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A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

This past October, I had a chance to visit the Grönefeld watch manufacture in Oldenzaal, Netherlands. Near the German border, this town of 32,000 which attained city rights in 1249 is home to the “Horological Brothers,” Tim and Bart Grönefeld. I first met them in 2013 and have enjoyed both their watches and their company each year at BaselWorld. So, I was eager to visit their manufacture – it was well worth the two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Amsterdam. Both Tim and Bart each have been interviewed as part of our “My First Grail Watch” series, Tim here and Bart here.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

Basilica of St Plechelm

Across from their shop is where the family jewelry business is located. And literally a few meters from their shop in the center of Oldenzaal is Saint Plechelmus basilica with its tower clock that their grandfather Johan Grönefeld (who started practicing watchmaking in 1912) and then their father Johannes “Sjef” Grönefeld maintained.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

Ground floor: Reception; 1st floor: Office & “dirty shop”; 2nd floor: Watchmaker benches

Bart trained in Oldenzaal and Rotterdam before attending WOSTEP. By the way, WOSTEP is widely considered to be the “finishing school” for already trained watchmakers around the world. Bart also worked in London before joining Renaud et Papi in the early 1990s. His work on minute repeaters, chronographs, and grande sonneries prepared him for the Grönefeld watches he and Tim would later produce.

After leaving the same technical school as Bart in Oldenzaal, Tim attended Vakschool in Schoonhoven and followed his brother to Renaud et Papi where he soon assumed responsibility for the training of other watchmakers. Subsequently, Tim was also placed in charge of the assembly of tourbillons and regulating escapements.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

Bart & Tim in front of an exclusive Renaud et Papi-built finishing tool

After a number of years working with Renaud et Papi in Switzerland (now owned by Audemars Piguet), Bart, who is the elder brother by 3 years, informed them that he intended to move back to the Netherlands. And he asked if they would have any work that he could do for them when he returned home. The answer was yes, and Grönefeld began as an outsourcer to Renaud et Papi. Only later did they start to produce watches under their own name.


Since then, the relationship with Renaud et Papi has become a two-way street as Renaud et Papi supplies movement parts custom-made from Gronefeld designs to Bart and Tim. In fact, they are the only watchmakers who receive OEM parts from Renaud et Papi – all other customers receive only completed Renaud et Papi movements. The brothers also have a finishing tool produced by Renaud et Papi which is the only one like it outside of Renaud et Papi.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

And Renaud et Papi is not the only one the Grönefelds do finishing work for. While I’m sworn to secrecy, I was impressed with the well-known watch brands for whom they do work. When I asked Bart why these brands have them do these meticulous jobs for them, he replied simply that “we can do it and we are good at it.”

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

Dial side of Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire Movement

And this brings us to a little-known aspect of the European watch industry – that a lot of cooperation behind the scenes still goes on these days. Watch brands like to tout their in-house capabilities and vertical integration, but the reality is that specialty jobs are sometimes outsourced to trusted partners, some of whom are competitors on paper.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

The machine on the right does Geneva stripes for non-Grönefeld watches

Bart and Tim are surprisingly open about the people they partner with and do work for – the exception being where they are bound by NDAs. In particular, they are happy to talk about cooperating with other independent watchmakers such as Stepan Sarpaneva, who called to chat with Bart while I was at their shop, and Kari Voutilainen. They also wanted to point out that some of the hard core engineering (gears and such) on their movements was done by Andreas Strehler. It’s almost like a club of friends within the ranks of the AHCI who don’t really see each other as competitors.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Award

In November 2016, the Grönefelds again won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève award, this time for their 1941 Remontoire watch which was voted the best in the “Mens Watch” category. Besides watching the visible portion of the remontoire at 9 o’clock on the dial whir every 8 seconds, when it recharges the extra hairspring which powers the actual assortment, there is a hidden treat – the minute hand is semi-dead beat. It advances every 8 seconds as well. So if you look closely, you can see it jump seven and a half times per minute and it does not move between those 8 second intervals. The seconds hand at 6 o’clock, on the other hand (pun intended), sweeps normally.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

While I was at their shop, we had wide-ranging discussions about the watch industry and how current industry issues have, and have not, affected them. Prior to the financial crisis of 2007, their staff was a bit larger than it is today, roughly a dozen employees plus Tim and Bart. The 2007 downturn of the world economy did shrink their business for a few years, but these days they are back to full staff and growing, although at a controlled pace – it takes years for an otherwise trained watchmaker to attain their standards. I asked if the changes in the Asian market (China in particular) affected them and they said “not really,” as China never represented a large part of their business.

