It’s been roughly two years since I first started the Watchrant. I thought it would be a fun little side project to broker me into the world of watches as well as keep me distracted from exam stress. During the course of my gap year, I thought I would be able to dedicate more time to the growth of this blog – though some unforeseen setbacks and commitments have meant otherwise. Still, I’ve made some remarkable growth and gained a lot of insight into areas of the industry I never thought I would touch – Basel was the pinnacle of that.
I make it no secret that overall, I’m someone who is very interested in the ‘business of watches’. I enjoy following news stories and providing my own viewpoints about certain ventures and policies set out by labels and governing bodies across the board. My work thus far, has been lacking any technical insight or direct focus on watches, but instead veering into a generic overview of major actions.
My time at events such as SalonQP has given me direct access to major watch labels on the independent scale. I am now confident in saying that I’ve become quite familiar with a lot of sales and marketing directors of labels you’ll be familiar with – being prone to receiving press releases and invites to events. This has all come about as part of a ‘winging it’ attitude towards my work. Those who know me personally will know that I have a particular weakness to following a fixed long-term plan of any kind. This is the main reason to the inconsistent nature of this blog.
I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming up projects and ideas for this blog; to which I’ve built up a substantial pool of content. The issue as you can clearly see, is the lack of display of said content on either my Instagram or website platform. The main problems have been figuring out an ideal way of executing my ideas as well as balancing my schedule so I can meet my personal targets. A good portion of my year out has been dedicated to travels and internships – something which I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from. On the other hand, the things I have enjoyed less are exam revision and going through University applications so that I have something to move onto after this year is over.
I currently have eight draft articles which are at 90% completion, though I haven’t been able to publish them as I either no longer believe in the argument I’m making, or the topic is no longer of interest.
I have also realised that there is a ‘diplomatic thoughtfulness’ I have to follow when discussing certain topics. I decided from the get-go that this would be a personal blog featuring my own opinions and viewpoints; all under my own name. This leaves me particularly open to responses ranging from praise, critique and outright contempt.
Whilst I see the appeal of some outlets going wild and making crude fun about a range of topics, I feel that there is a certain distastefulness in using obscene language and making remarks that lead to borderline defamation and abuse. There is also the element of “kissing up” to brands that many major outlets are accused of, with claims of lack of journalistic and personal integrity being at show.
I think a word that best describes my work is ‘unconventional’. My content as a “watch blogger” doesn’t involve me taking pictures in front of Lamborghinis and Dom Perignon champagne. I approach brands who I have a genuine interest in, or talk about issues and topics which drive my curiosity. As a result, everything I do is somewhat one-sided and it’s more of a stroke of luck if I’m given any time with a brand at all. This doesn’t leave much leeway for me to open up any damning remarks as I have usually done my research on a topic in advance and look at it in favourable manner. If an avenue seems closed, I’ll hover around trying to break through. A remark was recently made calling me a “stubborn little bas***d with an annoyingly infectious amount of enthusiasm”. I haven’t made any fiscal gain from my interactions apart from the odd coffee or free lunch.
There have been the odd instances where I have been less sympathetic to causes such as my take on Undone Watches or my view on over-inflated auction hype surrounding watches fetching an insane final bid (to which my delivery of that particular view makes me cringe heavily)
My meetings with CEOs and major watchmakers focus very little on the technical aspects you’ll expect to see, but instead focus around generic conversation and storytelling to build up discussion around a particular subject matter. My article on Voutilainen and Sarpaneva is an example of this. The main driving force is asking “what would I like to know?” instead of following a more journalistic structure of presenting an argument. Any business insight is derived from my experience in interning at investment banks and working in business strategy at an AI research firm.
That leads me onto to Basel and the lessons I’ve learned through my own misadventures and listening to the stories of other figures in the watch industry.
My trip to Basel was the first time I ever properly financed a venture outside the UK by myself. My previous international exploits have been financed primarily through the assistance of my parents and senior peers (for studies, visiting family ect). Being an unemployed student on my gap year, the means of financing a whole week in Switzerland required heavy ‘thinking’ in advance (as I’ve mentioned, the term “long term planning” doesn’t bode particularly well with me). This consisted of selling paintings as well as some part time consultancy roles for small companies. This was the first time I took my actions completely in my own hands to pursue something I genuinely enjoyed. When it came round to having to deal with setbacks whilst in Switzerland (places to stay, no money and equipment), my main driving force was a combination of experience in dealing with things that had gone wrong in the past, my own creativity, along with being focused on the whole reason I had come to Switzerland: making my mark at Baselworld. Every barrier I passed through as a result was much more rewarding.
