A Conversation with Fratello Watches

One of the first blogs to enter the watch media ecosystem, Fratello Watches today, is one of the leading online watch magazines – still going strong 15 years since its founding. C’Q sat down with founder Robert-Jan Broer and editor Balázs Ferenczi during Dubai Watch Week, and discussed which watches got them hooked on collecting, emotional ties to this all-encompassing hobby, and of course, the Speedmaster.

An Omega Constellation is what sparked his interest in the brand, and as the story goes, Robert sold his car to buy a Speedmaster while he was a student. Fast forward a few years…and we all know where this leads: #SpeedyTuesday.

Quick wrist check  

Robert-Jan: Grand Seiko Hi-Beat movement and GMT

Balázs: Rolex GMT 1675 from 1967

Watch the full interview:

For the full transcription of the interview continue reading!

C’Q: Welcome back to Watchbox Studios. We are in Dubai. This is amazing. C’Q the watch guy on location in Dubai. Watchbox Studios. I have the esteemed pleasure and honor I must say to be with Robert and Balázs Ferenczi from Fratello Watches. Gentlemen, how are we doing?

Balázs: Thank you.

Robert- Jan: And how are you?

C’Q: I’m amazing. You know, it’s Dubai Watch Week. It just kicked off last night. It was a little bit of a wet start we could say. It was fun. I saw Phil Dufour out there smoking his pipe. He’s like a legend, just relaxing and so many great people and a fun time. So before we get into it, maybe a brief little introduction about yourselves and the Fratello Watches blogging community.

Robert- Jan: Yeah. Well I’m Robert. I’m Robert-Jan, in full. I started Fratello Watches in 2004, so this is our 15th anniversary basically. And I started it as a thing on the side. I was bored at work. I had a job in IT and you know how it goes and you get bored quickly.

C’Q: Yeah, IT stuff.

Robert- Jan: And at the time blogs were upcoming, but not on watches. There was no blog on watches yet. So I decided to start one actually. I was always involved in the online watch community and Time Zone, Watch You Seek those kinds of platforms but the thing is that those platforms, you saw a lot of things repeating so every other few weeks or months you saw the same question, same topics, same threads going on and on.

C’Q: A lot of people they don’t want to dive deep. Like I love those old forums Times Zone. Like when I started in this industry, I was on and you’re so correct that not everybody is used to the old school forum style they were really doing. So not everybody wants to dig down and nobody’s-

Robert- Jan: No, they just post the question and you see the same things. And I thought, okay, I want to start something myself where I can write a column or do a FAQ on things that I got a lot of questions from people about certain watches. And I thought if I can do something on a platform where I can already answer these questions. So that’s how Fratello started in 2004 just installed WordPress version 1.0, the original, and it went on and yeah, it started with a few hundred users in the first few months and then it really hit off and now we’re around a million views a month.

C’Q: Wow. That’s amazing.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, that’s nice. And today it’s like a full time thing. And a few years ago I quit my job at an investment bank and I started to do this full time.

C’Q: Congratulations.

Robert- Jan: Thank you. And the team got bigger too. Today, here we have Balázs as well. He joined in 2014.

Balázs: Yep.

Robert- Jan: And so we have a big team with around 10 contributors and we have some people in back office and so on. And yeah, it’s really cool.

C’Q: That’s amazing.

Robert- Jan: Living the dream.

C’Q: Yeah. You know, I was just saying that like I really can’t believe I’m in Dubai right now. You know? I’d never imagine in all my years I’d be here talking to you, you know, I’m a fan of your blogs as well. I’m actually doing an interview with you and it just goes back to like following your passion and how something as small and some people they might even say insignificant, sometimes a watch has such a deep community. And just by you seeing the need… Because I think in 2004 there’s really nobody doing a blog like yours back then. I don’t think.

Robert- Jan: No. I think we were one of the first. And there were forums, there were platforms and some selling platforms, but not really a blog where people, just vented their opinion or… but in the meantime it transferred from a blog into a magazine, we now a magazine online. I think the definition of blogs changed through the years. I think blogging is now more like Twitter and Instagram perhaps. And now it’s a magazine we have fresh content every day. We try to publish a few times a day. We keep it easy on the weekends, just one or two posts and that’s it. But yeah-

C’Q: Better than doing the IT, right?

Robert- Jan: Yeah. Much better. Much better. And these days I have to reach out to IT people to help me these days.

C’Q: Exactly. You’re on the other side, right?

