Mike Stuffler @ Watchuseek, Interview with Mia-Phyllis and Wilfried
Designing and launching his own watch - that's what Wilfried Liefer dreamed about for 30 years. Now he has fulfilled the dream together with his lovely daughter Mia-Phyllis. At the age of 60, Liefer founded "FineWatchesBerlin" as a start-up based in Berlin-Spandau.
It took many months of planning, drawings and research until Mia and Wilfried were able to hold the first prototypes of their unisex watches in their hands. 14 months, says Liefer, have passed from his first draft(s) to the finished watch. "I drew all of the designs by hand," says the Berliner.
And finally, he told his daughter about the idea of launching a watch brand of his own. She was thrilled and offered to take over the marketing - after all, she completed an apprenticeship in communication and marketing. "It's super exciting for me," she said. "Bringing a new brand onto the market is the dream of everyone who is into watches".
The first models were launched already 2018 but it took some time until I became aware of FineWatchesBerlin. On WatchUSeek I introduced you to FineWatchesBerlin about 5 month ago (February 2020).
Since then I have met with Mia and Wilfried for several times, on the occasion of the „Aurochronos Festival" in Lodz / Poland, a very interesting watch event for independent watch brands, and the „Watchtime Düsseldorf" and of course occasionally in Spandau.
After Berlin loosened the Covid-19 lockdown more and more, the idea arose to invite Mia and Wilfried Liefer to an interview. Just to get an idea of how crazy you actually have to be to launch your own watch brand.
Both were immediately enthusiastic about the idea and agreed. And so this interview took place last Tuesday in the beer garden of the „Spandau Brewery". Excellent beer and local food contributed to a fun evening. We talked about all sorts of things, here we only publish the part that was related to FineWatchesBerlin, everything else remains our secret.
StufflerMike: Who are you, can you please briefly introduce yourself too our members ??
Wilfried: We are Mia-Phyllis and Wilfried Liefer, daughter and father, 32 and 62 years old. Mia-Phyllis is a specialist in marketing and communication, a musician, curious, cosmopolitan.
Mia-Phyllis: My father, Wilfried, is an interested entrepreneur, always trying something new, planning and visionary. We are business partners since 2018.
StufflerMike: When and how did your fascination with watches begin?
Wilfried: The first watch that I remember consciously was my father's wristwatch. A hand-wound watch with a black leather strap and silver dial. That was in the early 1960s. My real fascination for watches started some time later when I started working as a jeweler.
The job soon turned into personal enthusiasm. At that time, I was particularly interested in small brands, today you would say I was interested in Micro brands / Independent brands. In the early 1990s, new brands such as Nomos, Jörg Schauer, Chronoswiss, Alain Silberstein, Jacques Etoile and many other newcomers tried to find their place on the market. At those times I was really impressed by their courage, their creativity and the striking enthusiasm.
In Berlin we were one of the first sales points for almost every one of these brands.
StufflerMike (interrupts): Yeah, I know. Two years ago I bought my Schauer Day Date there. The watch slept in the vault for a few years.
Wilfried (continues): Through contact with those enthusiastic watchmakers, the idea of designing my own watch came up for the first time. At that time, however, it did not go beyond a few drawings.
Mia-Phyllis: Actually, I practically grew up with clocks because my children's room was directly above the family's jewelry store. There was a beautiful little cuckoo clock on the wall. What can you expect other than yes, of coures.
StufflerMike: What do you think. What are the features a good watch should have?
Mia-Phyllis: That is not easy to answer.. What makes a touching novel, a tasty meal, an affecting movie, an aromatic cup of coffee? So many details have to come together, harmonize with each other, become one, so that something special can be created.
Wilfried: Above all, however, a watch shouldn't be boring, uninspired, „08/15" (plain vanilla). It should catch my attention through details showing the passion the watch has been made with, a visible and recognizable basic idea. The appearance should absolutely be coherent and it must have an individualiy, a self-image, an identiy. As in art, music and architecture, there is no such thing as a "good style" for watches. A baroque painting can impress me just as much as a Kandinsky, a harmonious piece of folk music touches me as deeply as a ballad by Leonard Cohen. Just like a Jörg Schauer Quarada is in my collection next to a Minerva Cal 48 and an Omega Art.
Mia-Phyllis: What I don't like are these almost ubiquitous Rolex Submariner- , Max Bill-, Nomos-look-a-likes - copy-and-paste, there is nothing more boring.
