavik in November 2005, in the heart of the capital’s trendy downtown Reykjavik ‘101’ district Iceland. It is a collaboration between watchmakers, collectors and a designer, a group of ambitious, passionate and enthusiastic gentlemen who had a dream. Under my guidance and after years of preparation, we unveiled our own collection of wristwatches. Our goal was to create a timepiece that would withstand the test of time and would be passed on from one generation to the next, becoming an heirloom.
Currently, the manufacturing and retail facility for JS Watch Co. Reykjavik is located at Laugavegur 62 in the downtown Reykjavik shopping district. Our collection consists of timepieces that show attention to detail from every angle. To be able to make watches that can stand the scrutiny of the most discriminating of clientele, the manufacturer has to be an enthusiast himself and his own harshest critic but at the same time passionate about his creations and designs. The movements of each watch are mechanical and produced specifically for the Company in Switzerland.
JS Watch Co. has turned a great concept into reality and has proven that four individuals can come together and make their passion a reality, breathing life to their designs and inspiring people not just to wear watches to measure time, but to experience it and enjoy the notion of becoming part of a distinguished club powering the perpetual motors of those watches with their every move for generations to come.
Who are JS Watch Co’s customers?
Watch enthusiasts around the globe that love fine quality and classic designs.
In what way the Islandus 45 Years Anniversary Edition stands out compared to your other models?
We put a lot of heart and soul in the creation of this watch and it has been in the making for over 2 years. It is based on our Islandus model which has been very successful but we tried to add more exclusive feeling to it by combining gold and silver along with the large amount of work we put into the movement.
It is Limited to 45 pieces only. The watch has a solid Sterling Silver dial Guilloched by hand with Roman numerals and Flame Blued Breguet style hands, housed in a 44 mm Stainless Steel “316L” case with a Curved Anti Reflective Sapphire Crystal and See-through Sapphire Crystal back, where you can view the Swiss Made hand wound uniquely modified and decorated Unitas based movement with custom made beveled and polished 3/4 bridge, Côtes de Genève stripes and unique engraving, 17 jewels, blued steel screws, swan neck regulator, Glycudur screw balance, perlage on main plate, engraved and gold plated balance bridge, sun polished wheels, Incabloc anti-shock protection and Nivarox hairspring.
I was surprised to discover that in the 1960s-70s an Icelander could pursue a formal watchmaking education in his home country. Is this still the case today? Or let me putt it – pun intended – differently, in your Islandus 45 video, the guys are more interested in the lady than learning from the master. How do you see the future of watchmaking in Iceland?
Well in those days every watch and clock had a mechanical movement so there was plenty of work in cleaning and fixing movements, but it started to change when the quartz movements became popular. I was actually in the last class that graduated in watchmaking here in Iceland and today it’s no longer taught in Iceland, so those who are interested in watchmaking have to seek education abroad. But I feel that there is an awakening with young people to own a good mechanical watch that will last for generations although they also have quartz and computer watches for everyday use.
So, I don’t worry too much about the future of watchmaking in Iceland.
Thank you and let me wish you many more years of enjoying this wonderful profession of yours!
More about JS Watch Co. at www.jswatch.com