If you have ever bought a Draken, you’ll probably have received a hand-written thank-you note from me. It’s a little personal touch that makes the experience just a little more special.
Some know that I will go out of my way when it comes to customer service. Many businesses treat it as a time waste or a loss, but I genuinely feel like it’s building a relationship, that could pay off in a future encounter.
A couple months ago, Travis Mickel from the Watch Collectors of California and Beyond (COCAB) Facebook group interviewed me. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share the Interview with you so you can get to know me a little better. Enjoy, and please don’t ever hesitate to drop me a line.
1. How did you first get into making watches?
I was working as a UI designer for a big telco here in New Zealand, and became friends with a developer who was into watches. I knew what looked good, but I didn’t know what made a good watch. He pointed out what materials make for a good watch, and introduced me to a few brands I had never heard of. From there I started doing my own research, going deeper down the rabbit hole. I found out about microbrands and discovered a whole world of watches I didn’t know about. I loved the idea of designing something really new and fresh, something that hadn’t been done before. Originality has always been at the forefront of Draken, for better or worse.
2. Do you have a “normal job“ or is this your full-time passion?
Yes, I still work as a UI designer four days a week. I plan to go full-time on Draken towards the end of 2022.
3. What do you like best about owning your own microbrand?
Creating a physical item that someone will fall in love with. Receiving prototypes is the most exciting day ever!
4. Which of your watches and/or straps is your favourite? Are you also a watch enthusiast of other brands?
Probably the black Benguela on a leather strap. It has a very rugged, adventurous feeling to it while being a well-engineered piece of steel. I have a few other pieces, but never get to wear them as I have to promote my own brand. My top 5 brands – Oris, Sinn, Damasko, Tudor, Seiko.
5. What advice would you offer someone that was interested in creating their own brand of watches?
Focus on building your brand. And I don’t just mean the name and logo, but the entire theme of your brand. It helps if it’s a theme you subscribe to in your daily life. Start thinking long term about the collection you want to put out. And don’t expect to get rich, ha ha!
6. What do you think really sets your watches apart from others?
Originality. There are a million watches out there that have a submariner case. There is only one that has the Tugela ‘Protea’ shape.
7. What are some things that you wish everyone knew about you and your work?
I’m very passionate about sustainability. If you buy a Draken, you’ll notice that we have removed a lot of the plastic wrapping. I want to push that even further in the next month and offer a completely recyclable/compostable option when you buy. My wife and I have also been regenerating a native forest. To date, we have planted about 12,000 trees. We’re planning to build an off-grid house there next year.
8. Any interesting brand trivia? Any personal info you’d like to share?
The Tugela dial originally had circle indices. It was a last-minute change to make them triangles, and I’m so glad I did because it made for a much more interesting and unique dial. I’m a South African expat, married to a Kiwi and have a two-year-old daughter.
9. What future plans do you have for your brand?
Going full-time in 2022 is the biggest change on the cards. This will coincide with my family moving out of Auckland to our off-grid house which will have a good size office for Draken.
Being full time on Draken will also mean I can be much more engaged with customers and fully focused on the brand.
I have a ton of watch ideas on the drawing board that a can’t wait to discuss and get feedback on.
I’ve also looked into doing some accessories (leather belts and wallets). It’s really tricky to know what should come next though.
The chrono was something I always wanted to do. After that, it could be a smaller field style watch, or a GMT.
10. When you started Draken 5 years ago, I see you set out to create a brand of watches that would be durable, reliable and unique. You started with the Tugela which drew inspiration from the rugged terrain of the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. More recently, you came out with the Benguela and it’s hooded lugs and multi-layered dial.
In 2021, coming full circle and taking inspiration from the original case design of the Tugela, the Kruger will have the same tapered style, but this time in titanium.
What steps do you take to remain true to your own original style, while still being innovative and creative?
Good question! Actually, all of our watches have had a tapered case. It’s most prominent on the Tugela though. We’ve also always done a domed crystal that flows into the bezel at the same angle. This is a feature I want to carry through all our models. I enjoy the sensation when running your fingertips over those surfaces and it goes from sapphire to steel/ceramic with the minutest gap.
There is still a lot of room to be innovative and creative with the stock movements available. I went through a phase (Peregrine and Kalahari) where I was very excited about the power reserve indicator complication. I’m still excited about it actually – it’s one of the most under-rated complications. I think the way you make those complications show up on the dial is what sets you apart. There are the default ways as the movement maker expects, but then there are completely unexpected ways, like when you rotate the movement at 30 degrees, or use disks instead of hands, or layering elements.
10. And are all of your designs inspired by Africa?
All except the Peregrine I guess. It’s been a way to pay tribute to my heritage, being an ex South African. The Kruger seemed obvious though, also because I wanted to tie in with a cause that I am very passionate about – rhino conservation. In the future, we might move away from the South African inspiration, as I think some customers find it a bit confusing – a South African inspired watch, from New Zealand. We might turn to a more worldly adventure theme.
Bonus Question – What is a question I did not ask that you wish I would’ve asked, along with the answer?
What’s the worst part of owning a microbrand?
It’s relentless. You can’t stop working at it otherwise you just won’t get any sales. It’s also relentless in that you can’t stop thinking about it. You never really switch off from it. There’s always something you are thinking about. It drives my wife crazy. Sometimes you lose sleep over-thinking about things – QC issues, design decisions, customer service issues. You have to remind yourself that in the end, it’s probably not a big deal, but you build things up in your head you know?