Of course, the quality of the materials used must be matching and top. It is also important to me to feel the haptic, to feel a harmony of weight and processing quality in my hand. A good watch should encourage me to take the time to look at it over and over again.
Wilfried: Exactly, when I have a watch in my hands and I look at it, this feeling of warmth, joy and satisfaction should be felt. This: Yes, I still like that! Even after looking at it several times, the subtleties and the interaction of the components should still arouse my interest.
StufflerMike: Which watches do you own privately? Can you tell an interesting story about one of these watches?
Wilfried: There are quite a few: Starting with a small collection of old manual winding watches from the 1950s and 1960s, and a few early electromechanical models from the time before quartz movements came up, to modern automatic watches such as Jörg Schauer, Minerva, Jacques Etoile, Nomos, Alain Silberstein, Tag Heuer, Omega or a beautiful old Rolex. There is also something from Bruno Söhnle and even a Dugena. And of course a box full of Swatch watches.
Mia-Phyllis: Well, there is the confirmation watch made out of precious metal, a gift of my grandparents and some Swatch watches from my youth. At the moment I like to wear my Sinn or one of the FineWatchesBerlin watches. Most of the time the watch I want to wear is already on my father's wrist. That's how it is when father and daughter work together.
Wilfried: I remember my first Chronoswiss. A Christmas present in the late 1980s. A tiny watch by today's standards, 34 mm in diameter, manual wind movement with full calendar. At that time it was still a common size for a men's watch. At those times Chronoswiss fitted their watches with revised NOS movements. Except for the onion crown, nothing reminds you of the later successful Régulateur series. Thesales representant those days was Mr. Müller, a small briefcase was enough for the entire collection,Mr. Müller's main source of income was the sale of beautiful Erwin Sattler wall clocks. A very nice memory of an exciting time.
StufflerMike: What does your customers look like?
Wilfried: I think our customer is interested in many things. He has a good, regular income and a middle to high school education. To a large extent male. He is well structured, loves clear forms, clarity, but at the same time he likes successful details. It does not need to distinguish itself through flashy appearances or brand presentation. Emphasizes good quality and clean workmanship. Loves functionality. Has great interest in the new, is very open to innovative ideas. If something inspires him, he goes for it, can be almost missionary. He likes to hold on to the tried and tested for a long time. He is very loyal, interested in technology, interested in art, music, culture. Doesn't have to prove itself loudly, works more with understatement. Sometimes a bit elitist. Deliberately but subtly differentiates itself from the mainstream. The opinion of the many is not so important to him, he is looking for confirmation and recognition of the same. Rather has a higher self-confidence / self-image, is goal-oriented and focused ...
Mia-Phyillis .: Imho there's no age limit. Our first buyers were in their mid-twenties, late fifties and seventies. The son of our graphic designer is 13 years old and completely enthusiastic about the watches, he now wears one himself. And my godson's godson is 16 years old and posts photos on Facebook and Instagram of our watches along with his latest sneakers.
What are your interests besides the watch business?
Wilfried: This is a wide field. I am very active in sports: running, cycling, weight training ... I have always loved music, no matter which direction, it just has to grab me. Read. Recently a garden. I spend a lot of time with my wife, together with her I also give workshops for couples. My two granddaughters open my heart. Once a week I also teach yoga for men, I have been practicing daily myself for many years. And there is not really a separation between my professional activities and my other interests, it all flows together.
Mia-Phyllis: I can only agree: it is a smooth transition between work and private interests. And I also teach yoga once a week and have been practicing for a while. A few years ago I founded a cultural association with some friends in which I am very active: both musically and on the sewing machine and in all organizational matters.
StufflerMike: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Mia-Phyllis: Suggestions and ideas can be found almost everywhere, as long as you remain open and interested. Keep your eyes open. Through my artistic work I am in contact with a lot of creative artists. In the rooms of the „KreativMolkereiSpandau" I am surrounded daily by musicians of different styles, draftsmen, painters, sculptors and fashion designers. In addition, through my work in a large jewelry store, I have contact both with the customer and with many watch and jewelry manufacturers.
Wilfried. Since I was also active in the watch and jewelry industry for a long time and also designed and manufactured my own jewelry series as a goldsmith, this connection never broke. That means I'm pretty up to date. Above all, I browse a lot and see what the kickstarters, microbrands and design-oriented brands are doing. I always get inspiration from working with the Bauhaus and its products. In general, form and design fascinate me in every form. A good looking motorcycle or bicycle inspires me just as much as a beautiful lamp or a tiny house. Somehow, well-designed things just attract my eye.
