September 25, 2012
by Ariel Adams
You are a man of taste and means. Where do you keep your stuff? Luxury consumers often embark on an “acquisitional journey,” starting with simple-to-desire items such as expensive clothes and cars, to more exclusive items such as boutique shoes and watches. Given that there is a market for every taste and every need, this path to possessions fortunately (or unfortunately) never ends. Don’t you feel better knowing that there is someone, somewhere thinking about producing that next thing you don’t even know you need until they help you discover it? The world just keeps offering cool stuff to consume.
Each person with means and the items it purchases needs a safe place to store their loot. With the help of Brown Safe Manufacturing and the knowledge I have acquired over the years, I would like to explore the infrequently discussed topic of how to keep your valuables safe from damage and theft.
Safes have been around for a long time. The iconic image of hidden wealth stored for later pleasure is the treasure chest. It was a lock box that those with means carried around with them to store their most valuable possessions. This turned into the more permanent “vault,” which later became popularized by bank safes and vaults. A few decades ago, the safe became mainstream as fire safes entered the market for mass consumption. These safes have the primary goal of protecting the contents from fire, but not per se, theft. Eventually, safe makers loosened their own definitions of safety and started blurring the meaning of security and fire safety into one product. Videos on YouTube for example depict how most consumer safes can be pried open in under two minutes with a crowbar and minimal other tools by even a child. The safe isn’t as secure as we once thought them to be. That is unless you buy the right safe.
In the watch industry, safes have most recently been combined with watch winders and other hobby “furniture” Brands I have written about such as Dottling and Buben and Zorweg have transformed the stalwart safe into a bona fide high-end lifestyle item. No longer something to hide in a closet or behind a false wall, they made the safe a beautiful piece of furniture to be flaunted – complete with built-in stereo, humidor, and whiskey cabinet. These companies helped make the safe itself a luxury item – in addition to the items it was meant to store.
What is a luxury safe? There are two elements to this question. The first element is safety, and the second is design and appointments. A high-end safe should be…. well, very safe. This involves the materials used to produce it, thickness of the walls, and its overall utility and durability. An ultra secure safe can be ugly and empty inside, but still keep anyone out of its contents. The second element is inherently more simple. High-end safes come complete with customizable innards and cabinets. Clients choose their own materials and design – resulting in units which include plush interiors and fancy lighting. The idea is having a fitting place to store your best stuff. Why? Because a high-end safe is meant to be used, ideally daily. People with expensive jewelry and watches want to enjoy those items. An unspoken goal of all high-end safe makers is to have people use them after they’ve bought them.
Getting a customer to use a safe is actually tricky. Creative customers who place safes deep in hidden basement passages or under false staircases rarely take the time to access their belongings. At the same time, most customers don’t want to store a safe right next to their bedside tables. Closets are often a popular choice. All high-end safe makers want the experience of owning a high-end safe to mix safety and convenience as fluidly as possible. Brown Safe products for example offer military-grade biometric (finger print) scanners on their top products. The idea is to make opening and closing the safe quick and secure.
Speaking of Brown Safe, this article is supposed to be about their Chronos units. A range of high-end safes meant for those with a lot of watches and jewelry to keep secure. Brown Safe currently works with American Orbita to outfit the Chronos with a customizable amount of watch winder modules. The Chronos also can include all manners of shelves and drawers for jewelry and other smaller items. One cool option is the watch carousel, which is a vertical stack of winders that rotates for you to find your watches as though you were browsing for greeting cards.
Brown Safe is an interesting company, and I don’t know of any others like it. I visited their new headquarters here in Southern California to check out a pair of custom Chronos Safes, and to learn more about what they do. Brown Safe is by all means an extremely successful company that does not appear to need to produce high-end safes for private customers. I think they do it because they simply like to. Brown Safe Manufacturing was started by founder Frederick Brown in 1980. A former soldier and engineer, Brown stumbled upon the safe industry and seemed to decide he could do it better. With connections to the military, he was quickly able to offer products the US Government and military needed. I believe today, the majority of Brown’s business comes from its government contracts. Providing safety equipment (safes, vault doors, etc…) to the military and government isn’t exactly easy. This business model has forced Brown (like other military contractors) to rigorously test and improve their products to very exacting specifications.
