Kees Engelbarts, Dutch Engraver based in Geneva is one of a handful of the finest hand engravers alive today. Both technically and creatively his engraving is superlative. He has worked for a multitude of brands as well as making his own unique watches.
1. What did your father do? What did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood.
My father was a primary school teacher but also a writer, poet, singer, song-writer, ceramist, musician, army jet-pilot, glider pilot... and much more.
My mum was a house-wife, she took very good care of my younger brother and me. She also gave sewing lessons.
As a kid I lived next to the forest where my friends and I spent most of our time building tree-houses and underground huts. I had a dog called Max and also had lots of tamed birds like crows, magpies and jays. I took piano lessons when I was a kid and played soccer when not in the forest. In school, I loved to draw and paint.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
Don't think I ever thought about it when I was a kid. Being a kid you just want to be or become big (which is something I succeeded)
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
A memory of the kindergarten schoolyard: we had separate play-grounds for boys and girls and I climbed the fence to go to the girl area. Once I got there, instead of getting the kiss I hoped for, I got a fist in my eye and had to go back to the boys' area with a black eye.
Another memory when I was little is a visit to Amsterdam with my mum, the way people were dressed in the street (we passed the red-light district). We came from the country-side and I was totally impressed by the big city. I also remember a little black girl of my age I smiled at, she pulled her tongue as reply which shocked me.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
I've done, and still do, a lot of different things but my profession is hand-engraver.
5.Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you have chosen.
I make watches without being a watchmaker. I chose to become an engraver after having won a contest. I had to pick up my medal at the local engraver shop where the engraver was hand-engravings little cupids with round bellies and behinds. I loved it and decided to learn to craft. I've worked in several engraving workshops, was employed at FM for almost 2 years before becoming independent in 1997. I do engravings as a sub-contractor and also make my own watches. My watches are all unique and mostly made upon special order. This activity is what gives me the most satisfaction.
6. What's the worst job you've had to do?
There have been several, the first job I had was cleaning herring. You probably know that in Holland we eat raw salted herring. It was not so much the job itself but the way I smelled at the end of the week. I had money to go out to a discotheque with my friends on Friday-night but most girls would keep a safe distance from me. The other job was mounting fire-safe air-conditioning boxes. In these boxes we had to put fiberglass mats, the little glass fibers itched because they would get on your skin and in your skin. It gives me goose bumps when I think about it again.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you over-come it?
My dad was a drinker and my mum had to run things at home. In fact, you could say that I had two fathers, one sober and one drunk which was hard for me as a kid to handle. Probably also my dad's illness, he got cancer and died at the age of 57. I was living in Geneva already and my dad was in Holland. I tried to be there for him but 1000 kms is too big a distance to be able to visit every week.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
That would be my father. He was a jack-of-all-trades and understood the art of making a kid (me) curious. He's opened many doors for me so I could just peep in. Thanks to my father I chose the profession I do now. He also pushed me to become a musician, something I try to transmit my kids as well.
Without my mum I would've never succeeded anything, she showed me that if you want something you have to fight and/or work for it.
Inspirations can come from everywhere, but it's important to keep your eyes and ears open and remain curious (the open, innocent kind of curiosity kids have).
9. What are you most proud of?
My two sons (11 and 18) and my wife. Also, every single watch I finish and deliver to a customer makes me feel happy and proud.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
My path is very a-typical but a young person will need perseverance, curiosity, a brain, courage etc. to succeed anything. Just like me at the time, a young person has to find it all out by himself. I would also give the advice to stay away from dishonest people. Most importantly, and I also tell this to my kids, is to do something that you like. Don't run after the money but follow your passion!
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
No big projects but I would love to be present at my sons weddings and meet my grand-children one day... and of course win the lottery!
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years’ time.
I keep hoping that watch-collectors will get wiser but am afraid that won’t happen...
To learn more about Kees www.kees.ch