Serica founder Jérôme Burgert is many things—a businessman, a marketer, a designer, a watch collector, a writer—but first and foremost, he is an amazing storyteller. His office in Paris is full of newspaper stories displayed in glass cases hanging on the walls, Serica watches, leather straps, vintage-style posters, and fashionable clothes. When you meet him, Jérôme welcomes you into his world with an energetic handshake and a warm smile, invites you to sit down on a comfortable chair, and offers you a cup of coffee. He knows how to set the stage for a good story.
The best stories Jérôme tells are about watches, and the watches he creates are the best vehicles for these stories. Both the 4512 and 5303 models tell stories of exploration, adventure, technical advances, and style. His watches invite you to partake in a new narrative about yourself by way of conveying important facts about their creator. To Jérôme, the most powerful aspect of a watch is that it brings you closer to the person you wish to be, and that much is clear when you look at a Serica watch and the man behind it.
Convention requires that good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jérôme’s story should logically start at the beginning when he first got his hands on a watch, then, but it starts at the midpoint when he was in his late 20s. At that time, the idea of creating a watch company had already been maturing in his mind for a few years while he was working as an editor for the French online watch magazine Les Rhabilleurs.
You don’t become a watchmaker overnight. It is, in fact, best to think of the process it took for Jérôme to create Serica as the process you would have to take to become a chef. You first need to learn how to cook, and that requires months, if not years, of grunt work in the kitchen, learning to cut vegetables and cook meats and graduating from one type of food to another very slowly. Over time, an apprentice chef learns to put together dishes, marrying ingredients with one another to create something unique that makes the new cook stand apart from others. After years of repetition and experimentation, a chef is born.
As Robert Green explains in his book Mastery, the process of becoming a master at anything takes about 10,000 hours of practice (roughly 10 years). You only become a master once using the tools or the processes required to do what you set out to do become second nature, even innate. A true chef no longer needs to wonder which ingredients work well together. A chef just knows. A movie director doesn’t need to figure out how to generate emotions using certain camera angles. The master movie director just knows instinctively what works and what doesn’t. Similarly, when you look at a Serica watch or step into Jérôme’s Paris office, you see the result of more than 10 years of practice.
Jérôme developed the skills and creative mind for launching a watch company through a truly diverse set of work experiences, some of which had nothing to do with horology. He was a marketer for Panasonic, which taught him how to tell stories effectively. He sold bespoke suits working alongside master tailors who taught him to imagine how the proportions of a particular suit would fit a particular body, and how to gauge the proportions of an object overall. He also bartended at Basel World, became an editor at Les Rhabilleurs, then became a product designer for Joseph Bonnie, an offshoot company of LR that sells watch straps and bracelets.
Working at Les Rhabilleurs helped Jérôme accumulate extensive knowledge of brands, the various types of watches, and the mechanical and engineering aspects of watchmaking. His eyes were being trained to comprehend and internalize effective design principles by studying the work of the great masters of horology, subconsciously creating a registry of iconic and effective hand design, case proportions, and dial colors. Like the cook who learns the specifics of each ingredient and how to pair them, Jérôme learned what constitutes good design and the ingredients that go into making an iconic watch. Furthermore, as a byproduct of covering the watch industry as a journalist, he broadened his network in the world of watches, which came in handy when it came to create Serica.
Serica 4512 Mark II, California Dial
The Creative Process
Everything about Jérôme’s work is a mix of deliberate purposefulness, passion, and relentlessness. The name Serica, for example, is not a random combination of letters that sounded good. It was actually the name of the easternmost country in Asia as it was then known to Ancient Greek and Roman geographers. Believed to be what is now North China, Serica was a remote place accessible only by the overland Silk Road, and Jérôme came across it one day while poring over old geographical maps that he had found in Austria. To him, Serica became synonymous with exploring far-flung places and serious adventure, making it a fitting name for Jérôme’s company.
So, what was the first step to creating Serica? Jérôme began by collecting an enormous amount of information about watches over a period of 15 years as he worked in the field. Like a scientist preparing for a polar expedition who studies the topography and weather patterns, and then assembles gear that will increase his odds of survival, Jérôme relentlessly studied all aspects of watches: what makes a watch readable and good-looking on any wrist, as well as what would keep it in fashion with the passage of time and help it survive the natural evolution of our tastes in watches. By 2019, he was at work on his first model. His first list of specifications required that each of his watches be waterproof, readable in all lighting conditions, sturdy, and innovatively designed. Once the list was completed, Jérôme moved on to translating his ideas about specifications to the drawing board.
