To most of us, if we could not find the product we want, we would either settle for a close approximation of it, or just move on.
But not Jonathan Han.
When Jonathan, who was 22 then, wanted to buy a watch sometime in 2015, he just could not find what he wanted. So, what’s he to do?
Well, make his own watch – which he did. Jonathan was good with his hands, and with a $500 budget, he shopped online for the necessary parts, including components from Esslinger, a stainless steel case from a German retailer, and a second-hand ETA 2824 movement he purchased from eBay. He worked with a local watchmaker to complete his first bespoke watch.
“I kept removing and putting things back together again,” he told the Straits Times in 2017. It was a lot of trial and error to get it right.
Nonetheless, the fact that he could build it himself told Jonathan that customisation was feasible and possible.
His effort captivated the interest of his father, a watch collector, who asked Jonathan to build him one.
Jonathan, who was a medical student then, agreed, and this time built his father a perfect watch as a gift for the latter’s 50th birthday. His father showed it to friends and colleagues who praised the product.
“One thing led to another, and we found ourselves commissioned to make a batch of commemorative timepieces for retiring colonels from the Air Force!” the brothers said. “It was this project that inspired us to bring this idea to market.”
Sensing the potential of turning this into a business, Jonathan roped in his brother Nicholas, who was then a final-year economics and business student at the Singapore Management University (SMU).
“My background in economics and business definitely gave me the insights and know-how to both market a brand and run a business,” Nicholas told Keppel Land Live in an interview. “Our training in medicine and economics taught us to absorb and understand information quickly. We were also used to rigorous self-research so we could dive deep into the watch industry.”
The brothers started to explore the industry, and when an opportunity came up to attend a watch fair in Hong Kong, they jumped at it. Inspired by what they saw, and the encouraging advice they had received from talking to industry insiders about their idea of bespoke watches, the brothers returned with renewed vigour.
They would offer bespoke watches, each one unique and personalised, where customers would select from curated designs, and build their own watches from scratch, according to their preferences, and choosing each component that would make up the watch.
Their further research confirmed that people would pay a premium to have their watches customised. It was a confirmation that they should venture further into business, which they later did.
But first, they enrolled themselves into a one-year incubation programme at SMU’s Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The programme helped them design a business plan, and a pitch to investors. They eventually decided to go with a debt funding model instead of an investor one.
The brothers got to work, and with some funding from their father together with their own $50,000, and having hired a veteran watchmaker, Schaffen Watch was born.
“Schaffen” is German for “create”.
“Today, we work with Swiss-made movements and component manufacturers from Japan & Korea,” the company says on its website. “Each timepiece is then hand-assembled, tested and finished by local watchmakers.”
Orders for the watches have come from as far away as France, Lithuania, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
In 2018, Schaffen launched a Kickstarter campaign for its Schaffen Reference ‘65 timepieces which would push the boundaries of watch creation – it would be the first time that rotor customisation would be offered.
Its fundraising goal was met within 24 hours, a sign of the demand for the watches.
“Our vision is to establish a micro-brand of watches that focusses on made-to-order, made-in-Singapore timepieces, and build a strong following,” Nicholas said. “We believe that niche brands have the potential to carve a place for themselves and achieve international acclaim.”
“One question we often receive is how we differentiate ourselves and how we ensure that we are able to stay ahead if there was an incumbent who replicated our idea. Our mentor, an ex-creative director at Disney, told us that our brand is one of our strongest defenses. A brand allows people to get to know you and what you stand for; it’s about building trust between the founders and customers, and that is something not easily replicated.”
The company has since collaborated with Sellita, a Swiss movement manufacturer, to expand their range of timepieces.
“At Schaffen, we believe in embodying meaningful timekeeping through crafting bespoke watches,” the company says on its website. “From inscribing your signature onto the dial, to designing your own movement rotor, each timepiece is made to order and truly one-of-a-kind.
“If every timepiece told a story, what would yours say?”
Visit Schaffen’s website here: https://www.schaffenwatches.com/
Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/schaffenwatches/
All photos: Schaffen’s Facebook page.