Porsche Design is not your typical watch brand. It does things in a different way, or at least, not in the traditional “Swiss way”. This goes, of course, for the design of the watches, which are all about minimalism and the “form follows function” school, something dear to Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. But this also goes for the manufacturing processes – because yes, Porsche Design is a true watch manufacture. Tight links exist between Porsche (the car manufacturer) and Porsche Design Timepieces. In fact, so deep that PD Watches are built just like a 911 and made in the Zuffenhausen-based factory.
To understand what makes Porsche Design a case study in watch production, we’ll talk to Rolf Bergmann, Chief Technology Officer at Porsche Design Timepieces. You’ll see, the synergy between cars and watches runs deeper than you ever imagined!
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – What is your first horological memory?
Rolf Bergmann, Porsche Design Timepieces – It was a very long time ago. Nevertheless, my very first experience was with a clockwork mechanism made out of a construction kit when I was a child. It worked precisely… more or less!
Where had your career taken you before you arrived at Porsche Design Watches?
First, I was educated as an operator for metal cutting machines. Afterwards, I successfully completed my advanced studies in production engineering with a focus on optimizing the production processes of blow moulding machinery used by the plastics industry. I started with Porsche as an employee in the Logistics and Process Engineering Department in Zuffenhausen. At this time, Porsche implemented simultaneous engineering, and I had the great opportunity to be a member of a really interesting sports car project, specifically the 996 Turbo project. During this time, I learned the ins and outs of the development process for a sports car.
As a result, I was responsible for the engineering department of the 911 assembly line in Zuffenhausen during the following years. In 2007, I joined the Porsche Design Group, in order to build the Operations Department in regards to purchasing, quality management logistics, and information technology. In 2013, we started the task of founding Porsche Design Timepieces AG in Switzerland.
How is the relationship between Porsche cars and Porsche Design Timepieces?
Very good! Both possess the same unique roots: the Design DNA of Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who created the 911 in 1963 and founded the Studio F.A. Porsche in Zell am See in 1972. Both carry the same genes in terms of engineering, and both stand for excellent quality in both product substance and manufacturing.
When we started with Porsche Design Timepieces AG in Solothurn, we first took the development process of the sports car and adapted this to the engineering process for our watches. These processes are our backbone and describe all requirements needed in order to bring a Porsche Design Timepiece to the market.
What have been the highlights of the last few years?
There have been several highlights in the last few years. The presentation of our Monobloc Actuator at the 2017 Baselworld Fair, which received great press coverage and a positive response from the market, was definitely amongst the most significant highlights. I never thought a change to the actuation of the chronograph would spark such interest. Despite the fact, I had always been convinced the idea was fantastic, the construction is perfect and the timepiece is extremely precise.
Another highlight was the launch of the Chronotimer Turbo S Exclusive Series at Goodwood. The watch featured Porsche Design’s first in-house developed movement: Werk01.200. The winding rotor was designed in the shape of an original Porsche Turbo rim. Further details linking it to the car included original Porsche car leather, as well as dial colourations made with and matching the original Porsche lacquer in the same body colour as the car.
What is it like for a watch manufacturer to be linked to such an iconic car brand?
It’s perfect, we are all “Porscheaner”! But it’s more than just a link. It’s like being a member of the same family, sharing the same roots and values. The Porsche employees are all colleagues, and we support each other in all endeavours. We have access to the research and development department and to special know-how e.g. in material research or motorsport engineering.
On the other hand, it is fantastic to belong to an awesome brand with such pulling power and credibility as Porsche. That makes it easier to explain who we are and what we stand for with Porsche Design Timepieces.
How did you shape the production process of watches, and are there similarities with the car industry?
To produce the highest quality products available to our customers, we implemented a production area based on the Porsche Production Principle. What does this mean? We arranged a lean production flow where every watch is a separate assembly order. We pick the material for each order, assemble every single timepiece individually and check and pack it. Therefore, it is crucial the material flows and the components are perfect quality.
In short, we produce watches in the same manner that we produce sports cars. The differences are simply the size of the parts used and that no special devices are required to handle our timepieces.
What are your priorities to develop the brand?
We have a clear understanding of what our brand and our products stand for: Porsche Design DNA. This entails combining sports car genes with Porsche quality, functional design, and outstanding material. We implement this in our timepieces by using titanium for the metal parts in the casing and bracelets. Additionally, we shape the form for optimal functionality and design the dials with a very high level of legibility. Our timepieces are engineered to coincide with their technical roots at the racetrack.
The Porsche Design customer knows and prefers the brand Porsche, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a Porsche driver.
Are the digital transformation and the evolution of distribution changing your business models?
The digital opportunities offer communication that is much more advanced. Moreover, the customer is better informed and able to use different types of media to get information or take advantage of digital services. However, in my opinion, the digital transformation is not changing business models. Either people utilize it, or they don’t. It depends on whether you’re able to offer an inspirational experience or an impressive product with an incredible story. Deriving from sports car manufacturing processes, we have been developing a dedicated modular system enabling the production of individual watches according to our clients’ wishes, called Porsche Design for Porsche. It has been well accepted by customers of sports-car-related chronographs matching the range of top-of-the-line Porsche 911’s, like the Turbo S Exclusive Series, GT2RS, or the latest GT3RS.
How does it impact your activity?
For us, it’s crucial to convince the customer of the worth of a Porsche Design Timepiece. Today, we utilize a variety of tools to convince customers of the value of our timepieces.
Which Porsche Design watch have you been wearing lately?
The Monobloc Actuator! (Monobloc Actuator 24h-Chronotimer all black)