A conversation with Mike Wilson — CEO and cofounder of NIALL
Niall Watch One — the debut of an American luxury brand
Today, I would like to introduce you to a new American luxury brand, NIALL, who is making their debut with Niall One. As a company, NIALL has set out a very ambitious target, to become the next generation luxury brand, that happens to be made in America. They are also working on developing their own in-house movement, when it will come out, definitely will set NIALL apart from other newcomers to the crowded market of luxury timepieces.
I called Mike Wilson, the CEO of NIALL, to tell me more about the company, about their first piece and their plan for the future.
WatchPaper: Please tell me about Niall, where the idea came from? What is your motivation to create a new watch brand?
Mike Wilson: The motivation for Niall really came out of the passion for timepieces. I’ve been a watch collector since I was 19 and have been obsessive about how timepieces are made since I was 15.
How Niall really began to get traction is a mixture of opportunity and timing. As President of Ingenology, our digital marketing agency, I saw the opportunity to leverage the resources of our team and apply them to building a great American luxury brand. It’s a win-win for both Ingenology and Niall.
Consequently, I have a background in manufacturing, so I was able to reach out to several people that were willing to help me solve a theory we had. That theory was — we believe it’s possible to create a luxury timepiece here in the United States. Leveraging movements from the Swiss — we believed it was possible to source the manufacturing of a timepiece in a way that gave us full creative control while optimising production costs.
Two years later, I’m proud to say we have created a unique approach to building luxury timepieces that met all of our standards and desires.
What is/will be Niall as brand about?
Two part answer:
Niall, as a brand, is a reflection of those that are “all in” – those that have a desire to build things that last. Those that desire to conquer for good. The ones that want to build a legacy. Really, individuals that are passionate about what they do and are driven to succeed. Niall is a very strong and motivated brand.
The name Niall (pronounced “Nile”) actually represents the 4th Century Irish High King – Niall Nóigiallach. Niall is an Irish legend, similar to King Arthur of England, and is the predecessor to one of the longest unbroken Kingships in the world — the O’Neil dynasty. Through a DNA test about a year ago, I learned that I am a direct male descendant of King Niall — thus I created this brand to manifest some of the principles I’ve learned from researching his life and as a reflection of the principles of myself and our partners.
Would you please tell me more about your first model, the Niall One? In what way it stands out?
While we concurrently designed and engineered several other timepieces, we chose the Niall One as the first timepieces because it is a very bold design. We really want the first customers to have a timepiece that others look at and say “Wow, what is that?” It was important for us to allow our first customers to have something other’s inquired about and desired.
The Niall One stands out in the marketplace in a couple ways. Design-wise, it’s a strong, bold, well engineering and extremely well-manufactured timepiece. We’re utilising an ETA 2824-2 Swiss workhorse to power the internals and wrapping that in some beautifully crafted stainless steel.
One thing you will find on the Niall One, that you will not find anywhere else in the world, is specially engineered Corning Gorilla Glass. We chose Gorilla Glass over sapphire crystal for several reasons. For performance reasons, it is more resistant under pressure than sapphire. And for creativity reasons, Corning was very open to working with us on our quest to build the next generation luxury timepiece. Hands down Corning was excited to innovate and collaborate while other manufacturers requested we build a design around their “catalog” of products.
It is the first time I hear Gorilla Glass being used in watch making. Why Gorilla Glass over sapphire crystal?
In our quest to create the next generation luxury timepiece, from the start, we decided to think of the timepiece market differently.
After contacting several sapphire manufacturers, we found them all to be unwilling to collaborate on a custom designed crystal for the Niall One. Not willing to accept our creative point of view, we reached out to Corning — the makers of Gorilla Glass. Corning was absolutely one of the most innovative companies we’ve worked with and was excited to work with us. We collaborated with several engineers, sales staff and marketing teams to develop what you will see on the Niall One.
As a designer, I’m always curious to find out more about the design stage of a timepiece. Would you share some info about the design process of the Niall One? What was the inspiration for this piece? Who designed it?
A brilliant designer, Tiago Barbara designed and engineered the Niall One. In collaboration with Tiago, we spent months looking at classic timepieces, trends in the market place, and objects that we loved or were inspired by. Tiago and I, through several iterations, landed on a design we feel is unmatched in the category. It’s a design and structure you would expected of a $15k+ price point for under $4k.
We also have a core philosophy of simplicity. From the dial to the bands, you’ll find we only added features if they accented the design or added value to a specific function. You won’t find 35 colours options, six band options or eight timezones on the Niall One. You’ll find beauty, simplicity and a style that reflects the best of who we are.
I saw one of your tweets was about a black ceramic coated model, how many versions will the Niall One have?
Niall will launch with three initial models, two band options and two clasp options. A “Raw stainless” model – black dial with all stainless, a black bezel version of the raw stainless model, and an all black “stealth” model. Brown or Black bands and a classic buckle or butterfly deployment clasp.
What are the dimensions of this piece?
41.4 mm width x 54.8 mm height — we call it a 42 mm – additionally, it is 12.84 mm thick. We found it to be “just the right size.” Someone with thin wrists, like myself, will find it pleasantly comfortable while those with bigger arms will find it that it keeps up with their stature.
We haven’t tested it on a man the size of Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson. If he’s open to it, we’d love to collaborate with him.
What is the movement inside?
ETA 2824-2 for at least the first 150 models. We’re working with a couple other boutique Swiss movement manufacturers for a long term partnership and will announce that partnership when the time comes. Additionally, we are and actively working on designing and engineering our own in-house movement — right here in the US.
My understanding is that the Niall One is still in development, but people can already reserve it on your website. Did you receive any orders already? When do you expect to ship the first orders?
The Niall One is currently in a QA and testing phase. Our first production models are at our offices in Kansas City and we’re testing for water and shock resistance, luminescent brightness and general consumer experience items like fit, feel and comfort.
While you can’t purchase the Niall One quite yet, we are allowing individuals to reserve a Niall One today at http://niallwatch.com. We have received a very exciting amount of reservations and will rewarding those who reserve this timepiece with benefits for life (discounts, special invites to events, and more). We call it the Forerunners Club, and trust me you’ll want to be a part of it.
We expect to take public orders by July 15 and shipping August 1.
How are you going to distribute Niall? Apart from online, will these watches be sold in boutiques?
More than likely, for the duration of 2014 it will happen online. The reason for that is that we need time in order to build our partner network. We got several companies across the US and a couple in Western Europe that have showed interest in carrying our brand and all of them are waiting for the launch.
Between now and the end of the year we’ll be building out our partner network. We are absolutely open to peak locations from timepiece perspective and jewellery locations that want to partner and carry our product. We’ll be having a really good distribution model, but we’re in a modern age and our focus is to get online.
As a Canadian watch blog, I have to ask you, how about Canada?
Absolutely, you’re our brothers to the North! Of course, we have to be in Canada!
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer all these questions. Let me wish you the best of luck to you and your team!
More about NIALL at http://niallwatch.com/