While Switzerland may be known as the mecca for watchmaking, neighbouring countries like Germany and the Netherlands are also home to some incredible watch manufacturers. One of the Netherland’s best kept horological secrets is Christiaan van der Klaauw, an astronomy-focused watch atelier. The eponymous brand was started by Christiaan van der Klaauw in 1974; it is now more commonly known as CVDK. In 2009, after van der Klaauw’s retirement, the company was sold to the Reintjes family, with Daniël Reintjes appointed as the Creative Director and Maria Reintjes as the Marketing Director of the brand.
In 2022, master watchmaker Pim Koeslag acquired a majority stake in CVDK and joined the company as its Technical Director. Koeslag, originally from the Netherlands, was at the helm of the watchmaking department at Frederique Constant in Geneva for about 20 years. Koeslag took over as the CVDK CEO in May 2023. During an exclusive interaction with GMT India, Pim Koeslag talks about returning to his home country, developing a new brand, and what the future holds for CVDK.
GMT India: You’ve worked in Geneva for a long time while CVDK is based in the Netherlands, your home country. So, you are back to your roots.
Pim Koeslag (PK): Yes, it's exactly like coming back to my roots. After living in Geneva for over 20 years, my wife and I decided to move back to Holland with our three kids. I was still working in Geneva when we returned. I would fly to work on Monday and then on Thursday, I’d come back home. Soon after, I heard that Daniël and Maria (Reintjes) were looking for the next generation to take over CVDK. We had a few meetings and now, I’m a shareholder of the company.
GMT India: How do you feel about working with a new brand in your home country?
PK: It’s a combination of the new and the old because CVDK is a completely different brand, with a distinctive strategy. At CVDK, the focus is on astronomy and at Frederique Constant, it was more about core watchmaking or experimenting with calibres, including tourbillons and perpetual calendars. At CVDK, there is more room to explore in terms of inspiration, creativity, and innovation.
GMT India: Speaking of Frederique Constant (FC),the brand is collaborating with CVDK for the (now postponed) Only Watch auction. How did this come about?
PK: The idea was proposed by the Marketing Director of Frederique Constant (Yasmina Pedrini). So, we thought that the Only Watch auction would be the perfect occasion for such a collaboration. Even when I was at FC, I had always worked on the Only Watch special pieces. In other words, the charity auction is very close to my heart. This year, together with FC, we have combined a tourbillon with our planetarium, which is really terrific.
GMT India: Could you tell us more about the watch?
PK: It’s a very complex timepiece courtesy of the sheer number of components used.The base movement contains the tourbillon and has 200 components, and then we added another 260 components for the planetarium. We have a gear train that contains over 700 teeth, all cut by hand, one by one. The planetarium is the smallest one in the world. It’s like having the solar system on your wrist. The planets are orbiting the sun in order, starting from Mercury and they turn slower as we move farther from the sun. So, Mercury is turning once in 88 days — the fastest. For Earth, it’s of course one year. The gear trains have to be slowed down as you move away from the sun.
GMT India: Astronomy is at the core of CVDK’s DNA. How does it continue to inspire the brand?
PK: Astronomy is a huge source of inspiration, there’s a lot to explore. For me, it was definitely a bit overwhelming when I joined the brand. However, I think having a niche gives us an edge. Since Christiaan started the company in 1974, he had always focused on astronomy and now we are known as specialists in this niche domain.
GMT India: In terms of design, do you work in collaboration with the creative directors? Could you please take us through the process?
PK: I believe that design is almost as important or maybe more important than complications. A watch may be able to perform many complicated functions, but if it doesn't look good, it doesn’t feel right. Finding the right balance between design and technique makes it a real luxury item.
GMT India: CVDK has previously collaborated with Van Cleef & Arpels. How important are these collaborations for the brand?
PK: It definitely helps create brand awareness — Van Cleef being such an illustrious jewellery brand, asking us, a very small company, to create the planetarium. The Midnight Planetarium was created in 2014 and later, the Lady Arpels in 2018 won a GPHG award. Even though it happened before I joined, I’m still very proud of these achievements.
GMT India: How significant is an GPHG honour for an independent brand?
PK: It's a huge honour. Commercially, it was also very important, at least for us. The Lady Arpels Planetarium watch sold out in no time!
GMT India: Could you tell us a little about the CVDK Planetarium Eise Eisinga watch?
PK: Absolutely. It’s the smallest mechanical planetarium in the world, built in partnership with the Royal Eise Eisinga Museum, which is the oldest planetarium in the world, located in the north of Holland. Eise Eisinga (a Dutch astronomer) created the planetarium on his living room’s ceiling in the 17th century. In those days, the church had predicted an impending apocalypse because they thought the planets were too close to each other. He built the planetarium to prove that it was just an optical illusion. So, we’ve drawn inspiration from that and the dial’s deep blue shade replicates the colour of the planetarium in the museum; it is created by using 16 layers of oil paint.
GMT India: Last year, CVDK moved to new headquarters, which is open to the public. Could you tell us more about it?
PK: We moved the company to a very old town. It's a fortress town, so it's a perfect fit. While the building itself is from the 16th century, we’ve created a very modern workshop and a small museum inside, which showcases the history of the brand. There’s a lounge area for visitors as well. Behind the glass wall are the workshop and the turning machines, which were there in Christiaan’s old garage.
GMT India: What can we expect next from CVDK?
PK: We have some exciting things coming up, especially because next year, we’ll be celebrating the brand’s 50th anniversary. For this occasion, we are introducing our most complicated piece to date. This has been created by all three generations associated with the brand; I worked with Christiaan closely. Even though he’s 80 years old now, he handcrafted the prototypes for the piece. Daniël and Maria were also involved in the design. The piece is a little more industrialised, compared with our other models, but still very much handcrafted. And that’s all I can say for now, unfortunately.
GMT India: India is now warming up to many independent watch brands. What do you expect from the Indian market?
PK: I feel it's the right moment to expand in India because the country is ready for the next level of watchmaking. The market has matured and people are looking for more special pieces now. So, getting something niche and exclusive to the market right now is the requirement.