I fell in love with watchmaking as a five-year-old, silently observing my grandfather servicing his watches in the workshop in his attic. Fast forward several decades and here I am - a watch enthusiast, collector of vintage watches. My attraction to Klokkers, a micro-brand that started life as a crowdfunded project was initially a bit of a novelty, considering the value proposition was partly based on a quartz movement. Yes, a quartz movement - that plebeian lifeless system, not powered through human interaction, but by an obscure chemical reaction taking place in a tiny container we call a battery.
Back then, I thought of micro-brands as Kickstarter projects by a cuter name. Usually 13-a-dozen, these micro-brands featured a team of passionate enthusiasts, who wanted to create their custom mechanical timepiece combining mass-produced movements housed in humbly-designed cases, with some creative effort seen in the shape of the hands and stamping of the dial. Most of them seemed destined to be a short-lived adventure into watchmaking for those involved; more often than not these micro-brands sold a story about nostalgia for watches of the past, that is neither unique nor vintage but pretended to be both.
And then there was Klokers. From the get-go, Klokers had a different approach; focused more on lifestyle and offering an unusual take on time telling instruments and how we accessed time. I recognized that the ambitious objective of Klokers was to break as many established codes of timepieces as possible and to encourage enthusiasts to enjoy time in a different way. It resonated very well with my inner pirate mindset.
Let me elaborate: The display was inspired by the design of sliding rule devices of yesteryears. The watch could be strapped on the wrist, but not only. It would have no hands, but no digital display either. The dial would be made of concentric rotating disks which would turn (hang on!) counter-clockwise and its beating heart would be quartz. On paper this sounded like an impossible design challenge and a commercial Everest to climb in order to survive.
The first watch Klok-01 in 2015 had a circular case with slick finishing and minimal distraction, except for a red pusher at 7 that operated the clever locking mechanism securing the case to a metal clamp that attached to a specially-designed leather strap. It could also latch on to a portable leather pouch or a clip that could attach to the cover of a notebook. The first Kickstarter was an instant success, the project went well beyond its funding target within minutes. One quickly gets accustomed to the varying degrees of professionalism in crowdfunded projects, and here again, Kokers stood out. The team did a fantastic job with communicating updates related to the project and we had a clear idea about expected deliveries. I was a very happy Kloker.
In my opinion, the only room for improvement was related to the size of the watch: 42 mm. Since the case had no bezel, it wore more like a 45 mm case on my modest wrist, and thanks to the locking mechanism, the case was relatively thick at 14.6 mm. I wished they would design a slightly smaller and thinner watch, but keep the existing locking mechanism. Guess what? This is exactly what they did. And so I signed again to crowdfund a second watch and experienced the same level of quality and attention to detail, in a price range that is notorious for not devoting the time or resources to make the customer feel special.
For each model iteration, there was a good choice of colors for the dials and straps, with a consistent design goal: make it look visible but not loud. The second model Klok-08 came in at 38 mm and was thinner than the first one. The compromise was to get rid of the minute disk. Time is displayed by an external disk making one turn in 12 hours and crossing a thin red line drawing on a longitudinal magnifying glass and an inner disk representing the seconds. This second model hit the bull’s eye for me, but also for my wife who found the overall design and size as attractive as the absence of need for any winding. Klokers would regularly launch new color variations of their existing models and new accessories that allowed for different ways to carry or display the watch. A very unusual worldtime model was unveiled as well, but I wasn’t sure about the legibility of the dial.
Suddenly, one day, I was brought back to the reality of micro brands: longevity is not bought, it is earned. A quick message from the head of the company; again highlighting the professionalism of the team; explained that the brand could no longer function as a company and would stop its business activities.
If the story was ending here, this would just be one of many crowdfunded horological butterflies: a cocoon full of promise on Day 1, a novelty seeing the sun and spreading its wing on Day 2, an attractive being flying around its niche of potential clients on Day 3, and a rapidly fading memory for a handful on Day 4. However, as I was preparing to write this article, I received an unexpected email from Klokers. A new team was reviving the brand and new products were to be expected soon. Klokers was indeed coming back from the dead.
One cannot guarantee the future of a startup by its first commercial success, or the longevity of a design concept that is a very disruptive value proposition. As a collector, I felt that the financial risk was modest, the fun-on-the-wrist factor was high, and that was good enough for me to click support the project. The possible revival of the brand is getting me very excited, as I now dream of the new complications the brand could come up with, in a not so distant future. Time will tell.
Jean-Philippe Hussenet is a Mosc0w-based collector and a former resident of Dubai