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Watchmaker Ondrej Berkus on Haute Horology, Horsepower & Horses

Ondrej Berkus

Independent Czech watchmaker, Ondrej Berkus, has been making waves on Instagram with his intense bespoke pieces, an out-of-this-world counterpoint to an incredibly down-to-Earth guy.  With a passion for horology that almost matches his passion for horses, we spoke to the man himself about his inspirations, philosophies and need to add an Italian V12 to his stable

What was the last watch you bought?

I actually bought one of my own watches back, because I felt like I wanted to have it back ever since I delivered it. It was the original Minion, one of my first remontoire watches that I made a few years ago. While making that watch I was thinking this has to happen again at some point, but with a tourbillon in it.

I did that last year and the owner of the original wanted one with a tourbillon so badly he finally let me have the original. Funny thing is I wore it for a few weeks and then my brain came up with another watch I absolutely have to have, so this one went to a new home and I’m just waiting for an opening in my schedule to make another watch for myself. It works out great, as I enjoy the looking forward to and making part way more than the ownership anyway.

Ondrej Berkus Piece Unique

Do you collect anything outside of watches?

Cars maybe? I’m more of a hoarder than a collector though. I think I’m not alone in seeing the connection between cars and watches. After all, they’re both sophisticated mechanical machines and we tend to spend way more on the ones that give us an emotional response.

What I mean is you can check the time on your phone and drive an economical electric car, but there’s something special about having a tourbillon on your wrist or driving something loud and fast. Oh, and I don’t collect watches. As I mentioned, they only have meaning to me as puzzles needing to be solved, not as objects. Thank God for that cause I’d be broke. Or broker than I am anyway.

What’s at the top of your wishlist?

Ondrej Berkus Watchmaker

V12, preferably Italian. Wishlist is a wrong word to call the way I do things though. I’m stubborn as hell so when I decide I want something, I’m just gonna go and work on it until I get it. So, some day, I will have that V12, but there’s no rush. There are a few fun cars that I want to try before that ultimate version that will probably finish the buying of cars for me.

With the way the automotive industry and design is going, I’m doubtful anyone will actually make something that I’d lust after so much that I’d actually go and spend my money for it. I understand we need to take care of our planet, but the current development in automotive industry is not the answer with so many bigger issues far outweighing the impact cars have.

Ondrej Berkus Watchmaker
Ondrej Berkus Watch

What is a recent discovery?

I’ve recently realised through comments on Instagram or under the videos/articles I’m featured in that a lot of people call me a genius or talented. And I honestly don’t know how to feel about that, simply because that’s just not true. I’m glad people who haven’t met me get that impression (trust me, it passes when you meet me in person), but the only talent I have is my stubbornness.

I will mess with things until they work, but that’s about it. There’s no angel on my shoulder making me excellent at machining, filing, and God knows I suck at finishing. As for the genius part, trust me, there’s a watch, a movement or a process in the shop that makes me feel dumb as a bag of hammers every single day.

Ondrej Berkus Damascus Knife

Ondrej Markus also makes knives, rings and fountain pens

What inspires you?

Everything I see, on some subconscious level, I think. My design process works in a very weird way, where I’ll be doing some mundane thing (I joke about cleaning horse shit out of the barn being my best idea time) and a watch or a technical solution will pop up in my head just like that. Maybe I’m stubborn and lucky. So, it’s either subconscious inspiration or there’s something very wrong with my brain. I ain’t complaining though.

What is a book, podcast or album that changed the way you think?

Oh, this is such a cliché, but it’s Watchmaking by G.D (George Daniels). It’s written in a way that makes you feel like you can actually sit down at a bench with a watchmaker’s lathe and make a watch from scratch, which is wild if you think about it. Someone gathered enough experience to be able to write a book that enables a complete newbie to make a watch from scratch. The side effect of that is I’ve seen people use that process to give themselves some sort of a false handmade aura and then jump right into mass producing watches But we’re all a mixed bag, aren’t we? As for the album – as a kid who grew up on Queen and country music, Legion of Boom by The Crystal Method. I sometimes imagine how much different I’d turn out if I didn’t get that album when I was like 14.

Who is a celebrity of person of note that you admire?

I live pretty much under a rock so there aren’t many celebrities I know about, let alone admire. I do admire my dad though, because he just doesn’t give a f… I only aspire to reach his level of easy going one day.

Ondrej Berkus

What is your ideal long weekend?

Everyone out of the house so I can work all weekend with no interruptions. Especially if the weather is nice, I can sit at the bench and look at the horses outside when I lift my eyes off the microscope every once in a while. Or getting a text from my cousin to see if I wanna go for a drive somewhere twisty. That always works to cheer me up. Besides that though, I’m perfectly happy just going for a walk with my wife and our dogs. It takes very little to make me happy, I don’t need the fancy life all the time. It’s nice to get a glimpse every once in a while when I’m delivering a watch and my clients always treat me so nice, but then I’m so relieved to get back to my simple life back home.

What would we always find in your fridge?

Gin, tonic, and limes.

What is a rule or mantra that you live by?

Try, every day, to be better than you were yesterday.

What does the year ahead look like for you?

Pure insanity with the amount of work and road trips we have planned. We have nine watches to make this year, with six of them being tourbillons and a few trips planned that should be pretty crazy. We’re also starting to gear up and get some tests going to maybe start making videos for YouTube, so that’s a thing I’m excited about as well. We’ll see how that turns out as it is a bunch of extra work on top of the craziness the shop is at the moment, but we’ll try.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.