Building up a brand that is essentially trading on the name of a single person is not an easy process, particularly when that person was renowned for his skeletonisation work, which by its very nature meant relatively low volumes.
Armin Strom the man stood as a reference in the skeletonisation of watches, earning himself a mention in the Guinness Book of Records in 1991 for the smallest hand-skeletonised ladies’ watch (12.5mm diameter) and working on hand skeletonisation for some major Swiss brands.
As he approached retirement, however, Armin Strom sought investors to continue his legacy in the form of a brand. But such a brand could not grow on the basis of skeletonisation alone…
The transition started in 2006 and the new brand emerged thanks to several fortuitous events. Firstly, it was lucky enough to acquire in 2008 premises that had been occupied by a micro-stamping facility of Rolex, which were thus perfect for installing watchmaking machinery. Secondly, the financial crisis at the time offered a blessing in disguise for the new investors, who managed to purchase “for a song” some CNC machines that had been pre-ordered but cancelled by other brands.
The premises were fitted out between January and August 2009 and, astonishingly, by the end of 2009 Armin Strom had already presented its first in-house mechanical calibre. Today, only five years later, Armin Strom is a veritable brand boasting 12 different in-house calibres and a clearly structured collection, with each line – from the Manual up to the Tourbillon Gravity (the “Gravity” appended to an Armin Strom model means that it is powered by the force of gravity and is thus self-winding) being offered in four “elemental” configurations: Air, Earth, Fire and Water.
Aside from ensuring an unparalleled consistency of design across the line, the use of the elements offers four highly distinct looks to each line. The “Air” models, suffused with white on the strap and outer “ring” (the watch has no dial, in continuation of Armin Strom’s philosophy of skeletonisation), are the most feminine, while the black PVD case of the “Earth” models and black ring with black leather strap, offers the masculine opposite. In between are the more classic designs of the “Water” models, with their stainless-steel case and the luxury touch of the “Fire” models, with an 18-carat red-gold case.
The “lip” at 6 o’clock on the case is also a distinctive trait of Armin Strom and stems from the craftsman’s desire to have a space on the watch for personalization. A subtler, yet equally important, distinguishing characteristic is the slightly off-centre axis for the hour and minute hands, which is the brand’s way of highlighting the in-house provenance of its movements. Only a company in total control of its own production and unreliant on third parties can allow itself such a discreet luxury.
Just like the much bigger brands whose shadow Armin Strom lives under in the industrial watchmaking city of Biel, the company employs a powerful combination of partnerships and ambassadors in its marketing portfolio, the most significant of which is undoubtedly the brand’s association with the Marussia Formula 1 team, which is already in its fourth season.
Despite the communication efforts akin to a big brand, Armin Strom’s pretensions remain modest. Its annual production hovers around the 1,000 mark and its latest collections, such as the Racing collection that is hitting the stores around now, are only produced in limited quantities, in this case only 100 units per reference. It’s a level of rarity that could be qualified as reassuring for this remarkable niche manufacture brand.