Your gateway to insightful market trends, prudent personal finance advice, and the pulse of global economy.

USA Finance Digest is your one-stop destination for the latest financial news and insights

Your gateway to insightful market trends, prudent personal finance advice, and the pulse of global economy.

“I always knew that I was going to do something different from the 9 to 5,” Robert Kwok said with a laugh, aware of the irony that, as the founder of Beaufort Watches, all he does is work with time.

Mr. Kwok, 25 and an Auckland native, blames that perspective for the fact he barely scraped through high school. But he said he “really knuckled down” when he entered Auckland University of Technology in 2016 and his journey toward starting one of New Zealand’s few watch brands began in earnest.

“My goal was to start a business before I finished uni,” he said during an interview at the Beaufort store in the city’s well-to-do Ponsonby suburb. The boutique, which opened Nov. 30, has a contemporary look with low-slung leather chairs and a lounge area for cocktails. On display were versions of the brand’s two current models: the sleek 40-millimeter Aerotimer MK11 (559 New Zealand dollars, or about $340) and the sportier 39-millimeter Seatrekker (649 dollars), in several colorways.

Both are powered by the automatic STP 1-11 movement, made by Swiss Technology Production, with the cases manufactured in Hong Kong and leather straps made in Italy (stainless steel bracelets and rubber options are available).

All the Beaufort watches were designed by Mr. Kwok, who sends scans of his sketches to his factory, which turns them into technical drawings for use in sourcing parts. “I’m a terrible artist,” he said, “but I know what I want the end result to look like, so there’s a bit of back and forth with the factory to get to that.” As of last year, all Beaufort timepieces are assembled in Taupo, New Zealand.

Mr. Kwok focused on the technology sector during his university years, throwing himself into a few start-ups, including an on-demand delivery app. But when he wanted to treat himself to a new watch that would cost about 500 New Zealand dollars, he decided to change direction.

“None of the watches at that value were my thing, so I started window shopping outside of my price range,” he said. “I figured that if I was going to put that much money into a watch, maybe I should look at starting my own watch company. So in 2018, I put my degree on hold, put my money together, and thought I’d give it a crack.”

While New Zealanders pride themselves on what’s called “Kiwi ingenuity” — the ability to solve problems or fill voids in a practical, no-nonsense way — that hasn’t extended to watchmaking. “There’s Draken, Paceracer and Magrette also here in Auckland,” Mr. Kwok said, rattling off the three other New Zealand brands.

But the lack of a local industry — or a watchmaking heritage — didn’t deter Mr. Kwok. “First, I spent two months doing an online watchmaking course to understand the process,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about. Then I spent a few months just researching launch and crowdfunding strategies.”

He also sent emails to factories in China, asking about research and development costs, details about minimum orders and whether he could actually start with his initial budget of 5,000 New Zealand dollars. The answers were all positive, he said, and since he had an uncle in Hong Kong who was happy to let him stay, he started visiting the businesses.

In 2019, Beaufort Watches was born on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Mr. Kwok wanted a name with a historical connection, so he named his company after the Bristol Beaufort, a British torpedo bomber that was used by the New Zealand Air Force in World War II. He noted that he also admired the era’s vintage design aesthetic, so that supported the choice, too.

His first model, the 40-millimeter Aerotimer Automatic in stainless steel and a selection of pastel-hue dials, was introduced on the platform late that year, priced at 539 New Zealand dollars and with a goal of attracting 15,000 dollars in preorders. In the end, 185 backers sent more than 109,000 dollars.

“It was crazy,” Mr. Kwok said. “I was 20 and suddenly had over one hundred grand in my bank account.”

He planned to ship the orders by early 2020, but the pandemic delayed the timeline until midyear.

“Everyone from the Kickstarter campaign was super understanding and so nice about the delay,” he said, “but once we got going, we shipped everything out within a week.” The next introductions were the 39-millimeter Cavalli dive watch and a limited-edition version of the Aerotimer with dial colors named for native birds, such as the Kakapo Green and Tui Blue — all of which have sold out.

Jarrod Gill, who founded the New Zealand chapter of the watch enthusiast community RedBar in 2016, said the country has a lot of watch enthusiasts buying “everything from cheap to expensive watches,” but that people are “less obvious about their collections” than watch collectors in other countries.

He added that, when it comes to Beaufort, “Robert is doing a really good job. The quality is really good, the price is really good, and people really like them.”

Mr. Kwok has a chronograph scheduled for introduction next month, which he expects to be about 2,500 New Zealand dollars, the brand’s highest price yet. Three other models are lined up to debut later in the year.

While Mr. Kwok said he would like to do bespoke watches at some point, for now he is happy with just growing the business.

“My job here is to educate the general public around watches,” he said. “Most people don’t really know the difference between a mechanical watch and a quartz watch, and fall down the trap of seeing the price and thinking it correlates to the quality of the product.”

He added: “Beaufort is for people who are looking into getting into a serious automatic movement watch, at an entry level.”

Share this article
Shareable URL
Prev Post
Next Post
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read next
Major components of President Biden’s student loan repayment plan can continue to operate as lawsuits…
In later decades, the building housed metalwork and kitchen equipment supply businesses. Don DeLillo wrote Great…
As a Tunisian human rights activist in the 2000s, Amira Yahyaoui staged protests and blogged about government…