I mentioned being treated with contempt throughout my journey. This took form in a number of ways from a refusal to except my background, jeering at my lack of prominence on social media and dismissing me before I even got to introduce myself. The watch industry is heavily consolidated, though in the short years I’ve been wondering around, I’ve found others who share the same sentiments that I have and want to go off and provide their own alternative.
A figure I’ve grown to admire is a entrepreneur by the name of Keeran Janin. He’s the founder of a tiny Bruneian watch label called Avantist. The most notable thing in my mind is when I had asked him about creating a startup business to which he bluntly replied “The beginning is bloody difficult and it sucks most of the time”. He described how his background was in tech, where he had headed a number of startups – some which went on to be successful and some which had failed. In the long run he was interested in jewellery and loved designing things. This eventually veered into watches where although he hadn’t planned to start a watch label, he knew he wanted to create a watch he could call his own. He refused to follow the tradition of taking a watchmaking course as it wasn’t his style of doing things. He wasn’t looking at crafting his own watch from scratch, but more along the lines of discovering what makes the big brands be able to achieve what they do. He pointed out that getting into the game is a bit more difficult when you don’t have an affiliation to the traditional Swiss watchmaking industry, but added that his obscure background enabled him to do his own thing his way.
My first trip to Baselworld was inspired by his own experiences. Quite simply: meet as many people as possible and find out what they do.
During the event I had sat down with figures who had caught my particular interest: Mark Schwarz from Vault Swiss, Robert Punkenhofer from Carl Suchy & Söhne and Leopoldo Celi from Fugue watches. All three of them had started watch companies that at the time of meeting – were less than a year old.
My conversations with Mark and Leopoldo were insightful in terms of learning about beginnings of a watch brand. They admitted to having an idea of starting a watch label but having no clue as to where to go from there. Mark described how he changed his career to go into banking and finance to procure insight into business management before ultimately studying an MBA. Leopoldo on the other hand did have a business background, though his expertise was in luxury wines and spirits with LVMH. His challenge was understanding the culture of the watch industry and it’s finicky marketing and distribution principles.
Finally, my conversation with Robert was probably the one which related to my current situation: figuring out how to move on with my current work. He talked about how he was extremely passionate in the arts but he still had to figure out a way to sustainably finance his passion. Robert described having a second job to support the rest of his work and affirmed the idea that changing your mind as you go along isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be seen as a point of growth. His background in the arts had enabled him to view luxury in a more abstract way compared to those who bided to fixed principles.
In all, my trip to Baselworld wasn’t just about trying to take a bunch of pictures of watches. Had that been the case, I would’ve had a fixed plan and not much opportunity to veer off and learned new things. Since the fair, I’ve some time to reflect on what I experienced.
I’ve officially secured a place to study a BBA at Business school (amusingly enough, Leopoldo is an alumni of the school I plan to go to) and I have a final few set of exams upcoming. In the next upcoming months I’ll be engrossed in exams and paperwork that’ll ultimately place me in an enclosed environment for four years before I’m expected to embark on a ‘greater’ career venture. As of current, I’m heavily interested in the business of watches, and having spent a good deal of time speaking to people starting off their own venture in horology, I think I’m able to build a picture of what I want in the long term.
I’m currently entertaining the option of taking out another year off studies. I understand that it’s a fairly common practice to spend a bit of time working before going to University in other European countries. Business school is a beast of a financial commitment, so building a financial net makes fiscal sense. This could mean that I bite the bullet and get a part time job to fund my work in the world of watches, along with supporting myself through University. This will also mean that I will have more time to be focused on the blog as I’ll no longer have whimsical travels or exams getting in my way. I often wonder what the results will be if I chose targeted growth strategies instead of casually going along with whatever seems interesting at the time. The end result will be that I’ll make a huge shift towards furthering myself in the world of horology. I reckon it’s fine to say that at my age, I don’t know anywhere near a fraction of the answers that I want to know. At the very least, it’ll give me one hell of a premise to document my discoveries in the watch industry and refine my creative direction.