Building A Watch Brand Episode 11: Manufacturing — The Watchmaker’s Tools Finally Come Out
It has been a while since my last article on the development of my debut watch, the VPC Type 37HW. Don’t worry, the project is still very much on. This summer, however, was spent doing arduous behind-the-scenes work that wasn’t exactly photogenic or glamourous. But now we are finally ready to start manufacturing the prototypes. The watchmaker’s tools finally come out!
Let me take you along for a quick recap of the past few months of work and where I currently stand. Again, there is plenty that you usually don’t get to see. I know because a lot of it was new and unexpected to me too. So, if you are still along for the ride — I deeply appreciate if you are — let’s get stuck in!
Finding manufacturing partners
As I alluded to in my previous article on the VPC project, finding manufacturers was challenging. I took the route of a separate assembly partner and specialized suppliers for the components. My Swiss assembly partner also functions as a liaison between the manufacturers and me. This provides me with a little more credibility and leveraging power in negotiations as well as specialists that I would not have been able to find otherwise.
The challenge is that many dial, hand, case, and bracelet makers are just plain hard to find. These aren’t businesses you find with a quick Google search. In fact, if you aren’t introduced, you will not find them at all. This may be a bit surprising until you consider that watch brands like to maintain an image of “everything in-house.” They force their suppliers to work behind the curtains. With plenty of business to go around, they happily comply.
Life doesn’t get much easier once you have found them. Many do not like to disclose what they can offer until a deal is in place. This took a lot of getting used to on my end. I wanted to see the micro-adjustment mechanisms they could supply for my clasp. I figured I could request a catalog of options. As I soon found out, that isn’t how it works. You have to trust that they can do it and negotiate a deal in principle. Only then do you get to see something. You become very aware that you don’t mean a thing at this early stage of building a watch brand.
Proving your worth
What I did not know when I first wrote about this in July was that it would take until now to get all the required deals in place. The problem is that many manufacturers are used to working for bigger, established clients. They get approached by tons of new microbrands all the time. Many, unfortunately, don’t know the first thing about watches and are doomed to fail, so manufacturers aren’t keen on this type of client. The result is that I have to prove that I am serious. And that takes odd forms.
On one of the bigger proposals, I found a quote for “technical development.” Since we already had all the technical drawings and “tooling” was quoted separately, I was curious about what technical development could still be required. My liaison informed me that this was unlikely to be anything other than proof of my worth and risk mitigation — a gatekeeper of sorts. Basically, I’d have to buy my way to becoming a client.
I have to cover some risks for manufacturers that are the result of my presale model. Since the watch’s production will be financed by a presale, there is uncertainty. If I don’t sell enough, the entire project is canceled. I accept that this would leave me in debt, but my suppliers want to be safe either way.
Final specs for manufacturing
Okay, onto more fun stuff. Naturally, as my assembly partner prepared the technical drawings and the suppliers did their research and development, some things changed. But now that everything is in place, I can share some updates on specs. Beyond the stuff below, the watch remains largely as described before.
For starters, we have succeeded in sourcing the required parts for an amazing toolless micro-adjustable clasp. Crucially, the resulting clasp is compact at just 31mm long and 5mm thick. It will feature beautiful chamfers and an etched VPC monogram. And it provides a full link’s worth of micro-adjustment. I will share images as soon as I can. The quick-release system for the bracelet has been changed. I was aiming to use a push-button release, but there wasn’t enough room under the ledge. Since I want the end link to feature a separate center link rather than be a milled single-piece end link, space is tight. So we will use a nice, thick double-bayonet system.
The watch’s height ended up at 9.8mm, which includes the domed sapphire crystal. The case alone will be only 7.6mm tall. The water resistance rating will, nonetheless, be 120 meters. We make the absolute most of the vertical space. We will lower the hand stack and push the dial and hands into the domed crystal, so there’s no rehaut here. In fact, if you were to remove the crystal, you would see the minute hand making its rounds above the bezel. That is how tightly everything is packed in there. The dial, lastly, will be made of two layers rather than a milled single layer. This allows for the two contrasting colors and a beautiful, narrow polished chamfer around the perimeter of the top layer. Basically, it is a sandwich dial, except there are no cut-out numerals.
Manufacturing quality and price
The great news is that I have found a company that has produced cases and bracelets for some big Swiss A-brands. We have managed to negotiate this supplier’s highest A-level quality within budget for VPC. In this case, “A-level” means on par with the company’s best work for those established brands. We are talking about watches that retail in the €10K–15K range. So I fully expect to be able to offer best-in-class fit and finishing of the metal parts, as I intended from the get-go. This is a big win for me because I am extremely picky when it comes to this subject.
“Within budget” means that it seems like I will be able to maintain the intended maximum RRP of €3,000 for my watch. Granted, that is a serious sum for a new brand. But as we get closer, I feel the watch will effortlessly surpass any reasonable expectations for that price level. I am excited to report that I have not had to cut a single corner. Everything is made to the highest spec, with longevity, solidity, and beauty in mind.
It took its sweet time. As you can imagine, being obsessive and extremely finicky about quality and details doesn’t help when trying to secure manufacturers. Luckily, I have now surrounded myself with equally ambitious parties. Now that the deal-making is behind us, we can focus on making something amazing together.
The road to manufacturing has been a little longer than expected, so the project is experiencing some delays. The earlier aim of having prototypes in the fall is, obviously, not feasible anymore. But, honestly, I don’t care. My sole objective is to make something truly great, and we’re still perfectly on track there.
It seems it will take around three months from now to have the working demo models. In the meantime, I will get to see some sub-assemblies to prevent surprises at the end of the prototyping stage. The dials, for instance, will require iterating, so we will do just that. The way we have set it up, the final demo models should be 99% representative of the finished watches that customers will receive. I am hoping to be able to share some of that with you in the meantime.
For now, I am just really happy that all the deals are in place. This means that I have budgeted correctly and my finances will see me through until the working demo models — a big relief. The second thing I am stoked about is the quality and feature set. Assuming the manufacturers will meet expectations, the watch will be absolutely stunning and worthwhile. The next three months may just turn out to be the longest ones of my life… I can’t wait!
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- Building A Watch Brand Episode 1 — Introduction
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 2 — Brand and name
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 3 — Finances, risk mitigation, and a designer
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 4 — Unveiling the watch concept
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 5 — The first design ideation sketches
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 6 — Caliber, pouch, case and bracelet updates, typography
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 7 — Dial design
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 8 — Geeking out on typography
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 9 — 3D Modeling, Tech Development, And Opening Up On The Mentally Challenging Side
- Building A Watch Brand Episode 10: From design to manufacturing