It is with possible envy that fellow boutique watch makers view Ernst Benz's relationship with fashion designer John Varvatos. A relationship that has evolved into John himself configuring limited edition dual-branded timepieces that are sold exclusively in John Varvatos clothing boutiques. Such a relationship is rare, especially for brands the size of Ernst Benz. Still for what the brand is they have achieved some interesting celebrity partnerships. My favorite one was with large orange Chef Mario Batali (hands-on here).
Ernst Benz has admittedly not released a very new timepiece in a few years. Style tweaks here and there blanket a recovery from the financial crisis which, while successful, is tended with conservative care by Ernst Benz managing director Leonid Khakin, who wears more than one hat while running the brand. Khankin is unique in the industry for being both a successful salesperson as well as a family-trained watch maker. Raised in Detroit, Khankin travels with the vigor necessary to keep a growing watch brand not only competitive, but also well situated for market expansion. He admits to me that the next steps for the brand are some much-needed innovation. Ideas aren't short, but ironically time is.
As a graduate of Ralph Lauren - quite literally - John Varvatos is one of those fashion icons who people follow around. Varvatos himself is deeply influenced by the world of rock & roll, offering a style which I sort of think of as what aging rockers wear to the office. Why he chose to work with Ernst Benz is a story I haven't ever really gotten to the bottom of, but the relationship between the two brands has endured for more than just a trial period at this point. According to Ernst Benz, John himself was very instrumental in choosing everything from the hands to the hour markers, and of course the colors and strap. We originally covered the Ernst Benz John Varvatos watches here.
The timepieces are technically part of the Ernst Benz Chronoscope collection. That basically means large-sized vintage style chronographs. In this case the size of the case is 47mm wide with a sloped polished bezel and brushed case. While big, the case is quite comfy. Wonderfully bendable leather and stubby lugs make it fit on most wrists comfortably. Wearing straps like this that aren't tough as rawhide when you first wear them make me really dislike stiff straps - no matter how pretty they are. Brands, listen up; please stop offering straps that need to be thoroughly beaten before they fit in a watch that is anything over $500.
According to Ernst Benz and John Varvatos, each particular rendition of the collaboration watches are limited to 250 pieces. That means this olive green toned one (ref. GC10410-JV/4) will have 250 pieces, and that goes for the gray, tan, and all the other ones that exist and will exist. Pretty soon I hope to see totally new designs as a result of this relationship. In aged olive green I didn't know what to make of this color scheme at first. I don't wear a lot of olive green, so I was worried about it fitting in with my non Varvatos attire. John still hasn't invited me for a private suit fitting session (ahem!).
In reality you don't need to wear green with a green watch it seems. At least not this shade of green. Aged looking strap and faded metallic dial does great with jeans and other casual attire. Actually really great. You'll find that either coincidentally or not, Ernst Benz's Khankin is a reflection of the Varvatos aesthetic - scarf and and all. He is typically seen with watches on both wrists, one of them is usually a Varvatos piece, while the other is something new that he is testing out. A calm and sociable charisma is part of his appeal as a personal brand ambassador. Whatever the circumstances of the Varvatos/Ernst Benz relation is, you get the distinct impression that Khankin is the type of guy Varvatos wouldn't mind hanging out with. Personalities like his are what make a niche luxury brand.
While I am not typically a fan of dual-branded timepieces it works in this situation. Just having "John Varvatos" on the dial would clearly not work as Varvatos is not a watch maker. So the dual-branded approach makes it clear that the fashion brand hooked up with the watch brand, and because the pieces are sold in Varvatos boutiques, the product naming works rather well.
From a Chronoscope perspective, the dial itself features gothic-style full-length hands, admirable amounts of lume, and proportions that make legibility simple. The vintage design of the dials works, because it is a vintage design that was primed for reading the time easily. Sadly the chronograph hands lack luminant. Inside the watches are the standard Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 automatics that exist in the majority of $2,000 - $8,000 mechanical chronograph watches that lack in-house made movements. There is also a date and day of the week indicator on the dial. You can see the movement through the sapphire crystal case back, The case is water resistant to 50 meters, which I hope someday will be at least 100 meters. Over the dial is a domed sapphire crystal with AR coating on the inside.
The price for the John Varvatos edition of the Ernst Benz Chronoscope has a premium over the standard Chronoscope models - even other limited editions. Aside from the fashion label name, it is reasonable to ask what you are getting. Well for one thing you get the unique hands and dial treatments. The case also features the vintage style rectangular chronograph pushers versus the more simple round "plunger" style pushers. The straps are also unique for these timepieces. Another interesting thing to note is that there really isn't a gray market for the Varvatos pieces. While you can get Ernst Benz pieces online at discounts, the Varvatos pieces are hard to come by, and only available online via the official John Varvatos store.
An important fashion label relationship offers an asset to the growing Ernst Benz brand that has been doing well for years now, but is primed to really jump up to a higher-level. Khankin's charisma is up to it, but something about him seems to prefer the more relaxed and flexible lifestyle of a boutique brand that rejects your typical corporate structures and hierarchy of rules. If the brand stays this size forever, I don't think it would be shame - as long as the people who work there are having as much fun as they are. The passion is infectious and transcends a certain "ordinary quality" some of the brand's timepieces have. They've certainly managed to look cool, and I think Mr. Varvatos picked up on that. Price for the Ernst Benz Chronoscope John Varvatos limited edition watches is $6,800. ernstbenz.com
>Brand: Ernst Benz
>Model: Chronoscope John Varvatos
>Size: 47mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we'd recommend it to first: A fashion lover who no one would use the term "fashion lover" to describe.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Pricey.
>Best characteristic of watch: Pleasing mixture of retro style and sport watch size and legibility.