Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S03 ep4 : Kees Engelbart, Cornelius Watches, [Switzerland]
Interview with Kees Engelbart
Cornelius & Cie uses vintage watch movements in proprietary cases of classic but innovative design. Every single part of the movements is embellished by hand, skeletonised, engraved by Kees Engelbarts, and rhodium or gold plated, offering customers extensive possibilities for very special personalised engravings of movements. The top of the barrel will be engraved by Kees with a text or a picture, turning each watch into an extremely personal one. The engraving can daily be seen through an opening in the dial.
Cornelius: If the most important part of the watch is the engraving, why should the name of the
watchmaker be on the watch and not the name of the engraver?
Cornelius: I’m from a little town in Holland, I always like to draw, to paint, I wanted to go to the
Art Academy and my dad, hey was like a bit of an artist himself and he said you know it’s nice to
be an artist but when you’re an artist and you finish you graduate from the Art Academy and
you’re not the best artist, you’re not the most famous artist, you won’t make a living so what’s
your suggestion dad, I was fifteen, he said go and find a job where you can combine art and
craftsmanship and then you will always have something to eat.
Cornelius: I won this stupid water balloon throwing contest and I had to pick up the medal at the
local engraver’s shop so I knock on the door, walk in and he was just busy doing some hand
engraving on a copper plate and I was amazed, say huh, you cut in the metal and just like that not
with any help or turning you know, tool, said no, no, this is hand engraved and then I knew, that’s
what I want to do. The next day I called the school.
Cornelius: I went to Germany then to school in ___ called the F___ (I hope you can translate that)
so it’s like a higher school for precious stone and jewellery design while studying in Germany I
was already working in Geneva.
Cornelius: When I first came to Geneva I was shocked because of the quality of the work, when
you go three years to school you know how to use a tool and you know how to sharpen it, but that’s
about it so the first three to four or five months I didn’t earn anything. I had like three hundred
bucks in my pocket and luckily the friend of the friend he took good care of me and I was able to
how do you say perfection.
Cornelius: Everything that is done in Geneva means it’s top notch, it’s top quality and I had to re-
learn how to sharpen my tools, to make them better, to make them nicer, to make them more
polished and you know everything was too rough, everything was too rough simply. My technique
was too rough, my tools were too rough.
Cornelius: I was employed by my friend Miller, I did some engraving for bigger companies, I did
500 movements for G___ for the Platinum No. 1.
Cornelius: I know a guy who has been buying watch companies that went bankrupt for the last 40
years, he would resell the machines and everything that he could sell and keep the movements. So
he has like a double car garage full with lockers and drawers where he can you know find anything
Cornelius: He invited me over and said you know what you should do, you should spend a
weekend in my basement, or in the garage, and have a look, out of 500 drawers there was one
when I opened it I saw this movement and I was like wow, __ sheet from D___ in Switzerland, it’s
from 1940, 1935, 1940, and after the research I did, it might have been used as a clock in a car.
Cornelius: A buddy of mine we went to school together he came to my workshop and he saw me
working on one of my unique pieces and he had a close look and he said wow that’s a beautiful
movement but I guess you only have one or two. I said no, I have 250, said what? You have 250 of
these movements, let’s do something with it.
Cornelius: I’ve seen some really great craftsmen that were able to reproduce portraits and pictures
and do wonderful work where it becomes interesting or what I try to achieve is where you put
something from yourself or you try to make something new.
Cornelius: I use this technique called M___ literally in Japanese it means wood structure metal.
And M___ basically is a multiplayer technique, so you have different sheets of different kinds of
metal, gold and silver for instance, put it in an oven or a furnace and heat it until the fusion point
of the first melting metal, in this case that would be silver, and the fusion point of silver is just
before the melting point so if you heat is like 5° too much all the silver will melt and your
sandwich will go pfft.
Cornelius: If you do it right, you get a block ___, a block of metal with these layers inside and you
can work it in different ways, you can either make some decoration on the top, laminate it again
between two rolls, roll it again and it’ll squeeze and everything you took away from the surface, all
these different metals as they are pushed to the surface so you get a sheet of metal with variations
or with design like a wood grain and you can use that for all kinds of effects, for instance I made
some dials with tigers, you will never find a tiger in real nature with stripes like that.
Cornelius: Working for big companies is that it’s so impersonal you know you get a mail from this
and this secretary that says then you have to deliver these and these pieces and you give them to
this and this guy who will take them and then you get paid by this and this person who will take
care of the accountability and then you know. Man it’s not fun to work like that and you come to
that sometimes I deliver my pieces you know if it’s a special dial or something, now why do I do
that, because I want to see the face of the customer, I want to see the guy have a close look at it,
because that makes me happy.
Cornelius: Concerning the engravings I’ve had some funny requests from a Japanese lady through
my Japanese contact, she contacted me and she said my husband is a very famous Japanese artist, I
said so, and I want to give him a present, okay, yeah your watch is really nice and you know I have
to explain my husband, so I met the lady, I still don’t know who her husband was and that was kept
a secret all I can say is what she was very nice and very friendly and she like my watches and she
said my husband even though he is a very famous artist, he has this stage fright and the only thing
that calms him down is when he can look at something or focus on something so I saw this and this
watch would you redo the same watch in white gold and with the same dragon and the same
movement, I said yeah because you know if I did it once in yellow gold it’s a unique piece, I can
do it in white gold and it’s still a unique piece. So that’s what I did and she was very happy with
the watch but the nicest thing was that she gave feedback through my Japanese contact that every
time before the concert, every concert the guy is wearing my watch and before going on stage he
sits down in his lounge you know, drink a cup of tea, and looks at my watch to calm down.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Kees Engelbart, Cornelius Watches, Switzerland