Robert- Jan: So no, it’s a lot of fun. And like you say, back in the day it was a niche, but it still is a niche. We think, we live in the watch industry, we live watches, it’s our passion, but still a lot of people out there think that we’re nuts, we’re crazy. It’s just a watch.

C’Q: Yeah.

Robert- Jan: But yeah. But I also think it’s like a bit of a virus in a positive way-

C’Q: 100%.

Robert- Jan: You will influence people. Because when I met my wife, she didn’t have a clue. And now even she has, when she see people at work, or meets people at work, one of the first things she does look at what people are wearing. And yeah, that’s very contagious. Probably, yeah.

C’Q: Is that little bug, you get bitten by it and you learn and then you get deep into… There’s so many angles, right? It could be maybe you love history, maybe you know, I, a photographer and I love mechanics and engineering. And when you really go deep into like how, this will sound weird, but like we as humans kind of define time, right? And to me a watch is the human spirit just going forward and trying to be accurate and define the thing that we defined in the beginning.

C’Q: And especially when in the mechanical form it is us trying to get to that perfect accuracy, pure mental power. Sometimes imagine when the perpetual counters with no computers or even when they have to use a super computer. And like now we have CAD systems. It all began with just somebody being a visionary, somebody pushing forward. And saying, “Why not? Why not make a pocket watch? Why not put it on your wrist?”

Robert- Jan: True. And I think time is the most precious thing we have, its very cliche. But I think that’s the case. And then I think it’s very nice to capture time or to track time on something that’s precious and not that this gold or platinum whatever, but precious to you. It can be a Swatch, it can be a G-Shock, it can be anything. And I think that’s important. And it’s the same with writing. I hardly write these days with a pen. So if I write, I write with a nice fountain pen.

C’Q: Why not?

Robert- Jan: I think these things make it enjoyable and yeah.

C’Q: I think it’s sad they don’t teach, like in the US, they’re not teaching cursive anymore. And I have horrible handwriting. But it is nice to pick up a nice pen and actually practice a little bit because it is sort of a lost art. So I guess you know, for both of you question, what was the watch or the instance that kind of sparked your love of watches? What made you say, “Wow, there’s something here more that I want to dig into?”

Balázs: I don’t remember if I ever had this one specific watch. I remember when I was a kid, I got my first, I think it was a maybe a Casio from my mom when I was like maybe seven, eight years old… Eight, nine years old. And then for my first money, I bought my first Casio watch, which I still have at my parents’ house. And then it just, to me it was a slow process of evolving from that watch to mechanical watch. A watch that doesn’t have a battery. Like how cool is that? This thing just spins around and you don’t need a battery. You don’t need… Because before that, Casio watch every two years to change the battery.

C’Q: Exactly. You don’t even think about it.

Balázs: Right. And I was in high school I think in the first or second grade in high school, so maybe 15, 16 and the guy had a Swatch, like an automatic Swatch. I was like, doesn’t need a battery, that’s’ cool. It’s just, you know, and then you’re interested in it. You’re interested in mechanics as you guys said. And how it works and why. And because back then you kind of needed a watch. Now you don’t need a watch because back then in like 1999, 2000, were no cell phones around. And life is a bit different than it is now.

C’Q: Maybe a little bit slower too, right?

Balázs: A little bit slower, you know, and information and LCD screens were not everywhere with the time. But now it’s, you really don’t need it. But we don’t wear one because we need it. We wear one because-

Robert- Jan: We appreciate it.

Balázs: We appreciate it, we love it, what it represents the memory. I’m very conscious of my watches. I always take certain watches to… Like for example, when I travel, there’s always watches that I take because I want to have that memory connected to that watch in five, 10, 15 years. And it’s also, like a double edged sword. Because I know I’m never going to sell that watch because it was with me there and there and there. But that’s just how it is. So, yeah. So I think we appreciate it. We love it and we’re conscious about it. And for me it was just this evolving from-

C’Q: little slow snowball.

Balazs: Yeah.

C’Q: That’s awesome. What about yourself? Was there a moment or a watch that started it?

Robert- Jan: Well, more or less the same path as Balázs. I’m from ’77 so I grew up with Casio, with digital watches.

C’Q: Yeah. You had the good stuff.

Robert- Jan: Casio and later on Swatch, and Swatch automatic as you said. I think it’s what, ’92 or ’93 that I had my first Swatch automatic and then it was in ’98 I graduated and I got a Omega Constellation and I got it because the entire family had Omega Constellations.