Jérôme is not an industrial designer, but being a self-made man, he taught himself to use design software to create the drawings of that first model. He might not have gotten it right at first, but he persevered and eventually figured things out. This is pretty impressive when you consider how things used to work in the days where expertise in a domain was acquired through a repetition of exercises given by a master in that field, not sitting at a desk in a classroom. Jérôme applied himself to revising and fine-tuning the drawings until they felt right, that is, until all aspects of the design were balanced and harmonious. Design, as he sees it, solves issues, and the more he went back to the drawing board, the closer he got to perfection.
Over time, he developed a work flow that has proven successful time and again over the lifetime of Serica. During the design phase, for instance, Jérôme would tap into what he called “watch culture.” By this he meant being aware and consciously guarding his designs from getting too close to something that already exists. Having seen so many watches, certain designs stick in his mind, so with such a vast mental catalog of design elements, he would have to mull through a vast amount of remembered design elements in his mind to find the right formula. He described this process as weaving through his ideas and experiences until he finds the right balance so that everything can come into place, just like an apprentice painter who at first paints like the masters from whom he learned, but then develops his own style the more he paints.
When he finishes initial design sketches, Jérôme then partners with an industrial designer to transpose his drawings into technical drawings that he can present to the factories. The two of them work on several revisions, again making sure that everything comes together perfectly. Jérôme seeks to find a design that evokes that deep, visceral emotion indicating that things have come into place, an unquantifiable, unmeasurable gut feeling that he has learned to recognize after years of practice listening to himself. Once the final drawings are done, he goes shopping for factories that can produce his watch components. This is an important step in which he will start looking at all of the components that will go into the watch, starting with the movement, from which the dimensions of the case are determined.
Serica 4512 Mark II
After about a year, Jérôme puts on the hat of producer and director. He looks for the factories that will produce each part of the watch, a process that takes time and that can sometimes be frustrating. He finds the case manufacturer, the hands manufacturer, the bracelet manufacturer, the movement manufacturer, and finally finds the company that will assemble the watches. Jérôme actually explained that he felt like a movie director who has to keep an eye on the final product while hiring and managing the technicians and actors that will help produce the watches.
Then begins a long, long waiting game. The first prototype usually doesn’t come out of the assembly line until about six months have passed. Jérôme thoroughly analyzes each part of the prototype and fine-tunes the details, also a long, hard process because things don’t always come out the way he expected. Maybe, for instance, the dimensions of the case don’t feel as expected when worn on the wrist, or perhaps the dial color doesn’t match his specifications. In cases like this, the entire process has to start all over again.
At last, production starts once the prototype has been finalized. Jérôme mentioned that it takes about six to eight months to produce 500 watches. All parts are now made and shipped to the assembler, who then sends the assembled watches to Jérôme (or he goes and picks them up in Switzerland). Jérôme personally runs a last quality control check on all watches and mounts the bracelets. Last but not least, Jérôme creates his own assembly line in his office to package and ship the watches, actually involving himself in every single step of the process.
He does not consider the work done, though, until the watch safely arrives in the hands of the customer about two years after he started working on it. This can be a frustrating moment in the process, because shipping watches is out of his control. Not all watches arrive safely or on time, so Jérôme has to keep watch until all of them are in the hands of their new owner. During our interview, in fact, Jérôme excused himself twice to respond to email inquiries from buyers who were having trouble with customs. He wouldn’t return to the interview until the customer had received a full response and the problem was taken care of.
Serica 5303 Black Dial
His Horological Ethos
I asked Jérôme at one point what he liked the most about running Serica. The best part of the job, he said, was seeing a customer smile broadly when first putting on a Serica watch. A watch should make you smile, he said, not only when you open the box but also when you strap it on your wrist, and even more so each time you look down at it to tell the time. A watch has no other role than making you smile, and if he could, Jérôme would travel the world to hand deliver his watches to the customer to get that extra smile, something that is more possible now that he has a brick-and-mortar shop in Paris.
Why is this an important part of running Serica? Well, the smile of a happy customer is a sign that Jérôme has found like-minded people who have been in search of a timepiece that will enable them to become that adventurous, explorer version of themselves, a true, flesh-and-blood James Bond.
