Exceptional Artisans of the 21st Century – Martin Pauli
It was back in 2004 that Martin Pauli decided to take things, quite literally, into his own hands. This one-man show is quietly making waves in an industry that has become hostage to supply chains and big marketing. Fed up with being a slave to his suppliers, Pauli took a step back in time.
Pauli had, from a young age, been fascinated by craftsmanship. His career began as an apprentice window display artist for a department store in Bern, Switzerland. Here, he learned many of the skills that would shape his career. After a few years, he stumbled into a career in one of the oldest professions, metal smithing, “due to a bet”. At a knife making workshop just outside of Bern, Pauli learned how to forge and grind steel blades to make knives. It wasn’t long before disruption swept the industry and countries like Japan started mass producing quality knives with the aid of Computer Numeric Control (CMC) systems and Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs.
Pauli kept at his craft, spinning off into gold smithing and jewelry in his spare time.
In a turn of events he was approached to help develop a watch brand. The brand he created was Angular Momentum, but the project hit the end of the runway when additional and required funding could not be secured. Pauli decided to keep the brand, and in 1998, the Angular Momentum watch brand was founded. Unfortunately Pauli knew little about watchmaking, so he had no choice but to work with suppliers for parts. The next six years proved to be a nightmare in terms of dealing with delivery delays and shoddy quality. His livelihood was at the whims of uncontrollable forces. Then 9/11 hit and the industry was dealt a serious blow. The final straw was perhaps a decision by the then Chairman and founder of Swatch Group, Nicolas Hayek, to stop supplying Swatch owned ETA ébauches (raw movements) to companies outside the Swatch group by 2006. It was estimated that ETA was responsible for supplying 70% of ébauches used in Swiss watchmaking (Wall Street Journal). In fairness to the late Nicolas Hayek, he was a man with legendary business acumen and is often cited as single handedly saving the Swiss watch industry during the quartz crisis in the 1980’s (Forbes – The Genius of Nicolas Hayek).
And so it was that in 2004, Martin Pauli decided to reinvent his atelier by using hand operated machines of the mid-20th Century. Today he fashions and finishes each watch by hand, including the cases, crowns, buckles, dials, and hands. The movements are purchased from old assembly companies or specialized dealers, typically new-old-stock movements manufactured between 1950 and 1975. Each movement is carefully disassembled, restored, finished, and tested by the man himself. In 2012, he introduced an in-house “Régulateur” movement with main plate and extensions painstakingly made by hand. Over the years, Pauli has also learned and mastered incredibly complex techniques such as Verre Églomisé, Japanese Urushi (lacquer), Champlevé enamel, Shubuichi and Shakudo.
The watches are bespoke miniature works of art, each one, the product of a single pair of hands that belong to arguably the most diversified talent in watchmaking, Martin Pauli.
What does Martin wear himself? When I caught up with him during a visit to Shanghai, he was naturally sporting one of his own creations. This particular piece from the 9 “pièce unique” Dragon collection.
For more information on some of the techniques employed at atelier Angular Momentum & Manu Propria :
Picture Credits (Above): Dean Owen
Picture Credits (Below): Angular Momentum
If you are interested in exploring another incredible independent watchmaker, please read my previous article: