For some his position will feel too rational, too unromantic, too in- dustrial, too Belgian even? For others – as with some of the growing band of independent watch companies, and Mintiens speaks of his admiration for the likes of Urwerk and MB&F in particular – he will be pointing the way to a new, futuristic kind of watch appreciation that is both aesthetic and ascetic.
Why, for example, does he bother to fit his watches (each model is made in Switzerland by a team dedicated to that model) with a me- chanical movement at all, when presumably his industrial designer way of thinking would deem a quartz movement to be that much more efficient and more accurate in the telling of time? Unsurprisingly, he has an industrial designer’s answer to that too. “The fact is that people have an empathy for gears and they don’t have empathy for circuits – as humans we feel for the mechanical over the digital,” he argues. “It’s why digital devices that don’t work any more go in the garbage, but we don’t do that with anything mechanical – we imme- diately imagine that there’s some little cog that could be made better, like a little animal.”
Will Mintiens’ little animal live on? Certainly Mintiens has in- vested in the expensive patenting of his ideas, more or less globally, which is a statement of his intent, but also a recognition that it is the ideas within his watches that really give them value. And he says that, with his outsider, non-watchmaker perspective, he has ideas for new innovations in watch design that will allow him to launch one model a year up until 2022. Indeed, perhaps the only obstacle to this messiah of tomorrow’s watchmaking is that, as the wider watch world might see it, he has the misfortune to be based in Antwerp and not Geneva, to be Belgian rather than Swiss.
“I’ve tried not to get too sucked into the Swiss watchmaking world but really it’s impossible not to – it’s such a small world and you have to work with it, though I’d like to keep out of the politics,” says Mintiens. “But being Belgian is certainly more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Mature markets might not care where Ressence is from, but it matters to, say, customers in the Middle East. In fact, I can’t re- ally say it’s a Belgian watch even in Switzerland – I have to emphasise that it’s made in Switzerland, even if Ressence is a Belgian brand. It’s kind of like Apple – designed in California but made in China.”
It is a telling analogy: is Mintiens the Steve Jobs of the watch world?