Hartwig Balke spent his childhood squeezing his nose up against jewelry store windows in Ruhr Valley & Dusseldorf, Germany, to see the watches on display. Since he can remember, Balke has had a deep love of watches and what makes them tick – a love which eventually drove him to pursue an engineering degree. Following graduation, Balke landed a position on the team which designed and built the first Volkswagen Rabbit Golf. His job was to design the back door and fire wall between the engine and the jack – a job which he successfully completed.
Before moving to America in 1989, Balke held many high ranking positions among companies which catered to the oil & nautical industries of both Germany and the United States. For a substantial period of his professional life, Balke worked for companies which focused on oil-rig blowout prevention and dust filtration systems. In the 1980’s, Balke took a position with an American company in Germany that made dust control equipment & filtration systems for oil rigs. His duty was to engineer the filtration systems that were responsible for cleaning the air which ran through the rigs’ massive turbines. In 1989, Balke moved to the United States to open a subsidiary of a German hoist manufacturer – another company in the oil industry. Establishing the need to be near an active seaport, the move landed him in Baltimore.
All the while, Balke kept up with his passion for watches, becoming a self-taught master watchmaker in his spare time. With his engineering knowledge and propensity for mechanical design, building watches became second nature. In 1995, Balke – also an avid sailor in his free time – docked his boat in Annapolis on a day trip and decided to step into Galway Bay Irish Pub for a drink. While at the bar, the sight of a beautiful watch wrapped around the wrist of another gentleman sitting further down the bar caught his eye. Noticing the watch wrapped around Balke’s wrist as well, the men admired each other’s watches in unison. Their first words to each other, “nice watch.”
George Thomas grew up as an adventurous, traveling Jack of all trades. Originally from Czech Slovakia, Thomas decided to leave his home country in 1948 for a land of more opportunity. A skilled watchmaker by trade, Thomas planned an intercontinental move to a place where he was promised work at the biggest watch store in the country: Panama. His mother had Austrian friends in Panama who promised Thomas a job once he made the move. Thomas took a job as a repairer and builder of fine watches – a profession he kept for just short of three years.
In search of greater adventure, he left Panama for America. From the moment he set foot on United States soil, Thomas held a wide variety of professions from real estate brokerage to water treatment and back to watchmaking & repair. Excelling at every position he took, he was quick to move onto better opportunities as they arose. Throughout his journey, he persistently fine-tuned his watchmaking skills. After over 40 years of professional career shifts all across the country, Thomas ended up in a Baltimore suburb where he dedicated his time to repairing and restoring old watches, some upward of 200-500 years old. In 1995, Thomas – an avid sailor as well – found himself on a day trip to Annapolis, docking in the same bay and sitting at the same bar as Hartwig Balke. The rest is history.