The story of a watch entrepreneur. How do you make a watch that isn’t like every other watch out there? There are tons of watches available on the market. There are even a lot of affordable start-up companies offering excellent watches such as TiMe22, BM&Y, and Shinola. My first question when talking to Nick was how he thought he could make something special that people don’t already have access to?
In recent weeks, we’ve been covering watch start-up companies and entrepreneurs trying to enter the watch industry. These stories are inspiring, as well as neat to be able to examine the thoughts and ideas going through the entrepreneur’s mind, following their path to how they got where they are today, as well as take a look at what works and what doesn’t work. Today’s story is about a 26-year old named Nick, who has a background in biology, and how he quit his job and launched a company making Orion Watches (made under his parent brand, Watches By Nick). We’ll take a look at his journey, his inspiration, as well as his watches.
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Nick was training to be a scientist when he inherited a vintage Omega from his great grandfather. It was missing its crown and stem, so he figured “how hard could this be to fix?” Mistake. Nick learned quickly that watches are masterpieces that novices need not try fixing. But Nick wasn’t deterred by his first dive into watches. He actually became fascinated by the intricate designs and fine craftsmanship. He bought some old Seiko watches online and started learning about how to modify, fix, and enhance them. People liked what Nick was making. They liked them so much that people started buying these modified Seikos faster than he could make them.
A fashion company contacted Nick and asked him to make some watches for them. This became the catalyst. Many of the watches involved custom case engraving and some hand-made parts that Nick figured out how to make. These watches started selling so quickly that he had to establish a limited liability corporation (LLC) because the income was putting him into a new tax bracket. Nick decided to quit his full-time job and learn to be a watchmaker; he enrolled in a full-time watchmaking (horology) program that will take him two years to complete.
Before continuing, I want to point out again the RISK that the entrepreneur takes when they make a company or an idea. There is a massive misconception that small business owners are making massive amounts of money and they don’t deserve it. First, many small business owners barely get by; the wealthy ones are the few that are wildly successful that we all hear about. Second, entrepreneurs put everything in their life on hold and at risk to pursue an idea. Nick is a perfect example of this. He was pursuing a career as a scientist, which is considered a prestigious job in many circles. He has put this calling on the back burner while he pursues a dream to make watches, something that could earn him much less money, but if and only if he is successful, he could be rewarded. There is no magic formula to make him successful except his grit; his hard work, ideas, tenacity, and willingness to take a chance.
How do you make a watch that isn’t like every other watch out there? There are tons of watches available on the market. There are even a lot of affordable start-up companies offering excellent watches such as TiMe22, BM&Y, and Shinola. My first question when talking to Nick was how he thought he could make something special that people don’t already have access to? For Nick, his real interest lies in vintage watches; he likes the reasonable sizes (37-40mm) as well as the classic designs that have transcended time (no pun intended). His acquired vintage collection served as a design inspiration as he sat down at the drawing board to make Orion, the name he chose to represent the first watch he would truly manufacture (in other words, not a modified watch, but a watch he would design and manufacture).
As he drew up plans for the Orion, it took on characteristic flourishes from the early 1960’s watch designs by integrating two crossed stripes across the face, giving it a vintage flair while capturing the aspects of modern design. Next, he picked a size that represented the simplicity of the vintage watch: 38mm. For comparison, 38mm is the perfect size watch that will fit any wrist (I have another friend who owns a watch company and he attests that 40mm is the industry standard). For comparison purposes, many Breitling watches fall within the 44mm range, and Patek Philippe and A Lange & Sohne fall within the 38mm range as well. Like many of the other companies we’ve looked at, Nick used digital design software with the help of a friend who was also a watch aficionado. He took his designs to a few manufacturers for prototypes and found a company liked best.
Last week we looked at a few companies who used kickstarter to fund their operations. The first week we looked at Nokturnal watches who was funded by the owner. However, Nick chose to go a third route — the pre-sales route to fund the Orion Watch project. He took his prototypes that he had made and used them as samples to send around to bloggers like me to test out. This allowed people to get hands-on with the watches and write what they thought (just as I am doing). By offering a discounted pre-order price, Nick was able to entice prospective customers to consider placing a pre-order. He sold enough through this process to completely fund the production (which is almost complete — watches will ship within the next week).
He also experimented with marketing. Nick had no prior knowledge of marketing, literally a novice like many of us. It became a challenge: how to get the message out about Orion. Bloggers are one route, but how do you build a following and keep those followers updated on production and new products? Nick started out by using facebook, but found it to be a mediocre platform for getting the message out (next week’s topic is specifically on watch company marketing, but I’ll elaborate on this a little for this post). Facebook has some advantages such as its easy to maintain users, but the way the algorithms work, it is very difficult to get your posts in front of followers. Only about 10% of followers see what gets posted. The vehicle that Nick uses the most is Instagram, which I agree is an excellent platform. It allowed Nick to show people the different aspects of his watches, step by step through the manufacturing process in pictures (which speak 1,000 words right?).
I had a chance to sample one of the Orion watches for about 10 days before sending it to another blogger for testing. While I had it, I tried it for a few days and also had another watch enthusiast try it out. We were both very impressed with the level of construction. It bears the signs of quality that you’d expect in a $1,000+ watch, yet you can buy one for less than $500. The watch has an automatic movement and kept perfect time, well within swiss standards. The thing we liked the best was the size and simplicity of the watch. First, the size is 38mm which we both found to be an optimal size for us. The case has some “beef” to it though; it’s thick enough that the watch does not look small. It literally is the perfect size. Next, we liked the style and look. We both found it to be elegant enough to wear with dress clothes, but also casual enough that we could wear it with shorts and a t-shirt. The watch comes with a croc leather strap or you can also get them with a NATO strap. If you don’t like either of those, our friends at strapsco.com have a bunch of straps that would look great on the Orion. It really is an affordable masterpiece and will appeal most to the 25-35 year old crowd.
In conclusion, Nick now finds himself in watchmaking school, learning how to handcraft watches. What excites me about this, is Nick has the skills, vision, and know-how that I have no doubt he will be making custom, ultra-luxury pieces in a few years. I look forward to following the journey as he continues to innovate within the watchmaking sphere.