"Have the creativity to dream up the future, and the courage to make it happen.”

Jolene Hee  |  Singapore
Published 2015-03-27 10:10:15

In science fiction stories, 3D printing – or other similar processes – is usually about convenience. Press a button, a machine whirs, and a minute later the exact item you need appears.

But for Damien Chow, Alfred Lim and Jimmy Peng, the co-founders of 3D printing startup Tenvas, it holds far more potential than that. The ambitious trio hopes that through their customisable, printed-on-demand watches, we will be better able to express our unique personalities, make our gifts for loved ones more meaningful, and find the courage to believe in our own creativity.

Tenvas — A Digital Canvas

According to Damien, Tenvas’ name was derived from a combination of ‘1’ and ‘0’ — the binary numbers used by digital devices — and ‘canvas’. He explains, “We wanted Tenvas to be a Digital Canvas for you to enjoy styling your watches.”


Each Tenvas watch is made up of two components — an outer and inner strap. The white inner strap boasts a classic, simple design which wouldn’t be out of place in an ordinary watch shop. What’s interesting is the interchangeable outer strap — the Tenvas e-shop currently features 111 colourful designs for this strap, ranging from subtle patterns to bold-looking statement pieces. Essentially, it’s a versatile watch for all occasions.

But that’s still not what makes their watches truly special. One benefit that they wanted to bring to customers, Damien says, is “a potentially limitless variety of designs. All our watches are 3D printed on demand. The benefit of this is that every watch is unique and customised.”

Damien (right) and Alfred, co-founders of Tenvas
Damien (right) and Alfred, co-founders of Tenvas

This is made possible by an interactive model between designers and consumers. As he puts it, “Designers can share their inspirations [on their e-shop]. Watch lovers can leave comments, and designers can collaborate with users to improve their next design.” In addition, customers can personalise pre-existing designs by uploading their own images and illustrations. And if you’re up for designing your own 3D-printed watch, Tenvas is here to help as well. “We want to make it easy and accessible to designers worldwide by leveraging on common tools such as Photoshop.”

tenv 3

The invention of 3D printing has made it far more practical for us to customize items in this way, but as expected of a new industry, there’re some downsides. Damien admits, “The lead time is longer, versus buying a mass manufactured watch in your nearby shopping centre.” Then there’s the fact that at $116 USD, or approximately $159 SGD, a Tenvas watch is pricey for the ordinary Singaporean.

Still, it might be a fair trade-off — in turn, you get to lay your hands on a one-of-a-kind watch that has been customised to your heart’s content. Even Apple can’t say that about their watches.

At Heart, We’re All Creative

Image Credit: Tenvas
Image Credit: Tenvas

Tenvas, Damien says, was created to redress a ‘great injustice’ — our inability to give free reign to our creativity.

The creative instinct is strong in us all, going back to humanity’s earliest days of cave paintings and improvised weaponry. And through an art jamming session with his wife, Damien discovered how fulfilling it was to express himself aesthetically.

“It was my first time painting on canvas – I had no prior experience but I picked up some tips from YouTube. I was really proud of my painting and I wanted to share my accomplishment with my family and friends.

I see the same type of emotional response in my young children as well. They love to show their art to us and it makes them really happy.

So I realised that people derive a deep sense of fulfilment when creating and building things. However, most people might mistakenly think that they aren’t creative enough or don’t have the talent or time to do so.”

Damien Chow, CEO and co-founder of Tenvas, with his wife
Damien Chow, CEO and co-founder of Tenvas, with his wife at a recent 3D printing exhibition at NUS

His belief that everyone could be creative with the right tools spurred him on to give 3D printing an artistic end. And so far, he hasn’t been proven wrong in his conviction. When asked to recall something that surprised him, he cites a design competition that Tenvas held in December last year:

“We ran a design competition for graphic designers, where they designed on our outer strap using Photoshop. I was surprised at the amount of creativity from just 20 designers — they submitted over 100 designs in a week.

These designers had never designed for watches before, but we had some coming up with over 10 designs in three days… all very creative and distinctly different from each other. So what surprised me most was their speed, variety, creativity.”

For Damien, 3D printing holds huge potential for creative design, unhindered by the usual constraints of mass production. As he passionately emphasizes, “The sky’s the limit.”

Image Credit: Tenvas
Image Credit: Tenvas

When A Watch Isn’t Just A Watch

There was a time when wristwatches were prized as handy ways to tell time. That certainly isn’t the case nowadays — why wear a watch when your phone is right beside you anyway? Yet, Damien doesn’t consider this a potential problem.

“We see watches serving another function: as a fashion statement piece. When people can customise their own watches, it makes for an interesting talking point with family and friends. It could be the story behind the watch design. It could be a common interest or passion, say cycling or movies.”

Image Credit: Tenvas
Image Credit: Tenvas

This personal factor is the thing that sets Tenvas watches apart — a customized watch definitely holds more meaning than a mass-produced one. This was one other inspiration behind Tenvas, Damien relates: the importance of giving meaningful gifts to loved ones. And in relation to that, he has a heartwarming story to tell.

“One of our customers was Thomas, a close family friend of my cofounder. He’s a young boy with a great personality. However, he was born with a physical disability and had to undergo several medical treatments. It was difficult for him and he wanted to give up.

His parents decided to customise a 3D printed watch for his birthday, using one of his favourite computer games as a watch design.

The birthday boy was extremely happy and proud of this unique birthday gift — it was really meaningful for him. It gave him determination to continue his treatment.”

Alfred, Chief Designer and co-founder of Tenvas, with Thomas
Alfred, Chief Designer and co-founder of Tenvas, with Thomas

“A watch,” Damien concludes, “is a very personal gift because you wear it often. For Thomas, it serves as a constant reminder to never give up.“

Clocking the Future

While Tenvas watches are available for sale at present, the startup is very much at an iterative stage. Damien explains, “We like to think of our initial customers as our advisory board. They’re giving us a lot of useful feedback for our campaign.”

Currently, Tenvas is also working on a crowdfunding campaign, slated for May this year. “We’ve worked out the design, manufacturing and shipping of our product,” Damien says. “We need the support of our backers to make customisable 3D printed watches a reality.”

Image Credit: Tenvas
Image Credit: Tenvas

The main challenge that Tenvas faces, he believes, is that commercial 3D printing is a sunrise industry. As yet, there’re a lot of unanswered questions that startups can answer only through trial and error.

“It’s somewhat similar to the birth of the commercial Internet in the 90s. Companies like Amazon and eBay had to answer many questions that’re obvious today. Would customers willingly buy things online? How do we accept payment? How do we market ourselves online?

There’re also many questions facing the 3D printing industry. What consumer applications should we use 3D printing for? Should the end product be completely 3D printed, or only partially? How do we market 3D-printed products?”

One thing’s for sure: where there’re boundaries to push in 3D printing, Tenvas will be there to do so. Asked about the guiding principle he lives by, Damien reveals, “‘Dare to Dream’. To have the creativity to dream up the future, and the courage to make it happen.”

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