The watch industry remnants productive territory for a well-planned start-up, as this entrepreneurial trio proves. The Telegraph meets with a branding expert who founded a luxury watch company, a law graduate who sells high-end vintage and independent watches online, and the menswear entrepreneur who spied an opportunity in watch servicing.
The brand founder: Jono Holt, 33, Farer Watches
“We would consider ourselves talking everywhere, discussion about watches, aggravated that nothing like this existed at a price we could afford,” says Jono Holt, co-founder of upstart Brit brand Farer. The “we” in question are Holt, Ben Lewin and Stuart Finlayson – all colleagues at their own branding and marketing agency, OtherWay – and retail veteran and watch collector Paul Sweetenham. As a group of creatives, an emphasis on design was always going to be a deciding factor.
“For 10 years at least, the watch industry has been passionate with movements,” says Holt. “We loved the brave designs of the Seventies, and their use of colour. We believe there’s an audience wanting that kind of attention to detail, but who can’t spend £5,000,” he explains.
Farer’s Oxley GMT, £1,175
Farer launched with quartz watches in 2015, presenting its first automatics (priced at £875) last year, and most recently added a GMT. All are Swiss-made and available through the Farer website.
“Social media, and Instagram especially, is at the very heart of our brand,” says Holt. An outsider’s loom to “telling the story” has helped out Farer to make its mark, but not without some resistance from Switzerland.
“Big watch brands think it would be awful to show the work in progress,” Holt continues. “We turned up at our supplier’s factory and said we wanted to film the production line and they thought we were mad. Eventually, though, they let us do it.”
The repairs man: Oliver Pollock , 29, Luxury Watch Repairs
A schedule service on a simple watch can become a costly and lengthy waiting game – such is the legacy of underinvestment in servicing by the watch industry. Oliver Pollock’s Luxury Watch Repairs – the no-frills name, he points out, is SEO friendly – aims to take the pain and waiting out of the process. “We had to bring a dull industry into the 21st century,” says Pollock.
Coming from a family steeped in the watch business, he saw first hand the frustration and opacity involved – “months for a basic service” – while making a living selling preowned watches himself. He first took on skilled, accredited watchmakers to maintain his own stock, before realising the service could be opened up to the public.
Customers are sent a prepaid postage pack to courier their watch (fully tracked and insured), with jobs turned around in days. “Communication is key,” says Pollock, who had already had achievement with a menswear start-up, Bergano Greys. “We keep people informed, texting them at every stage of the work if that’s what they want.”
The business, which now receives up to 40 watches per day, has grown by word of mouth and is doubling the size of its Hatton Garden premises. The concept may be simple, but weekend and evening opening hours, a flexible approach to small “part jobs” such as replacing scratched crystal, and the commitment to quick turnarounds are paying serious dividends. A Manchester plant has opened, and Pollock says New York is his next target.
The online dealer: Silas Walton, 30, acollectedman.com
Buying and selling some of the most collectable watches for six-figure sums was never the plan for Silas Walton, founder of watch-selling website A Collected Man. “I had no surroundings in watches,” says Walton, a law graduate who was working in private equity. “I had a bad experience trying to sell a Cartier Tank online, and it got me thinking.”
With a well-known watch collector as a family friend and early investor, Walton took a leap. “I just happened to be thinking the right way about a market that happened to be changing significantly,” he admits. Walton’s core of concentration is on ultra-rare watches – both vintage and from top contemporary independents – many of which have never changed hands online before.
To that, he has added an enlightened, lifestyle-led approach, reflected in his choice of the website’s aspirational title. “It’s all about digitising what is an exceptionally old-fashioned market,” he says. “The extra rare, preowned stuff, people thought that could only be sold in person. That’s just not true in this day and age.”
Now, with attraction sales under his girdle and considerable effort put into establishing trust, Walton is aiming to be more than a dealer and is signing agreements to become an “approved seller” for some of the world’s best watchmakers’ preowned models, as well ass working on partnerships with independent brands to sell limited editions.