Studio Underd0g Makes Watches Fun Again – HODINKEE

Jan 27, 2022 by beatzzshopp - 0 Comments

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Meet a young brand that’s high on value and low on self-seriousness – and that has a lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Richard Benc had a problem. The London-based designer had spent the last six years working on a mix of character watches and iterations of minimalist German watch designs – you know, the $5 Peppa Pig kind of character watch or the watch that looks like an appliance. He knew he could do more, but didn’t quite know how to make the jump.
He had studied product design at the University of Nottingham and the degree got him his first job, but he’d outgrown it. While working on character watches during the day, Benc dreamed up ideas about a watch of his own. He’d post the designs online to much fanfare and positive feedback. But, as with any entrepreneurial venture, the key is in timing the launch.
When London went into lockdown, in March 2020, he knew it was the right time. He couldn’t bear sitting around his apartment any longer without creating something. “Of course I was nervous and didn’t know if people would ‘get it,'” Benc says, but following his vision was the only way to make this happen. “If the process is driven by what the market wants, you’ll often end up with another Submariner homage … I think Studio Underd0g has been successful because I didn’t focus on what would sell the most watches.”
The first step was settling on branding. “I sort of liken the naming process to coming up with a cool username on a game or a forum,” he says. “But the good ones are always taken.” He wanted “Studio Underdog,” because he’s a “one man brand trying to bring his watches to fruition in a market full of much bigger players.” So what’s a man to do to differentiate himself? Change the “o” to “0.”
And so Studio Underd0g was born.
Benc knew that as a newcomer he couldn’t design a watch that would be someone’s only watch. His designs were far too colorful to be an everyday piece. They’re for collectors who crave variety: “Maybe they’ve got a collection of four watches already, serious pieces, but that leaves a hole in the collection; maybe the collection isn’t finished. Maybe they want something that’s just totally fun and playful.” And he didn’t want his pieces to be a big commitment, either. So he knew he had to keep the price down.
The gamble paid off. Benc’s initial run of four colorful and unexpected designs completely sold out not long after he released them. The playfulness and novelty of the design struck a chord with watch buyers from around the globe – he sent watches to the UK, US, Middle East, and Asia. And he recently left his job to focus on Studio Underd0g, full-time.
The first series was priced at a reasonable $475, and that’s thanks to the value-oriented Seagull ST-190 movement inside. “It’s a Chinese movement, so a lot of people look at it and might think ‘pass.’ But this particular movement has a fascinating history.” The ST-190 is essentially a Swiss Venus 175 movement, a well-known column-wheel chronograph caliber that powered plenty of Swiss chronographs by the likes of Heuer, Breitling, and Gallet in the mid-century years. Now the ST-190 is produced by Seagull with tooling that was purportedly brought over from Switzerland to China in the ’60s.
The four models – the Mint Ch0c Chip, Desert Sky, Watermel0n, and Go0fy Panda – all feature a display caseback for folks to check out the ST-190. The specific “open” architecture of the ST-190 caliber makes the operation of the chronograph a joy to watch.
And the dial side of the watches are just plain go0fy, in the most whimsical way. “I launched the watches thinking the Go0fy Panda would be the most popular, because it’s the safest, but over 50 percent of the sales the first day were for the Watermelon, and only 17 percent went for the panda.” It was quickly clear what customers preferred: Bold colors and irreverent themes.
The Watermelon model features seeds for indices and saturated pink complemented by a green gradient. It’s the watch that is perhaps the most well-known in the internet watch community, but it turns out the more subtle “Desert Sky” model – inspired by a pair of Nike sneakers – is Benc’s favorite.
Even the most conservative design, the Go0fy Panda, has an element of surprise. “There are subtle green accents, but do you know why? Because Pandas love to dine on bamboo shoots.” That’s a lot more subtle than the “chips” used at the indices in the Mint Ch0c Chip model, which sold out in about eight minutes.
Benc has tapped into something we all know, but rarely acknowledge: The modern luxury-watch landscape revolves around a handful of very familiar designs. A truly original idea in a world of derivative design is noteworthy, especially when it’s priced right and just plain fun.
The first Studio Underd0g watches were sold on a pre-order basis, the only way Benc could fund the production. Going forward, he’s looking to make that model a thing of the past: “If we launch a new model, we just have to have the confidence that it will sell.”
The four models should be back in stock this spring. And he’s got an idea about making the whole package more attractive to potential customers, saying he wants “to assemble the watches here in the UK. That’s something I never could have done from the outset.” He also has plans to make the watch even more British with a locally made strap. “Aside from that,” he says, “I’d just like to keep making watches!”
Visit the Studio Underd0g website to learn more.
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