May 26, 2023
by Mike Razak
When I walked into the shop of watch dealer Martin Pulli in Manayunk, Pennsylvania, the first thing I noticed was the utter lack of watches. Don’t be mistaken: The shop is filled with glass cases, decorated and with evident spaces for the watches Pulli sells, from brands like Ressence, Romain Gauthier, Laurent Ferrier, and Kudoke. There is a soft masculinity and embellishment to the space that gives the space the atmosphere of man-cave-cum-Victorian-parlor. Handwritten notes of thanks from brands and customers alike are set atop a few of the cases, while model cars and the appurtenances of watch enthusiasm fill out the displays. The walls are adorned with old mirrors, vintage posters, and right by the front window, a framed piece of art made by Pulli’s daughter. The fact is that when you have a global clientele, foot traffic may be slow even when business isn’t, and it doesn’t always make sense to fill every case every day. What was sitting out, though, awaiting my arrival, were five boxes containing five different versions of the Kieser Design tragwerk.T.
Pulli is as discerning as his clients, if not more so, and his decision to become the only U.S. dealer of Kieser watches wasn’t based solely on salability. He was effusive in his praise of Mathias Kieser’s eponymous brand: the customizability, in-house component production, and unique design language had captured Pulli’s eye not just as a dealer, but as an enthusiast. To Pulli, Kieser is a special brand doing special and important things, and upon seeing and handling the watches, I was convinced, too.
The big picture with Kieser Design is customizability and in-house componentry. Matthias Kieser machines every component by hand except the sapphire and the movement. The 42mm case is comprised of an inner case—anodized in one of six colors—and an outer exoskeleton, both milled from solid blocks of grade 5 titanium, the former having a satin-brushed finish, and the latter, a flat satin finish. The combined result is a highly structural look that, along with the rest of the watch, takes inspiration from dragonflies. The case offers 100m water resistance, making it suitable for just about anything.
On the wrist, the light titanium, 11.2mm height, and deceptive lug-to-lug allow this to wear easily on the wrist. Of note, the case measures 50mm lug-to-lug, so it looks like 50mm on the wrist. But the underside lug-to-lug measures 42mm, meaning it affords the comfort and wearability of a smaller watch. The handmade 22mm Cordura strap (yes, you can choose the color of the fabric and the stitching), creates a seamless silhouette; it’s got a leather backing a matching titanium pin buckle, and is immediately pliable, furthering the comfort on the wrist. (You can swap straps, but unless you have a similarly flared strap, it will never look as good as the one that comes with the watch.)
Let’s talk a bit about the in-house production of the various components of the Kieser Design tragwerk.T. As I mentioned, aside from the sapphire crystal, the gaskets, and the movement itself, every component is either made or substantially modified in-house. Kieser mills, grinds, polishes, and finishes every component in his Frankfurt workshop, but that’s the effort, not the magic. The magic is the anodization of components. Owners can, of course, be terribly boring and stick with titanium’s natural color, or they can have fun with black, blue, green, purple, or amber (plus red for the seconds hand!). All of this anodization is done by Kieser, and getting the techniques and process down took an incredible amount of testing. It should be noted that the crown is only available in black or natural titanium, but every other component—inner case, screws, movement ring, movement rotor—can be coordinated or you can mix and match.
And the party keeps going on the dial. Here, you can choose the color for the dial, the seconds hand, and the dial ring; as you can see, the sample I reviewed had a purple dial, green seconds hand, and black dial ring. The titanium dial is available in a vertical brushed texture (yawn) or this mesmerizing honeycomb pattern. Both are executed by hand by Kieser, but the honeycomb calls to mind the compound eyes of the dragonflies that inspired the tragwerk.T, and as such I feel fits better with the rest of the watch. The nameplate and model name are applied and color-matched to the dial.
As for the various elements of the dial, once again, handmade is the game. Kieser hand-finishes the hands and applied hour markers until the surfaces are perfect, and it shows. The brushing on the hands is clear, and the subtle beveled edge they have avoids the flat appearance many ultramodern hand designs have. The sloped hour markers, like the hands, feature contrasting hand-applied luminant that shines brightly. While the date window at 3 o’clock disturbs symmetry, I didn’t find myself distracted by it. It helped that this configuration had a dial ring to match the date frame, and I also feel that it might have been more obtrusive had this been a brushed dial. Legibility was excellent on this model, but you can obviously throw that right out the window depending on what combination of colors you choose.
For the movement, Kieser opted for a top-grade Sellita SW200-1, but of course didn’t leave it as it comes. The bridges and plates feature snailing, perlage, and brushing, and are all ruthenium-plated for a black finish. As for the rotor, he ditched the stock component completely, creating an anodized titanium and 18k gold rotor that mimics the wing structure of dragonflies and reduces the weight by 25% compared to a traditional rotor. The automatic Swiss movement operates at 28,8000 vph with a power reserve of 38 hours. The visual effect of the entire movement is captivating. Oftentimes, movements on display don’t justify the display, lacking as they are in any creativity or design beyond a custom rotor and basic embellishments. With the unique rotor, black movement, and colorful movement ring, Kieser has managed to put on a show that equals that provided by the rest of the watch.
“Tragwerk” is the German word for structure (though it can mean many things depending on the context), and it’s an apt name for this watch. The dragonfly inspiration brings an exoskeleton, high geometry, and an ultramodern structural look that stands out. With over 73 million combinations possible, there’s an opportunity to make this watch truly unique even beyond what I’ve been able to discuss here. That’s because once a customer submits an initial order, a deeply collaborative process begins that can result in even further customization from different dials to engravings and plenty in between. I’d go as far as to say that what Matthias Kieser is doing with his watches makes one wonder how other less exciting brands justify much higher prices. The Kieser Design tragwerk.T is priced from €5,490 to €6,660, depending on how many components are colorized; watches are made to order and take several weeks to complete. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Brand: Kieser Design
>Price: €5,490 – €6,660
>Size: 42mm-wide, 11.2mm-thick, 50mm lug-to-lug (42mm on the underside)
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Any time I want to feel cooler than everyone else and look a little bit dangerous
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A collector who wants to support an innovative independent brand and appreciates customization and in-house component manufacturing
>Best characteristic of watch: Customizability and in-house component manufacturing
>Worst characteristic of watch: Having to configure every component could lead to decision paralysis—a few default “suggestions” would be helpful