When we talked about retailers, they said that they only like to cooperate with the best retailers in the world. In particular, those who are used with dealing with independent brands. Unlike some brands, the Grönefelds are not looking to expand their retail presence for its own sake. They find that working closely with their current retailers (doing events with them, for example), plus watch fairs and also having direct contact with established customers seems to be the best fit for them.

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

A Visit To The Grönefeld Watch Manufacture Inside the Manufacture

At one point in the past, the reception area on the ground floor of their shop was a “retail” watch shop where they had their watches along with some from other independents. However, Oldenzaal is not a major watch buying destination, to say the least, so they don’t operate that space as a walk-in retail shop any longer. They do receive customers there by appointment.

Okay, let’s go upstairs do where the real action is…



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  • Yojimbo

    I truly hope that Tim takes these photos as the impetus to go out and find a permanent hair stylist

  • wallydog2

    With something as personal as a watch, the idea of focused attention on a unit, one by one, by people who care, rather than of an industrial assembly line, is very appealing. Aside from that annoying thing like a “price tag”, it’s almost like a gift, person to person.
    Good luck to Gronefeld. (I have an emotional attachment to the Netherlands in that my late father was there with the Canadian Armoured Corps, 1944-5.)

  • DanW94

    Thanks for the tour and the photos Mark. They certainly seem like a couple of down to earth, congenial chaps. I was a little surprised at the workshop, it seemed surprisingly modest (although I guess I didn’t really know what to expect), considering the exquisite pieces they turn out.

  • SuperStrapper

    Great article! Love this brand, and most of the work they do.

    I have to say though: modern brand, contemporary watches: Grandma’s vertical blinds?

      • SuperStrapper

        True, and even Helen Mirren I’d rather see vertical than horizontal. I don’t mind some good milf action, but I draw the line at gilf.

        • egznyc

          Holy $h!t, I thought I was the only one to have used that acronym! ;-). In fairness, she was stunning going back to “Age of Consent” with James Mason.

        • Bill W

          I don’t think she ever had kids so technically she’s not even a MILF. She’s just an OPILF.

          • SuperStrapper

            Well, then to me she’s TOBSILF.

          • Bill W

            too old broad someone ilse likes to f#ck

          • SuperStrapper

            Lol, close.

            Too Old to Be Someone… (we all know that ‘ilf’ is).

          • Is that “Too Old But Still I’d…”?

          • SuperStrapper

            No. But well done!

      • egznyc

        Thanks for the great article describing the brothers’ approach to watchmaking. And thanks for a look at an incredibly rare and valuable non-horological specimen, too.

        • I assume you are talking about those lovely vertical blinds in the above image.

  • MEddie90

    Its unusual to see a brand carve out such a unique form of movement architecture and design. Dials, hand, cases etc are often fairly individual (especially in the independent brands) but to have a movement which can be identified as yours at a glance is pretty rare. I love the way the movements look, the bright polished bevels and borders contrast nicely with the matt frosted finish, really helps accentuate the unusual bridge shapes, plus steel is a fairly novel material in terms of bridgework. And don’t even get me started on how much I love their rementoir design.

    Great watches produced by what seems to be two (plus a few extra) great guys.

    • Yeah, they are great guys. Very low key and down to earth but also watchmakers who really know their stuff and also produce fabulous watches. Nice to have a beer and chat with too.

      • Gokart Mozart

        I think the Remontoire movement is the best looking but it is true the movements are very distict looking.

        I agree Bart when I met him was very friendly and down to earth. He was next to Stepen Sarpaneva, and they were both having a laugh and joke about each others work.

