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No Time Like The Present – A Q&A With Watch Manufacturer George J Von Burg

We’re big fans of watch company Manufacture George J von Burg and its Sport II Collection line.

Created for sports enthusiasts, these watches are sleek and muscular — ideally suited for men on the move.

Another nice touch? The timepieces belong to the Swiss tradition of expert workmanship and quality, with company operations still based out of Biel-Bienne, Switzerland.

We spoke with managing director George J von Burg — whose grandfather launched the company nearly 70 years ago.

In the following Q&A, George shares with us his background, some Swiss spots not to be missed, and what makes the perfect watch.

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George J. von Burg (right) and his father standing next to a photograph of namesake and company founder George Josef von Burg (1914-1986).

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1. Tell us a little about yourself:

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, but spent much of my childhood holidays visiting Switzerland. I went to school in Hong Kong and then did my military service in Switzerland, followed by university in both in the U.S. and the UK.

I have worked in the watch business for over 20 years. At 43, I’m now the managing director of all our family-run watch companies both here in Hong Kong and in Switzerland.

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2. How did your family get in the watch business? How did you get into it?

I basically grew up in it, spending many holidays helping in our factories and offices, both in Hong Kong, China and in Switzerland.

I’m actually the fourth generation to continue in the tradition and took over day-to-day management from my father a little over 10 years ago.

I started at the bottom and worked my way through and up.

I’m not a qualified watchmaker per se, but understand and have learned every single process involved in the manufacture of watches and watch movements. I know it is a bit of a cliché to say this, but watchmaking does run through my veins.

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3. There are people that really adore watches. Why is that? Do they know something that others don’t?

For many people, their watches remind them of family and/or good friends, as many are gifts.

Whether it is a gift for a special birthday, a milestone in life’s journey, or a prized procession handed down from the previous generation, a good watch always has a story to tell.

Today we are inundated with new technologies, with newness lasting six or so months before something else takes over. A good watch is timeless, and I see many people finding a new appreciation of mechanical watches.

Many fine watches also retain value, with special limited edition models appreciating in value over time, very much like a good bottle of wine, an art piece, or a car.

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Manufacture George J von Burg is headquartered in Biel-Bienne, Switzerland, which is situated in the heart of the Swiss watch industry, an area covering 75 kilometers between the cities of Solothurn and Neuchatel.

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4. Why did you choose to design your own watch line?

My companies manufacture watches for many different brands. I live and breathe watches every day. I am extremely lucky to be able to also design for myself. I design a new model range every few years and produce them in limited quantities.

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5. Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from visiting trade shows, talking with clients, looking at the window displays of watch shops all over the world, reading fashion, watch, and design magazines, and speaking with watchmakers all around the world.

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6. As a watch designer, who are some of your influences?

My traditional influences are other watch producers and brands, but I am also fascinated by architecture (especially out here in Asia) and industrial design.

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7. Would you recommend watchmaking as an occupation?

Absolutely. There is a major need for qualified watchmakers today and it will only get harder to find them in the future. It is also a profession one can use almost all over the world.

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MOVEDET
The heart of every Manufacture George J von Burg automatic chronograph watch is the Valjoux 7750 automatic mechanical movement.

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8. Do you think Apple and Android watches are here to stay? Are you worried that people will gravitate towards these types of pieces?

Until Apple launched the iWatch, the Android watches did not really effect the watch market. The iWatch has changed the market, especially in the fashion watch segment. In the last 12 months Apple has sold (according to leading analysts) roughly 13 to 14 million iWatches. The trend has now been established, but the jury is still out whether this is a long term change to watch-buying behavior.

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9. What are your favorite watches of all-time?

I enjoy designing and wearing my own watches. But I do like Rolex (Submariners  and Explorers specifically),Audemars Piaget (the original Royal Oak series), and if money was no object, a F P Journe Octa Automatique Lune.

The first two brands created timeless and elegant designs that many watch brands have tried to copy and replicate over the years. FP Journe has gone back to the origins of watchmaking and has designed some amazing movements and watches, bringing back a renewed edge to the traditions of true horology.

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10. What is the best movie made about time? Back To The Future? Benjamin Button? Time Bandits? 2001: A Space Odyssey

There are a few, but the Back to the Future series is always good to watch over and over.

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watch
The Sport II Blue Sunray Chronograph is sized in a 44mm case and consists of a blue dial with stainless steel case and solid stainless steel bracelet. Limited in edition and specially-priced, it’s available now at  www.newswhistle.com/shop.

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11. You recently went away on a trip. It sounded amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about it and where to get that surf and turf surprise?

I spent a week in Northern Denmark with my family, invited by some very close Danish friends. Denmark in the summer is truly an amazing place.

The people, the weather, the place, and the food are all awesome! The Danes know how to enjoy themselves, and the food available in Northern Denmark is unbelievable – lobsters and crabs are caught fresh daily, and there’s special dry-aged Danish beef from the area.

With the long summer days, you can literally spend your days sitting outside with the gas grill on, drinking chilled sauvignon blanc and cold Danish beers. Doesn’t get better than that!

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12. You have offices in Switzerland and Hong Kong, correct? How often do you go to Switzerland? Can you tell us about your favorite bars, restaurants, and hotels there?

I’m in Switzerland every five to six weeks. I tend to go for work, so I’ll always be around the city of Biel-Bienne.

One of my favourite places to holiday in Switzerland is Zermatt, especially during the ski season.

Zermatt Bars: For Apre ski, Cervo right at the end of the ski run above the Sunnega station, Elsie’s Bar in the village (also great place to eat), and the bar at Hotel Poste.

Zermatt Restaurants: Zum See, Findlerhof (aka Franz und Heidi), Les Marmottes, and, in town, the Scaferstube at the Romantik hotel Julen.

Zermatt is a great place with a hotel or B&B for everyone’s budget. If you’re going with a special someone, I can recommend the Romantik Hotel Julen.

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13.  What should a beginner look for in a watch? Can you recommend any good beginner books, websites or videos for newbies?

Watches are very personal, and not everyone looks at them the same way. My view is it should be something functional that you would like to wear daily.  There are plenty of consumer sites up and running, but I tend to follow the industry; a good one would be worldtempus.com.

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14. Why should a person buy one of your designs?

It is a personal thing. If you want to wear well-made and well-designed timepieces — which are almost unknown to the masses — then my watches are for you.

I have a small but dedicated group of collectors around the world who tend to buy my new watch models when I launch them. I tend to produce my watches in small volumes, and once sold they are not reproduced.

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15.  What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I love to cook, and my wife and boys always love it when I cook for them.

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Images Courtesy of Manufacture George J von Burg