Entrepreneur

Young Men In An Old Trade - These Brothers Let You Craft Bespoke Watches With A Click Of The Mouse

Update (12/01/2018): The brothers have since released a new watch collection on Kickstarter, and they have been funded within 24 hours. 

This watch allows users to design their rotor on a Swiss automatic watch movement, which is worked on and finished by local Singaporean jewellers and watchmakers. 

In self-winding automatic watches, most rotors come pre-built in the watch. In pushing the boundaries of custom-made watches, the brothers wanted to challenge this assumption and delve into the movement of the watch. 

The rotor, or oscillating weight, winds each movement and provides space for designing freedom. 

To date, 93 backers have pledged a total of $65,890 – out of its $30,000 goal – to the campaign. 

Schaffen means ‘to create’ in German.

And as the name suggests, that is exactly what the online retail startup intends – to create custom timepieces, built to capture unique styles, individualities and stories.

It all began when one of the co-founders, Jonathan Han, wanted to purchase a watch for himself back in 2015. He couldn’t seem to find an ideal watch off-the-shelf and this prompted him to embark on a journey to build his own timepiece.

The 22-year-old started sourcing for individual parts online, and what followed was weeks of research, experiments, and consultations with local watchmakers.

But once he was actually done with the timepiece, he decided to gift it to his father instead as part of his 50th birthday celebration. This wasn’t a typical watch though – Jonathan actually went the extra mile to inscribe his father’s signature on the dial, making it a more meaningful and personal memento.

Personalised watch for his father / Image Credit: Schaffen

His father was a watch enthusiast himself, boasting a wide collection of vintage Rolex, Tag Heuer and King Seiko watches; so naturally, he was ecstatic about the gift.

One thing led to another, and Jonathan soon roped in his older brother Nicholas (who was previously the CEO of startup GeekVine Co.) to start a business venture together. The vision is to build an internationally recognised label, nurturing it as a go-to avenue for bespoke timepieces.

Kickstarting With A Business Incubator

Last year, the brothers pitched their business plan to investors as part of the Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) of the Singapore Management University, where Nicholas, 25, is a final-year student.

The 12-month incubation programme gave them access to key advisors such as Raphael Dana, a serial entrepreneur; and Ashok Miranda, former creative director at Walt Disney South-east Asia.

The mentor panel provided the brothers valuable feedback and support, and helped them define their revenue model and marketing strategy.

“IIE puts startups through four main stages meant to accelerate growth and to refine the thinking process of entrepreneurs,” said Nicholas.

“At the end of it, we had the opportunity to present at a demo-day, and link up with a number of private angel investors and venture capitalists thereafter. We are currently funded at a pre-seed funding level of slightly over $100,000.”

This seed funding enabled them to place a minimum order for supplies and to employ two watchmakers.

Laying The Groundwork

The Han brothers / Image Credit: The Business Times, SPH

When the Han brothers first broke the news to their parents, the latter were very supportive towards their aspirations. Their only qualm was if there were a viable market opportunity.

The duo then set out to conduct extensive customer interviews for market validation. They even traveled to Hong Kong twice to attend supplier trade shows to establish their supply chain.

Their dedication was clear to see, but there were actually times when they were belittled due to their young age and lack of industry experience.

Nicholas recounted a negative encounter: “There was once when we were negotiating a collaboration with a supplier in Hong Kong, and explained that we had the equipment to inscribe dial details such as unique signatures and hour markers. In response, he asked if we were going to “use a pen to draw it ourselves”.

The brothers simply brushed aside the sarcasm. They continued making trips to Hong Kong, and even Europe, to source for materials.

They also went on to partner with two different Swiss suppliers for the movements, as well as Korean and Japanese manufacturers for other watch components.

Schaffen watches / Image Credit: @schaffenwatches on Instagram

All in all, the Han brothers took a year to “lay the groundwork” and they only started sales in late 2016. According to Nicholas, their profit has been growing steadily over the year, with Singapore sales contributing 75 per cent of its overall orders.

Today, the duo has grown into a team of eight, with senior watchmakers, designers and advisors bolstering the team to service a growing international clientele.

Local Brands Are Of Quality Too

When asked to describe Schaffen’s design philosophy, Nicholas said that their in-house design is kept “timeless and versatile”.

“Elements of our design were rooted in a respect for vintage dress watches. As such, this is captured in our moderately-thick watch bezel and faceted appliqués in our timepieces,” he added.

The Schaffen watches essentially empowers customers to design what they want to wear. Customers are free to select from the curated designs, or build their own watches from scratch by choosing each individual component that goes into their watch.

Screenshot of Schaffen’s website

For a truly unique finishing touch, customers can also inscribe their name and signatures on the dial, or engrave a special message on the case back.

The Vulcan Post team had the honour to design our very own Schaffen watches – and speaking from personal experience, the customisation process was an absolute breeze with only five steps to go through. It took them only a week to craft each bespoke watch, and another one to two weeks for the watches to be shipped to us.

Image Credit: @shazbyshaz / Vulcan Post
Image Credit: @shazbyshaz / Vulcan Post
Image Credit: @shazbyshaz / Vulcan Post
Image Credit: @shazbyshaz / Vulcan Post

All their watches retail for a fixed price of $299 – which is actually a steal, considering that they only use “top-quality components such as sapphire crystal and Swiss movements” for their timepieces.

Besides paying for quality, Schaffen watches are also unique to each customer as no two watches are exactly the same.

When asked to comment on the common perception that local brands are inferior to its global counterparts, Nicholas said that while there are people who doubt that anything Singaporean-made is well-built, “our experience shows that there is an even larger group that is interested and supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

“[Singapore] has the most demanding and critical of consumers. Instead of a misconception of low-quality, I think that anything “Singapore-made” should stand for a dedication to detail and quality assurance”.

What’s Next?

Nicholas shared that Schaffen is collaborating with Sellita, a Swiss movement manufacturer, to expand their collection of bespoke timepieces with the launch of two automatic-movement watches this year.

Currently, Schaffen is also in talks to get its watches displayed in the K+ art gallery at Scotts Orchard in Singapore.

“We expect a collaboration in the coming months … and [we] are very thankful towards the support and belief in Singapore-made products.”

Featured Image Credit: Schaffen 

 

 

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