A Second Son Requires a Second Watch Design
“I feel so on my path right now,” the independent watchmaker Eva Leube said. “I’ve realized life is short, and I want to do something that resonates with me.”
Over the years, her work in horology has taken Ms. Leube around the globe, from her native Berlin to jobs in Cape Town; Boca Raton, Fla.; Sydney, Australia; and several places in Switzerland. For more than two decades, the watchmaker restored and repaired timepieces for both large brands like Rolex and Ulysse Nardin, and small operations like Chronos Watchmakers and Thomas Prescher.
But Ms. Leube never forgot the joys of making her own watches. “When you have a handmade watch, it has a completely different soul to it,” Ms. Leube, 50, said during a phone interview from her home on Switzerland’s Lake Zurich.
Soul has been on Ms. Leube’s mind a lot over the past few years. In June 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, she quit her job in Australia, moved her family back to Switzerland and, eventually, decided to strike out on her own. Again.
Ms. Leube debuted her first handmade watch, the Ari, in 2007. The timepiece, which took four years to develop, had a mechanical movement in a rectangular case about 52 millimeters long and slightly more than 21 millimeters wide (about 2 inches by 1 inch) that curved around the wrist. The following year, she founded Eva Leube Watchmaking.
In the 1910s the Swiss luxury watchmaker Movado introduced the first watch with a curved case, called the Polyplan. But Ms. Leube went further with the Ari, creating a more pronounced arc and turning the watch mechanisms face up so they could be seen through the case, rather than face down as is typical in more traditional watches “That watch took me to the edge a little bit,” she said.
She has made two of the timepieces; one, in platinum, sells for $92,000. And over the years she has received requests to modify the design — the most recent coming from a man who wanted to dive with it. “Ari is a dress watch; diving isn’t the idea of it,” she said.
“Ari remains this iconic grail,” said Adam Craniotes, the president and founder of RedBar Group, the world’s largest watch collecting community with more than 80 chapters globally. He continued; “Eva did something no one had done before; it wasn’t necessary to make that watch. It’s a fantastical creation. But she’s just that good. As an indie watchmaker, Eva, if she wanted, could opt to never invent anything again and continue to just make Ari, because she planted her flag so deeply with that watch.”
The “problem,” joked Ms. Leube, is that she now has two sons: Ari, 15, and Leif, 10. “I named my first watch after my first son, but my second son, Leif, he needs a watch now.”
During the first few months unpacking in Switzerland after the most recent move, Ms. Leube said she “felt drawn” to an unusual movement that she had stumbled across. That discovery turned out to be the final push she needed to begin designing and manufacturing independently once more.
“It’s called a Phoenix movement; it’s a cool automatic system I haven’t seen before in my whole entire career,” said Ms. Leube, who has bought 33 of the movements. She plans to completely rework them, “except for the wheels; I’m definitely going to use the wheels, but I will change everything else.”
For the last six months, she has been in the drawing and construction phase of the new design named after Leif (pronounced “life”), and Ms. Leube said she hopes to introduce the timepiece before the end of the year.
“It’s an automatic winding watch, and she is trying to sort of skeletonize the movement while also concentrating on making a nice case and dial,” said Christian Klings, an independent watchmaker based in Dresden, Germany, who, like Ms. Leube, uses traditional tools to create custom-made pieces.
The two met at a workshop in 2005 and now talk a couple of times a month, exchanging ideas and rough sketches. Mr. Klings said that he seldom grants interviews, but would be happy to speak about Ms. Leube. “Eva is very ambitious and interested in working by hand,” he said. “She’s one of the few making complex watches with simple, old-fashioned machinery and a lot of handwork. This is very impressive, and I appreciate this work very much.”
Ms. Leube’s home workshop is filled with lathes, files and polishing sticks, and she has fabricated some of her own tools, too. “I always liked being responsible for the entire watchmaking process; it’s an extremely meditative feeling for me,” she said.
As a young girl in Berlin, Ms. Leube said, she always liked clocks, and her mother suggested watchmaking as a career because it was something that she had always wanted to do.
Ms. Leube began an apprenticeship at 16 years old and received her master watchmaker diploma at 23. Her international travels followed; “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” she said.
But it was the work she did on her own that she found the most fulfilling. In the late 2000s, for example, “I remember sitting at my bench in Sydney working through the night on the Ari with the boys camping and sleeping on the floor in the workshop. It was all quiet. The telephone didn’t ring. In a way, it was the best time of my life.”
For Ms. Leube, returning to independent watchmaking has required her to create a specific space to concentrate on her craft. She has set up a home workbench overlooking the lake, and she said she continually tries to eliminate clutter — no simple task, considering her housemates.
She described herself as a minimalist; a yellow coffee table and a well-worn light brown leather sofa, have traveled the world with her.
During the interview Ms. Leube said she was ready to again embrace the occasionally tumultuous road of indie watchmaking. “My grandfather once told me, ‘You can understand any mechanism if you look at it long enough,’” she said. “I’ve remembered those words many times since, and think of them now again, because I know I’ll need them.”