Upon being asked, Brown had answers to just about every durability question I had when it came to their safes. That seemed to imply the safes had been tested against explosives, rockets, heavy machine gun fire, being dropped off cliffs, being submerged in water, exposed to intense fire and smoke damage, and more. I eventually discovered a scenario where you could theoretically disable the safe, but not actually gain access to its contents. They also had a lot to say about the ineffectiveness of their competition’s products.
The pictured Chronos safes each weigh something like 1,750 pounds. These are for the taller 68.5 inch models (model 6218). There is a shorter 48.5 inch model that weighs a scant 1,350 pounds (model 4218). I spent a lot of time asking how they are moved around and installed. “We have people who are experienced at that” explains Lynel Berryhill, the Vice President and daughter of the founder. The website promises professional worldwide delivery and “white glove installation…using [their] trained and bonded personnel.”
Brown Safe remains a family-operated company with Frederick still at the helm, and his children and their family overseeing much of the operation. Their headquarters has an interesting vibe which in a strange way sums up the company. Bodyguards and motion sensing cameras greet you at the entrance, but they also have a “creativity room” stocked with LEGOs. There is a sort of start-up mentality in the air, which isn’t something I would have expected from a company responsible for the serious task of securing much of our country’s physical secrets and most valuable goods.
A fair question to ask is whether each private product contains the same security features as those granted to the military and government. The answer is more or less yes, but Brown Safe can’t really discuss it. Video and details on the construction of their products can theoretically compromise security. It is an ironic double-edged sword for a product maker. That being; if they want to provide the most secure product possible, they must keep its details private. Having said that, Brown Safe is more than open about what their safes are made out of, and the type of security to expect.
According to Brown Safe, the Chronos collection meets their highest rating for burglary protection (and what about bazookas?). The walls are mostly specially made “military-grade ballistic plate armor,” and extremely dense steel. The walls are also filled with a special type of concrete that is not only hard, but highly fire retardant as I understand it. The Chronos uses the plate armor in lieu of solid steel as it is actually stronger than steel and lighter. The idea is an incredibly secure safe that you can actually store upstairs.
The Chronos Safe door doesn’t try to hide its weight – though the ball and roller bearing hinges try to make up for it. Honestly, simply opening and closing the heavy Chronos door made me fear the very notion of trying to break it open. It is secured by a series of huge titanium bolts. The safe was specially engineered to be totally “unbendable.” This is important as many safe crackers try to open safes by prying open the doors. The “chip carbide” material used in the door is harder than drill bits used to enter many other safes. I’ve never seen anything more solid than one of these.
While Brown Safe does offer purely mechanical safes, the Chronos is electronic. It needs to be for the winders and lights inside. The opening mechanism is also electronic, but uses a range of security and encryption technology to again foil tampering. It is the same technology used in their military products. To open the safe you either need the pin code or to have one of the ten fingerprints programmed into the system. The metal on the opening plate is solid milled metal that oozes the type of quality and solid construction you want from a product such as this. On these models, the two owners opted to have their initials place on the opening mechanisms.
One completely non-electronic optional feature for the safes is a unique historical element made in Switzerland, not America. The Chronos collection can have a mechanical triple redundant time lock ($2,250 option). This is located on the inner door and is a mechanical override lock that can shut anyone out of the Chronos for up to 144 hours. The three mechanical timers run together and are redundant to ensure it still operates if one or more fails. Say you want to leave for a weekend or longer and are afraid your maid has the code to your safe? You can set the time lock for the requisite number of hours and safely leave. No one using a code or anything else can open the safe until the time runs out.
Other options include features such as a panic button linked to a home’s security system, GPS and sensor alarm. No one I have heard of makes safes that are more sophisticated than Brown Safe when it comes to features such as that. Though, they don’t offer a wine cooler or iPod dock in their safes at this time. Personally I don’t miss those.
Interior fabrics and materials are all chosen by the customer. That also goes for the layout of drawers, shelves, and watch winders. That makes sense. You selected what goes in the safe, so you select what the safe looks like. Despite the pretty paint job and lush interior, the overall shape and demeanor of the Chronos does not hide what it really is – a huge piece of armor. The squared shape of the safe along with its imposing stance sort of celebrates the rock-like notion of the product. Brown safes shy away from hiding the fact that they are safes. Their customers like it that way – and if you are in the market for a seriously secure safe, you might too. Prices for the Brown Chronos safes start at about $59,000 – $75,000. The pictured models, as well as most spec’d Chronos units cost about $100,000 each. Learn more about pricing here via Brown Safe Manufacturing. Have you reached the point where it is about time to get a safe? www.brownsafe.com