Its landscape is rugged with dramatic scenery that will take your breath away. From its lava caves, hot springs and geysers below, to its volcanoes, waterfalls and glaciers above, Iceland is more than the land of fire and ice. It’s where time begins.
Just ask master watchmaker Gilbert O. Gudjonsson (aka Gilbertson). He’s been repairing, designing and crafting watches in his 200 square foot shop in the capital of Reykjavik for more than 50 years.
You might miss the small shop on Reykjavik’s Laugavegur Street if you’re not looking. While window-shopping on the main drag, as I passed by, I caught a glimpse of a watch with a crimson face sitting in the window display of the JS Watch Company. I couldn’t resist stepping into this quaint shop. The watch drew me in.
Once inside I sensed a special place…one where time seems to stand still. The left wall dons photographs of the celebrities who have purchased watches from Gilbertson—from movie stars to rock stars, and political figures…even the Dalai Lama.
As I walked in to inquire about the crimson-faced watch, a man with a loupe (a single magnifying glass) over one eye greets me. I knew that I had stumbled upon something amazing. Gilbertson was so friendly and entertaining. He took the time to tell me about the watchmaking process and he told stories about the photographs and the stars who visited his shop.
He pointed to the photo of the Dalai Lama, whom Gilbertson reveals is a huge fan and collector of watches.
Then he pointed to a photo with actor Tom Cruise. Cruise bought one of Gilberston’s most expensive watches for his 50th birthday. The cost? $500,000. Giblertson’s watches sell for $2,500 to $500,000 (1.8 million króna.)
He says Cruise was so thrilled with his watch that he wrote Gilbertson a handwritten thank you letter.
“He didn’t have to do that, but he did and that just shows me what kind of thoughtful person he is,” Gilbertson says. “For him to take the time to sit down and hand write a letter to a small businessman like me says a lot.”
Gilbertson had created just over 2,500 timepieces in 10 years when I visited. He started out at a young age repairing watches and clocks before he discovered his passion for watchmaking.
“I don’t produce a lot of watches like Rolex does, although the quality of my watches are just as good or better,” says Gilbertson. “I make each one by hand and take my time. A lot of passion and personal care goes into each watch. I love what I’m doing,” he adds with passion.
Gilbertson went on to tell me that he gets the parts for building his time-pieces from Sweden and Germany. “They make the best there is,” according to Gilbertson. For the intricate detail on the bodies and bezels of the watches, he sends them to a custom engraver in New Zealand. When the watch is sent back, he then assembles all the intricate pieces together in his small shop.
“Each watch is designed here, tested, assembled and tested again,” says Gilbertson.
When you see the intricate detail in each timepiece you understand that this watchmaker has a passion for a centuries-old profession. From the intricate hand carvings representing the Viking culture of Iceland to the faces made of volcanic ash from the 2011 eruption, the details are sights to behold.
His watches are worn by some of the most famous people from around the world from the Dalai Lama and Tom Cruise as we mentioned. Then there’s Jude Law, Katie Couric, Quentin Tarantino and Ian Anderson of the Jethro Tull band, who, by-the-way, gave Gilbertson a flute from his personal collection.
“A friend told me I could sell the flute on e-Bay for a million dollars, but I said no way, I’m keeping it in my family.”
Speaking of family, his son is responsible for the marketing and promotion of the business to include writing copy and designing the ads that appear in some high-end publications as well as on their website. He also helps design the watches and always has a new design coming down the pipeline.
“Maybe the next volcano eruption will play into the next watch design,” says Gilbertson with a smile.
Visit the JS Watch Company website.