When Jérôme made the decision to create Serica and began sketching the first model, an image kept appearing in his mind. At first, the image was blurry, one that flickered like a broken neon sign in a dark hallway. He decided to nurture this incomplete image and over time let it grow in his imagination into a gut feeling that he could tune into time and again until it eventually formed itself into something more well-defined. What he started to see when the image came more sharply into focus was a different version of himself, an explorer in a faraway country climbing Mount Everest that comes back down to join a black-tie dinner soiree at a fancy hotel.
Most importantly, the watch strapped to his wrist in the vision was one that he hadn’t seen before, a watch that would be equally at home 29,000 feet (8,849 meters) above ground as it would be among the highest circles of society.
Serica 5303 White Dial
This other version of Jérôme needed a different kind of time-keeping device than what he had been wearing for the past few years. Such a person doesn’t wear a Seiko or a Tag Heuer, but instead something more like the kind of watch you might see on the wrist of Edmund Hillary or Sean Connery. It has to be the type of watch that flies under the radar on most occasions but in the right environment makes people do a double-take, a watch about which you shouldn’t have to ask questions like “Can I swim with it?” or “Will it look good with a tuxedo?” It should be a watch that forever eliminates the eternal question that nags all watch collectors: “Which one should I wear today?” The new Jérôme, the one climbing Mount Everest and wrestling international criminals on a snow machine, needed a watch that can be knocked over, drowned, dipped in snow, hot, cold, worn with jeans and a T-shirt or a bespoke three-piece suit.
Jérôme wasn’t able to create that first watch out of thin air though, as we saw above. It is clear, though, that he was driven by a particular sense of adventure to purpose-driven designs for watches that work in all environments, can withstand harsh treatments, and look good in any situation. Even still, there is more to a watch than its ability to help us transcend our everyday selves. For Jérôme, a watch also means something very personal.
What Watches Mean
As with many watch collectors, wearing a watch means something particular to Jérôme. On the one hand, a watch is an object that he carefully selects, just like he does the clothes he wears and the things he does every day. Think of how carefully your father picks out a tie for work or how delicately your mother applies makeup in the morning. For someone like Jérôme, the watch must match what he plans to do and the kind of mindset he wants to inhabit that day. As Jérôme so aptly puts it, the most powerful aspect of a watch is that it brings you closer to the person you wish to be.
On the other hand, a watch is an object that gains emotional value each time he wears it. It is present with him as he goes through his life experiences, both good and bad, planned events and unforeseen incidents. As a watch gains more emotional value, so does his connection to it, just like you would with a good pair of leather boots in which you’ve walked halfway across the world. It just looks cooler and feels more comfortable the more you wear it. A watch, in other words, is like a good pair of shoes or an old car: it bears the scars and scratches of everyday life adventures and becomes more special for it.
A watch is also an object that connects Jérôme to the people who are the closest to him. He gifted his first serious watch, a Seiko SDBX001 (see below), to his brother when the latter became a father and then gifted him a 5303, his own watch, for the birth of his second child. Since the two men live on different continents, watches are one of the ways in which the two stay connected, as they each go through new experiences each day, adventures to which their watches bear witness. When they meet, they can in a way compare the twists and turns that their lives have taken since they last met by looking at the condition of their watches.
Watches, then, are objects that get Jérôme settled in his own shoes and connect him to the people around him. If you look at Serica’s collections and read about them, you will see that he puts a lot of himself in their design for that reason.
Creating a watch is a process that requires commitment and the patience to go forward one step at a time until everything falls into place. As we saw, Jérôme pays great attention to each detail of each step. Given the fact that it takes roughly two years to make a watch—from the first sketch to the final product shipped to the customer—it is no question that we watch enthusiasts owe Jérôme and all creators of watch brands a lot of respect for the work they do.
Jérôme said that he is driven by the pleasure he gets seeing other people enjoy his watches, and, he said laughingly, since he gets a selfish pleasure wearing his own watches, he needs to ensure that they’re of the best quality! He’s generous and passionate about what he does, and I believe it shows. If he could, Jérôme would travel the world to hand deliver each watch and strike a conversation with the new owner of a Serica timepiece. If you live in or around Paris or find yourself in the City of Lights one day, make an appointment with Jérôme. He will welcome you with that big, warm smile, the same one he hopes you will have when you put on a Serica watch and listen to Jérôme tell you his story.
Thank you for reading.