Timepiece Chronicle

In-depth, passionate and entertaining articles that explore the stories behind great watches

Steel peace of mind: The new Döttling Focusline Safe

Steel peace of mind: The new Döttling Focusline Safe

Focusline Safe. Image courtesy of Döttling.

Focusline Safe. Image courtesy of Döttling.

When Döttling contacted me regarding their newest line of safes I must admit I was skeptical. This is a watch blog and I have no interest in expanding it to encompass the "luxury lifestyle" that is so often associated with it. However once I started looking into Döttling, I saw a lot of parallels between their work and high-end mechanical watches. Both industries have seen monumental changes over the last hundred years but there are still companies using traditional methods, designing pieces with soul. If accuracy and reliability were the only concern for watchmaking then we've perfected timekeeping in the form of a G-Shock, if security and protection were the only concern for safes then a soulless bank vault is what you need. It is a creation of machinery that combines, instead of separates, form and function and is the result of hundreds of years of experience and dedication that ultimately surpasses its original intention as just a timekeeper or a safe. There is also a part of me that has always loved heist films so writing about Döttling gave me an excuse to read up on safes and lock picking so I considered it a win-win.  However this is still a watch blog so consider this a unique one-off article. 

The concept of securing your valuables in a safe might seem as old as time but its origins are surprisingly modern with the first dedicated iron safes coming into existence in the late 1790s.  Merchants in the 15th Century started using lockable wooden chests typically made of oak with bands of iron supporting it but the main deterrent to potential thieves was the weight of the chest as locks of the time were, to put it bluntly, crap. Being poor meant you could afford a crap lock but as you were poor you probably didn't have anything to protect. Being rich meant you could afford a crap lock which was designed to trick, irritate and confuse any burglar into giving up. Fake key holes, fake mechanisms and fake padlocks with fake keyholes were all used but once the real lock was found, it invariably could be broken into.

There was a brief time in the late 1770s that there was such a thing as perfect security. Josef Bramah, inventor of the flush toilet, created the Bramah Safety Lock which for over eighty years was unable to be picked. Written in gold script on a Safety Lock in the display window of Bramer's shop was a challenge as whoever could open the lock would be rewarded 200 guineas ($40,000 today). Ultimately in 1851, American locksmith A.C Hobbs took 52 hours over 14 days to find the lock's weaknesses and exploit them. 

Hardly a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cat burglar but from that point onwards the world never knew perfect security again. Today we might not think of safes as a luxury item as you might first think of a bank vault, huge, indomitable and impenetrable or perhaps a hotel safe, cheap, flimsy and forever empty for fear of locking your wallet inside of it. Watch storage is typically either the bedside cabinet or a watch roll/box on the dresser with a watch winder or two for some. 

Döttling is a family run safe manufacturer that for the last one hundred years has made some amazingly beautiful, awe-inspiring and safe safes. Ernst Döttling started the company in 1919 and now his great-grandson Markus is the CEO. Looking through the antique safes that Döttling offer and their intricate mechanisms, polished and engraved, are reminiscent of those from mechanical watches. Covered in beautifully finished wood, 24 karat gold leaf or decorative engraving, these safes don't need to be beautiful just how a watch movement doesn't need to be decorated. It the appreciation of craftsmanship and talent that I enjoy about Döttling and what convinced me to write about them.

The new Focusline safes are intended to be a budget entry point of entry into the world of luxury safes. The starting price is just under 9000 Euros which might not seem entry level but consider the collective value of  two vintage Carreras or a Speedmaster and suddenly it's a lot more affordable. The Focusline comes in three sizes, all of which incorporate a modular system of blocks that allows the inside of the safe to be customized to suit the needs of it's owner.  Watch winders from SwissKubiK can be inserted as a row of four or single or double trays that can accommodate watch rolls or watch cushions. Rather than a imposing steel monolith looming over you, the Focusline is available in a multitude of different colors (I personally like Tiefblau) of Alcantara, an Italian synthetic microfiber that has a similar texture to suede. 

Nowadays the two most important aspects of a safe is burglary and fire protection. The Focusline is rated VdS Class N for burglary and 60-P for fire protection. VdS is an independent and impartial company that tests safes manufactured in Europe against a strict set of requirements. The protective value of a safe is recorded as two numbers which represent the amount of time it took the testers to obtain partial access (via a hand-hole) and complete access to the safe. During testing, assessors use ever increasingly effective tools to gain entry, starting with screwdrivers and short chisels, progressing to sledgehammers and power drills before culminating in thermal and arc cutters.

Each range of tools is given a value which is entered into a formula, along with the total test time, to create a resistance value. Exactly what values each set of tools is worth and the exact nature of the formula is not available so think of the Resistance Value like a Water resistance rating on a watch. The resistance value of the Focusline is 30/30 which means it took thirty minutes to gain partial and full access. A higher resistance value of 120/180 (VdS Class 4) is available upon request.  The fire value of a safe, 60-P, is more easily explained as it simply refers to the length of time (60 minutes) that paper (P) can withstand an ambient temperature of 1994° F. 

The Focusline is opened by using an electronic keypad whose housing can be either steel, gold or ruthenium. For emergency's or for when you've simply forgotten the passcode, the Focusline can be opened with a high-security key, negating the need to break out the stethoscope and hairpin. 

If you would like to find out more about the Focusline or any other safe Döttling makes then visit www.doettling.com. If you are interested in learning more about the era of perfect security,  heartily recommend listening to the aptly named 99% Invisible episode Perfect Security which is as informative as it is enjoyable. 

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