Founder of Fratello Watches
IT expert turned watch guru, Robert-Jan Broer has carved a niche in the field of watch marketing data that has afforded him a pleasure very few achieve: working a job he loves. His passion for watches—in particular the Omega Speedmaster—and his drive to pursue that passion has seated him among the world’s most respected watch journalists. We sit down with him to chat about all things watchery.
Q. You’ve had some pretty diverse careers in your lifetime. How did you end up at watches?
My professional background is in IT and information management, and I’ve worked in different IT related positions in the financial industry. However, watches were always my big love—and perhaps escape—and in 2012 I co-founded a company called Chronolytics where we collect, analyse and sell market data on millions of watch consumers to watch manufacturers, distributors and sometimes even retailers. It is a perfect combination of my professional background and my love for watches.
Since 2004, I’ve also been writing about watches on my own platform called Fratello Watches (www.fratellowatches.com). This currently takes up about forty hours a week on top of my market intelligence business.
Q. Is Fratello Watches all you hoped it would be? What’s in store for the future of the blog?
Yes it is. What started out as a hobby alongside my nine-to-five job eventually lead to a full-time career in watches, be it with market research or writing for Fratello Watches. In the future, we want to be able to publish even more unique stories on watches, and perhaps just as important, the people behind these watches. Not only the people working in the watch industry, but also talking to collectors or just the guy that decided to buy one nice timepiece.
Also, although we love high-end watches, we also see the trend and demand for more affordable mechanical timepieces, and this doesn’t necessarily mean these are uninteresting watches. We are increasing our focus on affordable vintage watches as well for example, which gets more attention than we thought it would. We now have five people, as well as some regular contributors, and we are working hard every day to make Fratello Watches more interesting and more professional.
Q. It doesn’t take a detective to realise you have a penchant for Speedmasters. How did that begin?
Omega is a brand that is well represented in my small family and is also the brand that sparked my interest in nice watches. When I was still in university in 1999, I was craving for a Speedmaster and decided to sell my car and laptop—remember I was in IT and information management—to fund this vintage Speedmaster Professional pre-moon model with caliber 321 movement. From then on, with some pauses, I started to build a modest Speedmaster collection.
Q. Is there a watch you think beats the almighty Speedmaster for historical appeal?
To be honest, I seriously don’t think there is one. Especially not on the scale of the Speedmaster with its association with NASA’s moon program. I will not say it was luck that the Speedmaster withstood all NASA’s tests, but nevertheless the result is that Omega has gold in its hands with the best marketing campaign ever.
Q. Where do you see the future of watchmaking going, and where does it leave the enthusiasts?
This is a tough one to answer, and I would actually need to break it down into watches for the masses, mechanical luxury watches—although I dislike the word luxury—and the mechanical watches for the true enthusiasts. But for now, my simplified answer is that the demand for mechanical watches in general is unstoppable, so we will see more innovations and hopefully more clever solutions when it comes to movements and, for example, case materials.
The real question is how to get the masses—and the people who are now fifteen to twenty years old and not wearing a watch at all—to like and buy mechanical watches. If brands can get them motivated to do so, there will also be more room for watches for the enthusiasts. With only a few exceptions, watch brands need to have their bread and butter watches before doing special timepieces.
Q. Do you think watchmaking now and as it was before the quartz crisis has too much of a disparity?
Even though you had fine luxurious timepieces before the quartz crisis, as well as just normal cheap mechanical watches, I think brands are now trying to hard to be part of the luxury industry. What is wrong with just making nice, affordable mechanical watches? Why does everything have to be regarded as luxury? Why not simply offer a good watch? Some brands are increasing prices every year, to an extent that it has become ridiculous in some cases, without offering anything new or innovating in return. I don’t think the industry experienced this type of behaviour before the quartz crisis.
In terms of watchmaking itself, I do believe the watches of today are much better quality wise. Not only due to the use of modern materials but also because brands work to smaller tolerances with modern machines and CAD solutions. However, you could also say that watchmaking before the quartz crisis relied a bit more on pure craftsmanship and knowledge than on machines and computer designs. In most cases it shows, and this is why the love for vintage watches is so huge.
Q. And lastly, if you could only own one Speedmaster, which one would it be?
The one I received from my wife and daughter for my first Father’s Day, a late 1990s Speedmaster ‘57 re-edition. If we exclude that one and some others that are special to me, I would probably pick a Speedmaster Professional 105.012 or 145.012, the ones that were actually worn by astronauts on the Moon.
Thank you for your time.