The Grönefeld Brothers Are Back At School And Top Of The Class
With demand sky high for their timepieces, Dutch siblings Bart and Tim Grönefeld have expanded their team and moved into an impressive new workshop in the same building where they used to go to kindergarten.
Watch fans browsing Instagram over the last few years can’t have helped but notice that Dutch independent brand Grönefeld has become white-hot property. Rarely a day goes by on the platform without a clutch of proud collectors posting a wrist shot or movement close-up of their 1941 Remontoire, 1941 Principia, or other gem created by the cheerful watchmaking siblings that are Bart and Tim Grönefeld, a.k.a. the Horological Brothers.
These happy customers are full of pride not just because Grönefeld watches are some of the best in the business; their delight also stems from the fact that acquiring one currently requires a certain test of patience.
Demand for Grönefeld timepieces has grown steadily and significantly in recent years, such that it is now almost double the brothers’ current 70-watches-a-year production capacity, with prospective owners facing a wait of up to two and a half years before receiving their coveted timepiece.
New Workshop in Their Old School
As a sign of the brand’s steady rise, and in an attempt to keep up with orders, the brothers expanded their team of watchmakers to 13. Moreover, they swapped their cramped and aging atelier in their hometown of Oldenzaal for a fantastically renovated, 700m2, two-floor workshop a hundred meters down the road. And the new site happens to be the same building where Bart and Tim went to kindergarten in the early 1970s.
“We used to attend school here between the age of four and six, but to tell the truth, I can’t remember much; it was so long ago,” says Bart Grönefeld. “But my mother told me that when she dropped me off here on my first day of school, I went and gave the teacher a big kiss on the lips!”
Carrying on the Family Tradition
For those unfamiliar with the brothers’ story, born in 1969 and 1972 respectively, Bart and Tim both followed in the watchmaking footsteps of their grandfather Johan and father Sjef. After studying at a technical school in the Netherlands, the duo went to Switzerland – in Bart’s case via a stint at Asprey jewelers in London – to hone their craft at WOSTEP and renowned movement developer Renaud et Papi. They then returned to Oldenzaal in 1998 to set up the Quality Watch Service company, where they carried out after-sales work for a host of well-known brands.
That work helped them build a small team and finance the development of their own watch and brand, and in 2008, they released the first timepiece to bear the Grönefeld name, the GTM-06 Tourbillon Minute Repeater, priced at a cool €255,000.
“We launched the GTM-06 during one of the biggest financial crises ever and didn’t really know much about marketing then, but we sold one piece that year, then a couple more. It was a start,” says Bart Grönefeld.
By the time the 1896 One Hertz – the world’s first series wristwatch with deadbeat seconds – was unveiled three years later, Bart and Tim knew more about using social media to get the word out. That knowledge, coupled with the One Hertz’s smaller price tag, helped the brothers reach a broader audience, albeit one still anchored in the seasoned collector community.
Setting the Tone for the Future
The One Hertz also set the tone for the majority of future Grönefeld creations, with its solid silver dial base, lancet hour and minute hands, and a visible dial-side complication, plus a superlatively hand-finished proprietary movement featuring steel bridges with gold chaton settings for the rubies.
The 2014 launch of the Parallax Tourbillon was when things really began to take off for the brand. This piece won the Tourbillon prize at that year’s Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), sold well, and gave the siblings the funds to develop their next creation: the 1941 Remontoire, which they released in 2016 and featured an eight-second constant force mechanism.
“We couldn’t have dreamt of the success that the 1941 Remontoire has had. We won another prize at the GPHG, this time for Best Men’s Watch, and it sold in far bigger volumes than we had imagined it would,” says Bart Grönefeld.
The brothers followed that up in 2018 with another commercial success: The 1941 Principia. This simpler, automatic timepiece packs all that Grönefeld goodness, including a superbly decorated proprietary caliber visible through the display caseback, but at a more accessible price – steel editions retail for €29,950 – accompanied by some flamboyant dial and strap options.
Bart Grönefeld says: “Retailers were a bit hesitant to go for the Principia at the start, but we encouraged them to buy a few to show to their customers. Some of them did, and they started to sell like hotcakes.”
To Buy or Not to Buy
It was just before the launch of the 1941 Remontoire that the brothers got wind that the premises for their new workshop – built in 1886 as a primary school, before becoming a kindergarten, then the local tourist office – would soon be put up for sale.
They thought about making an offer for it but, with their money tied up in the development of the 1941 Remontoire and not knowing how well the watch would do, decided to pass on it. When the Remontoire proved to be a hit, the brothers started to regret the decision.
With nothing suitable on the market in Oldenzaal, they began looking outside their hometown for an upgrade to their atelier above the family-owned boutique. It had been established by their grandfather Johan and was becoming too small and dated for their needs.
“People in Oldenzaal didn’t want us to leave,” says Bart Grönefeld. “Even the mayor was WhatsApping me to see if he could do anything to make us stay. We’ve learnt that, along with the annual carnival and the basilica, we’ve become one of the talking points of the town. When local businessmen travel, they talk about us, as though it’s a badge of honor for them to have very high-end, artisanal watchmakers based here.”
Grasping their Second Chance
As it turns out, the Grönefelds’ destiny was not only to stay in Oldenzaal but to acquire the workspace of their dreams. That was because, after being renovated, the former school building was, again, put on the market. But this time, the brothers were not going to pass up the opportunity to get their hands on it.
“The price of the building was higher than before, and, like all major investments, it kept us up at night wondering whether we should buy it or not,” says Bart Grönefeld. “But it had been beautifully renovated and was exactly what we were looking for, so we decided to go for it. Now that we have moved in here and love it so much, we would probably have paid twice the price!”
As well as installing their vast array of watchmaking benches and tools, Bart and Tim have added a few Grönefeld touches to the new workspace, including classy chandeliers, contemporary Italian furniture, a wall clock-sized replica of the 1941 Principia, and an unmissable neon sign of the Grönefeld logo.
“The new workshop means that we can continue to take on and train more watchmakers, giving them an inspiring environment to work in,” says Bart Grönefeld. “Because of the type of work we do, a lot of watchmakers want to come work for us, but we still need to teach them to do all operations A to Z, including the various hand-finishing techniques. We have a cozy team, a relaxed atmosphere, but the pressure to achieve the quality we desire is high.”
Benefits All Round
And the luminous new atelier, with wooden beams and a skylight offering views of the basilica of St. Plechelmus, will benefit not just the Grönefeld staff but also the growing number of watch collectors the brand is serving.
“We’re now better equipped to keep on top of the order books. Some days it’s quiet, but other days, it's completely crazy: We sometimes get five orders in just one day,” says Bart Grönefeld.
He adds: “We can also now give customers who come to pick up their watch a really memorable time. We can put on collector and press events when permitted again, have people spread the word about what we are doing, and we can even use the space to launch new products.”
Speaking of launches, Bart revealed that he and his brother have a new creation in the pipeline that should see the light of day at the end of this year. That is the calendar year, not the school year. Suffice to say: we expect another grade “A” submission from the Horological Brothers.