A conversation with Eric Singer

I met KISS drummer and passionate watch collector Eric Singer* in Berlin on June 4, 2019 prior to his concert at the Waldbuehne and we had an hour long conversation, so you need to have some time reading through this. We were joined by an old friend of Eric and a representative of Blancpain who brought the prototypes of the new and for Eric to see them. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Eric, thank you very much for meeting me here in Berlin a few hours prior to your concert at the Waldbuehne. Let’s talk a bit about Blancpain and also watches in general… I see you are wearing your Fifty Fathoms 5015 today?

Yes, and I have this one on the deployant clasp which is not only comfortable but it also helps the strap last forever. What wears the strap out is the constant taking the watch on and off with pin buckle, especially those straps with rubber lining…

… this Fifty Fathoms was introduced in 2007 and turned into a a real classic…

… after I had been to the Manufacture the year before, I bought mine in 2008, and I liked it so much that a short while later I also bought the as a tour present to myself. On every tour I usually buy a nice watch, either to commemorate or just to find an excuse for buying another watch. Those two have been my first Blancpain timepieces.

The 500 Fathoms has this beautiful rotor…

… yes, the propellor! They also made it for the Tribute to Aqua Lung, which I should have bought. To me the Tribute to Aqua Lung is maybe the most legible Fifty Fathoms, I really like the bezel without the countdown 1 to 15 marks. It also has a more clean dial, and the brushed case… I really like the way that watch looks. It has more of a tool watch look, although some people may argue with the sapphire back. But let’s face it, 99.9% of most people are desk divers.

I love when people argue on the comments section of watch reviews when any brand is releasing a new watch, whether it’s a blog or a forum or , whatever place it may be… my favorite part is reading the comments section. Often everyone wants the same, the watch has to have a certain size, the date has to be in exactly that position or not be there at all, the bezel has to look a certain way, the lug width has to be so and so… everyone shall have their opinion, it’s not about right or wrong, I just find it interesting that many people think all watches have to look like the ones in the 50‘s or 60‘s and it can never change…

…I agree. Especially the date or no date discussion is an ever recurring theme…

… I prefer no date. If you have dive watch, why would you want a date. If the watch is really used for diving, your real concern is about oxygen supply and nothing else. You’re not wondering about “oh, I wonder which date it is, do I have to pay my telephone bill tomorrow?”… the logic however is that people who are doing business, they want to know the date, or they welcome a GMT feature, depending on what business they are in or what’s their lifestyle.

The same goes for the turning bezel or a chronograph, you can use those features for many purposes, like when you put money in the parking meter for your car and want to return in time, or when you need to do an important phone call in 15 minutes. Some people say “oh, you have a phone and it’s more accurate, but to me nothing beats a micro machine, a mechanical watch that’s kind of a living, I want to say like a breathing – as a figure of speech – instrument on your wrist that’s constantly ticking… that to me is something I never lost the interest in. I cannot wear a smartwatch.

I heard in your Interview with Ben Clymer a few years ago that you said your profession as a drummer, keeping the rhythm, is naturally close to mechanical watches and therefore resembles the same theme…

… right, people often ask me “well, why do you like watches?”. I can only tell you that I like them since I was very young, about 5 years old. My father had a couple of nice watches, he had a Jaeger LeCoultre triple date and a Gallet chronograph, a miniature one. I think they still call it the smallest chronograph movement ever made. My father, who was a band leader, told me he would use the chronograph to time the breaks… when the band had a break he would say “okay, you have 15 minutes” and he would start his watch and time the break. For him it was useful tool. He bought his Jaeger LeCoultre, which was a rectangular one, in 1951. So when I was growing up in the sixties he was not wearing those watches so much, he would wear them during work, but not at home. So a lot of time the watch would just sit in a drawer, and I would take them out and I was fascinated by the little man in the moon and the different complications. And everyone likes pushing the buttons on a chronograph, especially when you’re young. You like messing around with mechanical things… unfortunately as a kid, you don’t realize that it’s somewhat delicate and it’s not a toy to play with… and I sometimes treated it like a toy, not knowing any better, but that’s what got my interest in the watches to begin with.

Well, and then I became a drummer, and a drummer is a timekeeper… so there’s a natural relationship or correlation between the drums keeping time and the watch keeps time, so I felt very connected to watches.

