Jorn Werdelin, co-founder of Linde Werdelin, is talking about his company being something of an anomaly in that it is Danish yet doesn’t follow a typically Scandinavian design ethos.
“People would come to the store and say, ‘Oh, these are Danish designs?’” says Werdelin, speaking at his London office which lies between the well-heeled districts of Mayfair and Marylebone. “But I say no, it’s Linde Werdelin design. Typical Danish minimalist design is mostly about taking elements away, and for me that makes for a very boring watch.”
“Because essentially you end up with a round steel case, black strap, white dial, and two hands, and it’s like, ‘yes, and?’ That’s the difficult thing,” he continues. “How do you make something that has both uniqueness and presence in such a small design space, where many things are a given already, and where people are generally quite conservative?”
One thing you could never call Linde Werdelin watches is conservative. The company, launched by Jorn and his childhood friend, Morten Linden, in 2002 (the first models were released four years later) typically produces watches that are sporty, eye-catching and pack some serious heft, with most cases coming in at 44 mm. Skeletonized dials, integrated straps and a broad color scheme add to the distinctive look.
Its Spido and Oktopus lines are influenced by the worlds of skiing and diving, respectively (reflecting their founders’ interests), and its robust cases come in titanium, carbon and ceramic. Last year they partnered with British bespoke watch specialists TBlack who put their own spin on two Linde Werdelin models, of which only ten each were made. More interpretations by TBlack are in the pipeline for 2018.
All Linde Werdelin watches are strictly limited edition and always have been, with the company producing fewer than a thousand pieces annually. Jorn acknowledges that Linde Werdelin is a relatively small player in the industry and he seems content for it to stay that way.
“With a brand like ours, it’s quite unlikely that you would buy one of our watches on average,” he says. “A typical Linde Werdelin customer is someone who already owns a few pieces and has an above average interest in watches. We’re not a brand that’s widely available, we’re not a brand that’s widely known. I think it’s a bit of an aficionado thing.”
Jorn, a former investment banker, met Morten, a product designer, at school when he was six years old. Morten handles the design aspect of the business, spending time with manufacturers in Switzerland to oversee the aesthetic minutiae of the cases and calibers.
“Our movements are modified by Morten. We use ETA or ETA-type bases, but he’ll sit with our partners in Switzerland and make suggestions,” says Jorn.
The chronograph movements are made by Concepto in La Chaux-de-Fonds. “The methodology for the Concepto chronograph 2251, which we use, is the same as a Valjoux 7750, and for obvious reasons that’s a damn good machine which has been improved on for 40 years,” he says.
“What we want is durable well-functioning movements that can withstand banging around, because that’s what a sports watch is supposed to do. I ski with mine, I dive with it, I swim, I don’t care. They work very well, and when they have to be serviced - whether it’s in the Middle East or wherever - the watch repairer will be familiar with the movements.”
Our talk turns somewhat inevitably to the topic of in-house movements, which Jorn describes as an 'endless but stupid discussion.'
Our talk turns somewhat inevitably to the topic of in-house movements, which Jorn describes as an 'endless but stupid discussion.' “Economically, let’s say we make maybe 500 watches a year and the average retail price is about CHF15,000,” he says. “So that leaves about 500,000 Swiss per year to spend on movements. How on earth do you imagine that we can go out and invent our own movement? And why should we, and be able to sell watches at that price?”
“I remember I met with Stephen Forsey [of Greubel Forsey] last year. They made a watch with a three-hand movement that cost CHF165,000. But I can kind of understand. They only made 60 of them. That’s a whole different ball game.”
Asked how he came to have an interest in watches, it turns out that Jorn has a horological pedigree stretching back decades. “I grew up with watches and jewelry,” he explains. “My father and grandfather owned watch retail shops in Denmark. My dad went to Basel every year back in the 1970s and I remember seeing the first quartz watches - the first digital Pulsars with the LCD display on the side of the case - and how things developed throughout the 1980s.”
Linde Werdelin watches come on highly durable integrated straps that are mostly designed in northern Italy. He says, rubber or material makes more sense because “they are sports watches and something you take skiing or swimming - they get wet.”
Any customer sitting anywhere in the world can see those watches on the site on some online platform, and that’s the trouble with the traditional wholesale platform.
Linde Werdelin is unusual as a brand in that it manages buying and selling its own pre-owned watches. "We can’t operate the way the watch industry has traditionally operated. Back in the day, before the Internet, if we had a shop in a city somewhere that suddenly is in a bit of trouble and wants to sell a few discounted watches, that didn’t hurt because no one outside of, say Manchester, would know. These days it’s not Manchester, it is online."
“Any customer sitting anywhere in the world can see those watches on the site on some online platform, and that’s the trouble with the traditional wholesale platform. I think what we are generally seeing is a disappearance of the traditional multi-brand store. Bigger brands go for their monobrand stores and smaller brands like us will probably have to go direct, with the exception maybe of a few regional hubs.”
This is an abridged version of the feature that was printed in our Spring 2018 issue out now on newsstands.