Watchmaker to the stars

Watchmaker Gilbert Ó Guðjónsson is passionate about watches and spends …

Watchmaker Gilbert Ó Guðjónsson is passionate about watches and spends both his working and free time on the hobby he enjoys most: watches. Árni Sæberg

Anna Margrét Björnsson
Anna Margrét Björnsson

"I was 16 years old when I started learning how to be a watchmaker," explains Gilbert Ó.Guðjónsson when I meet up with him in his tiny store that's been located in the same spot on Laugavegur shopping street for 33 years. "It's extraordinary luck, I'd say, to find your calling at age sixteen. I loved the mechanism behind watches, it fascinated me and it's fascinated me ever since. It's definatitely lucky to be able to do something you love so much every day and call it work. It's not work, it's my hobby."

Examples of JS Watches. Each one has its own story, …

Examples of JS Watches. Each one has its own story, with great attention to detail. Árni Sæberg

A watch is a part of your soul

Guðjónsson, a small figure in the shop which is probably one of the smallest watch manufacturer's in the world, has an aura of adventure around him. There's a little bit of magic inside that shop, it's almost like stepping into a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and you almost expect something a little bit fantastical to happen. "Ten years ago, we started manufacturing our own watches, under the name JS Watches, " he explains and I see that his eye catches my watchless wrist. I mumble something about not having worn a watch since my mobile phone took over my timekeeping years ago.

"A watch is a piece of jewellery. A traditional mechanic watch is something that you wear as a statement about yourself, it's a part of your soul," he says. And of course, that's why people are flocking to his shop to buy them. People, especially men, according to Guðjónsson, see the watch they wear as a personal statement about who they are. "They want something special, something rare.  You know, businessmen who wear suits to work all day have maybe only their watch to make a statement with. One guy told me that at an important business meeting, his client admitted to having been staring at his watch for the whole time, wandering who it was by. I think that's part of the charm of my watches, they're handmade, they're original and seeing as we're such a small company they're really quite unique."

The Dalai Lama owns a JS Watch.

The Dalai Lama owns a JS Watch.

The Dalai Lama wears a JS Watch

Adorning the walls of the shop are numerous photographs of celebrities, either photographed with Guðjónsson or wearing one of his watches. This is pretty impressive. I spot Tom Cruise, Toby McGuire, Yoko Ono, Elvis Costello, Quentin Tarantino, Viggo Mortensen, Jude Law and... the Dalai Lama.

What? I choke on my coffee.  The Dalai Lama wears a watch? "Well, he wears no material goods but he does wear a watch," explains Guðjónsson. "He has a penchant for watches. It's the only thing he wears apart from his robes and his glasses. It was a gift for him from the Icelandic friends of Tibet."

I'm so impressed by the host of stars wearing his watches that I ask Guðjónsson if he's really famous. "I guess it's nice that people abroad recognise my work. But no, I'm not famous," he chuckles quietly.

I get to admire the watches while Guðjónsson's shop is already bustling with people on this early autumn morning.  There's an American couple, and a German client and Guðjónsson is a most charming salesman. Not really so much a salesman, he offers advice, travel tips, funny anecdotes.

"I'm always giving tourist advice," he explains to me later. "I tell people about a restaurant I've tried or where to find beautiful views. It's all part of the service," he smiles. He's definitely got a grand sense of humour when it comes to himself, mirrored in the advertisments run by the his company JS Watches. They all feature Guðjónsson, his son and partner Sigurður Björn Gilbertsson and two other partners of this tiny watchmaking company in quirky, old-fashioned photographs. That's where Guðjónsson really looks like a character out of a movie.

Spiderman star Toby McGuire with Guðjónsson.

Spiderman star Toby McGuire with Guðjónsson.

Every watch has a story

JS Watches offer an impressive collection of beautiful watches for men and women, with watches named after the stories that created them. " For example there's the Frisland Goð Special Edition watch. Frisland was a large island that appeared on the world map in the 1500's in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The island's appearance has ever since caused great speculation amongst cartographers and many believe it was simply a mistake, and that someone had drawn Iceland in twice.

"The development period for this watch was long from the first draft to its completion," he explains. "It was a mystery to us why this watch had such a difficult delivery, especially since customers had already started ordering it before seeing the final product and the concept was clear from day one. We talked about this watch to our barber, a history enthusiast, and he said that our story reminded him of a mystical island, Frisland, which suddenly appeared in the 14th and 15th century maps. We felt that the watch needed a name that evoked the same type of mystique so "Frisland" was the name chosen for this special watch."

Impressively, the Frisland Goð special edition displays a face made with the ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, in a 42 mm diameter steel case with hand-graved runes, or Höfðaletur .

Another example is the N.A.R.T/ SIF, the official watch of the Icelandic Coast Guard, named after Norse goddess Sif, shock resistant and water resistant for up to a 1000 meters. Or there's the beautifully classic 101 Reykjavik, with roman numerals, sapphire crystal see-through back and alligator or ostrich straps.  "In all our collections we strive for perfection," says Guðjónsson. "We are our own hardest critics because this is our passion."

You can read more about the watches and browse through the collection on the JS Watches website HERE.

Guðjónsson, and his son Sigurður Björn Gilbertsson with Viggo Mortensen …

Guðjónsson, and his son Sigurður Björn Gilbertsson with Viggo Mortensen and his young son.

Also spotted at the tiny shop - UK star Jude …

Also spotted at the tiny shop - UK star Jude Law.


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