In Conversation with Christine Hutter, CEO of Moritz GrossmannBy Keith W. Strandberg
Christine Hutter is the rare female CEO in the male-dominated watch industry who started as a watchmaker and then founded her own company.
In 2008, she started the Moritz Grossmann Company, named after one of the founding fathers of German watchmaking, from her kitchen table in her Dresden apartment. Three months later, she moved the company to Glashütte and the rest of the story is one of hard work, determination and success. Recently, I caught up with Hutter in her beautiful manufacture in Glashütte.
Why did you decide to revive the Moritz Grossmann name?
The idea came up during my career. I came to Glashütte in 1996, when I started to work with Glashütte Original, and then in 1998 I worked for A. Lange & Söhne. I recognized the importance of Moritz Grossmann. In the 19th century, there were four important watchmakers in Glashütte, and one was Moritz Grossmann. I noticed that no one had kept the name rights. I left Lange in 2004, went to Switzerland, and together with my sister, my brother-in-law and myself, we bought the name rights. When we started, I was committed to doing it the right way, here in Glashütte. I have a passion and a dream. Realizing the dream was not so easy. We needed to invest in the long-term time schedule.
Why do you think you have been successful?
There are two points. We have very good quality. If you have high quality, and we do the movement in-house (85%-90%), and you have the right product, you can win in the market.
Collectors worldwide have started to talk about us. Our target is quality not quantity. We currently produce about 500 watches a year, and the target is 800–1,000 pieces a year.
Moritz Grossmann wrote a book, The Construction of a Simple but Mechanically Perfect Watch. I believe in striving for this. Our watches are classic, they look simple, but inside they are really technical—lasting values, very complicated, real materials. In 100 years, it will be easy to work on our movements.
Why was it important to base the company in Glashütte?
Grossmann is connected to Glashütte. He started his workshop in 1884, and he founded the watchmaking school here. He was also very important to the social life in Glashütte during this time. I thought it wouldn’t make sense to do the brand somewhere else. I spent five months here in Glashütte, and then I moved to Dresden. For the production of watches, Glashütte is perfect, but for quality of life, I prefer Dresden. Glashütte, however, has become the center of watchmaking in Germany.
What makes Moritz Grossmann stand out?
Our high degree of finish. We finish parts in the movement that aren’t even seen. We even polish the teeth of the ratchet wheel, which doesn’t have to be done. Our hands are outstanding; no one is doing what we are doing. Our pusher system is simple but useful for end clients.
What would people be surprised to know about Moritz Grossmann?
We are a niche product, we are independent. Most people we meet have never heard about us, but once we tell them, they are surprised by the price and the high quality. It’s really the quality, because they recognize what we do. If you talk to collectors, they really start to recognize what is behind our watches.
How important is it to do everything in house?
When we started, it was clear that we should do as much as possible ourselves. I wanted to be a manufactory. If you take parts from other suppliers, you never know how long you can get them and you aren’t sure of the quality. If we produce wheels and other parts in house, our quality is better and the supply is reliable. We wanted to be independent. We worked on it step by step. In 2011 and 2012, we bought the machines and started to make our own production. We are now customizing the watches, so we are more flexible and independent.
Is it lonely at the top, being one of the few women CEOs in watchmaking?
I am not completely alone. You will find other women at the top, but I don’t think that there are any women who have set things up from scratch. Women think a bit differently from men. I started from my passion, and the team is the most important. My team has followed my passion and my vision. I chose the path and the way we have to go, but to succeed, it’s the team behind the company. They are producing, they are finishing, they are assembling and they are marketing.
I think a woman brings a nice touch of design to the products. If I have a meeting in Glashütte with the other companies, I am always the only woman, but today, being a woman or a man is not so important. The most important is the vision you have in mind and the great team you have around you. What we have done in the last year, it was done by the team.
You are a watchmaker. Do you miss being at the bench?
I have missed this for a long time. Sometimes, I will again try to assemble a movement. If I sit in a development meeting with my constructors and watchmakers, however, I can speak with them on the same level. When I go through the production, if there is a problem, I understand everything.
What do you like about watches?
Watches are pieces of art. Watches give you the time, and they are one of the most exact mechanical products you can have. It’s a luxury piece and it’s also a technical instrument, it’s a good mix of everything. You can wear it and admire it.
What watch are you wearing?
I am wearing the first BENU, the first prototype we made. My heart is connected to this piece, we didn’t have a CNC machine, so all the parts are handmade. It was the first movement that ran, so it really means something. It shows me every day where we began and where we are today.