My father sparked my interest when I was young as well by buying me my first watch in the early seventies. Unfortunately I don’t have it anymore, but I remember it was a tonneau shape with three discs indicating hours, minutes and seconds…

… what brand was that? There were many brands at that time doing something like this, Roamer, Benrus, there were many producers of those watches…

… I really don’t know, at that time brands probably did not mean that much, at least to me as a ten year old. At that time I think it was simply your first serious watch and the brand did not matter that much…

… well at that time it was very common, you got your first watch for graduation from either junior high or high school or college or communion. I remember when I graduated high school my grandmother bought me a Timex LCD, that was 1976 and that style of watch was popular at that time.

It’s really interesting how it then evolves from those first experiences. I understand you own quite a few watches…

… since I got into watches when I was very young, I remember my father giving me a German manual wind watch in the early sixties. I still have it, it needs a crown and it has a quite primitive movement, maybe even no jewels. And then I had my fathers watches as I mentioned, the first good own watch my mother bought me when I was about thirteen. There was a nice jewelry store in Ohio where I grew up and I wanted this one one watch, it was a Glycine with a two tone blue and silver dial. I still wore that watch when I moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to pursue music. I remember playing in a show at some club, and I took the watch off and put into my bag, and when I checked after the show someone had stolen the watch. Until this day I always look around online to see if I find find the same model, and I still have not found it. It’s probably from 1971 until 1974, and I will recognize it once I see it, but that did not happen, yet.

It would be wonderful to welcome that watch back to your collection…

Well, as we all know, pursuing watches when you’re a collector or hobbyist needs patience. Many people want something right now, they see it and they want to have it immediately. The pursuit, the hunt, is part of the whole collecting process… on many pieces you have no choice. There are certain models anyone would call their grail piece, and you have to wait for it. If for instance you like the new Air Command, well you have to wait until it’s released. But if you’re looking for the piece, it’s extremely rare, like others, the Zenith A.Cairelli or a Breguet Type 20 from the fifties… good luck in finding one of these. I have an old Breguet from the fifties and I wore it in Basel a few years ago. I remember Marc Hayek saying “I like that”, and when we met recently he wore a vintage Air Command and said “I have a vintage one as well now, too”, a bit joking with me.

Those timepieces like a Breguet Type 20 or a Zenith De Luca chronograph, an old or an Aqua Lung… those very special timepieces I always have on my list. The problem is, they’ve always been difficult to find, now the internet sometimes makes the world a village , everybody now can go to the same places looking for things, they become more educated and knowledgeable. Unfortunately people also start faking vintage watches, especially stuff that’s in high demand or valuable. So you need to be careful.

In the past you could go through any city like this and find some small shops that have some cool old timepieces in stock. I remember walking through the east of Berlin some 10 or 12 years ago and there was a small watch shop with a bunch of nice vintage watches. In the window there was a Heuer Silverstone with a fumed dial, and the lady in shop did not really know what it was. I bought it at the time for 600 Euros, which even then was pretty inexpensive. At the time I used to stumble into some pieces every once in a while, those days are pretty much over.

Some twenty years ago I used to go to many small shops all over the place and I found some great stuff, I found a Longines chrono from the forties for 350$, you just don’t find something like that anymore. So I have some great memories and I have done some great hunts or searches to find these things, but now I stopped to even bother, knowing that anywhere I go, someone has definitely been there before me. Every shop owner knows more, everyone thinks that if it’s vintage, it’s clearly worth more money.

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I recently encountered a nice story when in a forum someone asked for advice regarding his grandfather‘s watch, which is a Fifty Fathoms Bund No Radiation, almost mint condition, including original box and paperwork. I sent the guy a message, suggesting he should ignore any quick deal offers from dealers that sound compelling in the first moment but maybe not so much after second thought. This very watch was now sent to Blancpain‘s Vintage Atelier for verification, which is the best way to go about such a marvel.

Knowing the history of the particular watch, making sure it is right, that’s making a correct valuation possible. Unfortunately there are some people that have more money or disposable income and sometimes buy things at inflated prices, even when watches are in beat up condition. Some people like this beat up look, they consider it as kind of cool, so some really worn out watches go for crazy prices. For me, if a watch is so beat up, and I don’t care about whether for instance a so called tropical dial is naturally faded out, I don’t see the value in that.

