Everything begins somewhere: A conversation with the founders of Marloe Watch Co.

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Yesterday marked the final day for the Kickstarter campaign for Marloe Watch Company's first watch, the Cherwell. The project was successfully funded and the first shipments of the Cherwell should be heading to backers in June. I'm currently spending some time with the Cherwell, both the black and silver dial versions, and will have my review published sometime soon. In the meantime I wanted to sit down with the two co-founders Marloe Watch Co. and talk with them about the Cherwell, it's inception, funding and what the future might hold for the brand. Oliver Goffe is the Director and Gordon Fraser is the designer. 

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TC : Oliver, You've spoken about how you opened up a quartz watch to find the disappointing movement inside and how this was your first step to creating Marloe. What did you do next to start making the Cherwell a reality?

OG : An awful lot of research! I first wanted to understand the complexities of watch construction, so I joined numerous forums, read hundreds of blog posts, and started reaching out to watch makers and manufacturers. It was a truly eye-opening and fascinating learning curve.

TC : Other than the Cherwell of course, what watches do you and Gordon like to wear on a daily basis?

GF : I have a few in my box from a trusty old Citizen Nighthawk to a Suunto Core, but my only other daily wear is a Junghans Meister Chronoscope - a manufacturer I’ve been fond of for a long time. It’s an incredible piece and instructed much of the Cherwell and the future Marloe watches, not so much the aesthetics of our watches as such, but more the way I approach watch design. Junghans know how to properly execute minimalism. There’s so many watches in the marketplace with the term “minimalist” attached and I feel that it’s too easy a term to use. Minimalism in watch design shouldn’t mean devoid of information, but it should reinforce that the watch is efficient and effortless in the way it presents the time. The Junghans Meister range of watches are beautifully resolved.

TC : I totally agree that Junghans has phenomenally designed watches. They are often overlooked in favor of the 'other' big small German manufacture Nomos which is a disappointment. Funnily enough I considered calling this blog Chronoscope but after finding out that the name was attached to watch, I went instead for Timepiece Chronicle.

OG : My daily go to watch is my Tissot Tradition Chronograph, not just because I love the way it looks, but also because it was a gift from my previous employer - I have a strong sentimental attachment to it. I also have a Christopher Ward C9 Chronograph, which I save for more special occasions.

TC: The Cherwell takes inspiration from classic time-only dress watches from the fifties and sixties, are these the kind of watch designs you wish to see more of today?

GF : I guess for me I want to see originality start to seep back in. As previously mentioned there’s a hoard of watches that are completely blank. It’s boring. It’s easy. I want to see watches designed with a firm foot in thoughtful design, proportion and dynamics. Watches that excite the eyes and change with your environment. It’s a devilishly tricky thing to pull off, but done well a watch face can transform before your very eyes into something spectacular, through the use of nothing more than relief and material choice. It’s probably why I am so drawn to Max Bill and Junghan’s in particular. The use of light and shadow as a design tool brings so much to the table, and is something a lot of designs fail to make proper use of.

OG : I think Gordon hits the nail on the head there. For us the Cherwell was a contemporary take on a traditional timepiece, so we drew inspiration from some of the classics. But as our range develops our creativity will look to other eras and indeed other watches. For us it’s about designing wristwatches that are considered and refined. 

TC : The use of relief can be huge in how a watch feels. I remember selling dozens of entry-level Swiss watches whilst in retail and it used to pain me so much. Nearly all of their dials are just flat and dull and whilst the color might trick you for a while, looking closer you can see there is just no substance to what you're looking at. How did the almost immediate funding of the Kickstarter affect the rest of the campaign?

OG : We had invested a lot of time and money in the months leading up to the campaign ‘go-live’, so we had certain expectations, but these were completely blown away in the first hour! We had to move quickly to address all comments and questions, as well as offer some (pre-planned) stretch goals - a Kickstarter term for driving up backers by offering more incentive. The speed in which we were funded was the catalyst that allowed us to move forward with production at an earlier stage than we had originally planned. Giving the green light to our manufacturing partners 30 days early gives us a lot of wiggle room for any bumps further down the road.

