FounderMaîtres du Temps
A longtime fixture in the watch business, Steven Holtzman has turned a lifelong passion into a career in luxury timepieces. His newest venture was creating his own watch brand, Maîtres du Temps. Recently Holtzman took the time to fill in Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan on how he brought together three masters of the watch business and what’s happening in his world.
ET: Can you tell us how you got involved in watchmaking and give us a brief overview of your career?
Steven Holtzman: After college I worked in our family-owned watch-distribution business. That gave me valuable experience and the confidence to launch my own business, which was (and to a lesser extent still is) distributing Swiss watch brands throughout the Americas and Asia. I developed quite a few innovative marketing and distribution methods and took a very hands-on, pro-active approach. After successfully building up the distribution networks of many other watch brands, I decided that it was time to do it for myself.
ET: Why are you so passionate about watches, and from what age did watches interest you?
Steven Holtzman: While I was growing up, watches were always more to me than simply instruments to tell the time—they were also a way of self-expression. I have collected watches since I was a young boy and clearly remember my first watch, a Howdy Doody wristwatch with moveable eyes and a red strap. I then became fascinated with watches and have strived to learn more about the fundamental nature of time and to appreciate the art and craft that goes into great timepieces. My enthusiasm and love of watches led me to where I am now with Maîtres du Temps.
ET: You say your new venture Maîtres du Temps “is not so much a new watch company as an entirely new horological concept.” Can you explain?
Steven Holtzman: Maîtres du Temps provides a platform and a blank canvas for small teams of master watchmakers to create superlative horological art. The brand does not make watches &mdash master watchmakers do. The concept is built on celebrating these independent watchmakers and preserving their craft. We do this by encouraging them to share their ideas and techniques in the course of creating exceptional timepieces. My plan is for Maîtres du Temps to be actively involved in passing the craft and skills of more experienced master watchmakers to the next generation of masters. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the watchmakers we are working with are the Michelangelos and Leonardo de Vincis of watchmaking, yet they are virtually unknown outside the exclusive world of sophisticated watch collectors.
ET: Can you tell us how the concept of Maîtres du Temps was originated and track us through its development?
Steven Holtzman: When I decided to create my own brand, I had two choices: I could either do what everyone else was doing, or I could do something different, something special. I chose the latter. I wanted Maîtres du Temps to stand for excellence and, as I am not a watchmaker, I knew that I had to work with great watchmakers. I was very fortunate in having a long relationship with two great master watchmakers, Roger Dubuis and Christophe Claret, and I met another in Peter Speake-Marin. As we began working together on our first project, Chapter One, I quickly realized what a powerful force having these great men working together was. They each brought their own special talent and passion to the enterprise, and I knew that this was something precious and vital to encourage and continue with Maîtres du Temps. We now have a number of projects underway, and I am happy to say that the concept is working even better than I’d hoped for. We have teams of truly exceptional watchmakers developing truly exceptional timepieces.
ET: Can you describe the contributions of Mssrs. Claret, Dubuis, and Speak-Marin, how responsibilities are divided, and if there are any challenges of having too many “all-star”?
Steven Holtzman: All three masters have expert knowledge, strong opinions, and considerable experience to draw from. Like master chefs choosing which seasoning to put on the main course to bring out the best flavor, the master watchmakers worked the same way to develop a watch. Their different skill sets led them to take different responsibilities. Christophe Claret concentrated on the manufacture of Chapter One, and he was responsible for finding solutions to the many technical challenges. He made the components in his state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities and is responsible for the final assembly and testing. Roger Dubuis has been involved in the project from the very beginning. By drawing from his lifetime of experience in watchmaking, he has influenced many elements of the design and provided valuable advice and recommendations. Peter Speake-Marin’s role in Chapter One was multi-faceted. He was responsible for bringing the different elements and people in the project together and managing the complex design and development of Chapter One. In different ways, each master brought incredible value to the project. There were challenges along the way, but they were overcome and minimized by having the right combination of complementary talents.
ET: As the field gets more crowded, is it possible to be successful in the watch industry today with a new entrant?
Steven Holtzman: I believe the more crowded the watch industry becomes, the more opportunities are available for those meeting the challenge of offering something new. The luxury watch consumer is now very well educated and much more demanding than in the past. If you want to succeed with a new timepiece, it has to be superb; nothing less will do. Watch connoisseurs appreciate more and more the intricacies of what makes a watch great. Artistic influences, traditional craft, and technical innovations all play an important role in providing potential clients what they are looking for, and that’s what you have to do to be successful.
ET: What are some of the lessons from your past experience you are applying to make Maîtres du Temps successful, and what things, if any, did you do in the past that you won’t do this time?
Steven Holtzman: I learned that the quality of your after-sales service is monumental in building a lasting relationship with clients. It is one of the most important things we have to do to earn a good reputation. This is something I have learnt by doing, and I strive to always offer exceptional service. As for past mistakes, I have no real regrets or misgivings. Maîtres du Temps is the realization of my dream and a culmination of decades of experience.
ET: Aside from work, do you have any hobbies?
Steven Holtzman: One of my hobbies is travel. When I travel, I enjoy studying and experiencing many different styles of architecture, from modernist and iconic to the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I recently married, and my wife and I have enjoyed occupying our ocean home, which is an excellent example of natural organic architecture by the world-renowned architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg. One of the benefits of traveling a lot is that it increases my appreciation for the diversity of superb architecture found all over the world.
ET: Do you like to travel for pleasure, and if so, tell us about two or three of your favorite places to go or activities for vacation.
Steven Holtzman: I enjoy traveling for pleasure very much; sometimes I search for adventure, sometimes peace and quiet. Scuba diving is one of my favorite vacation activities. While diving in the remote waters of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I realized that I had the opportunity to see something no one else has ever seen before because it is so vast and always changing. I also have a fondness for traveling in Asia and Southeast Asia. Traveling, whether through serene countryside or visiting sacred temples, always inspires and revitalizes me.
ET: Do you have any favorite hotels or resorts?
Steven Holtzman: I travel extensively for both business and pleasure. I am a big fan of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and the Peninsula proprieties. When traveling for business, I always enjoy my stay at Wynn Las Vegas and Macau. Some of the new six-star hotels in Asia offer a level of service unmatched in other parts of the world.
ET: Do you ever travel by private jet, and if so, what is your impression of the experience?
Steven Holtzman: Yes, I have traveled by private jet, but not as often as I would like to! It is fantastic to be able to leave on a whim or decide your own agenda. With so many people traveling these days, chartering a flight can be much more efficient and can save valuable time. As I have said before, time is precious, and we never have enough, so to save time and be able to choose our own schedule is a great advantage.
ET: If you were not in the watch industry, what would you have done as a career?
Steven Holtzman: When starting out on my career path, I was first interested in the hotel and restaurant business. I thought it would be exciting to be involved in management in either the food and beverage or travel industries. Striving to provide a special experience and offering exceptional service to people is a very rewarding career, and I am very fortunate that I have the opportunity to do both with Maîtres du Temps.