Croft Watches is a micro brand watch Startup out of Australia. They make high-grade stainless steel dress watches at an affordable price, able to withstand the rigors of an outdoor lifestyle. We take a look at their watch and their company in this post in the micro brand watch company series.
It was the first snow of the season. The snow wasn’t even falling except in the mountains of New Hampshire. My friend Alex was going for a brief climb into the mountains; I asked him to take along an unusual piece of equipment — a dress watch. This wasn’t just any dress watch, rather one that Croft Watches had sent me to try out for a bit. Normally, I would never get the idea to take a dress watch on a snowy mountain hike, but the company who makes the watch said their inspiration was to create a watch that could handle the rigors of the outdoors right next to the soft environment of the office. Anytime I hear something like this — challenge accepted! Alex took Croft Watches’ latest black-on-black-on-black Richmond Matte Black model out for a spin.
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Alex is my go-to watch tester for second opinions. He’s tried out a lot of watches made by start-ups including MVMT, Orion, and BM&Y. He’s seen what is good and what doesn’t work very well. He knows how to test the limits on these watches (within reason) — we don’t like to hold any punches. Alex said he would take care of testing and give me an assessment. As the pictures started to flow in from the mountain trek, I actually wondered if the watch would survive or come back looking pretty rough? Now I will caveat this all that I don’t mean to imply that Croft makes a ruggedized watch for extreme sports. Rather, they have designed a watch that has the look and feel of a nice dress watch, but constructed to withstand the rigors of both your weekday and weekend activities. We wanted to see if it lived up to the claims.
We’ve written a lot recently about companies on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the place where many new and hip watch companies get their start. Croft is one of those successful companies that got their start on Kickstarter. Success is not a guarantee, in fact only about 1 in 5 watch projects on Kickstarter are successful. When a project makes it, it says something about the company and the product they are offering. Croft Watches is a company located in Australia founded by Shaun and Tord. Shaun is a watch guy, a big watch guy. His motivation for starting the company was that he wanted to create an affordable watch that could handle the rigors of the outdoors, whether it be the beach or a hike into the hinterlands without having to worry about the watch’s durability. Shaun is a guy who knows and understands watches. Shaun’s luxury watch inspiration was the IWC Portuguese, which is what he was wearing before he started Croft Watches.
I asked Shaun what makes Croft different? It seems there is a new watch company starting up every day. Everyone offers their own take. There are enough “minimalist” designs to fill an entire store. I wanted to know what makes Croft different than the many other watch start-up companies out there? Why would I or Alex want to buy a Croft watch? It all comes down to the materials of the watch. It’s all in the 316L grade stainless steel, sapphire crystal, and rugged leather strap for a total price of $135 USD.
Do you know what makes 316L steel special? I didn’t know either until I looked into it. First of all, most watches you buy are made of 304L grade stainless steel. While these two numbers look pretty close, they actually are not the same, both for obvious numerical reasons and also for the durability and ability to sustain external forces.
On a base level, stainless steel is the most common metal used in making watches. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s affordable. Gold is selling at an all-time high right now, making it inaccessible to 99% of the population. Second, gold is a very soft metal making it prone to scratching; steel is a much more durable metal, able to withstand scratching to a higher level. While stainless steel doesn’t have the strength of grade 5 titanium (a scratch-proof metal used by TiMe22 in their very affordable titanium watch), it is still a strong competitor for durability. There is a wide range of metals used in making watches, but outside boutique models or brands, gold, steel, and titanium occupy 99% of the watch market.
If so many watches are stainless steel, how is Croft any different? This was the question I set out to find. First of all, most affordable watches use a low grade 201 grade or 304L grade stainless steel, both of which can have corrosion from chloride or saline solutions, both very common elements in everyday life. This can lead to pitting in the steel; eventually, that nice watch you bought will not look so nice. Both of these grades of steel are also susceptible to magnetism, which may not seem like a big deal at first until you think of all the environments where magnets or electro-magnets occur: your phone (and other electronics), the airport security. Magnets are everywhere. Once your watch case becomes magnetized, you are in trouble if you have an automatic watch. When a watch becomes magnetized, its start ticking much faster than it should, sometimes gaining 6-8 hours a day. The only way to fix it is to (hopefully) demagnetize it (something most watch stores can do), but depending on the extent of the magnetism, the internal components could need to be serviced. To give you an idea of where you can reliably find watches made with 304L grade stainless steel, look at vintage 1960’s Rolexes and Omegas, where corrosion wasn’t as much of a concern. (As a side note, in 1985 Rolex
To give you an idea of where you can reliably find watches made with 304L grade stainless steel, look at vintage 1960’s Rolexes and Omegas, where corrosion wasn’t as much of a concern. (As a side note, in 1985 Rolex switched to using a 904L surgical grade stainless steel that gives them a one-up over other watch producers. However, with Croft Watches using 316L grade stainless, they are producing watch cases that compete with the best of the luxury watch market).
