The word excellence comes from the Latin excellentia, derived from the verb excellere, “to be preeminent,” “to surpass.” Defining an excellent product goes far beyond looking for what is most expensive or least attainable. It’s about surpassing the average in commitment to quality, integrity, attention to detail. It can apply to the simplest, often overlooked pleasures in our daily lives or to the very grail item we’ve been waiting for. Taking inspiration from A. Lange & Söhne’s refined and simplified Saxonia Thin watch, we’ve attempted to define the term by speaking with three New York–based brands, each making everyday products that truly embody excellence.
Master & Dynamic
Founder: Jonathan Levine
Products: headphones, speakers
Years in Business: 3.5
Number of Employees: 45
“My oldest son started DJing when he was thirteen and my younger son is very into technology. So, as an indulgent parent, I built a small recording studio in my former office. I was watching what he was using, watching what he wasn’t using and, at the same time, watching Beats take over the headphone market. I thought there was something interesting. No one around me was wearing Beats. That gave me this idea at the time that I could create a premium headphone company, more along the lines of the heritage brands that we compete alongside today: the Sennheisers, the Bowers and Wilkins, the Bang & Olufsens.
I had no background in this industry, not from the music world, not from the luxury world — other than being a luxury consumer. I’ve found that having no prior experience with the audio industry has helped me. Being an outsider has allowed me to be more innovative and come up with my own ideas rather than following the patterns and trends set by other brands. We operate with a clear and unique vision, and we like it that way.”
Q: What did you feel was missing in the audio industry?
JL: There was nothing in the industry that I wanted to use. Stuff I saw my kids using and the people around me, it just wasn’t inspiring. I’ve always loved design and materials and I wanted to build something that was timeless and enduring. We use a lot of inspiration from great brands that we love — cameras like Leica, and watches, obviously, like A. Lange & Söhne. We take inspiration from different places. No one was treating the category as a luxury item and as a collectible item.
Q: How do you define excellence?
JL: There’s this professional golf coach, Sean Foley. He told me this line he tells players: “Don’t let the pursuit of perfection interfere with the achievement of greatness. I think about that a lot. By nature, I’m a perfectionist. But perfection is so subjective. You can drive yourself crazy. Greatness and excellence are one and the same. I think I would describe excellence as doing our very, very best. I think we have done it from the start and I think we’re getting better. Not that we took shortcuts. We’re always putting what we learn into our next products and designs.
Founder: Max Poglia
Products: blankets, knives, leather goods, wine and bottle openers
Years in Business: 4
Number of Employees: 3, +8 in Brazil
“Before moving to New York, I was living in Milan. After coming here, I was looking to my background and what I used to have. To keep the same lifestyle as in Italy or even back in Brazil — the simple things here, things that were normal there, were hard to afford. I was inspired by my family. My grandpa used to have a hardware store in Brazil for over fifty years.
At first, I started to connect with restaurants here doing branding and design. I would go [to Brazil] to source leather goods, blankets, to bring the lifestyle to New York in an organic way. They were simple things — I wanted to create goods around this.”
Q: How did you choose to make the products you did?
MP: Originally, I didn’t envision Poglia as a brand. It was more about the lifestyle I was trying to have in New York — my family, my dog, going to Central Park. I started having the blanket as this canvas. We started bringing the blankets [from Brazil] to support a family business. If you think of this blanket as a canvas, you see that everything Poglia makes will fit this canvas. It’s almost this idea of a picnic. It’s very organic for us to have knives, corkscrews, bottle openers. In the beginning, I was doing this for myself. At first it was an excuse to go back home, to spend time sourcing. Poglia was born looking for craftsmen, for people, family businesses. Getting into the workshop and learning about the process and also working with masters.
Q: How do you define excellence?
MP: Everything is part of the same lifestyle. I look at food, wine, where I’m going. My products are inspired by the food that I like to eat, the places I like. We like to keep an open concept. We support that [the products] are different; they are not all the same. They’re timeless; they’re made to age. I could never put in words the way I see Poglia, but I was lucky enough to get this quote from The New York Times: “Poglia is a throwback to simpler days for the modern man.” They really translated my vision for Poglia. Excellence sometimes is the simplest things.
Founders: Gerard Masci and Brian Vallario
Years in Business: >1
Number of Employees: 5
“Since the first time that I wore glasses, at thirteen, I started collecting them, not thinking that it would ever turn into what it has. Once I thought of having my own business in the United States, because there weren’t many other manufacturers [of glasses], I needed to find someone who understood equipment, machinery and manufacturing, as opposed to just the business plan.” – Gerard Masci
“When Gerard told me the story of what he wanted to do and the history of eyewear production in the US, I got really excited with the idea of bringing a craft back to New York City. Having the opportunity as a designer to be able to produce what you are designing in-house is an unbelievable opportunity.” – Brian Vallario
Q: You haven’t taken any shortcuts in your production process. Why?
BV: The premise that we founded this company on was that we’re going to make eyewear in the U.S. that stands up to the same quality of what’s being made in Japan and Italy. To us, it was never a question or an option to cut corners anywhere to decrease cost. That’s not what this company was built on or what we’re about. We’re really interested in just making the highest-quality eyewear.
Q: How do you define excellence?
GM: Really doing things with integrity — that holds true outside of the physical product. You treat your suppliers with integrity. That creates an environment of excellence. You’re honest with yourself when you’re wrong, or when you’ve made a mistake or you have to own up. That level of integrity produces excellence. If you permeate that through all of the aspects of the business, it will certainly show up in the product — just instilling a North Star of integrity that the entire organization is focused on.
A. Lange & Söhne’s Saxonia Thin
Like many exceptional everyday products, A. Lange & Söhne’s Saxonia Thin watch is subtle, but it doesn’t lack in beauty or function. The dial is clean and unadulterated, and the body is the thinnest offering by A. Lange & Söhne to date at 5.9mm thick (just about the same width at three stacked quarters). But however simplified it is in appearance, the Saxonia Thin maintains the same exceptional mechanical quality as its sister products, yet comes at the brand’s most accessible price-point: $14,800. Learn More: Here