Today we are gonna talk about a new watch company from my favourite microbrand country Germany! The company is called FineWatchesBerlin. The company is founded by father Wilfried Liefer and daughter Mia-Phyllis Liefer and as the name suggests they are based in Berlin. What is amazing, is that they put all their money into this business, so there is no Kickstarter or anyone giving/sponsoring money to them. And that is very rare as most of the microbrand companies usually tend to start in Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Before I tell you more about the watch, we will have an interview with both Wilfried and Mia-Phyllis:
Mia-Phyllis Liefer, 32, and Wilfried Liefer, 62, daughter and father. Mia-Phyllis is a marketing and communications specialist and musician. She is curious and open-minded. Wilfried is a businessman always interested in trying something new. He is planning-focussed and visionary. The two have been business partners since 2018.
When and how did you become fascinated with watches?
Wilfried: The first watch that I can consciously remember was my father’s, a hand-wound watch with a black leather strap and a silver dial. That was in the early 1960s. My real fascination with watches started when I became a jeweller. My professional occupation quickly turned into a personal passion. At the time, I was particularly interested in the young, bold, and less-established small brands.
In the 1990s, new brands such as Nomos, Jörg Schauer, Chronoswiss, Alain Silberstein, Jacques Etoulie and many other newcomers tried to find their place in the market. I was particularly impressed by their boldness, creativity, innovation and enthusiasm. We were one of the first places in Berlin to stock almost all of these brands. It was through my contact with these courageous watchmakers that I first came upon the idea of designing my own watch. However, it never made it past the drawing board.
Mia-Phyllis: I pretty much grew up with watches. My bedroom was directly above the jewellery shop, there was a wonderful small cuckoo clock hung on the wall… What do you expect?
What makes a good watch?
M-P: It’s hard to say. What makes a poignant novel, a delicious meal, a moving film, or an aromatic cup of coffee? So many details must come together and harmonise with each other to become a distinct and special entity.
W: But what is most important is that a watch is not boring, unimaginative or run-of-the-mill. It should grab my attention through lovingly-crafted details and a recognizable key concept. Its appearance should be completely cohesive and it must have an independent identity. For me, just as in art, music and architecture, there isn’t simply one good style when it comes to watches.
A baroque painting can impress me as much as a Kandinsky, and a harmonious piece of traditional music can move me just as deeply as a Leonard Cohen ballad… just as a Jörg Schauer Quarada sits next to a Minerva Cal 48 and an Omega Art in my watch collection.
M-P: What I really don’t appreciate are these unimaginative mimics of Rolex Divers, Max Bills, Nomos, and the like. Design is not merely a matter of copy and paste.Nothing could be more dull.
Of course, the materials and components must be high quality. Haptics are also important to me: to be able to feel the harmony between weight and build quality in my hand. W: Exactly. When I hold it in my hand and look at it, this feeling of warmth, joy and satisfaction should be noticeable – a feeling of “Yes, I still like this!” The subtleties of the watch, including its feeling and the interaction of its components, should interest and please me even after I’ve become accustomed to looking at it.’
Which watches do you own privately? Could you tell an interesting story about one of these watches?
W: There’s quite a few… from a small collection of old hand-wound watches from the 1950s and 1960s, to a couple of the first electromechanic models predating the quartz mechanism, to modern automatic watches like those by Jörg Schauer, Minerva, Jacques Etoile, Nomos, Alain Silberstein, Tag Heuer, Omega, to a beautiful old Rolex. I also have some from Bruno Söhnle and even a Dugena, as well as a box full of Swatches of all kinds, of course…
M-P: Well, there’s the confirmation watch made of precious metals from my grandparents and a couple of Swatches from my youth. I currently like to wear my Sinn Automatik or one of the FineWatchesBerlin prototypes, which are real examples of craftsmanship and are truly unique.
W: My first Chronoswiss comes to mind – a Christmas gift in the late 1980s. A tiny watch by today’s standards, 34mm in diameter, with a manual winding movement and complete calendar, although back then that was very much a common size for a men’s watch. At the time, Chronoswiss still used old refurbished mechanisms. Apart from the onion crown, it in no way resembles the Regulateur Series that would go on to be so successful. A certain Mr Miller was responsible for distribution, and the whole collection fit into a small briefcase. His main source of income was the sale of wonderful Sattler wall clocks. A very nice reminder of an exciting time.
