Bart Grönefeld is a Dutch watchmaker, brother to Tim and collectively they form the brand Grönefeld. Two of the most 'bon vivant' individuals found in the world of modern independent watchmaking today.
1. What did your father do? What did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood?
My father, Sjef, took over the jewellery store of my grand father Johan just before I was born in may 1969. My mother, Netty, assisted Sjef with sales and polishing silver and gold ware. Since our house was in the same building as the shop she was also a housewife taking care of Sjef, my brother Tim and myself. My father comes from a family of 5 children and my mother comes from a family of 11 children. Our shop with the kitchen behind it was very much a social family hub. Many of our family members came to drink a coffee when visiting the centre of our town Oldenzaal.
My father used to share a sailing boat with a very good friend of him. At my age of 7 or 8 he thought me how to sail and a few years later I moved on to windsurfing. Oldenzaal is not located near to big lakes or the sea. Before I had my driving license he drove my windsurfing buddies and me many times to these waters during the weekends.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
When I was a kid I wanted to become jet fighter pilot. Hahaha. By the age of 12 I knew more or less that getting educated to take over daddies shop would be good idea. Then I decided that I wanted to become a gold- or silversmith. In my hometown I went to study on the technical school. Welding, filing, milling, turning with metals was a good basic training prior to the gold- or silversmith school. This school is specialized in all professions related to the jeweller and the first year is an “orientation” year where the student gets basic courses for each related profession. So was watchmaking. Because I love mechanics I quickly found out that watchmaking is much closer to my heart than gold-, silversmith. I dedicated the remaining 3 years at that school to watchmaking. After the Dutch studies I went to a Swiss school, Wostep in Neuchâtel, to fine-tune my watchmaking skills. After seeing the wonderful pocket watch collection of my teacher Mr Antoine Simonin I decided that I didn’t want to become a jeweller with watchmaking skills but that I wanted to dedicate myself to become a watchmaker only.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
That must be that a heavy cast iron sewage lid fell on my thumb. Very painful and I still have the scar to remind me.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
During the summer holidays at the age of 15 and 16 I worked in a clock factory. Is clock maker another profession?
5. Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?
The last year of the Dutch Watchmaking School is an apprentice year. Although und paid I recon this is my first job. It was at the Dutch importer of Seiko. I was lucky that there were still quite some mechanical movements about to work on. There I learned a lot about efficiency, planning and organisation. My second job was working for Asprey in London. For the first time working on very high-end watch brands. My thirds job was at Renaud et Papi SA assembling high-end and highly-complicated movements. Even without speaking French and after only 3 months I became responsible for the assembly workshop. It was a dream job. My latest job and probably the job I’ll do until my retirement is at the company that my brother Tim and I started back in 1998. In the beginning our workshop was dedicated to after sales service. Working for other brands was nice but we really missed the recognition for our work. My friends, Stepan Sarpaneva, Stephen Forsey and yes…. Peter Speake-Marin started their own brand and we saw that they got a lot of respect from their followers/customers. This gave us the inspiration to work on our own brand. We started in 2004 and the launch of our first Grönefeld watch was in 2008.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
Restoring a completely damaged Seiko watch that belonged to a motorcyclist that was in a deadly accident. Without going in details it was pretty gross.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
Laying off about half our 14 counting staff back in the crisis of 2009-2011. Perhaps I still haven’t overcome it.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
In my professional life it was certainly my teacher at Wostep. Mr Antoine Simonin was the first to show and explain high-end watchmaking to me. He inspired me to do a really good job without shortcuts. Other inspirations come from the experiences I had at my former jobs but also local influences such as the turret movement in my hometown Oldenzaal and that was maintained by my grandfather Johan. That later gave us the inspiration to create that remontoire mechanism into a wristwatch.
9. What are you most proud of?
The friendships we have with many independent watchmakers and the recognition we got by winning the Grand Prix de Horlogerie de Genève twice and other awards. But ultimately is having customers that makes us the most proud.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
Be yourselves, be honest, dare to be different, deliver quality and last but not least; be very, very patient.
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
I have achieved many good things and done much crazy stuff. The one particular thing on my bucket list is to continue creating and surprising our customers in good health.
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time?
Thanks to the Internet people interested in watches can educate themselves very quick. As a result they will grow quickly towards honest and high quality watches. I see and feel that the market for watches from independent watchmakers is growing and I believe that this will continue to grow. Hopefully our brands will be on the wave so that I can leave a healthy company and brand to the 4th generation watchmakers within the Grönefeld family.