One of this year’s biggest chronograph releases did not from an established watch brand but from a start-up created by a company best known for reinterpreting classic Porsche 911 sports cars. The California-based Singer Vehicle Design raced into the world of high-end watchmaking with Singer Reimagined, and the company’s first fruit of labor is Track 1, a motoring-inspired chronograph like nothing you’ve seen before.
“The approach was disruptive. But we didn’t want to be disruptive just for the sake of it, we wanted to do this by paying our respects to fine watchmaking traditions,” says Borraccino, the former head of design for Panerai, who founded the company with Singer Vehicle Design’s Rob Dickinson. Borraccino is now managing director of the Geneva-based Singer Reimagined and was in the city to attend Dubai Watch Week.
The conventional chronograph display has existed for decades. And then suddenly a new company best known for restoring vintage Porsches decides to challenge this norm. Surely, there must have been some pressure on the creative team? “There was no pressure, only pleasure as far as I’m concerned,” laughs Borraccino.
“The only way we could make a good first impression was by doing something disruptive, just like Singer did with the Porsche. Respectful, but disruptive. You can’t make a regular watch and expect to gain the respect of the industry. We needed to prove right off the block that we are serious. We didn’t want to get into industry through the back door, we wanted to barge in through the main entrance,” he says.
The Track 1’s development hinged around finding a suitable movement that would fit Borraccino’s design. He talks of meeting with quite a few movement specialists before he found himself sitting opposite Agenhor’s Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the man behind some of the most ingenious watches in the industry today. “Jean-Marc was not convinced at all,” recalls Boraccino. “He said no one would believe in a brand created by a guy from California who restores cars. He had met way too many people who told him they want to start a watch brand. It took a while before he agreed to hear me out completely.”
Call it destiny or a strange coincidence but right about then Wiederrecht was in the midst of developing the AgenGraphe (he had been at it for close to seven years), and the movement was uncannily similar to Borraccino’s vision for the Track 1. It didn’t take long for Wiederrecht to come on board.
“When we met, the (AgenGraphe) movement was not yet ready. Singer Reimagined invested in the development of this movement. And since Fabergé had collaborated with Agenhor for a long time, they talked to Fabergé about this new movement and they were happy to jump in as well. We knew the Visionnaire chronograph would come out before us. Besides, we could have never funded the development of this movement entirely by ourselves anyway,” he says.
The AgenGraphe debuted in the Fabergé Visionnaire Chronograph at Baselworld 2017. “The difference is that this movement is the movement for Track 1. Faberge adapted an existing design to fit this movement,” he says.
The core group kept the Track 1 project a secret before it was unveiled at an event in Geneva this June. This was never going to be an easy watch to explain to people. “Once you understand it, it is very simple but people have been used to the conventional chronograph for decades now,” he says.
Track 1 created a stir as soon as it was unveiled. The element of surprise had worked – no one expected Singer to launch a watch, nobody expected a chronograph like the Track 1. The pre-orders started pouring in that very night. The Track 1 is a limited edition of just 50 pieces at $40,000 a pop.
The brand hasn’t gone down the retail route but prefers to sell directly to the customer, at least for now. “We don’t want to cut out the retailer, but we are a small brand making watches in really small quantities. If the Track 1 is in a store with 50 other brands, it will just be lost. The Track 1 is special for a reason and only someone who understands its philosophy will be able to explain this to a potential customer,” he says.
Singer Reimagined received their first GPHG (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) nomination when the Track 1 was selected in the Best Chronograph category this year. “We had received great feedback ever since the launch, but once we got nominated, many journalists did tip us with a real chance to win.” However, the top honor would eventually go to Parmigiani’s Tonda Chronor Anniversaire.
“Three weeks before the GPHG, we received a phone call informing us that our watch won the Innovation Prize in a competition judged by an independent jury and hosted by ch24.pl (a Polish watch magazine). We ended up winning the best overall watch prize as well. It was unbelievable, we were competing with brands like Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet and we had been around for only five months,” says Borraccino.
So what’s next? Now that they have everyone’s attention, Singer Reimagined will be under scrutiny when the sophomore release comes around. “I know people are waiting for the next step. The investment in Track 1 has been huge, so we need to capitalize on the success of this first watch. Next year we will present a variation of this model in order to create a collection of watches. We don’t have to sell 1,000 watches a year, we want to do things the right way,” says Borraccino.
“We can’t launch a novelty a year like the big brands do. We are a staff of five people in in Geneva. Like I said before, we respect traditional watchmaking practices and there is no verticalization in the traditional model. We follow the etablissage model and work with the best suppliers for case, dial and movement. We don’t want to put ourselves under pressure.”
What’s the best compliment Borraccino has received about the Track 1? “One of the first journalists who saw the watch, tried it on his wrist and said, ‘I know this is a new watch but I feel like it has been around forever’. It was almost a validation of what we set out to do – respect tradition, pay homage to the chronographs of the 60s and 70s and yet be disruptive,” he signs off.
(The full interview appears in our Winter 2017 print magazine which is out on newsstands now.)