        They were both very talkative and welcoming and humourus. They deserve their sucess.

        • When I first met Tim and Bart it was at BaselWorld 2013 and they were in the AHCI booth along with Stepen and Kari. And they are all very friend with each other (and everyone else it seems).

  • Raymond Wilkie

    How i would so love to be able to walk around that workshop. Absolutely wonderful. Not quite in RW Smith league but still very beautiful pieces. Were they aware of him ?

    • I’d be surprised if Bart and Tim have not heard of Roger Smith since he is George Daniels successor and a great watchmaker in his own right. The Daniels model of making everything yourself is carried by by Mr. Smith. In contrast the Gronefeld brothers leverage the Swiss watch industry and as well as that of their friends who are also independent watchmakers. They are more of the traditional Swiss model of using highly qualified suppliers for certain items rather than starting with raw metal for everything. A Roger Smith watch, as you know Ray, is truly hand made. While the Gronefeld watches are made in small production runs but still with a lot of hand finishing and attention to detail. That shows up in the difference in price and volume compared to what Mr. Smith can offer. Cheers.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        I know i bleat on about RW but he makes my grail piece and he’s British which naturally makes him the best in the whole wide world, period………………wanna fight about it.

        • No, not in the least. If I had unlimited funds, I’d try to commission a watch from Roger Smith.

          • Lincolnshire Poacher

            Me too!

          • Raymond Wilkie

            If you put you’r name down for one you MIGHT be lucky to have it in 8 years time. Worth the wait am sure you’ll agree.

          • I agree and that’s why besides, the money (which I don’t have) I said “try” to commission a watch. But back on topic, Gronefeld watches are pretty awesome too. Have you seen one in person Ray?

          • Raymond Wilkie

            God no , i would love to. The market for such pieces isn’t that big in Scotland. We have a watches of Switzerland in Glasgow but the burly bouncer puts me off. i don’t know why. Then they would totally know i wasn’t a buyer.

          • Gokart Mozart

            If you ever come down to London at the Greenwich museum/ Observatory they have a couple of watches from Roger and George Daniels (as well as alot of other nice watches and clocks).

            Unfortunately you can’t play a round with them, or take any wrist shots.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Just so you know, the fight thing, i was paraphrasing a character from Family Guy , they seem to have dropped him in the last few seasons,….moving on……….

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Very good. your quite adapt at the photo shoppy thingymabob.

      • Marius

        “A Roger Smith watch, as you know Ray, is truly hand made.”

        That is INCORRECT. Roger Smith watches are NOT handmade. Roger Smith uses CNC machines to manufacture the components for his timepieces. In fact, here is an excerpt from a Hodinkee interview with Smith:
        “Hodinkee: You produce watches without the use of repetitive or automatic tools, is that correct?
        Roger: We use CNC, which I guess is automatic.”

        Sure, Smith finishes and assembles them by hand, but the actual production of the parts is done via CNC machines.

        At present, there are only two watches that are manufactured in a truly handmade fashion: the “Naissance d`une Montre” project, and Oscillon. That’s it.

        • That’s correct, and an interesting one because I think a lot of people think RWS is fully hand made. I am extremely keen on the movement of the Oscillon and I love the whole package of the NdM, but ultimately I don’t think hand made components are the ultimate. I very much like the RWS approach, which I would not call handmade, but I would call single-workshop produced and hand-finished. It’s the intimacy of the final piece that is remarkable not the absolute exclusion of automation.

          • SuperStrapper

            The NdM is a wonder. The Oscillon doesn’t really excite me because it really is not that special on the dial side. But either way, the inclusion of some CNC work wouldn’t have made either watch any better or worse. It’s not like once you buy a CNC machine you just push a button that says ‘watches’ on it and a widget pops out. Skill and expertise are required for those processes as well.

        • Gokart Mozart

          Thanks for the heads up about Oscillon. Love the dial, and a very interesting watch.

      • Gokart Mozart

        I know for a fact they have met and are aware of each others watches.

