If you received a Fortuna watch in your box earlier this year, we hope you appreciated the quality and distinct design of your timepiece. Fortuna is a German brand inspired by the ‘50s era and combines modern technology with timeless design.
Katie from Member Services had the chance to speak with Jannes Volmuth, the Master Watchmaker and Founder of Fortuna watches recently. He shares his inspiration for the company, how Fortuna actually got off the ground, and insights about Fortuna watch designs.
Here’s our exclusive interview from Jannes’s visit to the Watch Gang offices earlier this year. Enjoy!
K: Hey Jannes! It’s nice to put a face to the Fortuna name! We’ve heard you’re a MASTER watchmaker. What’s the difference between Watchmaker and Master Watchmaker?
JV: In Germany, the watchmaker's program is 3 years, full-time, every day. After 3 years you can keep going, like a bachelors or masters degree in the US. A Master Watchmaker’s program is an additional 1.5 years. In that time you learn the watch business, and how to train young watchmakers to become a watchmaker.
K: Why watches? What made you so interested in watches that you would go to school for almost 5 years!
JV: Honestly? (Laughs) In the summer, I went with my parents and my sister to the same place in Switzerland every year for holiday. It’s a tiny tiny valley. There are 10 to 12 villages around, 3,500 people. I was asking, why are there so many people here? There are so many watch companies around. Very famous. The summer I was 12 years old, I met a girl that I liked. I found out that she was the great-granddaughter of Jaegar LeCoultre. I had learned so much about the village and watches. It was very clear for me to become a watchmaker.
K: Did you ever get to meet her Grandfather?
JV: No. You can write that down. (laughs) I didn’t meet him, No. She didn’t care about watchmaking.
K: But you did find your passion! Would you also say that that’s your first memory of watches?
JV: Yes. When I paid attention to watches. Yeah...
K: When did you get your first watch that you’d say you first paid attention to or valued?
JV: My Astronaut watch. It was probably $30.
K: Do you remember what brand it was?
JV: Flik Flak!
K: Flik Flak? I don’t think I’ve heard of “Flik Flak”.
JV: It’s the company of the Swatch Group, they make kids watches. Boys watches. Girls Watches...
K: So you got to finish school, got certified as a Master Watchmaker, and then went right to work at Breitling and then Omega. Right away you got to work for some pretty big names, that’s really impressive! What was your job with them?
JV: After-sales service. First I worked at Breitling doing repairs for warranties and QC. At Omega, I traveled around to train and certify and authorize people to repair Omega watches. I was the key account manager for certification.
K: Is that when you started developing Fortuna?
JV: No. Then I went back to university for economics and made watches at home.
K: Was that just for fun while you were in school?
JV: No. It started with home shopping. I had a friend that I met in school who had a big business TV home shopping show. Like QVC here in the States. She asked me if I could do some watches.
K: Don’t those home shopping shows usually generate a lot of orders? Were you making those watches in your home? Alone?
JV: Yes, mostly alone or with help from my family. It was a lot of work. I had to order the materials and put them together then Quality control them…. a lot of work! (laughs)
K: Wow! And you did that through University?
JV: Exactly. I did that for about 4 years.
K: THEN Fortuna?
JV: Then Fortuna.
K: What inspired Fortuna? And what does Fortuna mean in German?
JV: Fortuna is the German word for Fortune. Honestly, it’s Hans Wilsdorf’s story. First, he’s a German. His passion and designs and movements. They’re timeless. Some of them still being manufactured, the same designs 50-60 years later!! And again, another German!! (Laughs) That was big for me.
K: Rolex is timeless. Is that how you would describe the inspiration for Fortuna designs?
JV: Yeah, kind of. For me it’s more retro designs. Inspired by the watches of the 50’s and 60’s.
K: Why retro designs?
JV: It seemed like a challenge to me. The challenge is bringing them into the future with all the current materials. Now we have sapphire glass, we have quartz movement. With quartz movement you can make the watches affordable. At that time, watches were made with the best materials and mechanical hand-wound movements. They were very expensive. I wanted to make the same watches now, but with automatic or quartz movements.
