Watch Development – There is always a story
The story of developing a watch would not strike anyone as a compelling story. Yet, as I told the story of the early days of SNGLRTY a little voice crept into my head. It is a fun story, well certainly Daniel and I have enjoyed living it. As I told the story, though, that little voice was telling me that it sounds a bit fantastical, almost unreal. Thankfully I know it is real; I was there. And there have been plenty of witnesses – well, Daniel at least.
Then a couple of days later, I was surfing on LinkedIn and up popped the story of another watch brand. To be more exact, it was the story of a watch movement. The short film lays out the story behind the development of the cheapest tourbillon available in the market today. The video had me captured, and the story was magical. As I contemplated the story of Horage, it made me realize that everyone’s stories of passion, discovery, and creation are bizarre and unreal when we look back on them. It got me thinking, and I wanted to explore some watch stories in more detail.
Our Story Is Not So Bizarre!
Horage, in developing their tourbillon, had as many stops and starts in their journey as Daniel and I faced in creating SNGLRTY. They started with a clear goal in mind, only to have to scrap it all halfway through and begin again. I am sure it was a severe blow at the time, but, in the end, it was all for the best as they went on to create something even better than they had initially planned.
The story of SNGLRTY is similar. Daniel and I started with a goal in mind; it was simple to create a watch that stood out in the market. Something that could not be compared to any prior watch. Looking back, it was a huge hurdle to set ourselves. But it was easy to accept it because we were not interested in just changing some colors on an homage watch.
The Path is Twisty and Bumpy
We were not ready for how, as Daniel worked with the engineers to develop what would become SNGLRTY, we would be challenged and how much we had yet to understand. It was not that we did not understand the watchmaking. It was the secondary consequences of our new movement that took us by surprise. Looking back, it seemed that as we made a step forward, the watch then had to teach us a lesson that changed our direction. With the change of direction, there were more areas to explore and understand as SNGLRTY began to take shape. As we developed it, the simple idea scrawled on the back of a beer mat had become more complex and infinitely nuanced.
My favorite example of this unfolding was our moment of discovery, or perhaps it was my moment of realization that we had to redesign how the watch face would be assembled. This revelation led us down a new path, one neither Daniel nor I had contemplated before. We had this opportunity to create many different watch faces. This new functionality, though, presented us with a problem – which combinations should we choose? Daniel and I tried for a while to select combinations that we thought people would like and be impactful on our crowdfunding pages. This was a fun process, but there was always a doubt when we sat back and looked at the resulting collections. Were the selections what we wanted, or what our customers wanted? We had no way to know.
The Customer Is Always Right
Around that time, we decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace the idea that our customers select the combination they want. This was not without consequence, especially for Daniel, as he was responsible for the production. This decision required that every watch had to be individually assembled only after it has been ordered. This is the antithesis of the vast majority of watchmaking these days, even in Switzerland.
From what we have learned by the selection our customers’ have made in creating their SNGLRTY watches, it is fortunate that we made this decision. Our customers have been far more bold and imaginative than we were when initially selecting the proposed collections. Once again, the journey took us to a better place than we could have even imagined. Just like Horage and their magnificent tourbillon had to go through a winding journey, so did SNGLRTY.
Watch Development Of Old
It is not only Horage and SNGLRTY that has been through these twisting and turning journeys. Many of the most famous watches from history have incredible stories behind them. One of my favorites is the development and eventual commercial success of one of the most iconic racing watches in the world, the Heuer Monaco. It is hard to believe, seeing the TAG Heuer behemoth of today, that when this watch was conceived and created, it was a financial struggle for Heuer and initially a potential disaster.
There are many wonderful anecdotes to the creation of the Heuer Monaco. The story aside, the watch itself was a remarkable achievement and testament to the vision and enthusiasm of Jack Heuer. To start, let’s look at the accomplishments of the watch itself.
In 1969, when the Monaco was launched, being a square watch was highly unusual in a sea of round watch faces. But there was more; this was the first square watch to have significant water resistance. Before the Monaco, square watches were designed as dress watches because the technology was not available to make square watches water-resistant.
That was not all. The Monaco was the first automatic chronograph watch and, if that was not enough, was powered by a micro-rotor. The tractor movement had been developed by Buren, a well-regarded Swiss watch maker of the time. This new patented movement was a breakthrough as it was considerably thinner than those in the market previously. And finally, the complication plate was designed by Dubois-Dépraz. When all assembled, the complete movement was referred to as the Caliber 11.
Success Not Guaranteed
With all these great advances, this would surely be a fabulously successful watch from launch. But no. The story had to unfold for the Monaco to take its place in watch history.
Heuer did not start as a watch maker; their history was based on stopwatches and timing equipment development. Watchmaking was seen as a “side business” through most of its history, but the Monaco was to merge these two ideas. Designed to tell the time and time sports (the phrase ‘chronograph’ effectively translates to stopwatch), this watch was intended to time how long it takes cars to go around the most famous track in Formula One – Monaco.
At its launch, the Monaco immediately raised eyebrows and created a bit of a buzz. The trouble was the buzz soon died out, and there were no orders to speak of. Perhaps, in hindsight, this was fortuitous.
Turn of Fate, Or Destined To Be?
In 1970 the iconic film Le Mans was in production and descended on the town of the same name in France. The film was significant for the star, Steve McQueen, as it combined his passions of motor racing, and films.
At the time, Jo Siffert, the Formula 1 driver, was sponsored by Heuer and sported the Heuer logos on his racing suits and car. Siffert had also, rather fortuitously, been hired by the production team to film Le Mans. His role was to coach the actors on how to drive the racing cars and ensure the filming was as realistic as possible. At the same time, Jack Heuer was asked to supply some watches for the filming. As Jack Heuer recalls in his autobiography, The Times Of My Life:
“A production master called me from Hollywood and said, “Jack, I need a lot of stopwatches for the film Le Mans” so I started putting things together, but we had no watches, all our chronographs had sold out. We could only provide him the Monaco because it was selling badly, and we had stock.”
As the story goes, before the start of the shooting, a decision had to be made on which watch was to be worn. Steve McQueen was asked which he would prefer. The prop department offered up an Omega, but McQueen refused. His concern was that Omega might use his name. Apparently, he then picked up the Heuer Monaco because he had never heard of the brand before and because he had the Heuer logo emblazoned on his racing suit. Why was his racing suit emblazoned with the Heuer logo? This was because his racing suit had been modeled on the racing suit that Jo Siffert had turned up wearing, and that had the Heuer logo on it. Continuity demanded that the driver should also sport the watch of his sponsors on his wrist, so the Heuer Monaco was the watch in the film Le Mans.
When the film was released in 1971, the posters featured McQueen dressed in Heuer-emblazoned racing overalls, but most importantly, a square Heuer Monaco strapped to his wrist.
You Could Not Have Predicted This
Jack Heuer has said that if the Monaco had been popular, it would not have starred in the film. The question is then, where would the Heuer Monaco be in the history of watches, because without this film, the watch was not selling.
So for my part, I no longer think that our story of SNGLRTY is bizarre or fantastical. It is just the way life has to unfold sometimes, or perhaps it is the way we learn? The learning process is painful and unpredictable, but we need to go through it to realize the full potential of any idea or situation. That was certainly the case for Horage and their incredible tourbillon, and way back in history for Heuer and the Monaco, and also for Daniel and I in creating SNGLRTY.