In conversation with Constantin Buschmann, CEO of BRABUS

The Gentleman’s Journal sat down with BRABUS CEO Constantin Buschmann to discuss cars, watches and design

BRABUS was founded by Bodo Buschmann in the 70s. A globally celebrated tuning brand with significant clientele in the high-end car space, the business has evolved over the years to now focus on what it calls “boutique car manufacturing.” These are special edition cars that allow clients to spec out their whips with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 22 million options to choose from. It’s about building your dream car. And today, under the helm of Bodo’s son Constantin Buschmann, it’s as much a company run on passion as it has been for the past 46 years…

GJ: Tell us how you got into watches.

CB: The lion’s share of the credit has to go to my dad. He had basically been into watches for as long as I could remember and I ended up learning everything I know about watches today through him.

As I got older and as I slowly started to see watches as more than just a few bits of metal and glass telling you the time, they became, what I would call, a common theme between my father and me. And it’s interesting because although he had obviously been in the game for much longer than me, both of our watch-collecting journeys were essentially kicked off by the same watch – the Orfina Porsche Chronograph 1 – which is still part of my collection today. It’s still in mint condition, and it’s easily one of my most prized possessions, period. It’s a 1978 piece, the steel version, and there’s actually also a pretty cool story about how it ended up becoming his first watch, but I’d say that’s one for another day. Most importantly, it’s an absolutely beautiful watch and the beginning of a lifelong passion for me.

What was your first watch or the first design you fell for?

My first proper watch was actually a gift from my dad as well. He surprised me with a Sinn – super classic, black, with the green time zone indicator. I think I was about 15 at the time. It’s got the same, timeless design as the Chronograph 1 from Porsche Design – it’s super reduced in the way it looks, which is what initially made me fall in love with Sinn and I actually think both watches were far ahead of their time. But anyway, I remember we just had a pretty casual conversation about that exact watch, and I couldn’t tell you where we were or what we talked about, but at one point I remember he takes it off his wrist, hands it to me, and goes, “Here you go, it’s all yours.” So, it’s another really special watch to me that’s of course still part of my collection.

I don’t wear it all that often as you can imagine, but just like with his Porsche Chronograph 1, I would never ever think about parting with it. The topic of sentimental value in the world of watches as a whole is always super exciting to me. How certain stories, people or places tied to a particular piece can make it more valuable than any high-grade material or process ever could. Plus, you know, I obviously can’t tell you for sure if it’ll come to that, but the idea of passing it down to the next generation, should I have kids of my own one day, is a beautiful thought.

What are the similarities between the car and watch worlds?

What we do today is all about luxury products. It’s about mechanical products. It’s about chasing what we call the ‘BRABUS 1-Second-Wow Effect’. So, every single product that we build, we want it to be instantly recognisable. We want you to see it, recognise it, fall in love with it and ultimately decide to buy it within no more than a second. If you don’t, we haven’t done our homework.

So, it’s really about having a visceral, emotional reaction. And because of that, the products we build today are actually very close to watches. They’re obviously not the same – I mean, a boat isn’t a watch, the same way a car isn’t a watch. That goes without saying. But they’re mechanical, they’re luxury products, they’re emotional products, and when you look at them, you have an immediate reaction. Maybe you even look a little deeper, you look at the movement, the technology and the design concepts behind them – you look at who actually built them. So that, to me, has always been the most interesting connection between the two worlds, for sure.

Orfina Porsche Chronograph 1

How have your collecting habits changed over the years?

That’s a great question. I’d say they both have and haven’t. Let me put it this way. I think every watch collection has a discernible theme or even multiple themes, you know? One of those for me has always been colour. Now, if you looked at every piece I own laid out side by side, you might not immediately believe me when I say that, because granted, a lot of my watches are super monochromatic. But it’s true, and it’s not entirely my fault – because as the saying goes: “You can have a BRABUS in any colour you want, as long as it’s black.” So, it was ingrained in my DNA a long time ago.

But jokes aside, the ‘colour’ black is legitimately a huge part of what makes BRABUS what it is, which is why it’s become a theme running throughout my entire collection as well. But I’ve recently also added a few pieces that take a completely different approach, like my AP Royal Oak Offshore, the Music Edition. Because going a little brighter every now and then can’t hurt, right?

How did the Panerai partnership come to be?

Making our own watches was always on my mind, even before I became CEO. As you might be able to tell, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to watches, so getting to combine two of my greatest passions was always a dream of mine. But at the same time, I knew that if we ever got serious about it, I wanted it to be a true collaboration product. In other words, I didn’t just want to put our label on something. I wanted it to be a new product, one that is, in a lot of ways, different from the other watches that the manufacturer we’d end up collaborating with has in their catalogue. And in that process of finding a cool partner to work with, we very happily settled with Panerai.

