The Return of Guinand

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Guinand is back! For the unaware, believe me when I say this is most welcome news. With a catalog of superbly built watches boasting interesting complications at fair price points, Guinand thankfully remains one of Germany’s best-kept watchmaking secrets.  Guinand also has a connection to someone we here at worn&wound admire–the great Helmut Sinn, who ran Guinand for over a decade after selling his eponymous brand back in 1994. And like Sinn, Guinand’s focus on relatively affordable tool watches makes it a brand to watch. Today, we take a closer look at the Frankfurt-based firm, its storied past, and what will undoubtedly be its exciting future.

drei_generationen
Matthias Klueh and Helmut Sinn.

Guinand can be traced back to 1865, when brothers Julien-Alcide and Charles Leon Guinand founded the appropriately named Guinand Frères company in Les Brenets, an area of Jura, Switzerland with a well-established watchmaking tradition. The fledging brand saw near immediate success, producing pocket watches for an international clientele that included the United States. But by the early 1880s, an economic downturn and the sudden loss of the American market spelled trouble for the young firm. However, the crisis inspired innovation, and in 1881 Guinand brought to market its very first chronograph. It was a far-sighted move, and one that paid off well into the future. By the turn of the 20th century Guinand was putting out pocket watches with a slew of different chronograph complications, among them the rattrapante. In 1910, Guinand shifted focus to the assembly of wrist chronographs.

Taschenuhr_Guinand_Kal9_Gold14K_3_oben_internet
Image courtesy of helmut-sinn.com

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In the years that followed, Guinand would become synonymous with chronographs–particularly rattrapantes–supplying militaries around the world with specialty products and manufacturing chronographs for a number of renowned Swiss and German firms. This foothold would also allow Guinand to weather the quartz crisis without abandoning the manufacture of mechanical timepieces.

One of Guinand’s most important accounts was none other than Helmut Sinn, a watchmaker based in Frankfurt who in 1961 founded his namesake brand. Mr. Sinn’s philosophy was to create watches “as perfectly as possible, but only as expensive as necessary.”  Through his partnership with Guinand, he achieved just that, with the latter manufacturing a large portion of Sinn watches up through the mid-90s.

100th Anniversary in 1965
100th Anniversary in 1965, image courtesy of Guinand

In 1994, Helmut Sinn, then nearly 80-years young, made the difficult decision to retire, selling Sinn to Lothar Schmidt, formerly of IWC and A. Lange and Sohne. But retirement didn’t sit easy with Mr. Sinn, and he soon returned to the fold, this time acquiring shares of Guinand S.A. from the Guinand family to found the Jubilar Uhren Inh. Helmut Sinn company in Frankfurt am Main. In addition to taking over Guinand’s manufacturing capabilities, Helmut Sinn launched two new brands–Jubilar, which focused on the production of pocket watches, and Chronosport for classic pilot watches and chronographs. Jubilar Uhren Inh. Helmut Sinn would ultimately become Guinand Uhren Helmut Sinn. In 2000, Mr. Sinn moved the brand’s headquarters to Germany, ceasing production of 3rd party watches and choosing instead to focus on the company’s three in-house lines, which now included Guinand branded timepieces. Mr. Sinn committed to direct-to-consumer sales, focusing on interacting with potential costumers and eschewing bloated marketing and excess. Around this time he also created what many consider to be a pilot’s watch in the truest sense of the word and Mr. Sinn’s magnum opus–the WZU-5 powered by the revolutionary calibre “HS 81 WZ” capable of tracking 5 separate time zones at any given time.

WZU-5

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In 2006, Helmut Sinn, then 90 years old, finally handed over the reigns to his longtime associate Horst Hassler. Mr. Hassler would serve as managing director of the brand through 2014, running the company much like the way Mr. Sinn did. That is to say, the watches remained superbly built and competitively priced, and sold directly to the consumer via their showroom where  (or, interestingly enough, for those of us outside of Frankfurt, via fax, snail mail, and bank transfer).  It may have been a cumbersome process in an age of instant satisfaction, but also a great example of Helmut Sinn’s old school approach to business and customer service. In 2014, after 8 years at the helm of Guinand, Mr. Hassler was set to retire. Not having found an appropriate successor to lead the company, Mr. Hassler and his main shareholders decided to close Guinand.

Enter Matthias Klueh. Mr. Klueh was born in Frankfurt, not far from Sinn’s workshop. He jokes that this is when he caught the Sinn bug; his first watch–a Sinn, of course. Throughout the ’80s he was an avid collector of Sinn timepieces, and he even briefly worked for the firm. Mr. Klueh met Horst Hassler when the two worked for the same company in the mid-90s, and though the two eventually went their separate ways they maintained regular contact throughout the years. As fate would have it, in the autumn of 2014 Mr. Klueh learned of his old friend’s retirement and Guinand’s closing. He decided to make an offer for the brand’s assets, and not long thereafter took over Guinand. At the time the former office had already been closed, so he began the search for a new headquarters. Mr. Klueh ultimately invested in a new building not far from the former Guinand offices in Frankfurt Rödelheim–much to the delight of Mr. Sinn, Mr. Hassler, and the Guinand family. His goal? To continue the manufacture of timepieces, specifically chronographs, with high-quality craftsmanship and the standards set forth by Helmut Sinn, and to also continue their (revamped) direct sales model to offer consumers the best possible value.

GUINAND_CHRONOGuinand’s return has been a quiet one, and one that in a short amount of time has seen some welcome improvements. First, the website.  Currently only available in German, customers can finally purchase Guinand watches online. English-speaking customers fret not; an English version is on its way in just a few weeks.

Second, Mr. Klueh has streamlined the catalogue, in part out of necessity due to diminished stock of certain parts. However, the basic chronograph array has remained largely intact, with some small updates being made throughout the range. The Series 60.50, for example, will feature an upgraded case with an upped pressure resistance of 20 bars, as well as new dials and hand sets to launch within the next couple of days. The Series 31 is also seeing quite a few updates. The 31.HS-12 features a new dial and handset reminiscent of the IWC Mark series and powered by the iconic HS81–a Helmut Sinn-modified Unitas caliber with a centrally mounted seconds hand. For 2016 and 2017, Mr. Klueh plans to release several new models featuring both automatic and manual winding movements.

GUINAND_FLIEGERFinally, it is important to note that Guinand is committed to keeping their watches largely German-made, with cases, dials, select hand sets, and leather straps being manufactured locally, with the final assembly and quality control taking place at Guinand’s workshop. As a result, all new dials are inscribed with “Hergestellt in Deutschland” (“made in Germany”).

To view the current lineup, head on over to Guinand’s new e-store.

Pocket watch images courtesy of helmut-sinn.com.

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Ilya is Worn & Wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
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