Draken brings luxury watchmaking south of the Equator

Think of fancy watches, and you probably think of Switzerland, with names like Rolex, Omega, Chopard and Audemars Piguet coming to mind. But New Zealand? That could be the case soon.

Draken is a new watch company based in Auckland, founded by South African designer Michael Blythe. Inspired by Drakensberg – a mountain range in South Africa – Draken Watches aims to bring high-quality, automatic watches to those that love the outdoors and adventure. The objective was to create a tough, dependable watch with a strong focus on design. It was also important that a unique identity and style developed to build on for future watches.

It’s taken over a year to bring the company’s debut watch, the Tugela, to life. And after two prototype stages, Blythe is now crowdfunding on Kickstarter – and has already exceeded his goal.

Blythe’s original target was to raise $50,000 to produce the watch. But he’s already raised more than $61,000 from 155 backers, with 10 days to go. Production for the watches is set to begin in early March, with the watches shipping in July.

The custom-made case of the Tugela is aggressive looking with a bead blasted stainless steel case and beveled edges. The watch’s bezel comes in three colours (black, red and blue), with a lumed pip at the zero mark on the watch. The dial utilises Swiss C3 luminous paint, and the date window is matched to the matt dial with luminous numbers. Protecting the display is a sapphire crystal glass, with anti-reflective coating applied on the inside.

The Tugela also comes standard with a genuine leather strap with quick release pins, plus a secondary matching nylon Zulu strap when the wearer is engaged in more extreme activities, like mountain biking, skiing, and more. Overall, the Tugela is 14mm thick, with a 42mm diameter.

“I had always been a watch lover, but my tastes – like many – were only based on the watches I saw at the duty-free at airports, or the jewellery shops in the malls,” explains Blythe. “I had no idea that there was an entire industry of watch companies that traded exclusively online.”

Draken Watches comes at a time when the analogue watch industry continues to endure despite the prognostications of many that the advent of digital display watches and ever-more-ubiquitous smartphones would spell certain doom. In fact, in Switzerland alone, 28.1 million watches were shipped around the world in 2015, valued at 21.5 billion Swiss francs (almost $30 billion). Over at The Guardian, Simon Garfield writes that a big reason could be that consumers see expensive analogue watches as a sign of quality, whereas lower-priced digital watches are thought of as of inferior quality.

Blythe says his company is an example of a “microbrand” – a business that makes a limited run of a product, with design, sourcing manufacturers, communications, marketing, advertising, sales and support all handled by one person. “The watches created by these small companies are generally more unique and interesting than your typical Fossil, Guess, or Daniel Wellington, and they have a lot more heart,” he says. “I say that almost literally, because while your typical fashion watch usually has a quartz movement (meaning it’s battery powered), microbrand watch companies prefer to use automatic mechanical movements. And mechanical movements are like a beating heart – they have a balance spring which expands and contracts with each passing second. The most revered (and expensive) watches in the world are mechanical, because of the precision and care that goes into making these beating movements.”

And although the Tugela is yet to enter production, Blythe is already planning his next watch. “I already have the designs for my next watch,” he explains. “It’s going to be a pilot style watch with a numbered dial, and an exhibition case back. It also has a secret feature which I’m holding very close to my chest. With the funds from the Tugela I’ll be able to order prototypes for the next design.”

Oh, and he also has a dream advertising campaign that could go with it. “For the video I was dreaming of filming Richie McCaw wearing it while flying his glider. Probably not in the budget, but you never know!”

Cliché as it may sound, time will tell. And if Blythe has his way, it’ll be his watches telling that time.