The Time Bum Gives Thanks

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It is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, a time to reflect on those things for which we are most grateful while we eat like pigs. This year, as always, The Time Bum is most thankful for his family, his friends, and the fact that the world is not overrun with bloodthirsty flying sharks. These are indeed, immensely important (particularly the bit about sharks because a ravenous flock of flying sharks would totally swoop down from the skies and devour your family and friends) but the affordable watch aficionado in me is thankful for other things as well. So swallow that fork full of turkey, wipe the gravy off your chin, and read on as I explain my gratitude in detail. You see, it all starts with...

The Internet

It is hard to remember, but not long ago most information was printed in physical volumes made from dead trees, sales were conducted primarily through local stores, and communication among enthusiasts was slow. Now a thriving global network of watch nerds buys sells, trades, and talks watches in real time, 24 hours a day and watch makers can conduct global market research, advertising, and sales, without touching conventional media and retail outlets. Rapid, networked data exchange speeds the development of new products, encourages the development of low volume niche products, and lowers the overall cost of delivering them to market, all of which is good new for us. It also facilitates communication with manufacturing facilities in such places as Switzerland and....

China

When you think of watches, you think of Switzerland, right? How could you not? It's the home of Rolex, the Swatch Group, and dozens of other horological luminaries. The Swiss export about 28 million watches a year, but the real juggernauts are China and Hong Kong with combined exports of over 1 billion units. Make no mistake, Asian manufacturing is hugely important to the watch industry. Remember, "Swiss Made" is legal term that establishes a minimum standard for domestic content, in other words mostly Swiss. Some Swiss Made watches are 100 per cent home grown, and others are, shall we say, not so much and that "not so much part" is coming from Asia. Chinese manufacturing has reached a point where it is high quality and still comparatively inexpensive. Better still, this process is not just reserved for the big boys. Contract manufacturers in Hong Kong and mainland China will facilitate the production of that dream watch in small batches and at low cost, either using off the shelf parts from their existing catalog, or by machining and casting custom made components, or a combination of the two. They can even provide Chinese made movements, but the movements I am most thankful for are those made by...


Seiko and Citizen

Where would we be without them? They led Japan watch in an all out assault on the Swiss watch industry and very nearly crushed it. Books have been written about how and why, but in short, they built good stuff cheaper, and took advantage of new technology. In a way, you can say they created the quality affordable market. They continue to play a huge role in this area, not only by generating inexpensive, high quality watches, but also by selling movements to third parties at prices that continue to undercut their Swiss competition. These Seiko and Miyota (Citizen) movements find their way into a host of affordable watches, like most if those you will find on....

Kickstarter

You gotta love crowd funding. Platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo allow entrepreneurs to introduce their products to the world and ask for money to fund them, generally in the form of advance sales. If the product has potential, the seller will know right away as backers vote with their wallets. If not, then they will learn from the brutal truth and revamp the concept for another go. Make no mistake, it takes money to get to this point too, but it is a whole lot better than learning that no one really wants your new Buzz-O-Matic 2000 watch - after you spent your life savings to get a couple thousand made. All of this makes life much easier for....

Micro Brands

Now this is what I am most thankful for. We have witnessed a micro revolution in the watch world these past couple years, and it has been nothing short of remarkable. Creating your own watch brand still requires a tremendous degree of time, energy, research, technical expertise, business acumen, design talent, marketing skill, and bull-headed perseverance, but what was once a nearly insurmountable task has been made attainable. An aspiring micro brand can test their designs in the turbulent waters of online watch forums, connecting with their potential customers right from the get-go. Production is contracted to specialists with manufacturing and assembly facilities in China and Hong Kong, using a selection of Swiss or Asian movements. Internet marketing and direct sales eliminate the need for real estate, middle men, and mark ups, further speeding development and lowering costs. Crowd funding eases the burden of raising capital. See how it all comes together?

All of these factors have combined to create a Golden Age for watch nerds, with micro brands leading the way. Granted, there are a lot of new watches rehashing old designs, but there are also an increasing number of micros out there taking chances, trying new things, and creating niche products that just wouldn't make sense for larger watch companies. Not every idea is good, but that is all part of the process. I fear it can't last forever. One of the factors I described may change and the business model will no longer be profitable. I hope not, but while of lasts, I plan to enjoy it.

Yes, my friends, I am going to go out on a limb and declare 2014 the Year of the Micro. So raise your glass and join me in a toast to thank those upstart watch brands and the enterprising men and women behind them.

Happy Thanksgiving!




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