Much like a ripple effect, it was a Pebble that started it. Not one made of stone but one made of circuitry and plastic. Back in 2013, California-based smartwatch brand Pebble made history on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site launched in 2009. It managed to raise a record-breaking $10.3m (approximately £8m) to launch its techy timepiece, an amount it surpassed when it crowdfunded its follow-up, this time raising $20.3m (£16m).
Pebble’s success was not only the start of the global smartwatch trend, it also opened up a non-traditional route to new watch brands without an immediate pot of start-up capital at their disposal. Now there are around 4,000 names looking to get your attention and your money. But how do you pick a project and is it even worth wading through the hoards on Kickstarter when shopping for your next watch?
Why Buy A Watch On Kickstarter?
For Mitch Greenblatt, CEO and founder of Watches.com as well as Xeric watches, a brand he launched on Kickstarter five years ago, the site is an excellent way for the newly interested to buy into something different that won’t have the financial commitment of a more well-known name. Let’s face it, the chances of finding the next Rolex are slim, so look for something you like at a budget you can afford.
“We find Kickstarter to be a major vein to newly indoctrinated watch enthusiasts,” he explains. “Many of our backers had never owned mechanical watches before their first Xeric, and even if they have, they weren’t able to afford anything they see on the influential watch blogs. We have discovered that Xeric is a sort of ‘gateway drug’ for people just becoming interested in mechanical watches and/or unusual watch designs that everyday people can afford (and aspire to collect).”
Not all Kickstarter watch brands are as creative in their aesthetic as Xeric; in fact, if you look you can find everything from vintage-inspired divers to a sporty chronograph. The one thing they all have in common is they probably won’t be names you’ll find in the window of your local retailer. But they’ll almost always be cheaper watches than you’re used to seeing.
How It Works
On the face of it, starting a Kickstarter project is easy – you just set up your project, specify how much you’d like to raise, decide what, if any incentives you want to offer to backers, then hit go. Campaigners only receive their money once the target has been reached and once money is pledged it acts as a contract between backer and creator.
Although it may look like it, Kickstarter isn’t a store. It is a business-funding facilitator and, as such, you as a backer are liable for your own risk. So you do have to exercise caution when looking for your next piece of wrist attire.
“I think it is vital for your backers to know as much about your product (and deliverables) as possible so they can make a measured decision for themselves,” says Oliver Goffe, managing director of British watch brand Marloe, which raised £179,000 for the launch of its first watch back in 2016. “Look for brands who show photos of functioning prototypes and, once you’re involved expect reassurance with accurate timelines and detailed descriptions of how production is going to progress.”
The Best Kickstarter Watch Brands To Invest In Now
This is a classic-looking retro dive watch from a Belgian brand that was set up by watch collector Stijn Busschaert, and its description ticks all the right boxes.
The leather straps are sourced from a luxury handbag manufacturer, NATOs from a French supplier to larger watch brands and the movement is a modified STP1-11, which is an ETA 2824 clone from Fossil Group’s mechanical watch production hub, Swiss Technology Production. Just €645 (£565) will get you on the list for a watch in whichever of the three colours you prefer.
If you’re a fan of the rather bonkers aesthetic of the likes of Richard Mille and have your heart set on a tourbillon watch but just don’t have a cool million lying around, then Phantoms Lab could be the thing. Based in Hong Kong, it was the first brand to put a tourbillon on Kickstarter and now it’s back with the second generation of its distinctive ‘time coffin’ case.
For an investment of HKD$14,000 (approx. £1,389) you get a watch delivered in just a few weeks. And you won’t have to find some friends to chip in the extra £635,611 it would take to get the latest Richard Mille.
Chotovelli & Figli Flieger
For its new watch, third-generation watchmakers Chotovelli & Figli have taken inspiration from the Flieger watches of World War II that were developed especially for fighter pilots and engineered to be robust, legible and accurate.
The result is a wonderfully nostalgia-laden timepiece that also has the added interest of a mecha-quartz movement, which moves like an automatic but with the benefit of not having to be kicked back into action if you don’t wear it for a few days. All Chotovelli & Figli are asking as backing is €90 (£78 and 50% off the intended retail price) for one of its watches, which is a steal, even by Kickstarter standards.
Known as the blackest substance ever, Vantablack absorbs 99.965% of light and was most recently used by H Moser & Cie on one of its watches, although at CHF35,000 (£27,000), it’s on the expensive side. But, Prague-based company Chronotechna has just launched a watch covered in a similar substance that absorbs (only) 99.9% light, and for a fraction of the price of a Moser.
Chronotechna, which is a revived name from 1946, won’t reveal how it has managed this, but it has said it was a result of its on-going partnership with NASA. Which means that for just €399 (£349) you can have some space-age technology on your wrist and with an automatic movement too.
Belos Huvudskär Automatic 40
Every man should have a diving watch in their collection and this could be yours for a wallet-saving SEK2,995 or about £255 in the Queen’s currency. Named after the beautiful and remote Swedish archipelago, this is Swedish brand Belos‘s second go at the Kickstarter game – the first was the more dressy Utö – and the result is a robust diver that’s good to 200m.
It comes with steel or silicone strap options, anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal and power courtesy of Seiko’s NH38A automatic movement. It’s nothing out of the ordinary but it ticks all the boxes, both safety- and style-wise, that you want from a diver and you still get change from £300.
Decantheure Wine Watch
This is Kickstarter so of course there are going to be some out-there options among the more standard fare, but this Décantheure has an element of practicality. From a distance it could be mistaken for a world time, however get closer and you’ll see that, rather than world cities, around the outer ring are names of wines and how long they need to be decanted before drinking.
Simply find your vintage, align the start of its decanting time with the hour hand and pour a glass when it reaches the end of the demarcated period. Watches with this type of whimsy are usually quartz but, as wine connoisseurs like refinement, it’s actually an automatic and a bargain at £141. Certainly cheaper than a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787.