I agree. It’s amazing that the vintage watch communities seem to frequently come up with fashionable descriptions for flaws, like spiderweb dials. Those are actually nothing else than broken dials…

Yes, they have to do that. They realize, „I don’t have a pristine condition watch, so I don’t have the real value“… so they put a nice strap on it, find a good story and suddenly people think it’s acceptable. It’s basically marketing. There’s a saying, one man‘s trash is another man‘s treasure. This is so true.

I collect vintage drums, and it’s always about originality and condition. And then there’s color, like with rare drums. If there’s one with a rare finish, and that finish is not cracked, not faded, and it’s original on that kind of drum, it has the most potential value. Those rules apply to almost anything collectible, whether it’s a car, or a watch or whatever.

I think the important thing is that you follow whatever you personally like best and build on that. There are collectors who are led by others, they buy whatever other people like or hype…

A lot of people do that. Over the last 10 or 15 years mechanical watches became big business again, and some people came to the collecting game once they have got some serious money. Usually they start with cars, and then often the next thing, at least for men, is watches. I got into watches as a kid. I am 61 years old, so I collected watches my whole life… I simply could not always afford them. I‘m not a watch snob, I own watches of all kinds… I love Blancpain, I love some other brands, I love my vintage stuff. I am not looking down on watches that are cheap, those often are a very profitable business for the companies that make them.

Anyone should go for what they like and what they can afford. Watch collecting is a dangerous game, and you really have to stick to what you can really afford. There are so many nice affordable watches, I for instance like that Certina DS PH200, which was introduced last year. That’s a wonderful 700/800$ watch. Also the Zodiacs, the Seawolf or the Aerospace GMT, with that look and feel they are really nice entry watches from a price point, a really good value proposition. Not everyone can afford a Blancpain or one of the other high end brands.

As long as a watch has its own design and it’s not simply a lookalike, I totally concur with that. The price point tells nothing about the pleasure you can get from a watch. Since you mentioned Blancpain, what is it you like most about their watches?

I‘d like to think it’s similar to what many lovers of the brand like about those watches. The watches are very clean… See, I‘m wearing a Fifty Fathoms, that watch is 45mm, and we know the trend is going back to smaller sizes. Blancpain does smaller sizes, too… you can get the Fifty Fathoms in different sizes and that’s what I like about the brand. But mainly it’s the cleanliness, the simplicity. They are very high finishing, high quality watches, but in a more clean interpretation…

I personally like the attention to detail, they never seem to go the easy route. Take the black Bathyscaphe . Blancpain could have easily used the hands of the steel version, but instead they went for black polished hands to make the look perfect…

Take the Dark Knight, the black DLC version of the Fifty Fathoms, which was done in a very detail oriented, clean, simplistic way. What I also like is the whole lineup the have through all collections. They cover all the basic complications, but the all have this cleanliness. They also had the L‘Evolution watches, which are clearly not for everyone, but it’s like in the car industry: you need to keep reinventing every year.

The watch still tells time, the product is still the same at its basic core. Translating it to cars, I for for example love Audi. I‘m not going to buy another new Audi unless it’s a little bit different, but it still has to look like an Audi, that’s why I like the brand. Some people find that boring, they say, “well, the Audi models, they all look kind of similar“, but they do it by intention. They want that if you can only afford the small one, you still feel that you’re driving an Audi, you love the R8 or the Q7, and your car looks like a mini version of that. Some of the basic design elements are there, in all the models. I think that’s important for brands, it also creates brand identity and recognition. But for the consumer it is important that their entry model is somewhat connected to the high end product.

And I think that’s what Blancpain does, there’s a relationship between all the models. Obviously there’s the crazy high end stuff, the Tourbillon, all those grand complications of the Haute Horlogerie. I have been to the factory, I have seen where they do all those artistic engravings, the customized stuff… it’s amazing if that’s what you like. I totally appreciate the artistic aspect of that, but it’s not something that I personally prefer or go after. It’s not that I am generally conservative, I just may be a little conservative when it comes to watches, I prefer something that’s more simply and utilitarian. This watch, my Fifty Fathoms, well, I‘m not a diver, but I think it just fits my personality.

