With all the attention-grabbing, world record-breaking watches that went under the hammer last year, it’s almost shocking to learn that there hasn’t been a feature-length documentary telling the stories of the independent horological heroes who made them possible.

Well, one will be premiering on April 28 called Keeper of Time, and it’s all thanks to a film editor who had never made a film before, nor even knew what fine watchmaking was until he started this project.

(Related: Rolex and the film industry)

“I wanted to get a nice watch for my birthday in 2017, but I didn’t know the difference between mechanical and quartz watches. While researching high-end watches, it was like an epiphany,” reveals Michael Culyba, the film’s director, producer and editor. “I was then 43, looking for subjects for my film, and I was blown away by this world. Where had all this been my whole life? I couldn’t have been the only one who hadn’t heard of haute horlogerie, so I wanted to share it with everyone.”

For almost 20 years, Culyba worked as an editor of documentary films in New York. Keen on finally trying his hand at creating his own, he turned to Kickstarter to fund the production of Keeper of Time. In addition to meeting his goal and raising US$115,626 (S$158,000), the campaign attracted some major industry names who were happy to lend their support.

Film director Michael Culyba.
Film director Michael Culyba.

“When I first started making the film, I was very green, so I connected with Nicholas Manousos of the Horological Society of New York. He introduced me to Francois-Paul Journe to interview, and it just snowballed from there,” he explains. Having Journe on board, he says, “added a lot of cachet to the project”. Indeed. Journe’s watches sell for millions at auctions, with prices and demand equalling brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex.

Journe’s name on the film led to industry veterans such as The Hour Glass’ Michael Tay, John Reardon, founder of vintage watch site Collectibility, and famed vintage watch collector Eric Ku. All volunteered to be executive producers. Through these connections, Culyba easily secured the rest of the film’s equally famous stars: Philippe Dufour, Maximillian Busser of MB&F, and Roger Smith.

(Related: How and Why Luxury Watch Brands are Sponsoring Films)

Culyba knows the film will likely have a niche audience, but he hopes that it will also engage laypeople interested in haute horlogerie. “Originally, I was going to make a film about watchmaking, but it ended up needing to be more. I wanted to explore deeper ideas about our perception of time and mortality,” he says.

Master watchmaker Philippe Dufour in a still from Keeper of Time.
Master watchmaker Philippe Dufour in a still from Keeper of Time.

“We can all feel the romance of mechanical watchmaking, but it is difficult to articulate. By layering these bigger ideas by talking to people like Jay Griffiths (author of A Sideways Look at Time) and theoretical physicist Julian Barbour, I hoped to capture the essence of this romance.”

(Related: Independent Watchmakers 101: Q&A with a collector)

This may be Culyba’s first film, but it is unlikely to be his last. There is a good chance we will see more horology-themed projects. He says, “I would love to work with larger watch brands and other independents. Also, this film was more Europe-focused due to budget constraints, so I would love to film Japanese watchmakers like Hajime Asaoka and Kikuchi Nakagawa next time. How they imbue their watchmaking with Eastern culture, as well as their attention to detail, are all really interesting to me.”

Keeper of Time premieres on April 28. Find out more here.

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