Damascus steel watches.
I thought it was an enticing concept but my conception of damascus steel was that of a brawny look. Refinement, I thought, lacked in the much of the damascus steel art and bladesmithery I’d ever seen. I had heard of beautiful damascus steel creations, but I had yet to see it in person. That finally changed when Patrik Sjögren paid me a visit earlier this summer to demonstrate his brand: GoS watches.
Prior my first communication with Mr. Sjögren, I had been researching new (and not so new) independent brands that might complement our existing collection nicely. There’s always something exciting to learn about and since it was right around the time of Basel this year, I knew I was going to be inundated with information about “what’s next”. When I look at possible retail opportunities and new business partners, I look for brands that are working outside the industry norm. Brands that are pushing boundaries and who are creatively exploring interesting concepts usually pique my interest. During the flurry of Basel – or thereabouts – I came across a WatchuSeek editorial by Ernie Romers that detailed the GoS line in full. It immediately became a brand that caught my attention. Around this same time, I became aware of a special collection dedicated for the enthusiasts at PuristPro. The press was beginning to pay attention to Mr. Sjögren and Mr. Gustafsson’s work.
Shortly after JCK this year, Mr. Sjögren and I made an arrangement to discuss the brand while he traveled the States.
During our meeting, Mr. Sjögren revealed to me several very interesting things regarding the background of his company. First, his partner is Johan Gustafsson, a inventive, master bladesmith who makes unbelievably striking, high-end collector’s knives. Johan is clearly extremely talented at his craft, and the dials he produces for his watches vividly capture his breathtaking artistry. Next, GoS Watches are a Swedish brand (in case you couldn’t tell by the last names) so the approach to creating these timepieces has a unique feel to it. It’s not what I’ve come to know from the Swiss brands. There’s an aura of calm assuredness. The brand was described to me as it was, not in the rampant hyperbole that many Swiss companies pitch retailers and the press with. Speaking to Mr. Sjögren was refreshing; his description of the essence of the brand and the ties to Scandinavian tradition and countryside brings to life the philosophy he and Mr. Gustafsson approach each creation. Another interesting bit about GoS is Mr. Sjögren’s educational background. He has a Master’s Degree in Computer Science and Engineer and had at one point a career in cyber security. He mentioned to me that his passion was not in the computer science field, but rather watchmaking, where he would finish his formal schooling at the top of his class. Interestingly, after his apprenticeship, he moved right into the creation of GoS watches with Johan. That’s generally an unusual practice, but Mr. Sjögren made the leap from apprentice to lead watchmaker and co-owner immediately.
So then, the watches.
The eleventh-century Viking paraphernalia is the look I had visualized when the notion of damascus steel watches crept into my head. I knew virtually nothing about modern bladesmithing in damascus steel so I essentially had no point of reference as to the look and feel of modern techniques. So what stands out about the GoS product is the level of finishing. The cases, which are made in Germany to the specific standards of Mr. Sjögren, are a great combination of both high polish “standard” stainless steel and high polish damascus stainless steel. Each case of the current collection measures a nicely proportioned 45mm. The mid-barrel of the watch is made of solid damascus steel and then finished to a mirror polish. The logo is purposely etched in the side of the case so that you can see that the case is solidly damascus steel, by the way. The contrast between the folds and the polished edges is outstanding. The oversized crown is also made of damascus steel and provides a nice grippy texture to make the setting adjustments. Honestly, one of my concerns was that finish would have too much of that eleventh-century look. Fortunately for my tastes, it’s a much more refined modern look.
The most captivating part of the watches are the dials, of course. Let’s start with aesthetics, shall we? First, the dial ring, sweep second “indicator” (which is the GoS insignia), and the hands are all hand made from gold — either white gold or a locally sourced yellow gold (which is extremely rich and deep in color). Each dial element is satin finished and hand beveled to a mirror shimmer around the edges. And then there is the actual dial of each watch. Mr. Gustafsson’s exceptional talents are on display as he uses both traditional and his own innovative patterns to create works of art. The wildflower pattern is my favorite. It’s a rippled, blossom effect that produces a dramatic look. Something unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a watch. Other designs include the explosion and the traditional wood grain pattern. This beauty doesn’t come easily, as you can probably imagine. The amount of time and energy (quite literally) that goes into creating the dial is something that demands respect. Today, most dials are cut and decorated by CNC machines and then dial accents and elements are usually stamped by machine. It may not be news to you, but it should be noted since with this particular brand one of the owners is essentially standing in an inferno while hammering away at a piece of glowing hot steel to achieve the look he wants.
