It is trendy to revive watch brands that have disappeared.
The reviver is either someone not related to the original owner who buys the brand name along with an accompanying archive, or it is the grandson or great-grandson of the original founder that seeks to continue the tradition. Oftentimes, though, it seems that interest in watchmaking sometimes skips a couple of generations, hence the gap. More often than not, when someone buys the name of a brand, it is because they have a particular affinity for this brand and its vintage catalog.
This is the case with Sherpa and Martin Klocke. The latter is a Swiss-born engineer who decided to revive Enicar, particularly its Sherpa line of watches. Martin didn’t want to merely recreate the look of yesteryear’s models, though. His objective was a far deeper one: recreating the original technologies that made certain models famous. It took years of research, but in the end, he was able to bring back to life pioneering technologies that made watches submersible at depths greater than a child's pool.
In this article, we will see how Martin and his team managed to resurrect a golden age of horological ingenuity and engineering in watches that are (by pretty much anyone’s standards) robust and eye-catching tool watches.
Martin Klocke, Founder & CEO of Sherpa Watches
It's About Watches, Not Martin
During the interview, Martin didn’t share much about himself because what is important is the watches. Before we go deep into the secrets of his success, we do nonetheless need to talk a bit about Martin and what it was that pushed him to go to extreme lengths to recreate Sherpa.
As we already know, Martin was born in Switzerland and is an engineer. Martin also subscribes to the Buddhist faith, and knowing a couple of things about that faith tradition, I can already create a parallel between his spirituality and Sherpa.
What on earth am I talking about? Well, anyone who follows a particular religious school of thought acquires a sense of direction and an understanding that being patient bears fruit. After all, following religious precepts creates discipline and a general sense of curiosity about an array of topics that range from the creation of the world to the particular meaning of certain practices and the observance of rituals and traditions. We delve deep into the meaning and origin of such things, and we get to the bottom of them.
A mantra laser-engraved on the wheel
It is a broad discipline that touches upon many subject matters, and I would argue that anyone who studies a religion is in it for the long run, which tends to influence our personality in broader, more general ways. The process of studying a religion for years is equal to the work, then, that goes into trying to bring back a brand over the course of years.
To go from buying the name of a brand and acquiring archival documents of a defunct brand to bringing back old case manufacturing techniques requires effort and time, and in this, Martin is well-equipped for the task. In addition to being an engineer, he is a detective. He had to dig deep into articles, research into museum archives, and pull out his exceptional analytical skills to connect dots that no one else could have connected together before. By all appearances, Martin wasn’t concerned about costs, meaning that his goal was not to make a cheap recreation of old Sherpa watches but instead to make them as good if not better than the original ones.
A Golden Age of Watchmaking
Martin was particularly interested in the Sherpa line of watches from Enicar, which started in the 1950s. The brand sponsored a team of Swiss alpinists who climbed Mount Everest. That’s when Enicar started developing ultra-robust watches in a collection called Sherpa that, over the years, became almost a sub-brand. Although Enicar was already making tool watches, the Sherpa line was their ultimate exploration and adventure timepiece. This is when the Sherpa Ultradive was born, for example.
Since Sherpa watches came in many shapes and forms, one can assume that Martin would later develop other models (I don’t have any particular information on this, unfortunately). Why Martin started with the OPS and Ultradive I also don’t know. What I do know for a fact is that he set off to recreate not only the look of these watches but the technology that made them robust, focusing on two elements of watch design that we will highlight below: the case and crown construction.
Knowing how saturated the watch market is, Martin thought that it would only be worth it to recreate Sherpa by making exceptionally well-made timepieces. He also makes them special and unique, both in the way they are manufactured and the way in which they exude a unique personality (I’m referring here to the mantra engraved on two wheels of the movement).
Before we get any further, I would say that Sherpa watches indeed retail for more than many of us can afford to spend on a watch ($6,170 for the Ultradive and $6,280 for the OPS). There is a good reason for this high price tag, though.
New Old Watches
There is no shortage of super compressor-style watches on the independent watch market. Creating a dive watch with an inner rotating bezel and two crowns is trendy because this type of watch looks cool. Although very few brands today make super compressor watches that more or less function like the original ones created by EPSA, Martin’s Sherpa watches use the same technology of fabrication as the one used in the old Enicar bayonet super compressor watches.
When I say the same, I really mean the same. EPSA came up with the technology for the super compressor case, and Sherpa recreated the machinery.
EPSA (the full name is Ervin Piquerez SA) set out to create water-resistant watches that functioned better than what was made at the time (the early 1950s). Although dive watches of that period had screw-down crowns, bezels, and gaskets, the materials used did not perform well in the long run. A simple thing like a gasket to seal the caseback was not made the same way as it is today, which explains why brands no longer make super compressor watches (why bother continuing to make something if newer technologies yield the same results for less cost and with greater simplicity?).
