A pair of watchmakers who learned their trade in Switzerland before mastering it in Camden are putting the North London town on the wrists of fashionistas from Osaka to Ontario, as Bryce Wilcock finds out.
The Camden Watch Company is a British watch brand, founded by Anneke Short and Jerome Robert, a pair of Swiss taught, Camden dwelling watch lovers.
Anneke, 30, is a British watch designer who trained in Switzerland from the age of 14, and Jerome, 32, is a Swiss native, born and raised in the heart of the watch valley of Neuchatel, before moving to Camden in 2010.
Together, they founded a thriving watch design studio, AMS, back in 2012. Working with some of the world’s leading watchmakers and retailers, who cannot be named for contractual reasons, the duo have designed and produced watches which have gone on to sell for as much as £1m.
Despite the continued success of AMS, the duo were frustrated at never being able to boast about their work which they were so passionate and proud of. This led to them going it alone and launching their own watch brand combining the two things they loved most, watches and Camden Town.
“The Camden Watch Company is our second business after AMS Watch Design, which designs watches for brands across the globe,” Anneke told BQ. “It was set up in 2012 and the problem that faced us was that because we were designing products for other brands - all of our work was confidential - and we were never able to show off our creative flair.
“We weren’t allowed to tell people who we worked for or show people what we do, which as a designer is so frustrating! This led to the launch of The Camden Watch Company. The brand meant we could launch our own project. It gave us a chance to do something the way we wanted to do it – matching our own style and at our own price.”
Merging their love of Camden Town with their love of watches, the aim was simple; to create a brand that not only reflected the vibrant and dynamic town that exists today, but that also encompassed the rich heritage of the area. And so The Camden Watch Company was born.
“We both live in Camden and have done for the past six and a half years,” Anneke said. “We really love it here, we’re total advocates for Camden Town. We love London as a whole but we spend most of our time right here in Camden.
“The town also has this really amazing industrial Victorian past that people don’t know about. When people think of Camden they think of modern day Camden – the music and the markets but this old part of Camden has really been forgotten.
“From a designers point of view it is so fascinating and there is so much inspiration you can take from it. We really wanted to focus on bringing back this old Victorian industrial Camden which is very, very British and integrate it in everything we did.”
The duo took their fascination with Camden’s Victorian past and embedded it in everything they made with every model taking inspiration from Camden itself. From the Victorian pocket watch inspired No. 29, taken from the town’s renowned railway heritage, to the turquoise-blue seconds hand of the No. 88, based on the iconic ‘Camden Lock’ bridge.
The watches, No. 24, No. 29 and No. 88, are also all named after bus routes that run through the town, with the No. 24 being the oldest unchanged route in the whole of London. The watches house the finest quality Japanese quartz movements, and every other element of the watch, from the strap, to the dial to the watch crown is designed, scribbled, sketched, reworked and refined in their Camden office.
Jerome added: “Everything we design relates to this industrial Victorian heritage the town has. A prime example is the No.88 unisex watch. The dial and crown are reminiscent of steam train gauges. The seconds hand is the same turquoise-blue as the iconic Camden Lock Bridge. It really brings this rich heritage to life.”
Having drawn up the designs for their first range of watches and settled on The Camden Watch Company as their brand carrier, the duo were ready for the next stage and were ready to take their designs to market. This is when the challenge became real.
“One of our biggest challenges so far has been getting people to understand exactly what it is we do in the sense that there are so many big players in the watch industry and we’re so tiny compared to them,” said Anneke. “We just don’t have the type of money to spend on PR, TV and magazine adverts that they do.
“It’s a matter of figuring out how to make sure we’re out there, we’re being seen, and people know what we’re doing and that we’re arguably more genuine than a lot of the other brands out there but some people still don’t want to buy from us because we are still this tiny.”
The watchmaking industry is solidly traditional. Any major sporting event you watch – you see the same major players glistening on advertising boards and even sponsoring kits. For Jerome it was just everyday life, growing up in La Chaux-de-Fonds, he was brought up in a town where Tag Heuer and Breitling were to locals what Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin are to Brummies here in the UK.
Starting with a limited budget, the duo started off by selling online via their website and promoting the brand through social media, in particularly Instagram. If they were to really start making an impact in the industry, they knew they had to do something to stand out from the crowd. Harnessing the Britishness of their brand and the worldwide popularity of Greater London, they knew they were onto something special – and it didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing.
“We launched the website and within three to four days we were contacted by a distributor in Japan,” Anneke said. “He was a really nice guy and told us how he was launching a distribution service for watches and he really wanted to stock our brand. We met him a few months after in Hong Kong and sealed the deal. We’re heading back there for a trade fair in two months time to try and raise further interest in the brand.
“Previously to launching the brand we already had an Instagram page which was promoting Camden as a town – we used this to help launch the brand and tied the two in together. His wife was one of our followers and when we launched the brand through the page she lapped up the idea of a truly quintessential London brand like ours.
“The British vibe really helps sell our products overseas – especially in Asia. They really do love the British heritage and tradition and London itself is really iconic in the UK because of how big and well known it is.”
Having secured five stockists in Japan and establishing a strong online presence in only their first year in business, Anneke and Jerome knew they were on to something special. In a bid to raise further awareness and drive sales, they took the unusual but brave step of launching their own shop at Camden Stables Market following the success of a pop-up store they had launched in the brands early days. A move which is rarely made in the watchmaking industry.
“Camden Collective, a regeneration project supporting start-up businesses, helped us out a lot when we first launched,” added Anneke. “They provided us with office space and our first pop-up store which really let us test the water and see how the brand would be received without shelling too much out. We took up the pop-up for two weeks and it was fantastic for getting the name out and the results were great.
“Following the success of the pop-up store we went on to open our first physical store at Camden Stables Market a year later, which was a huge step for us to take. It is not the traditional way of getting your name out there for watch companies as they usually sell through retailers. It was a really big risk for us but it was also the best thing we ever did. It’s our marketing essentially – it’s how we get our name out and get people to hear about us – it’s been huge.
“The store is constantly busy and it has become almost as big as our online store for driving sales. The sheer amount of tourists visiting Camden each and every day brings people through our doors constantly. It has really paid off.”
Having established themselves online and also securing five stockists in Japan – this is some feat for a company which only took to market just over two years ago - and it doesn’t stop there. The duo have ambitious plans for the company which could see it break into even more markets in the near future.
“We have another project on the horizon which could see us supply our watches to Korea,” added Jerome. “We’re meeting with the distributor whilst we’re out in Hong Kong for the trade show and fingers crossed it comes off!
“We’ve also recently signed a deal with our first EU distributor over in the Netherlands which is a small family business distributing to retailers across the country. The guy came to see us in London and really loved the brand, went home, told his family, and before we knew it, it was a done deal!
“We are also looking to recruit a brand manager but we are in no rush. We want to ensure we get the right person on board who believes in what we do and fits with the brand. This will take us up to five employees, alongside our two members of staff who work alongside Anneke and I in the Camden store.
“In terms of sales – every month we’re growing and business is rocketing, hopefully it continues to do so and we start seeing more wrists donning The Camden Town Watch company across the globe!”