C’Q: Oh, really? So you just-

Robert- Jan: So my father had one and my grandfather and my great-grandfather and of course my Constellation was a modern one, so very different from the Pie Pan and Constellation from the ’60s-

C’Q: Yeah, I was about to say.

Robert- Jan: But still, yeah, I got those later. But that was really, I think the first watch that sparked it for me that I thought, oh this is super nice and I want to know more about it, learn more about it. And then obviously I quickly came to the Speedmaster and that was really the first watch that I bought myself. It’s a story I told often, but I sold my car for it. I really wanted to have that watch.

C’Q: Really?

Robert- Jan: Yeah. It was a nice car.

Balázs: What was the car? Tell us the car.

Robert- Jan: 205, GTI from Peugeot. A very small fast car at the time. But I was a student and I didn’t really need a car I reckoned, so I sold it off and bought Speedmaster and a Caliber 321, which at the time was cheap but not for me because I was a student and that really hit it off. And that sparked my interest in the Speedmaster, I started collecting Speedmasters basically. And I started to be more online writing about watches and not the only about Omega but all sorts of brands. Basically.

C’Q: Amazing, and I think the Fratello family has a special relationship with the Speedmaster, correct?

Robert- Jan: Yeah, because the person I purchased my first Speedmaster from in ’99 he had a shop in the Hague, in the Netherlands. And I went into his shop because I saw a Speedmaster in the window and so we started talking to each other and yeah, it’s appeared that he was, still is a Speedmaster collector himself so he brought a box and showed me the Speedmasters and we’ve got a good relationship and he’s now a writer at Fratello, years later.

C’Q: There you go. The circle continues, right?

Robert- Jan: So I think with the entire team, I think we have a approximate, like 100 speed masters because we have a lot of Speedmaster collectors on boards and I don’t collect watches in general I collect Speedmasters and besides that I buy the watches that I really like and that I wear and so on. As a collector I’m really focused on one model basically, which is the Speedmaster.

C’Q: Nothing wrong with that really, especially being able to travel and we’re blessed to be in this industry that we do get a little bit extra access and seeing all these really nice models and collectors like the person you speak about, who really truly collected like from the beginning and we can really see all the references, is really amazing. Let’s do a quick wrist check. You know, I have a Panerai Pam 562 on, titanium eight day browned out. Let’s see a little bit what we have today.

Robert- Jan: I’m wearing a Grand Seiko-

C’Q: Nice. Classy.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, the high beat movement and a GMT. But what was most important for me, was the shape of the case. It’s the 44 GS case. Very classic and yeah, I love it. There’s no other brands that makes a case like this.

C’Q: And Grand Seiko is getting stronger and stronger day by day. It’s such a great community as well.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, and I feel that the interest is really genuine. It’s not a social media push or it’s not pushed by hype. No. I think the people who went to Japan to see it or go to a Grand Seiko event or a boutique, I think once you see it, you really get it and then I think you’re-

C’Q: Exactly, slowly again, the bug catches you, it bites you and then you go down that path.

Robert- Jan: Exactly yeah.

C’Q: What are you wearing today, Balázs.

Balázs: I’m wearing a Rolex GMT 1675.

C’Q: Oh look at that.

Balázs: This is from 1967 and yeah, I have some more watches. I didn’t bring them. I have a Speedmaster with me, obviously. I have a vintage chronograph and I have some new stuff, but I’m also into vintage, vintage chronographs and certain brands. So Robert-Jan is the Speedmasters. I also have a good few Speedmasters and Omegas in general. I think this was one of our common interests, that kind of bond that brought us together is that the love for vintage Omegas and Omegas and Speedmasters in general.

Balázs: But I love other vintage. So I have vintage chronographs and this one is my only Rolex. And this is the only Rolex that I ever wanted to be honest because of the color. I always loved the Pepsi and I thought that, okay, it’s pretty cool to have one. And I was lucky enough to get one a few years ago from a good friend and who helped me source it. And it just so happens that now it’s gone up.

C’Q: No, exactly. That ones a beauty, even with Speedmasters you’ve seen like before not everybody was chasing them and now the market is what it is, you know, because you really can’t find it. Or collectors are realizing, I think especially Rolex and Speedy’s because they were real tool watches. So many people use them as tools and their dad’s or their grand dads used them as tools.

C’Q: So when you get that watch or you inherit that watch the emotions, like you said, I don’t know if I could pay you a price for you to give me that watch. You know? Since one of those things where there’s so many that are made, but there’s so many that are just kept because it’s like, you know what, I have so much memories and emotions goes back into the passions that we spoke about the watches as well.

