Sunday, July 16, 2023

Watch Brand Creation Myths - This One's A True Story!

By now you've no doubt noticed the Oberlin Watch Company advertisement at the right of the main article section -

In the summer of of 2020, as we were all getting "comfy" as lockdown was progressing, I had 2 seemingly unrelated conversations. One from a friend in my hometown saying something along the lines of - "Hey, you should make an Oberlin watch!". I put that one in my back pocket for the time being. The thought had crossed my mind on more than one occasion, but as my childhood friends may or may not have realized, it is not a simple thing to do. It takes time and money. Thanks (just kidding) to COVID, I certainly had some time. And this brought me back to an email exchange that I had recently had with another Northern Youth on the same topic. Courtesy of the OBIE Blog from 2022 -

About 2 years ago I got an email from an old friend:

"I bought an (insert the name of a very popular, very hyped on social media watch) 2 months ago and it died on me! What watch should I get?"

Okay, in fairness there was more to this story. My friend works in marketing. He is fairly senior. He has not owned a watch since the turn of the century (2002 to be exact). His rationale was:

"I don't need a watch. My computer has the time, my cell phone has the time, the time is LITERALLY EVERYWHERE!"

Well, fair enough. Until...

My friend was in the middle of a pitch - yes gentle reader, there was a time before COVID where people were expected to show up to work, in person, FIVE days a week! The pitch meeting was for a fairly large client with very deep pockets. (editors note, that company has since gone out of business). He was sitting towards the rear of the room. His job was to give hand signals to his boss (who was giving the pitch to the potential client) to let him know how much time was left. Not having a watch, my friend was occasionally looking at his phone to check the time. At one moment the potential client looked over and saw this, and came to the reasonable conclusion that my friend was goofing off with instagram, or some other time killing activity. My friend's boss clocked this activity and (once the client had left) exploded:

"What were you doing playing with your f'ing phone?!?"

My friend informed his boss that he was checking the time to signal to him when to wrap up. His boss was not soothed:

"Go get a damn watch! Not tomorrow, not after work, not even after lunch! Go get a damn watch right now!!!"

So needless to say, my friend exited the office and turned left into a boutique that sold (insert the name of an over-hyped, very popular quartz watch here) watches, and put just over $200 (with tax) on his credit card and wore the watch back to the office. His boss was appeased. And everything was fine... for the next 2 months. And then the watch stopped working. Not sure if it was a battery or simply defective, he went back to the boutique, and was given an address to send his watch in for warranty service (they insisted that they could not do this for him). So on Saturday he packed up the watch and shipped it back to the address he was provided. And...

He waited, and waited, and waited....

After several unanswered emails, phone calls and carrier pigeon notes it became clear to him that while he might get the watch repaired and returned, it was not likely to happen prior to his retirement or employment termination, whichever came first.

And this brings us back to my friend's email to me. What watch should he get? I suggested an inexpensive Seiko, a Timex, Casio, or even a Swatch.

"You work in the watch business. Can't you make me one?" 

This led to a 15 day back and forth explaining that, in fact, while I did sales, marketing and other things, making a watch was not something for us to discuss because unlike the salt and pepper, it was not on the table. But he kept pushing.

So I reached out to my friends at Swiss Made  Consulting LLC and asked, crazy as it sounded, if they could make a small run of 100 or so watches. They said yes, and that is what led to the OBIE1.

But it wasn't quite as simple as that. Truth be told? I didn't have a lot of ideas as to what it could/should look like. Fortunately I know a guy who is pretty good at design -

Courtesy of Sartory Billard

Armand Billard kindly stepped up and quickly came up with a design, logo, pretty much everything needed.

Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

So part one was taken care of, now all I needed was a watch ; )

So I reached out to my friends Rod Hess and Stephen Roemer. Rod is known by industry insiders as "The most important person in the watch business that you maybe never heard of". Stephen is his brother-in-law and the primary owner of Swiss Watch Company.

And based on Armand's design, utilizing some extra kits that he had on hand, he was able to produce the first OBIE -

Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

Now at about this time, I also realized that it was not an inexpensive option to make a watch for 2 high school friends who wanted a $100 -$150 quartz watch. So I started posting some renderings on social media groups for Oberlin Ohio and Oberlin High School. The feedback was pretty good and I felt that I could roll the dice on an initial order of up-to 100 pieces (as that was the minimum). Unbeknownst to me, a reporter from the regional newspaper - The Chronicle Telegram, had been following the Facebook group discussions. He reached out, and a day later my email in-box exploded with messages from people wanting to buy my new "OBIE" watch. That article can be read here -
The only problem was that the watches were in production, and I didn't have any packaging. In the beginning of this project I didn't plan to have any, but there were several customers buying watches for their friends, several of them buying 5 or more!

Stephen of Swiss Watch Company said he had some "left-over" packaging that I could buy at a discounted price. So I invested in some read and blue Krylon spray paint and got to work in the backyard.

In May 2021 the watches arrived, and the first 100 OBIE watches were dispatched. Now another funny part of the story - I thought that the majority of watches would be sold to Oberlin residents past and present. Not so! 

Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

Of that first 100 OBIE watches, the new owners were located across the US, Canada, Belgium, France, Switzerland (5 customers!), South Africa, Finland, Croatia and beyond!
Courtesy of Oberlin Watch Company

Fast forward to 2023 and the Oberlin Watch Company is alive and well with zero debt, and four retail partners -
Willow Jewelers in Oberlin, Ohio
Maryland Watch Works in Hagerstown, MD
Swiss Watch Maker in Cambridge, MA
Windy City Watch Collector -

So, no crash landed biplanes in the French countryside, no mysterious British traveller met while backpacking through Asia. As creation stories go, it's pretty tame. The Oberlin Watch Company OBIE is simply a watch that was initially conceived as something fun for my childhood friends. And like everything positive I've experienced in the watch business, it was realized with the help of my Watch Town friends.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it ; )

And if you are so inclined, you can buy an OBIE at one of our retail partners, or direct from yours' truly at the Oberlin Watch Company -


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