Deaumar is new microbrand based in the UK. I can’t remember when and where I saw Deaumar for the first time, was it on Instagram, Twitter, or the Microbrand Watches group on Facebook? Every time a picture would pop up, and I would slowly discover the Ensign from different angles, I would be more and more curious to find out more about the brand.
The opportunity came around to exchange a few emails with Tony Villa, the founder of Deaumar. As you will see in this Q&A, he is an authentic guy, his answers are brutally honest, a trait conveyed also by his watches. Here is Tony Villa talking about his experience, failures, successes and hopes for the future.
Please tell me a bit about yourself. What is your background? How did you get into watches?
As a child, my “loves” were video games, Transformer toys, films, music, and watches. Still are actually…
For Xmas 1987, I knew what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me (as well as a Nintendo NES)… and he did.
BS? How many 10-year-olds know / appreciate a Seiko 5 auto?
Previous to this, I was wearing a “James Bond” digital watch. I loved the fact that it played the Bond theme tune. I was showing this to our school janitor, a wonderful, wise, man called Mr. Robinson, and he laughed at it. He said, this is a “real watch”, and showed me his Seiko 5 auto. He told me about how it never needed batteries and how it wound itself just by moving your wrist. I was fascinated by that concept and loved how grown up the watch looked, whilst the rest of my friends were wearing LCDs like me, and wanted one.
Whilst in the old Manchester Arndale market I saw one on one of those fancy goods stalls (how I wish I could go back to that market at that time, the number of watches I would buy; as I still love digitals) that looked like Mr. Robinson’s. I begged my mum to buy it me but, quite rightly, she didn’t. It was a lot of money for a 10-year-old in 1987 (about £19). But she remembered and in the months til Xmas 87 my desire grew and I was overjoyed to get it on the big day. I then spent the rest of the day playing Super Mario Bros and Excitebike as the watch was too big and we needed to get the bracelet resized, but you get the idea.
Before you impress others, impress yourself.
In the early Noughties, I worked for a cruise line and broadened my horizons. I knew the Rolex Submariner, as a friend of my dad had one, and thought straight away THAT was a mans watch. My dad was an Omega man and always poo-pooed the Rolex as overpriced. But I liked it. Then I saw Connery wearing them in the “old” bond films (I was an 80s child, so Moore was my Bond and Bond wore Seikos…hence my lifetime love of Seikos) and thought they were cool.
Anyway, fast forward to a day in Antigua. We had just been on some Americas Cup yachts and were milling around town. I had an idea of what I was going to do that day and sure enough, in a watch emporium, I saw an SS Sub Date. I was at that time wearing a copy I’d bought off a bloke in Venice. Not bad, but it was a quartz.
I tried it on and the credit card came out. It was the watch I always promised myself, the watch that said to me “I’d made it”, I didn’t care what my friends would think (as most didn’t care about watches). I was 25. The watch was worth more than my car. I bought it for me.
Some people now turn round to me and say “I’d like to buy an expensive watch, what do you recommend?” as I’m known as a watch “expert” with friends, family, and colleagues. Unless they’re young, I say “Don’t bother, if you really wanted one for the right reasons, you would have already bought one by now”. I bought an SS Sub at 25 when it crippled me financially for a year to pay off the CC bill because I wanted that for me. Before you impress others, impress yourself.
So in 2004, still watch obsessed, I started Photoshopping watches into “Frankenwatches”. The first one I did was take a Submariner case, put a Seamaster style face on it and a Mont Blanc style bezel…and plaster lots of unnecessary text on the face.
I showed it to people, the feedback was good, so I thought “hell, let’s see if I can get this made”.
Alibaba was in its infancy and I made contact with a new guy in Hong Kong. We chatted, I liked the cut of his jib and I sent him some money to make 10 of these watches, in good faith. He was true to his word. This was the Bravus Aquanaut and here’s how it turned out…over 11 years ago:
A business idea formed.
Next, I thought “right, I covet a Daytona, let’s make my own.”
So I chatted more with my man in Hong Kong and the Bravus Slipstream was born:
This had the date that I wished a Daytona had.
What next? Let’s make the Aquanaut II. But this time, let’s change the bezel to a TAG style bezel, put an ETA auto in it, sapphire glass and give it a display back and make it proper waterproof. The Bravus Oceanic was born in 2005:
Around this time I had a thing for Tonneau watches, but thought them all a bit “girly”. I thought “OK, if Breitling made a tonneau, what would it look like?” The Bravus Baretta was the result:
I guess, as a designer, I’m a “chef” not a “farmer”. I don’t grow my ingredients. I just know what ingredients need to be put together to make a tasty dish.