K: You wanted to bring the retro design from then to the future with the current materials.
JV: With the best materials! Sapphire glass, genuine leather. . . There’s a difference. The straps for instance: The straps we use for Fortuna are all made in Germany with real leather. If you feel genuine leather vs synthetic.
K: Were those materials easier or harder to get?
JV: Harder. To get the good materials and the good suppliers...yes, it was a lot harder to get.
K: Harder to get in which ways? Cost? Brand Establishment?
JV: Yeah cost and volume. They usually go for bigger volume.
K: Your designs are well received! I think that because everything is so electronic, or “futuristic” right now, a lot of people seem to like when they can have less, notably, what I’ve been noticing, in watches.
JV: Yes. Millennials. The young people. They like to have the watches like their grandfather. The style, they like to have something conservative and … (searching for the word)...
JV: Yeah. The Millennials like to have the iPhone and Instagram and Snapchat. But with watches, they like to have a conservative feel. Something that might bring them back.
K: So you’re not at all worried about smartwatches taking over?
JV: No. There are a lot of brands. It is hard for the watch industry because a lot of people will want to try it. To wear something like the Apple watch, for fitness tracker, etc. But these watches aren’t going to be used for an accessory. They’re not to accessorize. Watches will always have the accessory component, like a belt or a scarf.
K: Right something you can pair with your mood or your outfit.
JV: Exactly. It will always come back to this. So no, I’m not worried. (laughs)
K: How many watches do you have in your personal collection?
JV: I don’t have a lot actually. Well, I do have all of these (points to Fortunas out on the desk)
K: Which one is your favorite?
JV: Favorite Fortuna? I don’t know. It’s like picking your favorite child. For one year I am with each collection. They’re all my favorite.
K: Ok, so a Watch Gang member gets a Fortuna in the mail as their subscription watch and they’ve never heard of it, what should they know about Fortuna? Why should they give Fortuna a chance? What do you hope they discover or see?
JV: Just feel it. You can feel the quality. All the materials we use, you can feel the quality. You can see if you wear something like, maybe a Fossil for a couple years, take a look at the strap. Take a look at the case. It will be scratched and cracking, or the buckle feels loose. The Fortuna, take a look at it after a couple years. Look at the band, the case... there is the sapphire glass. It’s scratch proof. At this price range, that’s not normal. I like to give watches that they can use for a long time. For me, it really really bugs me when I see watches with scratched glass! It’s a shame! Some earlier models don’t have that, but they all do now. We also used to only use plastic movement holder, which is normal. But we changed it to a complete case made of steel. The movement is fixed by the steel.
K: What does that do for the watch?
JV: Nobody sees it, but it’s all about feeling and quality. It makes it a little bit heavier. Not a lot more. Just a little. It’s so much about feeling, isn’t it? When you have the watch in your hands, it should feel good.
K: It is! There’s the TW Steel which is definitely on the heavier side and then the Earthwood is so light, people have said it feels like a lego! Fortuna is a good happy medium. Do you think you’ll ever have a women’s line?
JV: Yeah! We hope around summer.
K: Will Watch Gang subscribers continue to receive Fortuna in the future?
JV: Yes! I know we have something perhaps in the fall again. I think we maybe discussed the fall…
K: Ok, last question. It’s a silly question to round this out. Is there someone you dream of wearing a Fortuna watch? Someone you want to see wearing your watch?
JV: Oh. Yeah. So many. (laughs)
K: Hans Wilsdorf?
JV: (laughs) Oh yeah! If he was alive! Maybe George Clooney? But he wears Omega.
K: For now! Dream Big, Jannes!
JV: (Laughing) yeah for now!
At Watch Gang, all team members and staff are trained on the details and history about every watch we send. Every month, we get together to learn about all the watches in each tier and even speak with the watchmakers and companies about their collections.
Stay tuned for more interviews with watchmakers and companies we’re partnering with for an insider’s look at your favorite brands and timepieces!