The media center at Baselworld is not just teeming with journalists from around the world, but entrepreneurs and micro-brand owners eager to establish industry connections. On a late evening at this year’s jamboree, I’m just about to wrap up my final report of the day when Patrick Hohmann interrupts me to tell me about his pet project.
Hohmann, the founder and CEO of Werenbach, has been selling watches made from jettisoned parts of Russian space rockets from his Zurich atelier since 2012. He produces watches in extremely small quantities. In 2016, Werenbach sold 36 watches through his atelier. But that’s not why he wants my attetion.
He wants to crowdfund his next series of “accessible” watches featuring dials cut from the shell of the space-bound Soyuz rocket via Kickstarter. The project is now live and can be seen here. It met its target funding of $40,000 within hours of going live on March 31.
The Zurich-based Hohmann’s obsession of making watches made from actual rocket parts has seen him travel to the Kazakh steppes to source jettisoned parts of a Russian Soyuz rocket that carried astronauts to space from the nearby Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest space operational facility. The space is currently leased by the Kazakh Government to Russia until 2050, and is managed jointly by the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces.
The material for the Earth Collection, which is being offered on Kickstarter now, comes from the booster shell and fairing from the first rocket stage of the Soyuz MS-02 launched on October 19, 2016. On reaching an altitude of almost 50km, the booster is jettisoned, followed by the fairing at an altitude of 85km.
Understandably, local authorities were amused when they found out about a Swiss national scouring the Kazakh steppes looking for jettisoned rocket bits. Hohmann says he was even suspected of being of being a spy.
“We get them from the only person that is allowed to enter the military zone and collect the material. It took us more than half a year to set up the first material transport. It was very difficult to get the needed documents for custom declaration,” says the 44-year-old Hohmann.
Five different versions of Werenbach’s Earth Collection are up for sale on Kickstarter now. Model 1, 2, 3 and 5 uses dials made from the booster while the white dial of Model 4 comes from the fairing. All the watches in the series use a 40-mm brushed stainless steel case and are paired with a fabric strap.
Though the watches are assembled in his atelier in Zurich, the case is sourced from a supplier in Hong Kong. Though Werenbach used ETA movements in the Atelier line, the brand is using Seiko’s NE15 movement to power the Earth collection.
Hohmann says it was a toss-up between Miyota and the NE15 but they went with Seiko in the end because it had a better power reserve (50 hours) and finishing. The dials are made in Germany since manufacturing these dials required a certain competency in precision mechanics. One can actually tell from the color of the dial which part of the rocket the material comes from. Each dial shows different degrees of wear, making each watch unique.
Are there any safety hazards associated with using parts from these rockets? Is there any trace of radiation or toxic fuels on these parts? Hohmann says different authorities in Kazhakstan and Switzerland have measured these components for radiation. The results were all negative. While the fuel used in Proton rockets are hazardous, there is no such problem with Soyuz rockets. Each dial is further cleaned every part in four steps – first the material is carefully brushed, sandblasted, cleaned with soap before the dials are air-cleaned again.
According to Hohmann, Kazakh authorities have documented the origin of the material used in the Earth series and each watch sold in the series comes with a certificate of authenticity issued by Werenbach.
Being a micro-brand, Werenbach obviously does not have the marketing muscle of the bigger brands that exhibit at Baselworld. “Seeing the giant booth of the big brands is very impressive. But this does not frighten us. We are sure that there is a market demand for watches, which are truly authentic,” says Hohmann.
While he’s had very little exposure in the media, Hohmman has had help from the watch fraternity. “Jonathan (Kamstrup) from REC was so kind to give me the contact list that he used for his first Kickstarter project. He also gave me several tips how to run a Kickstarter campaign. Dan Niederer from Seven Friday also provided me with many helpful tips. I really appreciated their support,” he signs off.
Check out Werebach's website here.