VAPAUS was founded by British brothers, Oliver and Rudi Laing, out of a desire to create a legacy of magnificent, vintage inspired timepieces. The ambitious pair state openly that they are striving to create a new European brand placed to sit beside NOMOS, Stowa and Sinn in terms of beauty quality and technical specification. Commenting, Rudi stated: “We are well aware that we have set a herculean goal; but we did so safe in the knowledge that we would be much more motivated to strive to place among the leaders of the genre, than to languish among the more compromised alternatives; for when it comes to quality, we see these three extraordinary brands as setting the bar for transcendent, minimal, vintage-inspired wrist watches.”
The Vapaus Veil project is currently live on KickStarter:
Standing tall amongst giants
To stand tall in such company, you need to do something special. The VAPAUS Veli delivers with a volley of striking features:
High-arched Sapphire Crystal
The beautiful, high-arched sapphire crystal of the VAPAUS Veli is worthy of special discussion; it is an extremely desirable and rare feature in modern watchmaking. The reason for this is quite simple – they are extremely expensive to create. In the modern watch landscape it is difficult to find comparable examples, but one timepiece that does come to mind is the Oris – John Coltrane (Limited Edition), which features a stunning high-arched sapphire crystal similar in profile to the Veli. The Oris John Coltrane, which also features a Swiss Sellita movement (albeit re-labelled as the Oris Caliber 733), is simply out of reach for many, with an RRP of $2,200. The VAPAUS Veli launched on KickStarter at just £499 GBP (~$650).
Swiss Made with a Sellita SW215-1 movement featuring a bespoke colour-matched date wheel
The brothers state that the Veli being Swiss Made was never essential to them. “We would have happily manufactured the first VAPAUS watch in Germany; notably fine houses such as Stowa, Sinn and NOMOS are all German made. However, our chosen-manufacturing partner’s close working relationship with Sellita and their understanding of our uncompromising approach; twinned with a significant period of negotiation, resulted in us being able to colour-match the date wheel of the Veli.” This significant, and unusual, feature sets the Veli apart from the throng.
Founding a watch company is an expensive business. Notably the UK’s most successful new mechanical watch manufacturer, Christopher Ward, was initiated after his talented business partners Mike France and Peter Ellis sold the Early Learning Centre for a significant sum.
When questioned as to the similarities between VAPAUS and Christopher Ward, Oliver stated: “Although the financial circumstances and design ethos of our respective brands differ dramatically; Christopher Ward story was very much an inspiration in the genesis of our brand. The founders had tremendous pluck and gumption. They set off to build a global watch brand and they did it on the back of hard work, transparent pricing and sound decision-making.”
“In a similar vein of entrepreneurial verve, we funded the development and prototyping of our first watch out of our own pockets. We refined four working prototypes over a period of just under two years before turning to the crowdfunding website KickStarter to launch VAPAUS.”
To those of you who are unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it essentially works by the project creator laying out their vision through video and text, and then taking pre-orders for the finished concept. These ‘pledges’ are only charged to the potential customer if the project reaches a funding target that the creator sets. VAPAUS’ project for the Veli can be viewed here:
Naturally, more ambitious projects require a more funding. The Veli set a funding goal of 100,000 USD; this significant sum was a necessary due to the cost of both the Swiss movement and the high-arched sapphire. In fact, this was the highest target ever embarked upon for a mechanical wristwatch. Reflecting on this, Rudi commented: “We were stunned by the reaction when we finally launched the Veli. The 1st Edition models of the Slate Grey and Deep Blue dials sold out almost instantly, and we have built a wonderful relationship with our community of backers. We hit our funding target with over 20 days to spare, which was really remarkable, and far beyond our expectations.”
Freedom of information and the human soul
Vapaus means freedom in Finnish, both freedom of information and the human soul already feel embedded into the VAPAUS brand.
Right from the outset of the company VAPAUS shared its design concepts and inspirations freely through Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest; and open watch forums such as Watch-U-Seek and Reddit. When the brothers felt very close to a perfect design, they opened the doors further by launching a SurveyMonkey questionnaire, which asked the aforementioned forum users and their expanding mailing list, detailed questions on elements of the Veli and how they thought the design could be further improved.
Discussing this open approach, Oliver commented: “On paper it might have seemed that we were taking a tremendous risk by relentlessly ploughing more and more of our own money into developing the Veli; but the risk was justified by feedback from the true watch aficionados on Watch-U-Seek, Reddit and our mailing list. It was clear from our surveys and detailed conversations with fellow watch lovers that there was a place in the world for a vintage-inspired 38mm watch with the stunning feature set of the Veli. This gave us the confidence to quite literally bet our houses on the project.”
Seven days into the campaign the VAPAUS Veli received a glowing review from Zach Weiss, founder of Worn and Wound:
The detailed, insightful, hands-on review and stunning photography resulted in the Veli project reaching a much wider audience than anticipated, leading to the project being funded well ahead of schedule. Zach’s feedback also resulted in VAPAUS deciding to slightly extend the crown of the watch in order to perfect the winding experience.
In discussing the choice of the name VAPAUS, Oliver revealed: “On a more personal level, the naming of the company is tied into my relationship with my brother. I founded the company with Rudi who is a composer ( www.rudiarapahoe.com). In 2011 he worked on an art installation called ‘Contraction’ with the Danish artist Martin Thaulow. The installation was initially based on the beautiful island of Bornholm in the Baltic sea, but later travelled to Copenhagen. He had a wonderful adventure in Denmark, meeting Thaulow’s family, friends, other artists and musicians. Travel is so good for the soul. This later translated into Rudi and I travelling together to a different location in the Nordic region each year; few plans, two weeks, minimal luggage… We experience such a sense of freedom on our travels together. It’s hard to put into words, but it is like this time stayed with us when we returned to the UK, both in the way that we made decisions in the present, and how we planned for the future. In naming the brand we wanted a term that encapsulated this sensation and our adventures together in Europe.”
The VAPAUS Watch Wallet
The VAPAUS team’s creativity expands beyond watches, into luxury leather goods. Expanding, Oliver stated “As watch lovers and frequent travelers, we have been searching for somewhere to keep our travel essentials – passport, tickets, credit cards and, of course, watches. Unable to find the perfect travel wallet, we decided to create our own.”
The stunning VAPAUS Watch Travel Wallet features:
These luxurious leather travel wallets are available on KickStarter for £95 (the RRP post KickStarter is slated to be £149).
The future of VAPAUS
With their first watch already funded and set for delivery in November, VAPAUS has taken its first step towards its goal of building an iconic new European watch brand. When asked about the future, Rudi responded: “The next 3 months will be really exciting. We’re completely focused on delivering the Veli on time and to our own uncompromising standards. In background, we are in the creative stages of our second model. It’s always a thrill to work creatively together, and we already feel that, conceptually, we have alighted upon something remarkable.” If VAPAUS’ sophomore effort lives up to the commercial and critical success of the Veli, then the brothers’ lofty ambitions for the brand may well be in reach. Only time will tell.