Face to face: The first watch company in Kazakhstan and the Singaporean who brought them here

days ago, while surfing the net for something I’ve since forgotten, I stumbled upon a one month old e-commerce site of a local Singaporean and he was selling watches from 4 brands I’ve never heard of.

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After poking around for a couple of minutes and reading through a brutally honest account of his business progress which he openly shares on his website, I arranged a meeting and requested him to bring along his collection from Amir watches to which he readily agreed.

It was an interesting session involving more than just watches and he happens to have one of  the nicest full sleeve tattoos I’ve ever seen in real life.

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Jeremiah with a set of watches from Amir 

Meet Jeremiah Say, the 26 year old founder of Gracious Watch.

Interview

Kevin: How did all this start for you and what were you doing prior?

Jeremiah: I started a blog focusing on reviews of microbrands in 2012. To make money, I relied on Google Adsense and affiliate programs with Amazon. During my time working on the blog, I got the chance to interview many microbrand startups and did some giveaways with them.

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Camber – a Dutch company making watches inspired by hill climbing, one of the oldest form of motorsports where cars compete in an uphill race. A brand made possible by Kickstarter.

Microbrands are mostly started by watch enthusiasts with a desire to turn their ideas of the perfect watch into reality by creating their own watch brand. It’s usually a one man show and development funds are raised through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

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Kevin: Was it always part of your plan to shift from watch blogging to selling watches from microbrands?

Jeremiah: No. Actually, I’ve never considered it but the opportunity just came and I took it. These brands were owned by people I’ve previously dealt with through my blog.

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Kevin: So, you’re just going to sell these 4 brands or are you planning to add more?

Jeremiah: More, definitely more. The plan is to ramp up to 15 or 20 brands as you can’t earn enough to support a living with just 4. Customers want variety but I can only work with 4 now based on my current financial situation. Also, I wanted to bring in bigger microbrands but a lot of them (SevenFriday & Zeppelin) require you to have a shopfront which I am unable to do so at this moment. But it doesn’t matter, ultimately, I just want to fulfil Gracious Watch’s mission, which is to bring love and passion to the wrist.

Jeremiah proceeded to tell me that he was in the midst of bringing in some mainstream brands like Citizen and Seiko, to which I questioned the purpose as that would detract from their position of being a microbrand specialist, which I thought was unique.

‘That was my initial plan but it’s very hard,’ he says, ‘When visitors come to our website and see brands that they don’t know about, they don’t stay long and might never come back. We need something familiar that they can connect with and maybe, they’ll keep to ‘safer’ options first and purchase a microbrand watch on their next visit.’

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Stranger Time – a series of watches inspired by 4 thoroughbred horses the creator’s uncle used to own

Then, he popped me a question if sticking only to microbrands would be a better idea.

I quickly confessed that while I may know watches from a product and historical perspective, I was totally clueless about the business side of them. We both concurred that while a focus on microbrands would set him apart, being unique does not translate to being commercially successful.

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Kevin: How are you currently reaching out to your customers?

Jeremiah: I do the usual marketing on all social media platforms but word of mouth is the most important. So far, I’ve sold 7 watches. Pre and after sale service is key and I will ensure that all my customers are satisfied. That means we ship on time, every time and if a customer encounters any issues with their watches, we will fix it ASAP.

Kevin: What goals have you set for 2016? Is there a particular number you would like to reach in terms of sales?

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Jeremiah: (without hesitation) I will definitely make a loss this year. I’ve not really thought about how many watches I plan to sell. My only focus is to just get out there, get more people to know about Gracious Watch and the brands we carry.

Jeremiah comes from a reasonably well-off family dealing in Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, his business is entirely self funded. He explicitly stated that he would never accept money from his parents for fear of getting complacent with the knowledge of a ‘safety net’. He has seen several cases and is determined not to be one.

Kevin: Your tattoos look fantastic. What are those words I see?

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Freiheit (German) – Freedom

 

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Amate (Spanish) – Love / Bonheur (French) – Happiness

Jeremiah might be a young greenhorn but it is evident he believes in his mission – to bring love and passion to the wrist, which in turn leads to happiness – enough to get it permanently marked on him. 

Being a tattooed guy myself, he earns my salute.

Amir Watches

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Astana – capital of Kazakhstan

What do you know about Kazakhstan?

My guess is very little or perhaps, nothing (like me). Whichever the case, watches are probably the last thing you (and I) would associate with the country.

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Amir ‘Autumn’

And that was how Amir – the first watch company in Khazakstan – piqued my interest.

It’s important to make it clear that there isn’t a lot I can talk about from a technical perspective when microbrands are concerned. Microbrands lack the funds and mechanical know-how to create their own movements and so, source them from manufacturers.

Hence, I’ll usually just look at aesthetics, story and price.

Amir was founded by Jahn Karsybaev, a native Khazakstani with a deep longing of leaving his country’s mark in the world of horology.

There are 4 options of case and dial colours, each named after one of the four seasons.

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What you see on the sides of its 44 mm stainless steel case is ‘koshkar-muiz‘ – the horns of the ram – which appears on the hoist side of their national flag.

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National flag of Kazakhstan. Bet you’ve never seen this flag before too?

It looks like an engraving but it’s actually chemical milling – a process whereby objects are soaked in a pool of etching chemicals to ‘melt’ away selected dimensions to arrive at a desired shape.

The inner dial bearing Kazakhstan’s national ornament has also been through a similar treatment. Aesthetics wise, the textural contrast provided by the floral looking emblem is certainly original but breaking up the art with an open-heart configuration at 9 o’clock seems questionable. With Amir being the first watch brand in Kazakhstan, perhaps it was Jahn’s intention to add more ‘oomph’ to make it look complex but I’d feel that less is more in this case.

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The hour markers are done right though. Applied roman numerals are used for 3, 6, 9 and 12 while indexes mark the rest, resulting in pleasingly neat looking outer dial. A seconds hand painted in blue reflecting the base colour of their national flag sweeps across, powered by an automatic movement – NH38A – from TMI, a company owned by Seiko. 

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Amir ‘Spring’

With a pricing of SGD 1,499, Amir faces some serious competition within the same price bracket. It takes a buyer who buys not only into its looks, but also Amir’s vision and the resolve of Jahn Karsybaev to fulfil it.

If you’re unsure about the pictures and would like to examine Amir (or the other 3 brands carried by Gracious Watch) in the flesh, Jeremiah has informed me that he would happily show them to customers with an appointment, which is not a service you’d normally get from e-commerce sites.

Do feel free to check out his website here: www.graciouswatch.sg

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