        I met them both Bart (not Tim) and Roger at Salon QP a couple of years ago. Also they did a panel discussion along with Stephen Forsey about tourbillons. Apologies for name dropping but could not resist 😉

        Both wonderful, wonderful watches, but hard to compare. RogerSmith is all classic elegance and traditional timelessness. In my book they are as close as handmade as is realistically possible despite Marius’s comment. ( I will google the watches he mentioned as I have never heard of them).

        Gronefeld watches probably in my opinion have possibly the coolest looking movements of anybody. The shine form the stainless steel with the frosting and polishing is jaw dropping.

        As for which one to go for? Rob a bank and get one of each, and if there is enough left over get a Dufour and a Voutillinen.

  • Lincolnshire Poacher

    Great article. Great watches. Like the look of that One Hertz, and the Remontoire.

    • The Parallax is very cool too. The tourbillon’s seconds “hand” sweeps while the actual second hand is dead beat, but they are synchronized (and parallel – hence the name). So the real seconds hands seems to dance and catch up to the sweeping tourbillon “hand” every second.

      • Lincolnshire Poacher

        Just watched that on utube. Very cool. About the only time I use my chronographs is to play a sort of similar game where you try to set it running so that the chrono-seconds and running-seconds track each other round the dial. (I know, simple things for simple minds). But here the watch does it for real with the tourbillion.
        I like the way they’ve done the back plates on the watch as well, it’s different.

        • Yeah, the plates/bridges on the Parallax are quite modern in layout. But like the other Gronefeld watches are made from stainless steel and have a lovely frosted finish.

  • Grumpy Cat

    This article brought to you by Heineken.

    • As I recall, Bart gave me a Grolsch when we were done and I was waiting for my train back to Amsterdam.

      • SuperStrapper

        Lucky you! Grolsch is a much better beer than Heinie.

  • Beefalope

    Very good stuff here. These types of articles make ABTW a lot more interesting.

  • G Street

    Great article, thanks Mark. The 1941 Remontoire is a Grail of mine ever since seeing it as a candidate at the 2016 GPHG shindig. Further research turned up a good number of YouTube videos that showed the brothers Gronefeld to be both remarkably talented and down to earth. Great stuff.

  • The Reclusive Boogur T. Wang

    Really great article Mr. Carson. Both Tim & Bart should be happy with your coverage.
    They also seem like a couple of nice guys.


    • Yeah, they are pleased with the coverage. And yes, they are nice guys (and great watchmakers).

  • Bill W

    That award looks creepy. Like something out of Willy Wonka or that statue of the guy in his underwear. Congrats on receiving it, though. GOLD-FINGA!

    • Bill W

      Speaking of Bond, these dudes should shave their heads, get some Nehru jackets and a cat, and call their company “Bröfeld”.

      Bröfeld, Badass Horology

    • Marius

      That award is called “The Golden Phist.”

    • Omegaboy

      He’d be more comfortable in Fruit of the Looms.

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Like a hand coming out of a grave.

  • Great work Mark!

  • egznyc

    These are the kinds of articles that make abtw something many of us “watchies” return to again and again. Very good stuff.

  • Asad Abbas Awan

    Luckily I was in Nederlands in 2011 I dropped an email to them stating I would like to visit them. They were very kind to oblige and I visited their workshop/house/manufacture 🙂 It was an absolute pleasure and very cool..they are so welcoming and hospitable and pleasant, it was a delight…we smoked together like friends, no show-off, simple elegant artistic people, and they gave me a ride in their new Jaguar car they had then purchased and were excited with, and showed me around town..I handled their amazing watches of many models and a unique movement they hadn’t cased then..I think it was a repeater if I remember well..would love to know how they cased that unique beauty of a movement..I was so impressed that they shared other independent’s watches with me and praised their works, which was great to see..they showed me Sarpanevas and Speake Marins, it was great to see the comraderie and genuine appreciation…cant thank them enough for the brilliant sincere prayers are with them always.

    • Thanks for your comment. Seems to mirror my visit.

  • Nice article Mark! Sounds like you had a great time. Beautiful watches!

