Interview With The Founder Of TULLOCH Watches
After our planned introduction at Baselworld 2020 (remember that?) was — ahem — unable to go ahead, I’ve been itching to learn more about the brainchild of Shane Tulloch, having encountered his stunning work online at the turn of this crazy year. Last week, we spoke over the phone about his brand and future vision. Here’s the result of that conversation…
Rob Nudds: Hi Shane, thanks for taking the time to sit down with Fratello. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand.
Shane Tulloch: I am the founder and creative director at TULLOCH.
I was born in New Zealand, and I grew up around my father’s workshop, where he makes custom jewelry by hand. Growing up, I loved the energy and passion he brought to his craft; he was always pushing to make each piece into something beyond the ordinary. And there were often these incredible moments when he would hand a piece to a client, and they would just come alive, all smiles.
I think I inherited a lot of that same intensity and appreciation for how meaningful a great piece can be. For example, people often buy watches to mark a significant achievement or milestone in their life.
So when I founded the brand, I wanted to pursue a similar approach with my watches, pushing the boundaries of creativity, and never yielding on delivering the very best in quality and hand-crafted finishing techniques.
For the first watch, I assembled a small team at a workshop in St-Sulpice, Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. There, we spent over three years doing design, development, and prototyping. We finished the prototypes in late 2019, and after a few last refinements to the dial, introduced the T-01, First Edition, in 2020.
RN: When did you first decide you wanted to get into watchmaking?
ST: It began in 2012. After that, I spent several years learning the engineering behind a watch movement and many complications. I began creating my first concepts in CAD software and then put some thought into the design. All the while, I would make visits to Switzerland to meet suppliers and artisans, trying to build a network of people I could work with to make things happen.
RN: Did you ever have any aspirations to take up the tools yourself?
ST: I was never as good with my hands as my father. I thought the best way for me would be to use what I had learned about micro-mechanical engineering and focus on movement design. I enjoy working on the concepts, moving from CAD models to prototypes, and, finally, the finished pieces.
But I do take an intense interest in how things are actually made because the interplay between design and manufacturing is critical. It is easy, for example, to design something difficult or impossible to make, and vice versa; if you understand manufacturing limitations, it opens up new ideas in design.
A good example is the balance bridge on the TULLOCH T-01. I probably spent 4 to 5 months designing and redesigning that bridge until I got it right. One of the iterations, while interesting, would have cost thousands of dollars just for one bridge. The manufacturing know-how is not something you can overlook.
RN: How hard was it to make the necessary connections in the industry?
ST: I found that to meet the best suppliers in Switzerland, you have to spend time on the ground. You have to get to know the people, and that takes time. It is fascinating to me that some of the finest artisans barely have websites. You will never find them or understand the intricacies of their work unless you knock on doors. Ultimately, it took 2-3 years to effectively build up a small network of partners with the right knowledge, and even now, I’m still meeting new people.
RN: Have you found the process rewarding so far? Was it ever difficult to break into the sometimes closed-shop that is Switzerland?
ST: It’s an incredible moment when you meet people who are open to your creative direction and want to work in the same way you do. You have to find people who share your vision.
My first break-through was when I met Eric Giroud, a designer in Geneva. He is a brilliant and creative guy, open to new ideas. Eric really encouraged me with the first project. He also introduced me to Kari Voutilainen and Christophe Beuchat. Together, we worked on development and prototyping. From there, I was able to get to know some of the component suppliers.
Now that I have completed the first watch, it is definitely a little easier.
RN: What inspires your design?
ST: From the very start, I was intrigued by the idea of recreating something from the roots of watchmaking history.
After a visit to the Patek museum in Geneva, I became very interested in the regulator-style timepieces made over 200 years ago by masters like Antide Janvier and Abraham Louis Breguet. Those pieces were the reference timekeepers in their day, from an age when minutes mattered more than seconds. There is just something immensely appealing about that.
I studied many different regulator-style watches and realized I could reimagine the dial with a fresh asymmetric design — something new. I combined this with modern typography, fine details such as the hand-polished gold embossed numerals, and a long, sleek center-minutes hand in 18k gold.
