As I said in another recent blog post, having strong retail partnerships is a vital part of growing our business. One of the partners who’s been driving a lot of that growth recently is WatchGauge, a fairly new multi-brand online boutique based in New York.
While the business is young, its founder John Keil is far from inexperienced, and to say we’re a good match would be an understatement. When John first contacted me early in 2017, it was immediately clear we were of like minds.
John spent much of his career dealing with luxury-oriented mainstream brands, but like me, he saw micro-brands as the future of the industry and wanted to build a unique, micro-brand-focused online boutique, with an emphasis on customer engagement through social media. WatchGauge is exactly that - a curated mix of brands and models John selects himself.
We’ve been working together ever since, with WatchGauge adding a new dimension to our business - the exclusive limited edition, a co-designed version of a watch, only available through a single retail partner.
We tested the waters with the 25-piece Nazario, a quirky, waffle-texture, California-dialed NTH Sub inspired by an extremely rare and vintage Monopusher Chronograph.
Then came the 100-piece Catalina, co-designed by none other than YouTube sensation Tristano Geoffry Michele Veneto (“TGV” for short), of The Urban Gentry reviews channel, that collaboration coming by way of an introduction from John.
Next up for NTH and WatchGauge - the Nazario Sauro, a 50-piece, red-white-and-blue, full-lume, California-dial exercise in needless excess, one of several new NTH Subs available for pre-order starting September 3rd, with delivery in October.
The origin story here is pretty standard stuff for me and John, as our business relationship has blossomed into a friendship, leading to frequent casual conversations. This one started about a week after he’d sold the last of the original 25 Nazarios:
JOHN: “I wish we made more Nazarios. People have been asking me if I’ll get more…”
ME: “I don’t wanna say ‘I told you so,’ but…”
JOHN: “I know, I know. Can we do another LE?”
ME: “Does Wilfred Brimley have diabeetus? Whaddya have in mind?”
JOHN: “It’ll be hard to top the Nazario. That thing is bananas.”
ME: “Hold my beer…”
The rest, as they say, is history.
But the Nazario Sauro isn’t the whole story here, just part of it. I’ll let John tell you in his own words…
Q: What makes WatchGauge different?
Our vision for WatchGauge is so much more than just another site where you can buy a watch. Collectively, our team has over 60 years of hands-on customer experience in the watch industry.
This knowledge is put to use researching and curating the best-of-the-best in terms of select micro-brands to partner with and promote within the enthusiast community. With what seems like hundreds of new brands and thousands of models coming to market, WatchGauge cuts through the clutter by measuring each new brand against our company’s core values:
Fantastic construction using the best materials with great attention to detail and durability.
You won’t typically find any WatchGauge brands collecting dust in Amazon, Overstock, or other big-box warehouses.
WatchGauge is only looking for brands which have the right mix of story, quality, and exciting designs.
Q: How did you get started in this industry, and what led you to starting WatchGauge?
I started out like a lot of folks. I spent my early career in a big-company cubicle-farm, but quit to pursue my love of watches. My first position in the business was as a US sales manager for a luxury European brand for three years.
After racking up enough airline miles and time away from family that I was afraid my wife might begin calling the cops when I walked into the house, I transitioned to the retail side of the business, running a luxury brand AD closer to home. It was there some of my more well-heeled clientele would ask me for help finding and purchasing more high-end timepieces, or for more personalized customization.
That led to starting a company where I coordinated with some luxury brand designers I knew to make ultra-bespoke high-end limited runs of timepieces for these wealthy individuals, and some corporations, which is something I’ll still occasionally do when one of my long-time clients asks. One of my favorite projects was a 20-piece collection for an auto manufacturer celebrating a historic race victory.
Having worked both the wholesale and retail sides of the business, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of this industry, as well as the emerging importance of micro-brands, many of which offer more unique designs, with more realistic pricing and wider appeal. Together with a friend, I started WatchGauge, with the goal of shining a light on what we saw as a growing bright spot within the industry.
Q: Are there any trends you see now which you think will impact the industry?
I’m not seeing a lot of “new” trends, more a continuation of what I’ve been seeing for a while. A handful of guys are doing it really well, but ten times that many are still trying to figure it out. Part of what we’re doing with WatchGauge is filtering brands on behalf of our customers.
Take NTH - Like it or not, you’ve established a reputation as being an outspoken member of the microbrand community. You’ve let people see into everything you’re doing, for better or worse. That’s not something we see with the luxury brands. I didn’t even see it when I was managing an AD.
That relationship with your customers is reflected in the relationship with WatchGauge. It’s more than just a manufacturer selling through a retail distributor. It’s a true alliance and friendship. Having a knowledgeable brand owner to talk to while I was building WatchGauge has been invaluable, and having established microbrands like NTH on our site gave us instant credibility.
It doesn’t hurt that that the watches you make are amazing! Our best-seller to date has been the Nacken Modern Blue. It’s a classic, widely appreciated for its simplicity.
As one of only a few multi-brand online boutiques featuring micros, I think we’re well-positioned for the future, but I also think we’re going to see more competition within this space as the industry wakes up to reality, and this space heats up. We’re seeing a lot of new micros starting up. We’ll see which ones can get past startup and become sustainable.
Be sure to visit WatchGauge to see their selection of NTH Watches. Watch Gauge is also the only remaining source for the Lew & Huey Orthos, currently on clearance at 20% off regular retail prices, to make room for the new NTH Subs coming in October.