Both 304 and 316L grade stainless steel are considered “food grade” stainless steel and the same steel you will find in industrial kitchens. 316L steel is not scratch proof, nor will it endure fewer scratches than its more affordable cousin 304. However, 316L (the grade of steel Croft uses) is a higher grade steel and extremely resistant to corrosion. It is a natural step above the common 304 grade steel in the affordable watch category. The major difference between 316L grade steel and those of lesser quality is the protection against corrosion and pitting of the steel.
Last year while I was doing some product development for a startup company, the manufacturer accidentally used 304L grade steel when the product specifications called for 316L. After 24 hours of testing in a saltwater, followed by exposure to white vinegar, the 304L steel was left full of black spots and small areas of tarnish. This is why so many expensive luxury watch companies use 316L grade steel — to ensure the watch you buy will withstand the elements of daily life (you may not think this matters, but your watch ends up exposed to a lot of different chemicals during your daily life from your skin, to the shower, kitchen, work, yard work, gas station, etc). Croft Watches integrates this non-corrosive steel into their watches to make them a durable watch you can buy for an affordable price. This is the reason the same grade of stainless steel is used for surgical implants within the body. For further reading on stainless steel in watches, please check out this page. As an additional side note, if you want a watch with a gold case, Croft offers their watches with a rose gold plating over 316L stainless steel as an option.
The next major material upgrade Croft provides from other watches in the affordable luxury category is use of actual sapphire crystal. Did you know that many watches don’t actually use sapphire crystal anymore? The other common crystal in use is a hardened mineral glass. While both are common in watches today, they have two very different characteristics. Sapphire crystal is virtually scratch proof, so great for an active lifestyle. The drawback is that it can shatter more easily than mineral glass. Sapphire is also much more prone to carry finger smudges than mineral glass. On the other hand, mineral glass scratches relatively easily and can’t be claimed as scratch resistant, but does have a very high impact tolerance (won’t shatter). This is why many affordable watches have lots of scratches on the crystal over the watch face, while you never see that on an Omega or a Rolex.
Here is a great summary of the two put together by TWCO Watches. If you are curious which watches use which kind, Rolex uses sapphire crystal while most Citizen watches use mineral glass (as a side note, many vintage watches use third type called acrylic crystal which is actually more of a plastic. It will not shatter but is extremely vulnerable to scratching — we don’t cover this topic within this post). Here is a good video on YouTube that discusses how to test the difference between mineral glass and sapphire crystal and tell which one your watch has.
The next component of making a truly durable watch is the band. Croft uses a ruggedized leather nicknamed “crazy horse leather”, commonly used in saddles for horses. The band was actually the first component of the watch I noticed for its solid construction (which took us a few days to break in, but once broken in, it fit like a glove). Croft offers their watches with a variety of brown suede straps as well as black dress and black suede straps for $30. Their watch bands integrate quick-release style pins so you can switch between brown and black in less than 30 seconds and no tools required. Their versatile variety of watch face/strap/case combinations allow you to find a preferred combination watch to fit your style for prices ranging between $135-140 USD.
Having followed many kickstarter companies, I have yet to identify the common thread of those that are successful and those that aren’t. However, Shaun will be the first to admit that it is not an easy process. Croft almost didn’t make it, until they engaged with social media and were able to exceed their funding goal; it wasn’t a simple or easy feat. Shaun does have one piece of advice for future watch entrepreneurs as they plan to launch their product: “In hindsight, we should have had some bloggers ready to blog about us as well as some Insta-famous people willing to spread the word about our campaign”.
Now, for the final word from Alex and the results from his testing of the Croft Watch while climbing through the mountains of New Hampshire among other places. He “put it through the wringer” (his words, not mine). He took the watch to work, golfing, hiking, climbing, even the poker tables of Las Vegas (after all, it is a great looking watch). The final assessment: “The face was simple yet Elegant. I love the dark face with the simple markings. I like that it is not overcrowded and the markings are subtle yet impactful. The face was a little hard to read in bright sunlight but that was very minor (and also a result of me using the black-on-black model). The watch stood up to everything I put it through, including the band, the stainless steel case, and the sapphire crystal.”
(Non?) Disclosure: This is not an endorsement or a paid post. Croft is used solely as a case study for micro brand watch companies on Kickstarter. We have returned the sample watch to Croft.