Mia-Phyllis: Yes, whether cinema, Netflix or in nature and in the museum - there are suggestions everywhere.
StufflerMike: Where do you see your brand in , say a couple of years?
Wilfried: In the first two years, it was important that we establish ourselves on the market. We will look after our regular customers intensively and then gradually look into the areas in which we would like to expand. We are trying to stay in contact with our customers on a regular basis.
Last year we showcased our watches on special watch events like „Aurochronos" in Poland, „Watchtime Düsseldorf" and other more locally related events. However, Covid-19 has caused significant restrictions this year. I think in 10 years we will still be a small but fine brand for a special design audience.
Mia-Phyllis: We will not and do not want to become a big player or a high-volume brand. Our focus is and remains to create beautiful watches for design lovers. Sometimes less is more.
Wilfried : I think, I hope, that the brand will grow from within. What I think is that our "ideal customer" will slowly but steadily develop a brand awareness in his private, professional, cultural environment. Right from the start, we had the experience that people who like our concept and our product are willing to do a lot for us.
StufflerMike: Are further watch models planned?
Wilfried: We're not running out of ideas, some new models are in the pipeline and could be realized on short notice. Next we will probably bring one or two more dial variants for the TEUFELSBERG series. Maybe even a more elegant version, but important is how sales develop.
Mia-Phyllis: Basically, the TEUFELSBERG line-up will serve as our basic collection, accompanied by one or two other model lines. Right now we think of a watch with a slightly smaller diameter and maybe also a small(er) women's or unisex watch. And there are first ideas for a chronograph.
Wilfried: We also play with the idea of special models, limited editions or something along those lines. But - being on the market for only two years - we need to focus on making FineWatchesBerlin known to the customers.
StufflerMike: What was the hardest part of starting up your watch brand ?
Wilfried: For me personally, the challenge started with making the product known on the market. Almost everything before, even though there were various challenges, was more of a flow, one resulted from the other. But the moment the watches actually arrived in Spandau, it suddenly became visibly clear: there is no way back. What previously was a project became real.
Mia Phyllis: Yes, that's right, it is a real challenge to position a new brand on the market. Of course it is everybody's dream to live with the project right from its start when a new brand is created, especially when you are involved in product design. But nobody told us how difficult it can be to see light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway, FineWatchesBerlin was our "baby". I believe that we have done good work so far: The feedback from our customers, press and also from the experts is very encouraging.
StufflerMike: Online sales vs. Authorized Dealers. Which channel do you see as more important for FWB?
Wilfried: We are flexible there, for us it is not an "either-or". What we're not going to do is taking the collection suitcase and traveling through Europe to find PoS.
I think there will be an organic mix of online and retail. In addition to our own online shop, we are also building up sales through other selected (online) design shops. We are happy that VAUND STORES in Hannover agreed to sell our watches. FineWatchesBerlin are a good fit with their portfolio.
StufflerMike: Funding new model i via crowdfunding. Is this path something for FineWatchesBerlin?
Mia-Phyllis: A question we asked ourselves too. And so far we have decided not to go up this alley. We have given ourselves a certain amount of time and are rather working on slowly building the brand bottom up. FineWatchesBerlin should develop over the years to a solid, healthy brand and not being sold in department stores in 5 years.
We prefer to do it on our own. Our project is well calculated and we trust that the support and the incredible positive feedback that we have received so far will bring us far on our way.
Wilfried: The crowdfunding platforms have made it very easy to start any project without risking your own capital. Unfortunately for many it has become like playing Monopoly.
Such platforms certainly have their meaning and justification in today's world. Many valuable, meaningful projects would not be conceivable without this type of joint funding. But whether they have to be watches...
StufflerMike: What would you give someone along who plans to launch their own watch brand?
Wilfried: It always depends on what you intended with the brand. In any case, it is important to take a lot of time for the overall concept, to plan enough financial and time buffers. And you should be ready to possibly throw everything back on the pile.
Mia_Phyllis: In my opinion, it is essential to get support and help from experts for every step. Sometimes you get lost in your own world of thoughts, so feedback from experts is essential. On the other hand, you have to be careful when making your selection, because experts are also self-interested.
Wilfried: In addition to good planning, it is also essential for me personally to listen to myself, to let my gut feeling have the say. The plan, the idea, no matter how good, if the feeling doesn't go with it, it will be difficult.
StufflerMike: Thank you for the interview and good luck with FineWatchesBerlin.