Forces behind the Sources: Monochrome’s Frank Geelen
Editor’s note: We all love to read about watches, and from a variety of sources. The reason so many watch review websites co-exist is that different voices, different opinions help broaden our horizons and understanding about the watch industry. So while everyone is in some stage or format of a lockdown, we at WYGDAI figured this was a good time to interview some of our leading industry figures that are the faces behind the leading review websites. While we are dealing with this lockdown in our own way, besides simply covering new releases and watch reviews, we also wanted to find out from other industry professionals what they were dealing with amidst the global crisis. We approached a number of experts in their own rights, people that matter, voices that make a difference in the watch world every day. We are calling this series of interview articles: Forces behind the Sources. We are essentially unmasking the forces behind your favourite watch review sources, putting them under the spotlight.
Kicking these off is Frank Geelen, Publisher & Executive Editor of Monochrome. For our previous interviews, please head to our dedicated interviews page here.
“You can’t fake passion,” said Barbara Corcoran, an American businesswoman, who dons many hats. This was ringing true in our head when we recently had the opportunity to interview Frank Geelen, Publisher & Executive Editor, Monochrome.
Geelen’s journey about watches spans over two decades, from the time he got himself his first mechanical watch to turning a simple blog into a well respected and one of the leading online watch magazines of the world.
In this interview we find out a bit more about the man himself, his first watch(es), the journey to establishing Monochrome, and also how Covid-19 is shaping the present watch industry.
So without further adieu, we present our first Force behind the Source, Frank Geelen.
It’s safe to say that Frank Geelen is a leading expert on Haute Horlogerie and all things watches. He is well respected within the community and besides talking about the technical aspects of watches on his site to publishing daily on the Monochrome watches platform, Geelen also writes for several other publications, both online and offline.
While talking about his personal collection, he mentions varying watches – Citizen, JLC, TAG Heuer, Daniel Roth, Sarpaneva K1, among others. If you look at this list, it’s all over the place. And that’s a good thing. It doesn’t reflect a collection that solely comprises of certain specific brand names that are bought just to show off. This collection shows a certain frame of mind, one that’s passionate about watches and the industry that produces them.
Talking about passion and watches, let’s start with some of Geelen’s personal watches.
Geelen’s first watch “was a 90 USD Citizen Diver’s Automatic, which was soon followed by a Heuer Autavia from the late seventies.”
“I bought it from an older gentleman who had worn it for exactly 100 hours during his dives in the cold and dark North Sea. A proper cool watch that I’ve worn a lot,” says Geelen.
Ever had that moment where you purchase a watch, or rather would like to purchase a watch, but everyone around you — in my case it’s my wife — seems to disapprove? Well, you aren’t alone.
“This again lead to the first watch of more than 1,000 Euro. That was a shock to everyone I knew, but I just needed that TAG Heuer Monaco so bad… Thinking about it, TAG Heuer was one of my favourites, as well as IWC and Omega. Well known enough and with price tags that could make them within reach after many years of putting money in the old sock,” adds Geelen.
As watch collectors we agree, people’s interests and tastes change or evolve over time. Geelen is no exception. But it is also vital to keep in touch with your origins, to still have that passion alive that helped start the journey.
“Has this (choice of brands) changed? There are more watches and more brands and specific watches that I really like a lot. For the most various reasons. But I also still like the brands that were maybe the strongest fuel for my initial passion,” he says.
This is how Geelen’s collection began and developed. This was his approach to this mesmerising world of horology. But what about the collectors and enthusiasts in general he has come across during these years. Should they follow his path? Does he reckon they have a different approach from his?
“Everyone has its own motivations, emotions, or passion to feel the need to buy a watch,” he begins.
“It remains, besides the functional side of things, a nice type of jewellery. Reasons to like a particular watch can could be due to its history or level of hand finishing, the complication, the style or simply its looks.”
Talking about different kinds of watches and brands, he further expands on his take on the collector world.
“Vintage inspired watches are doing very well, sporty elegant on steel bracelet is also doing extremely well. And also the big names, are doing extremely well, especially in the sports elegant category as well as the high complications. Same goes for the independents in all price segments,” says Geelen.