  • Omegaboy

    These guys have a terrific sense for aesthetics. I really like the way they do their bridges with raised borders and textured recesses. They look industrial, yet beautiful. The dials are also nicely done – just enough detail to make them interesting.

  • Ulysses31

    They make some very attractive movements.

  • Tadeyev T

    Their watches are great, sure.
    But I guess no one remembers what the word ‘manufacture’ really means anymore ;-0) ?

  • Marcus

    @disqus_sIZFPdTyFw:disqus “Handmade” is a definition that’s pretty much a grey area. Oscillion also uses machines with automatic feeds and hub cutters – is it still handmade? By your argumentation, it would not.
    Regarding RWS, I suggest that you try and build a watch and please use a CNC. After you would have cut your plates by CNC, turned the wheels, pinions, staffs, balance by hand, pressed the case by hand, filed the hands, did the guilloche by hand, done the finishings by hand and regulated it, I would very much like to ask you how you would define your watch! Handmade or not handmade because you did one part of the process with a machine that itself needs a high level of expertise to be used properly in watchmaking?!
    All those arguments about the minimal (not talking about fully automated CNC-production-lines) use of CNC machines are exhausting. It’s obvious that there is no knowledge what it means to use a CNC the way RWS does it. It’s not pressing a button and the plate comes out. It’s not wrong to say that you would be faster by using a manual machine if you don’s outsource the CNC work.

  • Marcus

    Mark Carson It’s interesting that the Grönefeld brothers state “that the only “CNC” machine they had was their expresso machine.”

    Is this meant to create the illusion that their parts are produced without CNC machines? Because their parts come from R&P and that means that 99% of the parts will be done via CNC and not by by the G. brothers and their Espresso machine.

  • Marcus

    @markcarson:disqus It’s interesting that the Grönefeld brothers state “that the only “CNC” machine they had was their expresso machine.”

    Is this meant to create the illusion that their parts are produced without CNC machines? Because their parts come from R&P and that means that 99% of the parts will be done via CNC and not by by the G. brothers and their Espresso machine.

    • It was not an attempt to create any illusion. It was a bit of humor as they have no CNC machines themselves. But yes of course CNC machines are used in parts creation. And their expresso machine is not really a CNC machine either – but they were being light hearted and saying it was about the only computer controlled machine they had.

      • Marcus

        I just found it really strange but hey I (yet) don’t know them personally. But thank you for the clarification! From your article and some others, I do believe that they are great guys and outstanding watchmakers. Although I thought they would do more “production” themselves – somehow independent becomes more of a tag not being owned by a larger company rather then being independent in terms of production and not only finish.

        • They are independent in that they come up with their own designs for movements, cases, dial & hands. They use the industrial facilities of R&P and engineering talents of friends like Andreas Strehler, so no they don’t do everything in house. But given the size of the shop and staff that is to be expected. And independent as you noted because they are not owned by someone else. Their watches are their creations in the same way that most painters do make their own paints or brushes 🙂 Cheers.

          • Marcus

            Totally agree on the fact that their watches are creations. I also think that the comparison to painters is very fitting but it’s basically like a painting-by-numbers-set where the painter had the idea for the landscape, asked a skilled illustrator to draw the outlines and then, being guided, colored the image. If you take the amount of work and skill in consideration that is necessary to produce the parts and finish them, I believe that one will very soon see that it’s much harder to produce 10 pieces of a part within the necessary tolerances instead of finishing it. If they mess up the finish on a part they just open a box and take out another piece of that part. It may be expensive when this would be excessive but it is nothing compared to do the job themselves. And the shop size is in my option not really an excuse because if they would want to conceive their watches from sketch to regulation in-house they could – just in smaller quantities. They make great watches – don’t get me wrong – but from roughly 9 steps (idea, sketch, calculations, CAD, CAM, CNC productions, controlling, finish, regulation) they only do 4 of those themselves – as far as I know from my research (I may be wrong; if so please correct me). In my book, that’s not really very much for a watch that says “Hand Crafted” on the dial and those 4 jobs that are done in-house aren’t the heavy lifting. But again, that’s only my opinion while deciding which watch I want to add to my collection.

