As an aviator and inventor, Mr. Ernst Benz was distinctly aware of the need for accurate and instantly legible instruments while airborne. He developed an groundbreaking aircraft instrument chronograph based on World War II aviation models—the Benz Micro Aircraft Chronograph instantly became standard equipment for nearly all single engine places, military trainers, jets and sailplanes, first in Europe and then throughout the world.
Today, the vivacious and engaging second generation watchmaker Mr. Leonid Khankin keeps that original Ernst Benz vision alive while innovating and continually striving for perfection. When he took the helm, Leonid ushered in a new era for the company, with the ever growing and expanding Great Circle Collection. The Collection grew with new timepieces whose inspiration comes from not only the founder, but based on the history of travel and aviation timepieces.
We had a chance to catch up with Mr. Khankin himself, the passionate Managing & Creative Director originally from St. Petersburg, Russia. He grew up inspired by his father, one of the most prolific and talented watchmakers of his generation, and originally specialized in restorations. We discussed everything from growing up in the watch world, how to continually innovate, and what it takes to stay true to that original Ernst Benz vision.
Alister & Paine: Did you always want to work in the watch industry?
Mr. Khankin: As a second generation watchmaker who grew up performing high end service and restoration for top watch brands, my early years in the industry and work led to the opening of a boutique representing top Swiss watch companies as well as my involvement with Ernst Benz. This led to developing a model for Ernst Benz, which resulted them asking me to take the helm of the company.
It was always my aspiration to build watches. Now I live my watch making and creative dream building watches with my friends and have the privilege to present them in some of the most amazing stores in the world.
Alister & Paine: What was your first Grail watch?
Mr. Khankin: I was always captivated by chronographs and calendar watches. My favorites were Patek, Jaeger, Rolex and especially Universal Geneve. The original Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Chronograph and their 50th Anniversary edition are what truly inspired me.
Alister & Paine: What was the inspiration behind the Ernst Benz brand?
Mr. Khankin: Ernst Benz was founded by iconic engineer and aviator Ernst Benz who manufactured altimeters for aircrafts, industrial jewels for timepieces and high-fi stereo cartridges. His career and spirit of travel along with passion for the history of watchmaking are the inspiration of Ernst Benz. We try to keep that original intent alive with every new timepiece we create.
Alister & Paine: What sets you apart from other high end watch brands?
Mr. Khankin: As an independent company, our focus about creativity and our dream of building watches that are based on what inspires us as we learn and work with some of the most interesting people of our time. This perspective allows us to be much more focused on our individual customers and working to build the ideal timepiece for them instead of focusing on just commercial success. We are driven by the customer, first and foremost.
Alister & Paine: What is your favorite timepiece to date?
Mr. Khankin: The Ernst Benz 47mm Traditional ChronoLunar. This is the first watch that I built for the company. It has evolved since its inception, but this is the first watch that I built for Ernst Benz and the reason why I am able to continue to build Ernst Benz today. This style of triple-date moonphase chronograph’s is my personal inspiration which was also the very first triple-date moonphase model that was built in 47mm, one of a kind.
Alister & Paine: What’s next for Ernst Benz?
Mr. Khankin: We continue to develop our watches based on the art of watchmaking but we are most excited today about our unique Limited Editions, specifically the concept of “Art & Time” and our collaborations with creative artists that are outside of the watch industry. This allows us to tell our story to a broader group as well as to bring a broader group into the watch world. Art and watchmaking have gone hand in hand since the beginning and we are very excited to be able to express and play our part as a brand in this way to continue developing our community.
Alister & Paine: How would you summarize the company spirit?
Mr. Khankin: We stay very true to the original company culture, which focuses on the Spirit of Travel and the Art of Watchmaking; Precision Instruments for Timekeeping.
Alister & Paine: Who is the typical ‘Ernst Benz’ customer?
Mr. Khankin: We don’t want to say that only men can wear Ernst Benz. The typical person who wears Ernst Benz is independent minded with a great eye for aesthetic and detail who is passionate for everything that is exceptional and unique in life.