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The Man Behind the $60,000 Watch: Exclusive Interview with Hungarian Master Watchmaker Áron Becsei

While you’ve probably never heard of him, Áron Becsei is a Hungarian watchmaker who produces some of the most expensive and sought-after time pieces on earth, whose work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times. Over the summer, Hungary Today had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with the master craftsman, where he discussed the extreme amount of time and effort it takes to make a Bexei watch, as well as the way he goes about selling these works of art to clients all around the world.

This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. and translated from the original Hungarian.

Áron Becsei in his Budapest workshop

Is the restraint and reserve you are known for a way of popularizing your brand?

Yes. We believe that we have to make our products in such a way that our customers fall in love with them.

Then the product speaks for itself?

Exactly. You have to make watches to such a degree of quality that they hold. This is the perfect advertisement, since our reputation spreads among our clients to such a degree that there really is no need for anything else. Our target audience is a rather small section of the population.

How many people on earth own a Bexei watch?

The number is below 20.

How do potential customers get in touch with you? Through email? Telephone? Do they just knock, or do they come based on someone else’s recommendation?

The majority contact me by email, through my website, although there are exceptions. For example, a member of a watch enthusiasts’ club in Thailand ordered one from us, and afterwards a few of his friends came into contact with me as well. But there are also those who find us through internet searches or at an exhibition. Incidentally, we are much more open to spending money on taking part in exhibitions than on advertising.

Bexei’s Tourbillon No. 1

Which exhibitions can your work be viewed in?

Most likely they will next be on display in Singapore. In addition, I’d like to unveil a new piece in Basel next Spring.

In other interviews you’ve noted that making a watch can take up to a year for you? Do you work on multiple watches at once?

Originally, I only made one piece at a time, which was not very effective from a time standpoint, and when the number of orders began to grow I was forced to change my strategy. I currently employ two colleagues to assist me. In general, I make five raw watches in a year, which can then be customized for a particular client. One of the main strengths of Bexei watches is that each one is a unique piece that is tailored to the individual. This means that we plan out the watch together with the client, who is continuously updated on the status of his watch through photos and 3D models.

How did you find your employees? Did they come to you, or did you advertise for the positions?

There are always people applying, but we didn’t advertise for the position, and we don’t hire anyone at random from off the street. I only hire people based on recommendations. One of the guys is a mechanical engineer, who lightens my load in planning and machine operation. The other is a watchmaker who is currently completing his studies, and who helps out in the process following machining.

Have you ever made a watch as a personal gift for someone?

I’m not yet at the point that I can allow myself to do that. I might make one for my father at some point, but I still haven’t even had time to make one for myself. One watch takes at least eight hours of work, if not more, each day. Even the most basic model has nearly 200 pieces, and each piece needs at least 10 adjustments by machine or by hand. If we add this up, this adds up to nearly 2000 separate tasks for one watch. All of this is leaving out the fact that, if I only make one piece per day for this basic model, even that will take 200 days, since each task in it is my responsibility from A to Z. To this day, we are dealing with capacity issues, since the wait-time for one of our watches is rather long. Clients can easily tolerate a six-month wait, a one-year wait less so.

Áron Becsei’s first wristwatch model, the Primus

Is there something that inspires you?

There are always new challenges. I used to restore watches, and there the challenge was to see whether I could return these to their original conditions. Personally, what motivates me most is solving problems that people generally view as impossible. For me, I think the most significant part of the watch-making process is the inventive portion of discovery.

This is a family tradition for you.

Yes, my grandfather, who is from the town of Torontálvásárhely [Debeljača] in the Vojvodina [region of northern Serbia], worked with watches as well. He was an autodidact, and taught himself his profession. This made things easier for my father, who became a watch-restorer, while for me it was only natural to get into the world of watch-making.

What is the process of making a watch?

First, once an idea has come together in my head, I make a 3D model of the watch. If it’s a completely new watch, I need to have technological documentation as well, meaning that I complete a written description of each step. Once that is done, I make the tools necessary for the crafting of the components, then finally I manufacture a prototype. When it comes to watches for either display or sale, you essentially have to assemble them without touching them, since any scratch or damage makes them immediately unsellable.

And after all this you mail the final product to your customer?

No, part of the project is that I personally deliver the watch to the client, anywhere in the world. At times like this a dinner is usually arranged, during which I ceremonially present the product. Most recently, I was in Hong Kong, since multiple orders have arrived from the Far East in recent years.

To what extent is it possible to purchase base materials for your watches in Hungary?

It depends what exactly I am in need of, but in general I can import materials from abroad. For example, I generally order the steel from Switzerland, since I use a specially formulated steel that you can’t get in Hungary, since there is no market for it. To make miniature pinions or shafts we need steel material with special properties, it needs to be flexible, machinable and hard all at the same time.

How much does a Bexei watch cost?

Generally, the cost of our basic Dignitas model starts at around 50,000 euros, but the final price is always determined by the degree of personalization. Depending on the model and various complications, the cost could be significantly higher than this.

Have you had any Hungarian clients?

We just received our first order from a Hungarian.

Considering the low demand for your watches in the country, why do you still live in Hungary? Wouldn’t it be better for your business to make your watches elsewhere?

Despite the fact that there are many difficulties in Hungary, I love this country, and I love Budapest. My family and I have not thought about moving, even though we have the opportunity to do so. Watchmaking can be done essentially anywhere, even on an uninhabited island, if there is a workshop. It is true, however, that if I were making middle-of-the-line watches, it would matter where I made them, since everyone thinks that “Swiss watches are the best.” In terms of price and quality, I decided to shoot for the highest category, where customers appreciate how the watches are made. These people look over the watches with magnifying glasses and microscopes, and take high definition photos. If there is a dot in a spot it shouldn’t be, then logically they are unsatisfied with my work.

Last, but not least: have you encountered any counterfeits of your work?

Not yet, thank God.

 

Reporting by Balázs Horváth

Photos by Vivien Cher Benkő and bexei.hu

Translated by Tom Szigeti