Only a few weeks ago, we shared the latest watch by Ochs & Junior, the Calendario Cent’Anni (CCA) with all of you. Once again, it illustrates the simplistic approach to mechanical watchmaking perfected by Ludwig Oechslin and his team. The philosophy in watchmaking displayed by Dr Oechslin is all about simplicity, and it shows in the mechanical side of things. Ochs & Junior offers complex displays using only very few additional parts. One example is the Perpetual Calendar, with only nine new parts and three modified ones. So, after the release of the CCA, we decided to have a chat with Christian Gafner, the new Head of Brand and Design for Ochs & Junior.
Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME – What led to your career in the watch industry, and how did you end up working for Ochs &
Christian Gafner, Head of Brand and Design for O&J – My first contact with the industry was after my studies in Industrial and Product Design. The MIH
watch by Ludwig Oechslin was my first watch design project in 2005; brands like Eterna, Porsche Design timepieces and Rado followed. In 2008 I entered the fashion industry after I bought a niche sneaker brand, which was founded in Germany back in 1819. I developed and designed handmade sneakers and built up distribution in Europe and Japan. An incredibly competitive business, but it seems to me that the trust in niche products is much more noticeable because the proximity to customers is direct, personal and trustworthy.
My connection to Ochs & Junior certainly comes from the MIH watch project, which, so to speak, marks the start of Ochs & Junior. In 2018 I was asked by Ochs & Junior to design the aesthetics of the P8000 model, a perpetual calendar showing the hour, minute, seconds, date, month, leap year and the three following years for the next hundred years. Today the watch is available in three versions and is called the Calendario Cent’Anni, “CCA”.
Ochs & Junior is not your typical watchmaking company; what would you say characterises it most?
The way Ludwig Oechslin eschews complexity by bringing radical simplification to the art of watchmaking. Secondly, the aesthetic of the products. You either love it, or you don’t get it. The watches from Ochs & Junior can be tailored to customers’ wishes using an online tool. Customer input has been part of the business model since the company’s founding in 2006. As mentioned, products that are considered niche are basically unique to each individual customer.
What impact has the global pandemic had on the brand?
The pandemic upended the rules of the game; there’s no going back to normal. Today we are competing with the last and best experience customers had. It is just like online dating – relationships are everything. Ochs & Junior has also used the time to upgrade Ludwig Oechslin’s developments in close collaboration with watchmaking specialist Masaki Kanazawa and mechanical designers at the new location in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
We know there have been some changes within Ochs & Junior as well. Could you take us through what happened in the last year or so?
I joined them at the end of 2020, so I can’t tell you much about the past of Ochs & Junior that hasn’t already been told. But I consider that change is important to not stand still, especially in the current mood of our society. I am convinced that a new awareness is taking place, which also creates space for creativity, completely new perspectives and real sustainable thinking.
We’ve recently covered the new Calendario Cent’Anni, which breaks from the full customisable watches we know from O&J. What led to this decision, and how has that change been received?
The fully customisable watches from Ochs & Junior remain at the heart of the brand and offer customers the opportunity to design their own watches in their preferred style. We work upon request, and I am happy to assist customers as a designer. With the Calendario Cent’Anni – CCA, Ochs & Junior is moving in an additional direction by focusing on new target groups. This change has started with the CCA and will follow with new products and new developments by Ludwig Oechslin.
What does this imply for collections and models further down the line?
Ludwig Oechslin has been toying with the idea of serial production for a long time, although we are still talking about small and unique quantities. Secondly, we will be able to make adjustments to prices. Ultimately, we are speaking of an expansion in the Ochs & Junior collection.
Could you talks us through Dr Ludwig Oechslin’s involvement with Ochs & Junior, now he’s 69 years old?
Past and new developments by Dr Ludwig Oechslin continue to enrich Ochs & Junior. He is also the owner of the company in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and is currently working closely with the new team. Ludwig Oechslin is not taking a break because he has reached retirement age; new products have been completed and are in the pipeline.
What else can we expect from Ochs & Junior in the (near) future?
The first serial-produced Ochs & Junior watch, the CCA, embodies Ludwig Oechslin’s long-term wish to offer watches designed in-house. We have also planned to expand the core of Ochs & Junior’s online presence, the Customizer and later the shop solutions. There will also be an update of the Settimana, let’s call it the Settimana Classic for now.
Any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
Thanks for the interview and my warm wishes to the industry.