From Russia to Detroit with watchmaker Leonid Khankin – JCK
To some people, luxury watch expert Leonid Khankin describing himself as a mechanic might seem surprising, but when you consider where he grew up, his clientele and his own passion for cars, it really comes into its own. sense.
Khankin is the Managing Director and Creative Director of Ernst Benz, an independent Swiss watch company that he and his family own and operate. Its North American headquarters are in Birmingham, Michigan, an upscale suburb of Detroit, where the auto industry still dominates the local economy. This ‘big three’ mentality can be seen in events like the Dream Cruise, large supplier meetings and the huge head office based nearby, including Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn and General Motors Corp. in Detroit.
Location as well as Khankin’s interest in automotive history and design are the reasons the watchmaker sees himself professionally as a mechanically minded repairman. While the Ernst Benz brand is synonymous with aviation and luxury, it also became known for its enthusiasm for motorsport and motoring, thanks to Khankin.
âWatchmaking is part of art. But it’s also partly mechanical and partly service, âsays Khankin, noting that he serves both sides of this equation. âA mechanic is not a designer, it’s about fixing what needs fixing. A designer is all about creativity.
When you grow up in Detroit, you quickly learn that you will be working either for an auto company or for a company that works alongside auto companies. Khankin himself is somewhat important – he was born in St. Petersburg, but his parents, seeking to escape communism, left what was then the USSR in 1976, when Khankin was about 3 years old.
Russia in Detroit? Khankin explains that when his father, Efim, an internationally renowned master watchmaker, wanted to leave Communism, the family first had to move to Italy. From there, they waited to see which country would accept them.
âOur papers came back to Detroit,â Khankin said. Her father and the rest of the family still operate Universal Watch Repair in Birmingham.
Ernst Benz owes its name to its founder, himself an aviator and inventor. Benz developed an aircraft instrument chronograph, which then became an industry standard around the world. Inspired by aviators and the demand for that same precision in a watch, Benz created the Original ChronoScope, which has evolved over the years to become the version the company makes today. Khankin came to work with Benz as a watchmaker, designing the brand’s favorite ChronoLunar. Benz sold the business to the Khankin family in 2005.
âIt was all an incredible coincidence,â says Khankin. âI am the son of a watchmaker. But I am also the grandson of two men in aviation. A grandfather was a military pilot who had many medals. Another grandfather was a gunner who was also honored.
It’s a job that makes Khankin happy every day. âLife is sort of happening,â he says. “You’re just doing your best to execute it.”
Today, Khankin creates watches not only for big celebrities – sports stars Dan Marino and Carmelo Anthony, actors Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and trendsetters such as Gwyneth Paltrow – but also for automotive executives who are mini-celebrities in their own right. He participates in automotive events for major luxury brands such as Ferrari and Land Rover. But its heart also belongs to vehicles like the Camaro and the Ford Bronco. He even references legendary names like GM’s Henry Ford and Bob Lutz in his daily conversations – the real mark in Detroit of a “car guy.”
Khankin takes these opportunities to work with businesses and individuals to raise funds for causes close to his heart. For example, he and his watches have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities and nonprofits. In September, the store hosted the third annual Lace Up Detroit charity event called the Pink Party. The live auction and raffle raised more than $ 35,000 to support the Detroit-based charity’s mission to “Make a Difference in People’s Lives One Shoe at a Time.”
Khankin is busier than ever, traveling across the United States to retailers that sell Ernst Benz watches, as well as working in the Birmingham store. He just took part in a car rally with an exotic car club in Florida, where he showcased his Jupiter, Florida retailer and the latest designs from Ernst Benz.
âThat’s the problem with jewelry, it’s not so much about the money. It’s all about experience, âsays Khankin. âWe are at the service of people who appreciate what we do.
Above: Leonid Khankin is the creative but mechanical mastermind of Ernst Benz, an independent Swiss watch brand based in Michigan. (All photos courtesy of Ernst Benz)
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