The story behind Moritz Grossmann watches – by Robin Young
Part 2: “Beginnings: designing the first BENU”
The first BENU – long since sold out
Christine Hutter did a braver thing than she knew when she chose to build Moritz Grossmann from scratch. One big idea led to literally hundreds of thousands of decisions; many of them critical. Nobody knew all the answers – or even many of the questions – in advance. Patience, a small team, and the confidence to let answers develop was all she had.
One vital early question was “what is our first watch going to look like?” Design principles were clear
1. It had to be true to Grossmann’s twin obsessions: simplicity and mechanical perfection.
2. 19th-century design features had to be presented in a 21st-century style, respecting but not copying Grossmann’s lead.
3. Only the finest, hand finished quality would do.
Turning these principles into the BENU started with the case. It took an unusual shape, with smooth lugs folding comfortably on the wrist and a super-thin bezel next to a prominent crown which was easy to pull.
The thin bezel left space for a conscious homage to Moritz Grossmann. The very finest, needle-sharp, hand-made BENU hands were designed to point to a wide minute scale with tiny sub-divisions all of which sat outside the numerals. The look imitated the precision measuring instruments that Grossmann once made alongside his timepieces. But the BENU hands were annealed to brown violet – not traditional blue – which is far harder to produce but uniquely stylish.
Three styles of hour markers were mocked up: indices, Roman numerals and Arabic numerals. More classic Roman was preferred until Christine awoke one day just knowing this felt wrong. Arabic font then gave a 21st century twist.
The balance was designed as oversize – another Grossmann hallmark – because it is elegant, it can be made fractionally more accurate and it has a slower pulse – like a heartbeat. Back to the face of the watch, the second sub-dial was designed to be as big as the balance. An unseen symmetry.
The classic ⅔ plate in German silver gave the movement stability and gravitas. The arc cut in the plate revealed the whole balance and provided the inspiration for the logo.
A cantilevered balance cock was used just as Grossmann would have done to accommodate his oversized balance. Sitting on this, the index adjuster featured the Grossmann micrometer screw – simple to use, if fiendish to make. The whole assembly was designed to be awash with hand engraving.
Hand-engraving was then the obvious choice for the lettering. To allow full appreciation of the engraver’s skill, gold plating was rejected, leaving subtle writing. That, in turn, dictated broad Glashütte stripes so the writing could be seen easily. Only white sapphires seemed to match this simple, quiet aesthetic so to make the stones pop, they were set in raised gold chatons with prominent brown violet screws.
Lastly, the wheels were designed with the ultimate embellishments: black polishing on the crown wheel, three-band snailing similar to one of Grossmann’s patterns on the ratchet wheel and hand polishing between every single tooth.
This whole process took about 18 months and mostly happened at Christine’s kitchen table on Hauptstrasse where Grossmann had his Glashütte atelier.
And the name, BENU, is borrowed from a mythical Egyptian symbol of rebirth.
I wish I had been there for the celebration when the first prototype finished its long gestation. Today, it represents the soul of Moritz Grossmann reborn: a mighty watch for a mighty undertaking.
Follow me on Instagram: @new_forest_robin_young