Who is your ideal customer?
W: I think our customers have broad interests, a good, steady income, are reasonably well-educated and predominantly male. Our customers have well-structured lives and love clarity of form but also appreciate precise details. They don’t feel like they have to distinguish themselves through swanky appearances or brands. They appreciate good quality and clean workmanship; they love functionality. They are very interested in the new and very open to innovative ideas. When they are passionate about something, they can become almost evangelical about it. They stick to what is tried and true. They are very loyal, and interested in technology as well as art, music and culture. They don’t feel the need to prove themselves, instead preferring understatement. They are perhaps somewhat elitist. They stay within their limits, but exist outside the mainstream. They are less interested in the opinion of the majority, instead seeking the approval and recognition of their peers. Our customers have a high level of self-awareness and self-confidence, are goal-oriented and focused.
M-P: Our customers are of all ages. Our first customers were in their mid-twenties, late fifties, and early sixties. Our graphic designer’s son is 13 and he is totally fascinated by our watches, even wearing one himself, while my father’s godson is 16 and posts photos of our watches together with his newest sneakers on Facebook and Instagram.
What are you interested in besides the watch business?
W: That is a broad field… I am very sporty, and enjoy running, cycling, and weight training. I’m passionate about music, no matter the genre, as long as it grabs me. I like to read, and recently I’ve also got into gardening. I spend a lot of time with my wife, and together we also give couples workshops. Both of my granddaughters open my heart… and once a week I teach a yoga class for men. I’ve been practicing yoga myself for years. I don’t experience strict separation between my working life and other interests- they merge with and inform
M-P: It’s the same for me as well – there’s a fluidity between my work and my private interests. I also teach yoga once a week, and have been practicing it for a while too. A couple of years ago, I set up a cultural association with some friends, which I am very active in, both musically and with my sewing machine, as well as in all organizational matters.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
M-P: Stimulation and ideas can be found almost anywhere, as long as you remain open and interested. ‘Through my various artistic activities, I am in contact with many exceptionally creative people.’In the rooms of KreativMolkereiSpandau I am surrounded by all sorts of musicians, illustrators, painters, sculptors and fashion designers every day. Through my work in a large jewellery business, I am in contact with consumers as well as with many watch and jewellery manufacturers.
W: I have long been active in the watch and jewellery industries, including as a goldsmith designing and crafting my own jewellery line, and this connection has never been broken. I am very active online and observe what the newcomers, microbrands, and design-oriented brands are doing. This means I’m very up to date. I am also always inspired by my engagement with the Bauhaus and their products. In general, I am fascinated by all kinds of form and design. A well-designed motorbike or bicycle excites me just as much as a beautiful lamp or “tiny house”. My eyes are always attracted to high quality design.
M-P: Exactly – whether in the cinema, on Netflix, in nature or in museums, inspiration exists everywhere.
Where do you see your brand in future?
W: In the first couple of years it is important to establish ourselves in the marketplace. We will continue to take care of our key customers and then see what other areas we would like to expand into.
M-P: We will not and do not want to become a big player or mass brand. Our focus is to create beautiful watches for design lovers, and it will stay that way.
W: My feeling is that the brand will grow organically from within. What I mean by that is that our “ideal customer” will slowly but surely help promote brand awareness in their personal, professional and cultural lives. From the beginning, we have noticed that people who like our concept and products are very willing to independently engage themselves on the brand’s behalf.
Do you have new watch designs in the pipeline?
W: The planning process for a number of new models is actually complete. Our next move will be to produce one or two new dial variants for the TEUFELSBERG range, and perhaps also a more exclusive version, depending on how sales progress.
M-P: Our basic idea is to expand on the TEUFELSBERG line as our main collection and create additional independent product lines. We would like to develop a watch with a slightly smaller diameter and perhaps also a small women’s or unisex watch.
W: We are also toying with the idea of special models with limited or numbered editions. But our initial focus is on establishing FWB on the market.
What was most difficult thing for you when first building your watch brand?