Balázs: And they just simply work. You know? I mean you look at a Speedmaster from a, I don’t know, find it in the attic or your grandparents. It’s going to probably going to work. It might need a service, but it’s going to work. The chronograph’s going to run. Same with the Rolex.

Balázs: People bought that in the ’60s and ’70s because it was probably not cheap, but it worked. It got the job done and that’s what they needed it for. Whereas now it’s obviously a bit different, especially if we talk about new Rolex, we just had panel earlier about a waiting list and who gets on the waiting list. But yeah, there were just two watches that worked and people bought them and they just carried on working for decades.

Robert- Jan: People didn’t collect at the time, I think, perhaps a few exceptions where people just bought it as their-

Balázs: Pocket watches only.

C’Q: Exactly.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, as their only watch and that’s what they wore their entire life.

Balázs: Yeah. Yeah.

Robert- Jan: And it always works. My grandfather. Like I said, he had an Omega Constellation and he wore it for like 42 years every single day and I only wear it for Christmas and when I pick it up from the safe, it starts to run.
C’Q: Yeah, yeah. No, they’re ready to go.

Robert- Jan: Unreal. The movements were awesome.

C’Q: It’s amazing. Sometimes you get it in and like we inspect it and it’s like, you could service it, but it’s it’s perfect… Give a little, it just goes amazing. I still got a few more minutes. Do you want to quickly run through what you have in your roll here?

Robert- Jan: Yeah, I brought some watches with me. Very diverse.

C’Q: I love… The definition of diverse by the way.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, I think this is the definition of diverse. So my latest purchase is the G-Shock, the GMW B 5,000 from the top of my head. Like I said, I grew up with Casio watches and in ’83 there was the first G-Shock. I don’t have that. I have the 20th anniversary one that I bought in 2003 and I think this is, yeah, one of the versions that is in that line of the 5,000 series it’s my favorite design of a… This is a G-Shock for me.

C’Q: Yeah, no, I love the all metal case. They’re just so fun.

Robert- Jan: And it’s all metal and it’s nice. And it has the multi band and it’s cool. You don’t need the manual. If you grew up, it’s okay. This was my first Rolex. It’s a Datejust 1600. So smooth bezel. Normally it came with an Oyster bracelet. Mine came with a Jubilee and I think because at the time in 19 I don’t know, 70s early ’70s, you could buy these watches at a retailer, you could say, “Oh, I want to swap the oyster for a Jubilee for me.” And they did. And so I don’t know if mine came with an oyster or was delivered with a Jubilee to the clients, but yeah.

C’Q: It’s gorgeous.

Robert- Jan: Yeah, it’s 36 I don’t wear it that often, but it’s a nice piece. And then of course from this year, the Apollo 11 50th anniversary model in gold. Like I said, I’m a Speedmaster collector. I have a vintage Gold Speedmaster as well. And yeah, I saw this and I thought, oh, that’s a lot of money. So I go for the steel one, the two. I go for steel one and then I saw it in the flesh and I said, nah, I need this.

C’Q: It sings. It speaks to you. What I love about this edition when it came out is it really was very true to the original. And the character it really speaks to you and it really shines through.

Robert- Jan: Yeah. Purest will probably disagree, but I think this is like the Godfather two, it’s better than the first. It’s what you see with the vintage Gold Speedmaster from ’69 is that they age differently. You see it engraving. I don’t know, it’s different. They color different.

Robert- Jan: I don’t know. And I think this will be more consistent. Of course, it has a very good movement. Yeah. It’s just very nicely done. The bracelet is awesome. It’s very true to the originals. It tapers down to 14 millimeters. Very small. When I saw the specs, I thought… But when you have it on the wrist, it’s amazing. So I almost wear this as a daily watch.

C’Q: Yeah. I saw you, I think when we met you had that on, I was like, oh, perfection.

Robert- Jan: Yeah. And yeah, so this is my, yeah, my small collection that I brought to Dubai Watch Week.

C’Q: Awesome. Yeah. Sorry. I think the music there is kind of playing us out a little bit. So if we have one quick note on a new collector, if you have something you tell a new collector, what would you say? One quick tip?

Robert- Jan: Buy Speedmaster.

Balázs: And vintage.

C’Q: And I would say, buy what you love, guys. It’s been such a pleasure.

Robert- Jan: Like wise.

C’Q: Thank you so much.

Balázs: Thanks man.

C’Q: I’m sure we’ll see each other again and thank you guys for watching and keep tuning in to Watchbox studios and more amazing things come out of Dubai Watch Week.

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