hat do Bill Clinton, actors James Gandolfini and
Angela Bassett, singer Bruce Springsteen, newscasters
Brian Williams and Judy Woodruff, British explorer
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and members of SWAT teams
and the U.S. military all have in common? They own
Kobolds—handcrafted, European-style watches with a big
price tag—made by a small company based in Pittsburgh.
Kobold watches, priced from $2,450 to $30,000, are
made of durable materials such as surgical stainless steel,
titanium, and virtually scratchproof sapphire crystal. True
to a long and trusted tradition, they are powered by a
mechanical movement. Accuracy, reliability, rugged beauty,
and ability to withstand punishing conditions have made
the watches popular with collectors, extreme sports professionals,
police and military personnel, and celebrities.
In less than a decade, Kobold Watch Company carved
a niche in the luxury watch segment dominated by Rolex,
Panerai, and Omega. Founder Michael Kobold, son of
a wealthy German industrialist, grew up in Frankfort,
Germany, and Florida. His obsession with fine watches
began at age 12 when his father gave him a Cartier
for Christmas. He loved the watch; it was mechanical,
handcrafted, and built to last a lifetime. As a teen, he
wanted to learn the craft of watchmaking, so he wrote
fan letters to famous watchmakers. His idol, Gerd Lang of
Chronoswiss, responded, took Kobold on as an apprentice
of sorts, and taught him about watch design and running
a watch company.
As a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Kobold
launched his company in 1999 with $5,000 and Lang’s
help in securing suppliers. To sell his first design, the
Professional, he placed an ad in a watch magazine,
registered a Web domain name, and put the watch for
sale online for the price of $575, and in the process, one
of the first Internet-based factory-direct watch companies
was born. Working out of his apartment, Kobold grossed
$85,000 the first year. He... [continues]
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