What’s more, 95% of that glowing hot piece of steel Johan is hammering can’t and won’t be used for the dials because of how particular he and Patrik are in their quest of beauty and drama. Patrik noted that the working metal block is about eight inches and only four or five thin pieces of steel can be used for the dials. And that’s all before they even temper the metal to get the colors the want. The dial color is something you have to see in person to really appreciate. Some of the the dials radiate an array of different hues and tones. The blue dial of the Nordic Seasons Winter is complex and varied. It’s tempered just like steel blue screws, different temperatures create different levels of color. Other dials fire off shades of purple, brown, red, and green depending the way Mr. Gustafsson tempers the metal. Mr. Sjögren then painstakingly hand polishes each dial to produce an exquisite finished product.
(In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve mentioned only Johan and Patrik. I’ve neglected to mention the rest of the staff at GoS. That’s because there is no staff, apparently. It’s literally a two man band for most of the company’s infancy. Thus, the production of watches is ultra rare: twenty-five watches per year.)
And then there is the movements. A nicely finished and decorated Unitas 6498 fits the Nordic Seasons (limited edition to 5 pieces per season) collection while a proprietary in-house collaboration (with Martin Braun) manual-wind movement powers the Winter Nights (limited to 20 total pieces, each piece unique). This movement, called the GoS Caliber 1, features…wait for it…damascus steel bridges. The look is amazing. GoS claims to be the only company in the world producing movements with damascus steel and I take them at their word. The movement’s bridges have more of a unrefined look to them, but it complements the rest of the watch nicely. Beyond the aesthetics, one would expect a movement produced by elite watchmaker Martin Braun to be very high quality. Your expectations, I think, would then be nicely met as I spit out these specs: silicon escapement wheel and escapement anchor (fancy!), a power reserve of 72 hours, all wheels finished to Geneva Seal hallmark standards, a slick power reserve indicator on the bridge with the hand in the shape of a knife, and functions at a rate of 18,000 vpH. This movement demonstrates the companies commitment to true, traditional watchmaking: handmade and elite finishing.
The concept of an in-house movement, and it’s actual production, adds a nice dimension to not just the current lineup of watches while also positioning the company to be a player after the supply of ETA movements dries up all over the world. What I really like about this strategy is that GoS knocked out a movement early on in the growth stage. Many small ateliers rely too heavily on the ETA movements because it can be cost effective but in the end companies scramble for movements, often disrupting their supply to retailers.
As far wearability, the wrist presence is excellent. The watches all feature a very soft and comfortable Nubuck strap and tag buckle. The lugs extend nicely from the case which gives the strap a proper fit. The case isn’t very thick, but it’s not thin either. The crown, while large, doesn’t dig into your wrist with its edgeless shape — a chief concern for those skeptical of large watches. The finishing touches include a traditional Swedish Birch display box made by a local carpenter that is fitted with a Reindeer hide pillow.
When you combine the rigorous hand craftsmanship, two elite and complementary skill sets, a Swedish heritage, and undeniable passion, you end up with something special. Gustafsson and Sjögren Watches is not a run-of-the-mill overnight pop-up watch company. It’s a fusion of two very talented men who are creating something new in an industry where the proverbial sentiment is “everything in the watch industry has already been invented”. I might be a bit of an optimist, but I’d like to think that new “timepiece technologies” are being invented all the time by talented and creative people all over the world — silicium wafers, anyone?
New is refreshing; new is good. Therefore I suspect GoS will carve a very nice niche for collectors who are ready for something new.
For more information, please contact us at 216-382-7011.