There is a mystery, an even enigma about some watchmakers. They are, by necessity, a solitary profession. I, Jonathan Bordell of Page & Cooper, have been a Damasko watch dealer for some time now, and have been thrilled with all of their amazing watches, but even I knew less than I wanted to know and had a hunger to find out more.
Arranging a factory visit was no easy matter. Damasko are a cult watch and demand often outstrips supply, Damasko do things their own way. So, after months of organising, here I am driving out of Munich on a very wet Tuesday in October heading towards the charming and historic town of Regensberg.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that on the unrestricted autobahn everyone is keeping to about 65 mph due to the torrential rain. When left to their own devices, people seem to police themselves quite well.
We are met at our hotel by the absolutely charming Nadja Damasko. Her warm greeting is our first introduction into the world of Damasko. Whilst being at the forefront of modern watch construction and technology, Damasko is at the same time very much a family business founded on a passion for watches.
A short drive to a discreet location a few miles away took us to the Damasko factory. Time for a little history: Damasko Metalberaung was formed in the early 90’s by Konrad Damasko. Konrad’s expertise was in the development and manufacturing of fine metal components. Not only to withstand extremely high tolerances, but also in the development of new materials for the Aerospace Industry. It was his wealth of knowledge in this field, together with a love of watches that brought Damasko into the ‘world of watches’.
Having the technical expertise to manufacture in-house has been a huge bonus for Damasko and to put it in their own words, “if there is something we need, we manufacture it ourselves… specifically for our own needs.” Indeed, they can now boast that on their own calibre’s up to 90% of the watches are made in-house. In the watch industry this is extraordinary! Also made in-house, are cases, bezels, bezel inserts, crowns, pushers, ceramic bearings and this list doesn’t even include components for their own movements.
Back to our visit. As we enter the building we are introduced to Christoph Damasko. Christoph is Konrad’s son and he now runs production. Christoph speaks excellent English and is both eloquent and enthusiastic. First, he shows us the part of production where Damasko first started. In this section they turn rods of raw material, stainless steel, brass and many other metals into whatever they need. Cases, crowns, date wheels and even the strap changing tools are made here.
The next room contains Damasko’s most advanced machines. Christoph shows me tiny components under construction and when I mean tiny, I do mean tiny. I can’t even see the detail Christoph is referring to without the aid of a loupe.
Moving on to the next room, Christoph shows me the advanced machine that Damasko use for all of their fine engravings. This machine engraves case backs, bezels and our very own Page and Cooper key rings. Christoph explains that every machine that they use has been specified to their own requirements. Taking this engraving machine as an example, he explains that as Damasko inserts are slightly curved the engraving can be of an equal depth over the radii of the curve. This is a great example of Damasko making things to their own exacting standards.
The next room contains two special machines that create the famous Damasko cases. As you may be aware Damasko use their very own formula of ice hardened nickel free stainless steel, but what I find astonishing is the way these cases are actually made. The cases are not machined in the conventional way, but formed from electrical discharges submerged in water. Christoph explains that traditional milling can stress the metal unnecessarily and this process, whilst slower, leaves the case with much greater integral strength.
Next stop the finishing room. Here all metal parts are finished by hand. Christoph shows me the six stages that every Damasko metal case goes through. There are six stages of finishing alone, all done by hand and again all done the Damasko way. Christoph is very proud of their own bead blasted finish and again he explains that even the materials used for bead blasting have been developed in-house. Bead blasting using standard beads actually wears away the blasting beads and not the watch cases!
Another room contains the fine three axis milling room. In here Damasko can make, as an example, 3/4 plates for their own movements. The latest project in hand is the Damasko metal bracelet. Many people have been seeking a Damasko bracelet for years, but Damasko only start things when they can offer the very best. The bracelet will be made entirely in-house and to their own specifications and let me tell you, it is very much a work of art. This just adds another level of sophistication to Damasko watches.
At this time we are joined by Damasko founder, Konrad. He speaks very little English, although far more English than I can speak German, but within moments, he can see that I am genuinely interested in what Damasko do and the language of horology takes over.
Konrad dashes off and returns with a DC86, Damasko’s long sought after chronograph based on the Lemania 5100 and using a heavily modified 7750 movement. Both Konrad and Christoph explain that they only want to release the DC86 when it has met their own demanding tests. Examples have been on test for nearly two years, but only when they feel the watch and movement fulfil every criteria will they offer it for sale. Of course an added bonus is that the DC86 I am shown is fitted with Damasko’s very own bracelet.
This DC86 has been long awaited since it was first announced nearly 2 years ago, Konrad shows me the new workshops, nearly completed which will house a dedicated production capacity for the new model.