For Frank Geelen, it all started with two words, “YEAH online!!!”. This was back on 8th January, 2006.
“It was a wild ride. After getting heavily interested in watches, around 2000, I read a lot. Magazines from the Netherlands and from Germany, whatever I could find on various forums and website and the websites of brand, at least if they had a website…,” says Geelen.
Fast forward 14 years and what you have is a leading European watch review online magazine that solely focusses on mechanical watches and since 2016, it has been dedicated to fine watches.
“Some 15 years ago I played with the idea to gather links to the quality and interesting stories that I could find online. Back in the day the information was rather scattered. Well, this hobby slowly went out of control and I spend some 40 hours a week on it, besides a 40 hour work week for my employer,” begins Geelen.
“In 2013 I was able to quit my job as I was making enough money through Monochrome. Now it’s a core team of four, with our managing editor Brice in France, our technical editor Xavier in Switzerland, and Rebecca in Spain. And there are a number of contributors who are also very much part of the team,” he explains.
Some readers might assume that it is easy for watch review sites to pop up.
I remember a friend of mine once saying, it’s easy, just get in touch with the brands and you have a website. The reality is far from it. We at Watch Ya Gonna Do About It know that first hand. And we live in a time when social media has evolved to be more trustworthy than before. For Geelen, it was even harder.
“Nothing happened as a gift, and besides the many hours of work, it was also pushing boundaries. In the first years I received press releases only after promising to not do anything crazy with it. Later I had to convince brands to allow me to take photos, and even later to allow me to take wrist shots and show the watch in its natural habitat instead of the glamorous photos they had. It were different times, that’s for sure,” he says.
Monochrome amidst Covid-19
Monochrome’s team comprises of passionate experts that are always looking for an opportunity to explain to watch enthusiasts the plethora of differing aspects of Haute Horlogerie.
His team mostly works from the road or home anyway, but still Covid-19 has had it’s impact. Not surprising as the pandemic overall has had a deep impact on the watch industry, besides of-course wreaking havoc across all spheres of life. For Geelen, the impact starts pretty much from his doorstep.
“Haha, I’ve not spend so much time at home, since I started Monochrome. There are many scenarios possible, in the short term and in the long term. But everything depends how the pandemic develops and when medicine/vaccine are available,” he says.
We reckon the pandemic will be affecting both smaller — or let’s say independent watch brands — and larger brands. Geelen has a slightly different take on Covid-19’s impact on the industry.
“I don’t think so. In crisis you see polarisation. Rolex and Patek sports watches are going for crazy prices, high-end indie watchmakers still have a waiting list, and some small ‘entry level’ brands that simply offer watches that are very nice and well priced, also do quite OK business. The grey middle field is probably going to be hit hard; the brands that do not stand out enough, differentiate enough and don’t appeal enough,” he explains.
The Baselworld Fiasco
One of the biggest watch industry news of recent times has been the exit of big brands from Baselworld.
Geelen feels that “it was in the making for many years. If you heard brands, small and large, complain about so many things. And how Baselworld and MCH handled the COVID-19 outbreak was not chic, to say the least.”
Amidst all of us, Geelen is optimistic and feels that Monochrome will be fine. After all, the website has gone from strength to strength in the past few years.
Talking about the direction it’s headed, Geelen says “I hope to be doing more of what we’ve been doing for the past years. The other day our video team made a 90-seconds trailer and seeing it was impressive, and it gave a sense of pride. I hope we will be able to do such videos again soon!”
Wrapping this article up, we wanted to circle back to where we began, Geelen’s personal take on watches.
Watches mean different things to different people. For some, it’s just about the social status. For some, it’s more than just that; it’s also about the mechanics and the poetical expression of passion and joy. Geelen falls in the latter category.
His ideal watch would do “exactly what beautiful watches do already, they make me briefly wander off during the day. Short moments of admiration and appreciation that cheer up my day.”
Like we said in the beginning of the article, “you can’t fake passion”.