Dive watches have been the big theme for maybe one or two decades. I wonder when we will see a focus on aviation watches, which is another historic theme…

… Zenith started that with the Big Pilot, they are the only brand that is allowed to put the word Pilot on their dials. A lot of people don’t know that they own those rights historically…

… and Breitling has just launched a re-edition of the Navitimer 806, which is very faithful to the original, and obviously we now have the Blancpain Air Command…

Yes, let’s talk about that. How do you like it?

I saw it for the first time about a month ago for a photo shooting, and they had to drag me out of the room, seriously, I love this watch.

I always loved steel chronographs, especially anything forties up to early seventies. I have some chronographs from the forties with flat pushers, but I prefer these round pushers that are associated with watches from the fifties and sixties. Although I have many watches of that style, I never get tired of this look.

I especially like the fine engraving on the ceramic bezel…

… do you like the design of the rotor? I have read that some people say „oh, why did they do that propeller“, you have those hardcore purists that critique things like that. Here’s what I don’t understand: they want the brand to do an exact replica of a watch that was made 50 years ago. It’s not that the manufacturers can‘t do that, in some cases they do, like with the Rado Captain Cook, which was very close to the original size and everything. I understand people liking that , but it this day and age, the majority of people that look into the shop windows, they’re not going to buy a 36mm watch that’s true to the original…

… it has become an obsession of some people to always look for the one element they don’t like. Instead of just enjoying and embracing what’s put in front of you, you look for this one thing you can criticize. It’s a question of attitude…

… the more distance gets between our past and our present, we tend to look for those things that we remember made us happy. Our brain however makes nice memories appear nicer than they actually were and it makes bad memories fade, probably to protect us a bit. Now I need to put his one on my wrist… this is probably a bit tight, let’s get it into the next hole… I often feel my perfect fit would be exactly between two holes…

… exactly the same with me. Quite often I have to punch an additional hole…

… I have a leather hole punch, my grandparents were tailors, so I have an old leather punch from my grandmother, who knows how old that thing is. So I use that sometimes, but I don’t like to mess up a strap. For examples these holes are pretty close, there’s not much room for an additional hole…

… that’s true. Well, I learned how to do it after destroying one or two straps.

A friend of mine, a watch collector, he ordered this one already, he always buys additional straps. He sometimes even buys two identical watches, one to put away, one to wear, but he always buys at least one additional strap, exactly the same one that is on the watch. So he keeps one perfect strap for the watch, that’s just the way he is. This one (Air Command) is a perfect size, what exactly is it?

It is 42.5mm, with an all new case, it actually has no joint component with another Blancpain watch, and the movement was changed to support the bicompax dial layout.

In the old days of car manufacturing, every year they would literally change the whole car, every aspect of the car was changed. Imagine the cost of tooling and manufacturing to that, at some point they realized, we can’t do that. So in the mid or late sixties they started to only change components, keeping the same body now for 3 or 4 years. So they could still use the same frame, sheet metal, most of the mechanical components, and change only small things year by year like the headlights, grille or the seat leather.

The cost of doing a complete new case, dial, movement on a limited series of 500 pieces is significant, you need new tooling, parts and all that. Maybe Blancpain will come up with variations of this one in the future like they did with the Bathyscaphe or Fifty Fathoms, like the No Radiations, the Tribute to Aqua Lung, or other metals.

That is of course possible, but none will get as close to the original and ultra rare Air Command from the fifties…

… well, some of those hardcore purists get upset, they don’t realize, as beautiful these old watches are, I really love those old pieces, the patina, the charms of that, they don’t realize they’re not really the most practical, daily user friendly type of watch. In other words, watches are meant for wearing, but… let me give you an example:

I have that old Flyback Longines I mentioned before, it has this special crystal, it is acrylic, but the edge of the crystal is faceted. And I used to wear that watch almost daily in the early nineties, and if you bang acrylic, it’s getting little chatting, battering marks, so I wanted to replace it. At that time there were still some watch parts supply places in Los Angeles, everyone could go there and buy parts. Now the manufacturers don’t want you to buy parts, you have to send the watch to them. So at the time I was very fortunate to get the glass, but they only had one of them. So then I thought, if I again damage the crystal, I‘m not going to be able to replace it again… so I only wear those kind of watches now when I’m home, not around town. I no longer wear those old pieces when I’m on tour.