As a counterpoint to the dial’s contemporary feel, the reserve displays its historical inspiration. The slim case has a classical feel. The traditional high-end finishing has been pushed to the extreme. And the symmetrical movement, like many of Breguet’s original watches, recalls the past. And, just like the original regulators, there is a high degree of attention to chronometry in the design. The mechanism has twin-barrels coupled in series, which provide a very stable flow of power to the escapement, combined with a large free-sprung balance wheel that oscillates at a steady amplitude over the 4-day power reserve.
The result is both an homage to classic instruments of time measurement and a refined contemporary watch that puts a new face on an old idea.
RN: Has the TULLOCH design been influenced in any way by your work with Voutilainen? Did Kari suggest revisions that you adopted?
ST: Kari was an immense help throughout the development process. He attended every project meeting over the entire time I spent designing, prototyping, and testing the first watches. He was a great mentor on the technical side, and a key reason the movement is just rock solid.
Thankfully, he is also thoughtful about decoration. For example, we added the hand-made guilloché on the barrels as a suggestion from Kari. It looks spectacular, and clients can choose from different patterns if they wish to personalize their watch.
At the same time, the T-01 is wholly distinct from a Voutilainen. In fact, I think one of the key reasons that Kari took such an interest in the project was because the design language has its own identity. He likes fresh ideas and someone willing to forge their own path.
RN: I love the symmetry of this movement. Which historical calibers inspired your design?
ST: Take a look at some of the pocket watches by Abraham Louis Breguet. While Breguet is known for innovations like the tourbillon and the natural escapement, even many of his simple pieces had symmetrical layouts that feel natural. A perfect example is a beautiful little one-hander he offered on a subscription basis to drum-up clients upon returning to Paris in 1795 after his exile during the French revolution. The movement is quite simple, but it looks terrific because of its symmetry.
For more recent examples, look at the movements in FP Journe’s Souveraine collection, or the Ferdinand Berthoud FB.1, or the Chronomètre Contemporain by Rexhep Rexhepi. Those are just amazing watches.
RN: For future TULLOCH models, will you use this caliber as a base, or will you always do something new each time?
ST: For the next watch, I’d like to use the existing T-01 caliber but with a few changes — a couple of twists that will make it into a new creation. I love the movement in the T-01. I think it deserves a life beyond the first edition.
But over time, I want to bring something new to the table with each model, so I will be working hard to make new calibers to extend the range of capabilities.
RN: How many pieces of this model can you produce? How many do you want to produce?
ST: The first watch is limited to 50 pieces, all individually numbered, some of which have already been sold. They will be the only pieces ever to have the words “First Edition” engraved on the movement.
RN: Explain the pricing structure for me? It seems like a lot of watch for the money.
ST: The first watch is priced at $36,800 (CHF 35,000 outside the US), excluding taxes or duties. Even though the amount of handwork is extensive (and extremely costly), we have been able to keep the final pricing relatively low by selling directly to many clients, a little bit like a “farm to table” model. If a large brand with heavy distribution channels priced this watch, it would be much more expensive.
RN: And you bankrolled TULLOCH yourself, right?
ST: It took me many, many years to save the money to start the brand, so I’ve been nurturing this dream for a long time. But I wanted to get started this way so I could be truly independent and set uncompromising standards in terms of creativity and quality and craft.
RN: That must take a lot of guts. What are the worst moments you’ve had since pouring your life-savings into the project?
ST: I suppose it would not be a surprise to anyone that 2020 has not been the most encouraging of years to introduce a new brand. All of the shows were canceled, travel has been restricted, our showcase location in New York is still closed because of city regulations. Furthermore, many clients are unwilling to meet in person. There have been a lot of set-backs. I have my fingers crossed that the global health situation will improve and that clients will become more willing to reach out.
RN: How do you foresee building the essential network of TULLOCH fans and clients in this COVID-stricken world?
ST: I’d like to find ways to meet more independent collectors.
In the near-term, I am hopeful I can re-open my showcase location in New York before the end of the year, and then do some client events and meetings within the US. If health conditions improve, maybe by next year I will be able to travel to Asia and Europe again.
RN: Describe to me your perfect customer.
ST: I just love it when I come across a client who appreciates creativity and design and hand-made finishing — a genuine enthusiast who wants something unique to add to their collection.
RN: What’s the future for TULLOCH?
ST: I am working towards a second watch, and I have a handful of great ideas beyond that. I am taking it step-by-step.
RN: How do we go about buying one if we want to?
ST: The easiest way is to get in contact with me at [email protected].
You can learn more about TULLOCH here.