Singapore timepiece brands gain following overseas

Singapore timepiece brands gain following overseas


With its foreign-sounding name and tagline, Uhren Technik ("watches technique" in German), many are surprised to learn that diving watch label Dievas is a Singapore brand.

In fact, Mr Anders Tan, who created it in 2006, says he faced some resistance from customers when he started marketing his watches. Dievas means "superior" in Lithuanian and he chose the word because it sounds like "diver".

The 34-year-old says: "A lot of people were sceptical, but I think it is a very Singaporean mentality - if it is a Singaporean brand, then it means it's not good."

That is why he has long focused on how the brand's watches are made in Germany - and it has worked to his benefit.

Dievas watches, which range in price from $1,400 to $3,400, is the third most popular brand sold at retail shop Gnomon Watches, which is also owned by Mr Tan. The other two brands are German label Steinhart and Italian diving watch brand Squale.

Three hundred pieces of the first Dievas watch were produced when it launched, with production increasing by 5 per cent every year. In 2005, 1,500 Dievas watches were sold.

The brand has about 60 repeat customers, most of whom have been with it since the beginning.

"A lot of our regular customers own Rolexes and other high-end watches, but I don't think our customers are about showing off," says Mr Tan. The watches also sell well in Bangkok, Thailand.

Retail sales manager Chong Jun Hao, 34, who has five Dievas watches, says he discovered the label eight years ago at Gnomon Watches while buying a Steinhart watch.

"At the time, there weren't a lot of German-made watches that were priced at entry-level prices, below $1,500. So that brand caught my eye. The watches are reliable, tactical watches and you can tell that a lot of effort has gone into the build and design."

Mr Tan got into the watch business during his first year at the University of Birmingham, Britain, in 2001.

He used some of his tuition money to buy vintage watches from wholesalers in the United States and resell them to watch collectors all over the world online and in person at a profit.

"I bought 10 watches for $80 each and sold them at $110," recalls the Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia who has lived here since he was three. His father owns a business in Indonesia manufacturing construction materials and his mother is a housewife.

Photo: The Straits Times

The computer engineering graduate says he went into the watch business because of his "love for watches".

"Being able to make some pocket money from your passion sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"

In his second year at university, he started Gnomon (meaning sundial in Greek) as an online e-tailer, selling brands such as Swiss military watch brand Traser and German automatic and manual- winding mechanical watch brand Nomos.

After graduating, he opened a shop in Shaw Tower in Beach Road in 2007. The multi-brand boutique moved to its current premises in Millenia Walk in October.

Prices range from $700 for a Steinhart watch from Switzerland to $15,000 for a timepiece from Italian diving watch brand Ennebi or Swiss luxury watch brand Hublot.

Mr Tan, a bachelor, decided to launch his own watch label because he wanted one to call his own.

Singapore luxury watch brands gaining following overseas

Dievas watches are made in collaboration with a German watch manufacturer, in which Gnomon has a 30 per cent stake. Mr Tan, who bought the stake five to six years ago, declines to disclose the amount he paid or the name of the manufacturer, but says it is based in Pforzheim, Germany.

Working with a team of four based in Germany, the design process involves a lot of conference calls on Skype "until we agree on something".

Mr Tan aims to put out two to three watch models a year. Most of the watch components are made in Germany. The mechanical movements and design of the timepieces' hands are from Switzerland.

He says: "We try to put innovation into our diving watches. We have six steel watches that are full titanium and scratch-resistant."

It is these specifications that make Mr Tan liken Dievas to popular German watch brand Sinn.

He says: "In terms of specifications, it is very similar, although Sinn's watches are priced a lot higher. The reason Dievas can sell its watches at lower prices, but at the same quality, is because we work directly with our German factory." Sinn watches range from $3,000 to $12,000.

Although Mr Tan shares that Dievas enjoyed double-digit growth last year, he says success was not immediate.

"To be honest, I don't think we made money in the first few years. Everything went back to making better watches."

Even after a decade, he says he still faces prejudice from people when they are told Dievas is a Singapore brand.

"Though our watches are made in Germany, it's difficult for consumers to digest the fact that a local brand can be as good as a German brand."

But he adds: "I am convinced that the moment a customer buys and wears a Dievas watch, he will appreciate the quality - it speaks for itself."

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