GF : For me it was reassuring. It certainly brought a lot of validity and confirmation to the design, and how it is resonating somewhat with the watch buying public. We were always aware that the Cherwell would polarise some opinions when it came to size - dress watches are historically deemed to be restricted only to 40mm and under. With the Cherwell we tried to resist being swayed by preordained rules and offer up not just an original design, but open up the dress watch market to new people. Not everyone suits a 38mm dress watch and we have had so much positive feedback from people delighted that they now have an opportunity to fill the gap in their collection with something that they can feel comfortable wearing. Having such a massively positive response so quickly focussed everything.

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TC : It's clear from your marketing and description of the Cherwell that you intended to engage a consumer who perhaps wasn't aware that a manual wind watch still existed or had always wanted to get into mechanical watches but didn't know how. It's easy for the watch community to be very inward facing and forget that for those 'on the outside' that a 39/38/37mm dress watch will appear might be too small and that a 43mm is a normal sized watch. I saw that on Kickstarter you commented that you are looking to introduce a smaller dial option in 2017, can you tell me more about that?

GF : The Cherwell design was driven by the movement. We wanted to come out the corner swinging - offer up a unique hand-wound timepiece, whilst keeping it affordable and reliable - and the only way to do this was to use the ST36 movement - a robust design based upon the ubiquitous ETA 6498. However, as it's such a large Ligne movement we were limited in what we could do with the overall size of the Cherwell whilst remaining true to our core design and concept. The option was there to use the relatively petit ST17 movement but this movement isn’t half as pretty as the ST36 due to the removed rotor assembly and the aesthetic gaps left in its wake.

GF: Going by the ethos that the rear of a watch should be celebrated as much as the front, we felt it necessary to make a statement of our Hand-Wound intent with our first offering.  That said, we knew how many people would have an issue with the size of the Cherwell and as such we always intended on releasing a smaller diameter version. Finding the right hand-wound movement to do it justice is the biggest challenge but we have a plan in place. Needless to say, it’ll still feature the same dial and case design as the original Cherwell. It will remain true to our core ethics of affordability and unique, thoughtful design.

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TC : At the time of writing, the kickstarter is 591% backed. How does this difference in goal/amount funded change the next six months for you? 

GF : It’s ignited the touch paper - we are now in the fortunate position of being able to think ahead to our next steps. With such an overwhelming response we find ourselves standing on a strong foundation. Personally it has given me huge drive to build upon the Cherwell - the dynamic face and sensitive proportions - and develop that more for our next design. I feel like we now have the springboard to do something spectacular and the extra funding has afforded us the flexibility to realise new designs sooner - something we couldn’t have done had the Campaign scraped over the line. 

OG : We had also deliberately built a scalable production model, so there was no concern in regards to the number of watches we needed to make. And to be honest, fulfilling Backer’s orders is still our number one priority, so the next six months for us is still all about getting the best possible watch into the hands of our Backers.

TC : After the scheduled June shipment date, what are your plans for Marloe watches? 

OG : Ultimately expanding the range. We have several more designs in the wings, one in particular that I’m sure Gordon will tell you about, and we’ll be bringing these to market later in 2016 - hopefully in time for Christmas. 

GF : From the design side we have already started early development for the next design - our take on the Hand-Wound Chronoscope. It’s early days but already we are extremely excited about what we’re proposing. We’ve soaked in some experience and garnered some crucial feedback and fed it into this next design to make it not just unique and an aesthetically recognisable Marloe watch, but have enough influences and references that will hopefully make it feel already familiar. Oliver is driving the Company and keeping everything running smoothly, it’s my task to build upon the fantastic opportunity we have and show what we’re really capable of.

TC: For any future watches, would you consider using Kickstarter again to fund the project?

OG : We couldn’t ignore where much of our community is, so there is definitely a possibility of another Kickstarter campaign