It was earlier this month that Sujain Krishnan, the founder of Melbourne Watch Co. (MWC) shared a picture on Facebook of a cake with four candles, surrounded by watches. I could have used that picture to illustrate this story but I rather prefer returning to the first picture of an MWC pice that I posted here on WatchPaper. It is the Flinders collection, named after Melbourne’s iconic Flinders Street Station, a tradition kept by the brand to name all their watches after a landmark, a famous street or a neighbourhood of Melbourne. The Flinders was presented on Indigogo at the end of 2013, at a time when crowdfunding websites were less popular than they are today, it surpassed its goal by my 200%. A fantastic start for a new brand, but Sujain was not a newcomer to the watch market, before Melbourne Watch Co., he was running Melbourne Custom Watches, making homage watches — Panerai and pilot clones, which was a great way for him to learn about the industry, build a customer base and make valuable connections, one of them being Chris Vail, founder of NTH, who helped him make inroads into finding a good manufacturer.
The Flinders was among my first hands-on reviews I did here on WatchPaper, but it was not the last MWC that I could handle, photograph and write about. It was followed by the Carlton, a dressy mecha-quartz Chronograph, the Avalon pilot watch – reviewed by TimeCaptain, the Collins 38 with its magical dial and the Sorento, a solid diver with a unique design. My latest MWC review is the Portsea, a very special milestone for the company as it came from the first batch that was assembled in Melbourne.
As they were coming out with new models, I was impressed by the clear design identity MWC has developed. I see many microbrands struggling with this — from one model to another they change their style completely, almost like young artists looking to find their voice. Even if the Carlton is a chronograph and the Flinders is a three-hands and date piece, while the Portsea is a calendar watch, you can easily recognize a continuous line that links them together. They are different watches with different complications, but they all come from the same brand, with a strong identity.
Design is not the only aspect that makes MWC stand out from the crowded scene of microbrands. Four years might sound as a short time compared the hundreds of years many Swiss brands like to brag about — often distorting the truth, but when it comes to microbrands, it is quite a long time — very few survive past their first model/first year. During these four years, MWC not only survived but it grew and matured into a solid watch brand. Last year, Sujain hired staff and just before Christmas MWC opened a showroom at 458 Swanston Street, in Carlton, a short walk from the Melbourne Central metro station. This was followed shortly by the set up of a workshop, where two watchmakers are working full time assembling all the MWC models.
It was a dream-come-true for Sujain, he always wanted to bring as much of the process to Melbourne, as possible. As he would put it, “there’s no point calling it Melbourne Watch Company if we’re just doing everything overseas. So, to be true to that I really want to assemble here, test here, and sort of have that strong Melbourne connection”.
Of course, most of their customers are from Australia, about 70%, 25% are from US and Canada, while the remaining 5% is coming from Asia and Europe. The US is quite a big export market and shipping is fast and affordable, plus there are no duties for products under $1,000. Actually, it was last week that WatchGauge, an American microbrand dealer, announced that they became the US distributor of MWC, and if you are interested in a Sorento, well, you will have to buy it from WatchGauge as they have bought the entire Sorento stock. This is only the beginning, as MWC would like to have international partners, especially in Europe and the UK, to facilitate the import of watches from Australia. Despite these achievements and future plans, Sujain still wants to keep MWC as a microbrand.
Speaking of future, while during the past year there were no new MWC models coming out, as they were busy setting up the showroom and the workshop, we should expect a new diver watch, a new pilot and a watch created with the Melbourne Cricket Club with an original design. We should also expect MWC watches that will be powered by Swiss movements. This was a hot topic on the Microbrand Watches Facebook group, so I asked Sujain about his decision of using Swiss movements:
Look, there’s a range of factors. One of them is that the Japanese movements that we are using are actually becoming very expensive, their prices have gone up significantly in the last two years to the point where we can get a Swiss movement for a fraction more, and in terms of – as much as we want to educate the public on the fact that Japanese movements, in particular, are very, very good, a lot of people still associate Swiss with better.
Their plans, their dreams don’t stop at coming out with new models. Sujain has a vision for Melbourne:
We’re really hoping to work more with the government here locally to help grow our local business in terms of hiring more people. We want to be more than a watch manufacture just pumping out models. We want to help establish the industry here in an Australian, and I think we’re making some first good steps into getting that going.
Good luck Sujain! Happy Birthday, Melbourne Watch Co.!