Full disclosure: Dario is one of my best friends. But aside from all the reasons why I think he's such a great human being, he's an amazing watchmaker. How else could he have imposed himself as the "go-to" person to bring back to life vintage watches and clocks in the city of watchmaking?
Dario is originally from Ticino. He moved to the Bern canton when he was a teenager. After 2 years at ETA in charge of final delivery of Omega caliber 8500, he opened his own workshop in the Bienne Old Town. Before that, he graduated from the CIFOM in Le Locle as an "Horloger Rhabilleur" and as a "Technicien ES" in microtechnology specialised in horological restauration and complications at the Ecole Supérieure of Neuchâtel canton.
Today, we sit on a café terrace right outside his workshop, and look back at the 5 years since it was opened.
When did you know you wanted to become a watchmaker?
At a career fair, in Bienne, when I was about 13. That's when I first found out about the profession. Before that, I thought watches were made by machines. When I saw that humans were still critical to the process, I was immediately drawn to it. The precision required, the intricacies of the mechanics, and the infinity of possibilities within a watch... I was fascinated by it all.
How did you create your own workshop?
While I learned a lot working in the industry, I soon realized I wanted the variety of challenges that comes from working on all types of clocks and watches. I also wanted to have my own business, even if that meant starting really small. Thanks to Herrli Horlogerie, a store in Bienne that sells spare parts and vintage equipment, I was able to acquire what I needed to get started. I opened during the February First Friday, in 2017.
You repair but you also do some watch trading as well. What is the split between them in your activity?
The vast majority of what I do, let's say 80%, is around servicing. Buying and selling watches is more something I do for pleasure, as there are always amazing things that come my way. Just yesterday someone brought me a pocket watch with miniature enamel painting on the dial... Hard to resist!
What are the most common models that come your way for repair?
In clocks, Zenith and Lecastel are the most frequent, as the movements are standardized. Clocks with a "Paris movement" are also often brought in. When it comes to watches, there is a lot more variety. Movement-wise, a lot of ETA, of course, a lot of Omega, and then, more rarely, some Valjoux. But it's amazing how movements often come in different variations, even within the same watch model.
I can imagine pros and cons of being a watchmaker in a city where watchmaking is so present. How does it work out for you?
One great advantage is in terms of spare parts. For vintage pieces, there are a lot places to find them. Not so much from the brands themselves, as there is always a lot of process involved. But many independents have incredible stock of supplies. In terms of clients, I would say that quite a few come to me for special requests. For instance, a full service but without polishing the case, whereas the brand may not allow that. I also have a lot of people come in with watches from brands that no longer exist, such as Enicar.
What was your hardest piece of work in the workshop?
Probably a clock that became harder to fix once it was inside my workshop... Let me explain: I had just finished a fairly complex restoration on the piece when someone walked in. The person opened their umbrella by accident, and tipped over the clock. It fell on the floor and turned into a way worst state than it had been before I serviced it. That was really challenging... and frustrating! Then, in terms of actual complication, I would say the minute repeater is typically the trickiest.
What are the watches you wear the most?
Before it was stolen, it was, by far, my Mical monopusher chronograph. Nowadays, I would say the Speedmaster Professional, my Air King "Domino's Pizza" and the Ploprof 600. They're probably the ones you'll most often find on my wrist. Alongside whatever I'm testing after a repair, of course, on the other wrist! Oh, and the Omega Marine Chronometer. I wear that a lot too.
If you had to only wear one watch...
Again, before, I would have said my Mical monopusher... Among the ones I still have, maybe the Ploprof 600 due to its unique shape and engineering. But really, my favorite remains the Mical!
Photo credit (Mical aside :) Jeanne Grouet