Despite a lack of watchmaking heritage, Iceland is home to one of the smallest watchmaking brands that definitely punches above its weight.
Did you know that Iceland is where time begins? Technically speaking, at least, it’s true. That’s because Iceland is perpetually on Greenwich Mean Time, so they don’t change their clocks with the seasons.
Just with that bit of trivia, any watch brand doing business in Iceland can start with a great story. But the story of Iceland’s JS Watch Company Reykjavik also has to do with family, volcanoes, football, and even the Dali Lama!
The company was started by Sigurður Gilbertsson, who is the technical director. His friends and co-founders include Júlíus Heiðarsson, the director of development, and Grímkell Sigurþórsson, chief of design and marketing.
But the public persona behind the brand is arguably Mr. Gilbert Gudjonsson, the master watchmaker who has over 45 years of experience and personally ensures that every watch has been perfected.
I’ve been told by my uncle - another watch enthusiast who just happened to travel to Iceland - that if you pass by their shop in the heart of Reykjavik, Gilbert Gudjonsson will take his time and have a chat about anything watch or Iceland-related for hours.
Once inside, you might notice the strong celebrity presence on the walls of the shop. It seems that the Dalai Lama, Quentin Tarantino, Viggo Mortensen and Tom Cruise have all been in to have a chat with Gudjonsson too, and they are the proud owners of JS Watch Company timepieces as well.
One of the cool things about their watches is that they incorporate a bit of Iceland in every model, whether that is something physical or metaphorical.
For example, they used actual ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano – you know, the one that caused all the flight interruptions a few years ago – to craft watch dials with a dramatic effect.
For those on the market for something more rugged that can brave the Icelandic cold, a sister brand was also launched in 2013 focusing on sports watches. The called it Arc-Tic, the name paying homage to the Arctic circle in a not so subtle way.
The brand also recently received a bit more novelty with the country’s unexpected success at the Euro 2016 football championships. Iceland became the smallest nation to qualify for the championship and they became a sporting Cinderella story. To capitalize, JS Watch Company released the steely looking EURO MMXVI special edition timepiece.
Given the size of Iceland and the isolation from anything to do with watchmaking on the European mainland, it’s already impressive that JS Watch Company came to be in the first place.
As far as I’m aware, there are two brands haling from Iceland, and they can be both found on the same central street in capital city, meters away from each other on the main street. One of them is JS Watch Company. The other – if you’re curious – is Michelsen Watches.
Considering that Iceland has a population of just over 330,000, on a per capita basis they are more of a powerhouse of watchmaking than Switzerland! So while JS Watch Company is small, it definitely punches above its weight.