There’s really not much else to it. No matter what kind of product we’re coming up with, no matter what new product segment we’re exploring, the way we choose our partners is always the same. We’re always looking for cool companies that share our visions, our style and our passions to ultimately make cool products with.

Panerai Submersible S BRABUS Black Ops Edition

So, collaborating with the guys at Panerai just made sense and we’ve been making watches together for the last, nearly three years. Our first one was the Panerai Submersible S BRABUS Black Ops Edition, which is still part of my collection and which I still wear every week. It was limited to about 100 pieces. Panerai’s Submersible S platform already existed before we came into the project but it has so many unique ingredients that, to me, make it that true collaboration product. It’s a CarboTech watch, slightly over 100 grams. So, a super light dive watch. The colour scheme is completely BRABUS, it’s got that classic combination of black and red. It’s a skeleton watch, so it almost seems like you’re looking directly into the engine of a car, which was a design element that was super important to me.

I could go on for another few hours, but most importantly, and this goes back to what I said earlier about shared passions, the design DNA of this watch and all of the other editions that came after, is very close to the design DNA of our BRABUS Marine boats. So, if you were to hold up this watch next to a boat like the Shadow 900 Black Ops, it’s like they were made on purpose, by the same designer. It’s a fantastic piece.

'It’s really about having a visceral, emotional reaction. And because of that, the products we build today are actually very close to watches.'

Grail watch and car?

One of the absolute grail watches of my collection is my Patek Philippe 5270P-001, with the salmon-coloured dial. This watch, to me, is Patek Philippe at its best. I mean, I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent just looking at the movement at work, taking in every single detail. It’s pure meditation. Every watch manufacturer has their origins and pivotal moments in their product lines that truly represent what they stand for. And to me, the perpetual calendar chronograph has been what really made the Patek brand for hundreds of years. Getting back to this particular one, I immediately fell in love with the dial, the solid piano black numerals. I think it’s a super unique collector’s piece, it’s different from any other watch I own and it’s actually a 41mm piece, which is another thing that initially drew me to it. My wrists are quite large, so the traditional 39mm or 40mm Pateks were always just a bit too small for me. This one is a perfect fit. An amazing watch.

As for the car, that’s another question I get a lot and yet I’m always strangely unprepared for it. I’m going to make this a bit easier for me and limit myself to the cars we launched last year because there’s one that is super special to me. The BRABUS 750 Bodo Buschmann Edition, based on the SL 63 AMG. One of my dad’s all-time favourite cars was the SL. If you came down to Bottrop back in the day, chances are you’d have seen one on the lot. It was always part of who he was. And so, with the new SL coming out, we immediately realised that if we worked on it, we’d have to make it all about him. We’d have to come up with a car that looks just like he would have built it. And from that came the ‘Bodo Buschmann Edition’. It’s a stunning car and there’s a lot of historical significance, a lot of emotion behind it. So, if you ask me about a grail car, that would definitely be one. And yes, it of course comes in all black.

Constantin's Sinn

How does BRABUS plan on staying relevant in years to come?

This might sound strange but honestly, my very simple answer would be that we’re going to keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing. Every year since I became the CEO of BRABUS, we’ve taken on bigger and bigger projects, we’ve taken more leaps of faith, and we’ve collectively become way less ‘scared’ to do things that might not immediately be the safe thing to do.

Now, have we been successful with that? Absolutely. Has it backfired in a few cases? Absolutely. But, to me, that’s part of the game. For instance, looking back just a few years ago, we would have customers asking us every other week: “Could you also work on my 911 or my Range Rover?” And, almost like we rehearsed it, we’d say, “No, sorry, we can't. We've never done that.” It was always the kind of argument that, when I would ask people in a management conference, I’d get the feeling we’re only saying we can’t do it because we’d never even considered it, so obviously it must be impossible. Until we did it – and it ended up becoming one of our most exciting success stories.

But to get back to your question, we’re obviously going to be doing everything we can to stay relevant, if you’d like to call it that. We’re going to keep doing things we’ve never done – restomods are something else we’ve been strongly looking into. It’s a fun scene. I love seeing people being creative with older cars and I think there will always be a segment in the market for people who want originally restored collectibles in the exact shape and form they were in when they came off the production line. But what we’re seeing now is a clientele that is one generation down the road, that wants extravagant, original cars with all the creature comforts of a modern car. So, is it something we can imagine doing in the future? Yes, absolutely.

But is everything we’ve got in sight right now going to work out exactly the way we want it to? I have no idea. It’s actually funny, one of my favourite questions people ask me is: “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” To which I always say, guys, I don’t even know where I see myself in three years. You know? But I know where I want to go, I believe to know the brand, I believe to know what our customers around the world want to see from us. And as I mentioned before, I can guarantee you there’ll be projects where we realise they probably should’ve stayed on paper, but in the end, that’s valuable to us as well. Let’s see what happens!

For more from the world of watches, discover our pick of the best under-the-radar timepieces to invest in now...

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