All the watches only made it to prototype, 20 of each (10 of the Aquanaut). Opinions were gathered, funders made themselves available and I was ready to hit the high street. But then the funders backed out. There was no crowd funding, no social media, I would have to stump up over £100K to get them made and sell them on my website and in brick and mortar shops. Bravus died, but I was happy that I’d actually swallowed my own BS and got them into reality. I still have one of each in rotation, 11 years later. They’re all in one piece on original straps, and all still work perfectly.
I built my career in the I.T. industry, started a family and acquired more and more watches.
But nothing I’ve done professionally since has given me the buzz that the failure of Bravus watches did.
Fast forward to 2015 and the watch world is a different place…
What made you create your own brand? What makes Deaumar different from all the other brands?
I think my reasoning for creating Deaumar is that after the failure of Bravus, all those years ago, the Microbrand watch scene made the idea viable whereas it wasn’t then.
Deaumars’ USP is that we offer a British designed watch of high specs for a great price without slapping marketing “BS” all over them. All the reviews of the watch have supported this up and we back this up with one-to-one customer service:
Is Deaumar a one-man-show or is there a team? If you are a team, please tell me about the others.
Currently, there is just myself, but I will hopefully have an ex-colleague joining me as a partner. He comes from a sales background and will be handling contracts, new distributors and sales. Leaving me to design the watches and take care of customer service.
What are the watch brands that you consider as a reference for Deaumar?
Deep Blue, Borealis / Prometheus, Obris Morgan, Steinhart and Marc And Sons as the brands I keep my eye on most.
Let’s talk about the Ensign Automatic. What was your guiding principle when you designed it?
This wasn’t a watch that exploded out of “passion”. I wanted a watch that would tick as many boxes with as many people as possible.
Sorry to disappoint that I can’t relate this watch to a great story, or say that it is Celebrating / Honouring / Saluting / Inspired by something aspirational / inspirational / historical, as is the norm in the MB watch world. We don’t have heritage in our sphere, as we’re all startups, so we borrow it from someone else :-)
I could say: “This watch is celebrating Jacques Cousteau, it is inspired by the watches that he wore and is honouring deep sea divers everywhere”…but that simply wouldn’t be true. It would just be a way of putting perceived kudos onto the watch by using mere, free, words.
I just wanted a watch that could be worn for whatever you were doing with whatever you were wearing and survive. That it happened to be tough and could survive what most people would do in water (except bathing, hot water isn’t good for watches) was always part of the design. So I thought a “dress diver” which is a pastiche of all I like about divers watches would be the best bet for a first watch as it covers a lot of bases.
No, no “made out of passion” here. This watch was designed out of knowledge of the industry, what the current trends are and what a possible market would want.
You are expecting for the Ensign to ship in July, but I saw on your website that you are already planning a Mecha-Quartz chronograph and a quartz 24-hour flyback piece. When will you start taking pre-orders for these ones?
The chronograph prototypes will be with me in the next week or so. I haven’t got beyond the design stage of the 24-hour watch. I need to see how the Ensign goes first before making a decision. The Ensign is imminently going into production, but I have funded the production myself, as well as with the pre-orders, so I don’t have the funds to do the same with the chronograph unless I sell more Ensigns.
Where would you like Deaumar to be in ten years from now?
I’d like to think we would be a well respected, innovative, British watch company that will do the majority of manufacturing in-house and will proudly boast to be “Made In Britain”.
About Deaumar Ensign Automatic
Tony mentioned his love for Seiko and Rolex, and with the Ensign, he managed to extract and combine the best of several iconic diver pieces. The specs are set to appeal to a wide segment: 42 mm x 14.3 mm stainless steel case with a water resistance of 200 m, domed sapphire crystal, 120 click bezel, and a rich selection of dial colours: blue, black, red, orange and white. Under the hood, he is using the automatic Seiko NH36A (OEM version of the 4R36), a rather recent mainstream Seiko calibre that can be hacked and hand-wound.
The pre-order price is £199.99 with shipping expected for July.
More about Deaumar at https://deaumar.co.uk
UPDATE – Deaumar has closed
I just learned this morning about Deaumar having to close because things did not turn out as planned. For all the details, please chek out Tony’s blog, it’s a great insight into the functioning of a microbrand and the challenges a microbrand owner has to deal with.