I had some experience with vintage watches when I bought myself a Fifty Fathoms from the early fifties, and upon further examination I found some flaws with it… it had a Rotomatic dial and a case back, and it was lacking the inner iron cover for magnetism shielding.

Well, I sorted out the mismatch between dial and case back, the watch had been serviced by Blancpain in the early 2000s, and since they had no NOS Milspec dials, they took a NOS Rotomatic dial to replace the defective first one. I actually enjoyed that search for knowledge, but then I wanted to track down this small iron cover and got in contact with some private collectors who a some inventory of those parts. And I got an offer to buy that small component for 5000$… that’s when I realized that vintage watches are something for me to admire from a distance. I want to wear my watches with some peace of mind…

… yes, that‘s a problem with those vintage watches. Usually you had ways to get these parts from watch supply houses or even some jewelers who could do repairs. Many years ago I had this one guy, he used to work for Omega in the sixties, in his shop he had black and white photos of himself at Omega, he was trained in the old school fashion. And then for a while he was one of the private jewelers for the Shah of Iran, I did not notice that first, because this was a small shop in Burbank, California. Who would ever expect something in a small shop down the street? So he used to work on my watches, finding the replacement parts with a supply store and doing repairs.

But with the resurgence of vintage watches, the ability to find parts and components for those old watches, that’s over. So your only chance is to -maybe – send some special watch to the manufacturer. maybe the have the parts, or at least can advise what to do.

Now, shall we look at the Barakuda?

Let‘s do that. This one is still on the sailcloth strap since it’s a prototype. Personally I am very keen to see it on the Tropic strap soon…

I really like the new strap from the photos I saw… I have a story on the old Barakuda. About 5 or 6 years ago I was at a watch show, and some guy came up with a vintage Barakuda and I overheard his talk with one of the dealers he approached. I think he said, he or his father wore it in Vietnam in the late 60, and now was seeing whether he would probably sell it. When he then walked away, I tried to find him, but he was like a ghost, I simply could not find him. He wanted just about 5000$, and those dealers at watch shows often low ball, so I suspected that one of the dealers had gotten hold of that watch.

A few months later, at another watch show, I met one of the dealers, and he said „I found that guy and and I ended up buying the watch“… and of course the watch was now around 20,000$ and knowing that he had paid himself maybe 5000$ made it unattractive for me. That was the closest I ever came to an opportunity to buy an old Barakuda and it slipped away…I have never found one of the old Fifty Fathoms or Milspecs or something like that. They have not taken this colorful bezel of the original with this new one…

… yes, the old one had a bezel with full minute marks graduation. I heard Marc Hayek mention that there actually were two different bezels for the Barakuda: the one with the all minutes graduation and one with only a diamond at the 12 position like with the Bund Fifty Fathoms from the seventies.

… I really like the look of it, but I would prefer it on the Tropic strap over the sailcloth strap that came with the MilSpec. Do you like it?

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I do, but since I own the MilSpec and dearly love it, I am still undecided whether to go for this one. Maybe also because I just found a 50th Anniversary in pristine condition and full set, which is also a fantastic piece…

… I was looking for that one as well, one time I found one but they wanted too much money for it, and then I got the MilSpec and stopped searching actively for the Anniversary. But I like it very much, because also this one has the clean bezel without the 1 to 15 marks.

What I really like about the Barakuda is the color code, and I love the white lacquered hands.

Well, since you have to leave for the Waldbuehne now, let me thank you very much for the opportunity to have this conversation, Eric. It’s been a real pleasure talking about watches and Blancpain with you.

All photos were taken by the Blancpain representative , also those with Eric in full costume just prior to the show.

I hope you enjoyed the conversation.

Cheers

Henrik

*Eric Singer is the drummer of the legendary rock band KISS. Acts that Eric Singer has drummed with include Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Lita Ford, Gary Moore, The Cult, Brian May, and his own ESP Eric Singer Project, but that list is by no means exhaustive. He first joined Kiss in 1991 following the death of Kiss’ second drummer, Eric Carr.

He is a passionate watch collector, owning timepieces from the past and present, from many different brands. Eric has shared his passion in many interviews, the one most known is his 2014 „Talking Watches“ video in conversation with Ben Clymer for Hodinkee.

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