W: Personally, the challenge began with making our product known in the marketplace. Prior to that – although there were still a lot of challenges – almost everything was more fluid, with one thing following on from another… But the moment our watches arrived at our distribution center – it became suddenly clear that there was no going back! The watches had become a reality.
M-P: Yeah, you’re right – it is a real challenge to position a new brand on the market. Although it is also obviously the dream of everyone in marketing to be there from the beginning, when a new brand emerges – especially if you were involved in the development of the product. It’s also important not to forget that it really is my own baby. I also think that we did a lot of good preparation work, and the response from customers, the press and industry experts has been very encouraging.
What would you suggest to someone thinking of bringing their own watch brand onto the market?
W: It always depends on what your intentions are with the brand. It is essential to take your time to develop the overall concept, and to establish a financial and temporal buffer to make this possible. You also have to be prepared to throw everything out and start again.
M-P: My view is that it is essential to secure support and assistance from experts for every step along the way. Sometimes you can get a bit carried away in your own head, and so feedback from industry experts is really important. At the same time, you also have to be careful who you consult with, because experts also pursue their own interests.
W: Along with good planning, I also think that it is essential to listen to your gut. Your plans and ideas can only be so good on their own – if it doesn’t feel good, it will be tough.
Now let’s take a look at the watch as it is a stunner! The watch we are gonna look at today is the Teufelsberg with black dial. The Teufelsberg comes in three variations: Black dial, White dial and Silver dial. But the one I like the most is what we have here in for a review. The name of the watch Teufelsberg (German for Devil’s Mountain) comes from a man-made hill in Berlin, Germany, in the Grunewald locality of former West Berlin. Very interesting name choice, but I like it. You can read about the history of that place here, it is a very interesting place with some history.
The Teufelsberg comes in a very nice wooden box. Reminded me of the Vejrhoj packaging actually. The bo is nicely signed with FineWatchesBerlin logo. Inside the box, you will find your warranty card, spare strap in a different colour and of course the watch. Wilfried was very kind and put me a little present with the watch: a very nice FineWatchesBerlin keychain which is on my keys from the first day when I got one. It looks like I have a couple of watch company keychains for each of my key sets, haha. The first impressions were good. The case design actually reminded me of the Nomos Tangente, the Teufelsberg just has that Bauhaus design a little bit too. I also like what they did with the Miyota 8218 which has some interesting things changed on the looks, but about that later as no one has done it before. So let’s dive in!
The case of the Teufelsberg is made of 316L stainless steel. The case is very well machined with nice and sharp lines. The case is finished in a high polish which is also done very well. The case is round with some and small, but long lugs. Overall the watch has really nice proportions. The diameter is 40mm, the thickness is 11mm and from lug to lug it measures at 49mm. The watch itself actually in real life looks a bit bigger than it is due to those long lugs, but it still wears like any other 40mm watch. I actually like when companies do watches in smaller sizes like 38-40mm. I always liked bigger watches as I have big wrists, but in recent years I have fallen in love with smaller sized watches as they look better and are more wearable. On the right side of the case we have a push-pull crown which has the FineWatchesBerlin logo in colour. The crown is very easy to operate as it is in just the right size, not too big or small. On the left side of the case, we have the FineWatchesBerlin name engraved, in my opinion, it is a bit of an overkill with the branding and that is probably the only thing I maybe dislike about the watch. Where we have the lugs we have some decorative blued screws so it looks like the strap is held in place with screws, but in reality, straps are held in place with spring bars, but nonetheless, I like that blue accent, looks cool! I also like how thin is the bezel line so the dial looks bigger and you can read time more easily! The exhibition case back is another great touch to display the customized Miyota movement. The case back is held by 6 small screws which is a German thing in watchmaking, they all seem to use screws and not more or less than 6! The crystal in the case back is a flat sapphire just like on the front. The watch is water resistant to 50M (5ATM) which is more than you need for a dressy watch like this! But I advise you not to swim with it as it isn’t designed for that!
