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The silver bow shimmers nobly under the light. The pattern of the dial is called “barley” and reminds me of accurately placed corn kernels, it appears almost organic, as fine and symmetrical as it is.
Then, under the small second above 6 o’clock, it reveals everything – the view of the hand-engraved and -skeletonized movement is breathtakingly beautiful. The meshing of the fine gears is fascinating and almost frighteningly perfect. I hold a true masterpiece in my hands and can hardly stop being amazed. The watch is a Benzinger, a “Frosted Barley”, to be more precise. My story today is about an extraordinary watchmaker who uses an almost forgotten craftsmanship to create very special unique pieces by hand and has thus become famous in the watch industry. Above all, my review is about the “Frosted Barley”.
When I was able to take a closer look at Jochen Benzinger’s approach of making a watch for the first time, I was deeply impressed. The successful watchmaker works with historical tools that I have never seen before. Benzinger revives the almost forgotten craft of guilloché work by making his unique and artful watches. Guilloché is actually a special form of engraving in which, however, the workpiece turns. The necessary machines are hardly available today, the historical ones are difficult to find and guilloched jewellery has gone out of fashion. Jochen Benzinger’s watches, however, including the “Frosted Barley”, are absolutely in fashion and actually timeless.
The Frosted Barley in detail
The “Frosted Barley” has a design that is undoubtedly without equal. And although the dial is perfectly legible, the watch somehow seems to have fallen out of time, which does not mean the watch is old-fashioned or antiquated. It’s just so different from everything I’ve seen so far (which should be taken as a compliment, by the way). Even after I have worn the watch for several days and probably spent several hours admiring the various details, I am still fascinated. So fascinated indeed that I take it off frequently, turn it around, gaze at the skeletonized case back, then put it back on again and stare at the barley pattern.
A dial to fall in love with
The first impression you get, usually is determined by a dial, in case of the “Frosted Barley” by an extremely beautiful one. The barley pattern literally catches your eye… If you look at it for longer, it actually seems to turn in some strange way. The pattern with the optical illusion is caused by the special process of engine turning, which offers an almost infinite variety of possibilities in design. Here, the creativity of the master is especially needed. When selecting his materials, Benzinger always goes for the best. The dial is made of sterling silver. The “Breguet frost” which is typical for Benzinger appears slightly creamy, and cool at the same time. That gives the “Frosted Barley” a very high-quality and elegant design.
A silver arc, interrupted at 6 o’clock by the circular breakthrough of the small second, provides space for the main markings. However, these are not numbers but black dots. They fit seamlessly into the organic, very geometric design of the watch and are somehow unobtrusive. The dots for the hour markings are slightly bigger than the rest. The silver arch itself is framed by a different pattern, the so called final Breguet thread that follows the course of the arch and emphasizes it even more. So does the barley pattern outside the arc.
The two delicate hands stand out from the center of the dial, where the pattern is so incredibly small that you would never think this is the work of a hand-operated, purely mechanical machine and one man. They have a slightly convex shape and are pierced by a circular hole. These are Breguet steel hands that were flame-blued. At 12 o’clock, you will find the only letters on the upper side. The name “Benzinger” is engraved in a kind of silver plaque.
Let’s move on to that part of the dial that impressively demonstrates what Jochen Benzinger is also known for: skeletonizing. A circular breakthrough at 6 o’clock reveals the hand-wound movement with small gears and other elements. Everything here is hand-engraved, skeletonized and guillochéd. The barley pattern runs consistently through the entire design of the dial. On top is the hand for the small second. A continuous, smaller silver arc with dot markings successfully completes the breakthrough.
My assessment so far: I like the dial with its sophisticated design and the many details incredibly well. Nothing is left to chance, everything is handmade and designed only for the “Frosted Barley” model. I don’t think we need to talk about the work process any longer because it absolutely is, as you would expect, on the highest level.
A movement to admire
Inside the watch beats a German-Swiss heart. The movement is actually a Swiss ETA 6498 hand-wound movement – actually, because after Jochen Benzinger’s refinement through the art of skeletonizing, not much remains of it.
ne seeing the watch for the first time and admiring the breakthrough of the dial to grant a view to the skeletonized movement, will absolutely love the case back. Most skeleton watches only have a small, semi-circular window in the case back. Benzinger’s “Frosted Barley” looks different. The complete case back is covered by a sapphire crystal and thus reveals a breathtaking view onto the movement, which in my case is almost completely skeletonized. Some elements like gears are black and so stand out a bit.
The main plate is coated with black PVD and hand-guilloched. Again, the guilloched barley pattern is noticeable in the whole design. All visible screws are flame-blued. Red bearing jewels complete the attractive design.
The rim belongs to the stainless steel case. Engraved in cursive script and German language are the terms “hand-engraved”, “hand-guilloched”, “hand-skeletonized”, “Benzinger” and “unique”. If you look at the transparent case back with the skeletonized movement, you will maybe get an idea of how many working hours are spent on the watch. Even though the “Frosted Barley” is a serial model, the customer has many possibilities to add his own ideas to the design of the watch. He can decide whether the movement should look more floral or rather technical.
A case with values
The case is made of stainless steel and is manufactured in Pforzheim, Germany, which goes for all Benzinger watches. All in all, especially compared to the dial and case back, it is kept quite minimalistic and yet solid. The case back is screwed in place with a circular thread. The diameter is 42 millimeters, which is quite a lot for my wrist, but nevertheless nicely fits with this watch. I think the proportions are very well chosen.
In respect of the bezel the customer once more has the choice. My screwed-in bezel is smooth, but can also be fluted if desired. The crown is of sufficient size, being flat on the top, but checkered on the sides.
Benzinger uses scratch-resistant and robust sapphire crystal on both the front and the back. The sapphire crystal represents the high-level material selection – nothing was too good for it. Also the finish of the case is flawless.
An accomplished watch is rounded off by a nice bracelet
Having just praised the materials – what about a strap made of alligator leather? No problem! And hand-sewed, of course. What else? The strap has a folding clasp and screwed-in lugs. Its wearing comfort corresponds with a watch of this class.
My final conclusion
The Benzinger “Frosted Barley” is a typical and – at the same time – very special watch. How comes? Typical for a Benzinger watch because it represents everything that stands for Jochen Benzinger’s successful manufactury. It is completely built by hand and only made of high quality components. It impressively demonstrates how an old craft like engine-turning results in creative and artistic watches. The perfect skeletonizing pushes its design to the highest limit. And it offers every customer the opportunity to own a unique timepiece because his ideas and wishes will be taken into account.
For most of us, however, the “Frosted Barley” is an extraordinary, special watch. It starts with the design – an absolutely unique feature. Although the watches are one-of-a-kind, they combine the typical Benzinger design that I have come to appreciate and love so much.
The small watch manufactory of Jochen Benzinger is not only successful because of the typical design or the high quality. One reason that has made the brand known and popular is that Benzinger watches are handmade products. The trend towards more tradition, old values and historical craftsmanship is clearly visible. This is also due to the fast moving digital world. The watches are more than just pieces of jewelry. They transport the old values. They don’t really want to fit into today’s world, they don’t want to chase any new innovation trends. Older generations are given memories of the past, younger people find security, timelessness and individuality. Benzinger watches are anything but a mass product. They reflect who the wearer is and how he wants to be.
This is what triggers the fascination in us about Benzinger watches and leaves us like children marveling in front of a shop window full of toys. The watch just won’t let us go anymore…
The “Frosted Barley” is available from about 8200€. If you are interested in Jochen Benzinger, the story behind his unique watches and old craftsmanship, you should definitely read our interview.