          • I get where you are coming from. However, unlike an Asian watch factory where they strive to do as little human labor or hand finishing as possible, the other end of the extreme is a place like the Gronefeld shop where available labor is the limiting factor.

            They told me that in order for them to increase production, they have to have more trained watchmakers (not more parts from their suppliers) and it takes years to train to already trained watchmakers totheir standards.

            To illustrate the impact of labor on watches of this caliber, Bart told me that the difference between a part that is finished to 90% of perfection (under a loupe) and one that is 100% perfect is fully 10 times more time and effort. 1000% more effort – not 10% more.

            Automobile makers don’t make their own tires or paint, so outsourcing some aspects of any business is merely the division of labor that separates us from lesser species of animal.

            Not to trivialize the CNC work and parts creation done by R&P (far from it) but what makes a Gronefeld watch a Gronefeld watch is not which factory’s computerized cutting machines milled the steel. Rather it is the design in the first place and the quality control at every step (including at the Gronfeld manufacture) and then the finishing and assembly that makes haut horology cost what it does.

            All of the same things happen is high volume, lower quality mass production watch factories, but in vastly different proportions.


          • Marcus

            Thank you very much for your reply. It’s very interesting to read how a production of quartz watches has to be approached and which what it costs to produce a watch ‚on the other end of watchmaking‘.

            And of course, labor is the limiting factor for a brand like Grönefeld. I don’t want to know the price of a single part when it’s cut by R&P 200 times because it’s also not relevant to the final price. This price is 99% the costs for manual labor of a trained and therefore cost intensive work force. Totally agreed on that.

            And I also agree on your statement that „what makes a Grönefeld watch […] is the design in the first place“. And to me personally, that’s also the main problem regarding for what I look for in an independent watchmaker. To me, with a Grönefeld watch, the only Grönefeld DNA lies within the design because that’s what’s actually coming from the Grönefeld brothers. They don’t make the parts themselves and from what I read couldn’t command a CNC to that precision. Their designs can’t be cut without CNC so a manual lathe or saw is pretty much out of the question. Their movements and wheels are done by Mr. Strehler. Next the finishing: Yes it needs training, yes it’s expensive, yes it takes time but as they prove themselves, any talented watchmaker can be doing with training (that doesn’t have to be done at Grönefeld because they are certainly not the top of the ladder when I remember the scratches I saw the last time at Basel with a >6x loupe; Greubel would be a hard training in my book). To me they are fantastic „watch-finishers“ and „watch-regulators“ with great ideas but no watchmakers and certainly no independent watchmakers, as they don’t seem to have the knowledge/expertise/willingness to actually make a watch. The idea is born at their workshop but the creation and production is done somewhere else while they assemble their idea and put on the finishing touches. Still a task where 100% of untrained people would fail.

            What would happen if let’s say, all brands like AP, Breguet or A.Strehler and all others who produce parts for many other brands, suddenly follow the Swatch lead and stop providing other brands with parts. Then they would certainly start to take care of the problem by hiring a standard CNC company or start hiring a machinist and start doing it in-house but they would have a problem because it needs time, money and CNC in watchmaking is highly specific regarding the surface finishes, dimensions and precision. I hope you see what I mean…

            To exaggerate: You and me could have fantastic ideas for a watch, we could have no expertise on how to produce parts, finish or regulated a watch and still we could produce a watch like a Grönefeld because we could hire people how can do all those jobs. All we would need to have is the money and our definition of perfection.

            Maybe I’m old fashioned but with all the companies producing watches „factory style“ (e.g. 100 people are involved in the production in-house or outsourced and every person has another field or expertise), independent watchmakers should be guarding the knowledge crafting a watch from sketch to handing it over to the customer. Where’s the difference between buying a Breguet or Grönefeld watch (excluding the design factor)? To me there’s none – both watches are finished and regulated to a high degree but involve the expertise of approx. 50 people and not one of them has the knowledge of the „big picture“ / all the steps.

            No matter if it’s one watchmaker, two brothers or 8 within one watch shop/brand – if they dedicate themselves to the craft, manual labor and their costs are certainly not the problem in that profession and high end of watchmaking.