Friday, May 24

Beaufort Watches is one of four brands in New Zealand

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

Mr Kwok, 25 and originally from Auckland, blames this outlook for the fact he barely made it through high school. But he said he “really gave it his all” when he entered Auckland University of Technology in 2016 and his journey to starting one of New Zealand’s few watch brands began in earnest.

“My goal was to start a business before I finished university,” he said during an interview at the Beaufort store in the affluent suburb of Ponsonby. The boutique, which opened Nov. 30, has a contemporary look with low 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 NZ, or about $340) and the sportier 39-millimeter Seatrekker ($649), in different colorways.

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

All Beaufort watches were designed by Mr. Kwok, who sends scans of his sketches to his factory, which turns them into technical drawings to be used 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 little back and forth with the factory to get to that.” As of last year, all Beaufort watches are assembled in Taupo, New Zealand.

Kwok focused on the tech sector during his college years, working on a few startups, including an on-demand delivery app. But when he wanted to treat himself to a new watch that would cost around 500 New Zealand dollars, he decided to change direction.

“None of the watches at that value were for me, so I started window shopping outside of my price range,” he said. “I thought if I wanted to invest that much money in a watch, maybe I should start my own watch company. So in 2018, I put my degree on hold, pooled my money together and thought I’d give it a go.

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 – this hasn’t extended to watchmaking. “There’s Draken, Paceracer and Magrette here in Auckland too,” Mr Kwok said, reeling off the other three New Zealand brands.

But the lack of a local industry – or watchmaking heritage – has not deterred Mr Kwok. “First, I spent two months taking 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 on minimum orders and whether he could actually start with his initial budget of NZ$5,000. The responses were all positive, he said, and because he had an uncle in Hong Kong who was happy to let him stay, he began visiting businesses.

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

Its first model, the 40mm Aerotimer Automatic in stainless steel and a selection of pastel dials, was introduced to the platform at the end of the year, priced at NZ$539 and aiming to attract $15,000 in pre-orders . Ultimately, 185 backers sent more than $109,000.

“It was crazy,” Mr. Kwok said. “I was 20 years old and suddenly I had over a hundred thousand dollars in my bank account.”

It had planned to ship orders by early 2020, but the pandemic delayed that until mid-year.

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

Jarrod Gill, who founded the New Zealand chapter of watch enthusiast community RedBar in 2016, said there are many watch enthusiasts in the country who buy “everything from cheap to expensive watches”, but that people are ” less obvious about their collections” than watches. collectors from 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 plans to release a chronograph on the market next month, expected to cost around NZ$2,500, the brand’s highest price yet. Three more models are expected to debut later this year.

While Mr. Kwok said he would like to make bespoke watches at some point, for now he is content just to grow the business.

“My job here is to educate the general public about watches,” he said. “Most people don’t really know the difference between a mechanical watch and a quartz watch and fall into 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 to get into a serious automatic movement watch, at an entry level.”