The principle of super compressor watches is simple. Traditional dive watches had casebacks that were screwed down tight all the time, wearing down the gasket in the long run. EPSA cases are made such that the deeper someone goes, the more pressure is applied on the caseback and the gasket, maintaining the seal. In a nutshell, this is made possible by using spring-loaded screws or rings that push the caseback inward the deeper the watch goes. The caseback is effectively not screwed in like it is the case nowadays. The technology was such that dive watches of that time tended to be thinner than modern dive watches, which is why many were marketed as “skin divers” (as their name indicates, “skin divers” were meant to be worn on the skin and not over a wetsuit; consequently, they were meant to be used while swimming and recreational diving up to 40 meters deep, not deep commercial diving).
Again, this technique had been invented to make it possible for the watch to become more water-resistant the deeper one goes. What I just wrote above is by no means a detailed technical explanation of how it works. What’s more interesting about Martin’s work is that these types of cases stopped being produced several decades ago. What Martin did was to scour the landscape for patents for the EPSA cases that had become available to the broader public since EPSA closed its doors in the 1980s. Martin was therefore able to recreate super compressor cases using EPSA technical drawings, making his watches the most legitimate super compressor divers on the market.
The other unique component of Sherpa watches is the Monoflex crowns. While dive watches normally use screw-down crowns, Enicar used to equip its watches with Monoflex crowns that are of the push/pull variety. This means that Sherpa uses the same crowns on the OPS and Ultradive. Just as EPSA stopped making their super compressor cases, the makers of the Monoflex crown ceased to produce them as well. Martin was set on bringing back this technology for his watches. What followed was an Indiana Jones-like quest to find this lost tech.
Martin’s idea was that he would find the drawings for the crowns and have them manufactured to his specifications so that he could assemble them himself (he is an engineer, after all). When researching how to make the EPSA cases, he came across partial patents for the Monoflex crowns. The previous head of EPSA released his personal documents that included a report written by his daughter that described how the crowns were made, and get this: she produced this report as part of her duties as a mere intern (I remember how, during my high school days, I worked one week at my dad’s office and boy, my report wasn’t anywhere near as thorough).
Among the mountain of old papers, Martin found a drawing of the crown and at the bottom of the page the indication of the name of the company that made it, as well as a reference number. He contacted the company and met with them, bringing along the drawing. The company presented him with three more detailed drawings that they had found in their archive, nothing else. They didn’t intend to make the crown again, so they gave the drawings to Martin. The latter then found a way to create the tools necessary to make the crowns again.
Conclusion: A Worthy Endeavor
We live in a world in which people want more for less. More quality for a smaller price tag. More quantities of stuff without compromising quality. Faster deliveries for cheaper.
We act the same way when we shop for a watch. We want the best finish and best technology while spending as little as possible. That’s why many people criticize Rolex for selling their watches for several thousands of dollars as if it was not justified. A lot goes into making a quality product, though, which explains why superior watches tend to cost more.
Personally, I always strive to find a happy middle ground. I like quality and originality, but I feel more comfortable spending no more than 1,000 EUR on a new watch. That’s just me. So when I first heard of Sherpa and saw that their watches retail for over $6,000, I asked myself: why do they cost that much? Is it because “Made in Germany” is painted on the dial? Is it because of the Mantramatic movement, which is in fact a Sellita caliber with mantras laser-engraved on it? What justifies the high price tag?
I’m glad I got to talk to Martin, although it didn’t seem like I spent enough time with him. Thanks to this conversation and to the fact that he and his team put together a very detailed website, I got to understand why his watches cost so much. Although Martin could have made equally capable watches for half the price, he was determined to bring back a particular era of watchmaking that resonates with him in unique ways. He was after a certain way of seeing and making watches that while now long gone has left an undeniable mark on contemporary watchmaking. Furthermore, Martin not only gets his watches assembled in Germany, they are 100 percent made with German parts. This in itself can easily justify the higher-than-normal price tag.
As someone who studied archaeology, I see Martin’s work as an exercise in what is known as “archeometry.” In other words, the practice of reverse engineering objects that humans used to make and that were both exceptional and impactful. Martin did not have to create Sherpa and bring back to life the EPSA super compressor case and the Monoflex crown, but by doing so, he helped preserve the legacy from a few manufacturers that did great work during a very special time in watchmaking. What they created has had a profound impact on how tool watches are made today. Now, we can experience it in the watches we wear today.
Thanks for reading.