As I’m sure many of you will agree, traveling can be a wonderful experience. It’s an opportunity to discover new landscapes, meet new people, explore new cultures, eat new food, and so on.
Since I travel often, I’m always on the lookout for something truly special. However, due to globalization, many parts of the world are starting to look and feel the same; identical brands, products and stores are spread across the planet and it can be disappointing. When I was a kid, seeing my father’s friends bringing a Sony Walkman from Japan or a varsity jacket from an American university to France was a big deal.
So in an effort to find that something special, my daughter and I decided to fly to Iceland to discover some of the country’s famed nature spots including glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, waterfalls, natural hot springs and the like. But we were also excited to learn about the rich history of Iceland firsthand and looked forward to meeting some locals.
Iceland is known for its high winds and unpredictable weather during the winter season. Thankfully, the first two days were perfect for hiking and sightseeing. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as I’ll soon learn), a storm was expected on the third day and our guide informed us that it would be too dangerous to explore since certain roads would be closed due to snow and high winds.
I remembered that our guide had mentioned that the smallest watch manufacture in the world, called JS Watch, was located in the capital city, Reykjavik. So, I searched for the company online and sent them an email to inquire if I could visit and meet the owner. JS Watch replied almost immediately and said they would love to have me come over.
The following day, I headed to JS Watch to meet the owner and master watchmaker Gilbert Gudjonsson and his son Sigurdur, who is also a watchmaker and the company’s Technical Director. Gilbert warmly welcomed me to his store and I immediately noticed all the wood displays, memorabilia, clocks, customer photos, and of course, the JS watches. We sat down and Gilbert shared his story with me.
Gilbert began his career as a watchmaker and was happy to repair watches. However, fifteen years ago he decided that he would develop his own watch brand with his son. One of his first steps was to locate the right suppliers in Switzerland.
Today, the company has a total of nine suppliers. He sources Swiss movements from Eterna, dials from suppliers in the German town of Glashütte, and other draws from other sources for crystals, cases, hands, straps, and buckles.
All watches are designed by hand and after all the parts arrive, the watches are assembled at the company’s workshop. Between Gilbert and Sigurdur, around 350 watches are produced here per year and each timepiece is also tested for accuracy and water resistance onsite.
The workshop is a tiny space measuring around six square meters (65 square feet)—making JS Watch possibly the world’s smallest watch manufacture indeed!
Along with the regular watch collection, Gilbert and Sigurdur also design a few special edition pieces. For instance, when Iceland qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup—a first for the national soccer team—Captain Aron Gunnarsson asked JS Watch to design a watch in honor of the achievement. And these watches were not just for the players but the entire team, including coaches, doctors, and other personnel, which totaled forty people.
JS Watch decided to create a limited edition run of 300 pieces with forty reserved for the Icelandic national team. The JS World Cup watch includes thoughtful design details such as the hour markers 1 – 11 in silver to represent the players on the pitch and the 12 in red to symbolize the Icelandic fans (collectively known as Tólfan or The Twelfth Man). Furthermore, the first forty-five minutes are printed in blue for the first half of the game while the remaining fifteen minutes are in red to mark half time.
On the dial, JS included the “WOЯLD CUP MMXVIII” logo where the R is reversed as a nod to the hosting country Russia, in addition to “Fyrir Ísland,” which means “For Iceland.” The watch was a great success and JS Watch currently has another special project in the works.
Small staff too
Along with Gilbert and Sigurdur, the company’s employees include Grimkell Sigurthorsson, Director of Design/Marketing, Julius Heioarsson, Director of Product Development, and two apprentices, who are currently training in Denmark. It was a real pleasure to be around the team because the love and appreciation for each other were evident immediately.
Gilbert is a joyful person, who is proud to admit he does not use a computer and is even prouder of his small watch operation. He was delighted to show me his machinery and super organized workstation.
Over the last fifteen years, JS Watch has enjoyed great success and counts celebrities such as Quentin Tarantino, Elvis Costello, Ed Sheeran and others as clients. There are framed pictures of happy customers peppered throughout the store.
Ed Sheeran visited the JS Watch workshop in August, 2019.
The brand currently only makes stainless steel watches and the price range is around $2,500. It is difficult to find pre-owned JS Watch models in the market because owners want to keep them and first-time buyers often turn into repeat customers.
It’s refreshing to see a family business that can remain small while managing to produce high-quality wristwatches. This is thanks in part to the pride of workmanship and love of the craft at the center of the company culture.
My visit to JS Watch was a special treat as their philosophy echoes my own—remaining small, specializing in a high-end craft, focusing on innovation and differentiation, a sense of pride in one’s work, and most importantly, utmost respect for the client. It’s a formula that works and I wish them all the best.
Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches, Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com