The dial on the Teufelsberg is very simple in my opinion and I like it. In my opinion, the watch needs to be functional as it’s main thing is to tell time, but FineBerlinWatches also made it so it looks good and also functional! The dial is matte black with applied hour indices and a nice FWB logo which actually is very well designed, saying it as a graphic designer myself! Around the dial, we have a very subtle blue line with a white printed minute track. For each hour we have a lume dot so you can read the time also in the darker hours. Between 4 and 5 o’clock, we have a small seconds subdial in white with red seconds hand which gives a nice detail to the dial and a little depth to it too. The stick hour and minute hands with sharp ends have polished finishing with some lume applied in the middle. The lume isn’t the strongest one but works fine for 3-4 hours which is more than enough. The dial overall is pretty well designed and very legible in the day just as in the dark.
Now we come to the most interesting part of this watch in my opinion as nobody, in my opinion, has ever done it to these movements. So inside the Teufelsberg sits a Miyota 8218. A very reliable and robust movement that works pretty great. It is an automatic movement with 42 hours power reserve, has 21 jewels and beats at 21,600 bph and it has decent Geneva line finishing on the top of the movement. Nothing out of a usual right? So what’s so special about the movement you would ask? Well, Wilfried went an extra step with this, they changed all the visible screws with an actual real blued screws. He told me that it took him more than 2 months to find a fitting supplier and who could manage that. I only could imagine how much this costs. And on top of that, he put a customized skeletonized rotor with gold colour engraving “From Berlin With Love” which is a really cool touch! An I definitely think it was all worth it as the movement looks a million times better than seeing a regular Miyota in there.
With the Teufelsberg you get two straps. Mine watch came on a black strap with nice blue stitching matching the accents on the watch. and also it came with the same style strap but in brown leather and with the same blue stitching. All the straps are signed with the FWB logo on the top and underside. The leather is really nice to touch and the straps are very supple so the watch will sit on the wrist nicely right out of the box. The underside of the straps is lined with this beige soft material so it doesn’t irritate your wrists. I also have to mention that all the straps are handmade. The tang style buckles are made of stainless steel and have matching polished finishing. Also, the buckles are signed with the round FWB logo which another nice touch. And the last thing that I have to mention is the built-in quick release spring bars! I just love when companies put them in the straps as it makes the strap change super easy and you don’t risk scratching your watch with the spring bar removal tool.
Overall the watch is great! I have been wearing it for the past month more times than any other watch I have for the test. I have taken it to my watch meets and the guys there with Rolexes, Pateks, Hublots etc. in their collection were asking me about this watch and especially admiring the blued screws and rotor on the movement. Of course, for a great watch you need to pay money and this one doesn’t come as cheap as you’ve maybe expected it to be, the watch costs 698€ which a lot for the specifications, but you must understand that the company is independent and it takes a lot of work to come to this point. Also for that price, I think you get a very unique and very well made watch. Look at it, you get a nice and legible dial, sapphire crystal on front and back, automatic Japan-made movement with some custom work with those blued screws and rotor, two very nice handmade leather straps and overall a good looking German designed watch! Do I recommend it? ….Yes!
I also have to mention that FineWatchesBerlin donates 50€ from each watch they sell to a charity called Hands With Hands, an NGO that uses the full amount to fund the construction of orphanages and schools in Nepal. The organisation also trains teaching stuff, supports further education and the training of craftspeople, and allocates microcredit to women in order to support their independence and self-employment. So you get a watch for yourself, and help others in need 🙂
- Modified Miyota cal. 8218 automatic movement
- Small second between 4″ and 5″
- 21600 oscillations
- Power reserve: 42 hours
- 21 jewels
- Engraved rotor, blue movement screws
- 316 L stainless steel case
- 40.5 mm diameter
- 20 mm lugs, blue decorative screws
- Water resistant to 50 meters
- 9″ external engraving
- Screw back with 6 screws
- Case height, including crystal: 11.4 mm
- 75 grams
- Sapphire crystal, front and back
- Stainless steel crown with embedded coloured logo
- Massive, superimposed numerals and markers
- Luminous points on the dial
- Luminous material on the hands
- Double-layer dial
- Deeper small second
- Handcrafted leather strap
- Black and brown with blue stitches and edges
- Quick-change mechanism
- Stainless steel closure with engraving
- Complete length, including closure: 250 mm
- The second leather band included
- Handcrafted bamboo box with magnet closure