On the road to Oldenzaal

After two years of seeing the world mostly in the confines of my laptop monitor, my senses were overwhelmed during my visit to Oldenzaal The Netherlands. There is life beyond the edge of the screen!

On the road to Oldenzaal – the train took a couple hours.

Oldenzaal is a smallish town near the German border about 2 hours east of Amsterdam. It is the home of Bart and Tim Grönefeld (The Horological Brothers) as well as their families and legacy. They are the current generation of horological artist, makers, and engineers in a family with ties to time keeping and the area for many many years.

Tim and Bart Gronefeld at their atelier.

In the center of town is a stunning clock tower that looms over (and contains) much of the Grönefeld’s legacy. At one point Bart set my watch while looking at the clock high above. The clock his father maintained for many years. A clock that has been a source of guidance for all who look upon it for decades. The clock he treated as a reference for accurate time setting. I use my iPhone, how unromantic.

Clock Tower in central Oldenzaal.

I’d visited Tim and Bart several years ago, just before the pandemic hit, and not much had changed here in Oldenzaal. The atelier they occupied back then was just around the corner from the clock tower. Today it has moved to a building directly across from the clock tower, a building that was once the elementary school for the brothers.

This move represented much for the brothers and took a significant risk at the outbreak of COVID to do. In some ways the success they have seen since is the reward for this risk. Certainly not because of the building itself, but its hard not to feel the “meant to be” that was required for all these pieces to fall into place.

You can sometimes imagine the person who occupies a space by looking at the space itself. What they like, care about, dream of, work on. While the space had been a few things since being a school, it conveys much of what Tim, Bart, and Grönefeld Watches are – creative and stable; clean in design with sparks of individualism and excitement; established yet young; artistic and classic. Intelligent design was found in everything from the faucet (which dispensed hot, cold, and sparkling water from one spout) to the use of the space and anywhere could convert from quiet and focused to active and engaging in a moment.

The main entrance, no longer looking like a school, hosts a grandfather clock almost as old as the United States. Americans shouldn’t visit Europe (or much of the rest of the world) without taking the time to appreciate how much more history and legacy there is. A clock as old as a country with the history of the USA is a humbling thought and I am reminded of the longevity and impermanence of time when standing before a precision object as old as this. What will the next 250 years bring?    

What will the next 250 years bring.

You don’t live, work, grow, and raise families without mementos and the shelves around the upper level were a mix of museum and family room – prototypes next to pictures of Tim in the classrooms that used to occupy the space. Even the old partly dismantled clock in the center of the space reflected the design sense of the brothers’ timepieces.

The main room was filled with young watchmakers heads-down in concentration. Their youth countered nicely with the legacy of the craft they were performing and served to make me feel old. While the clock tower loomed over the building outside, chandeliers lined the ceiling above bringing class and a spark to the space, the art, and the people. On one wall, a drawing of a Grönefeld watch drawn, it turned out, by the watchmaker sitting nearby. (Check out @Rubenvanrdrawings)

The young rocking an old craft.

We gathered around the conference table with a shared love for horology, exploring the offerings before us. I had a few pieces with me and pictures of others that were shared, passed around, and admired with loops and nods of appreciation. Another experience not available on Zoom and missed for the last few years.

Later, Bart and Tim shared the next generation of their watch line with me. Pieces well conceived and beautifully extending their already admired and cherished line of watches. It was quite special to have them share the thinking, planning, function, and design with me. Development like this is time consuming and closely guarded so I felt like family. They’ve started teasing these new piece with a recent post on Instagram.

What’s coming next?

Collecting from independent watchmakers is about relationships, uniqueness, and these days – patience. Visits such as this seem to refresh the Grönefeld watches in my collection as much as a service would. They seem to know they are “home” once again.

This visit also refreshed me in many ways. The brothers and their team were great hosts as we explored their space, their work, and a town returning to life as we enter endemic stage. I can say I have never had a bad experience, bad meal, or bad company in Oldenzaal and look forward to returning again.