Jules & Sebastiaan
Watch out! The world of young, independent brands is being invaded by brands coming from Northern Europe.
As it happens, some of my favorite brands come from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Maybe there is something about these cultures and their ergonomic and minimalist design traditions that makes me naturally gravitate towards them. While some brands, Swiss or otherwise, still tend to make larger watches, a brand like Maen sticks to reasonable proportions, with case diameters orbiting around 38–40mm. For that size, you get solid movements and a surprisingly fine quality of finish.
To understand what makes Maen a brand capable of making such good watches (and reasonably priced ones at that), you have to look at the two men behind the brand and their personal experiences in the watchmaking world, or to be more accurate, their lack of watchmaking experience. After interviewing many brand owners over the past two or three years, I have realized that while some have been in the watch business for many years, others have not, and whether or not they have powerfully affects how watches are designed.
At least that's what I think.
The less you know about the technical aspects of making watches, for example, the more freedom you have to create a unique visual identity with out-of-the-box design elements. Like putting sub-registers where they can't exist because of the way the movements are built. Or designing cases that are too thin to add any kind of water resistance. Yes, these design discrepancies must eventually be addressed, but not knowing about these things opens the doors to unlimited creativity. Although I can't scientifically prove what I just said, I will try to explain it throughout this article.
So let's dive in and see how the people behind Maen went about creating the brand.
Designers, Not Watchmakers
The two cofounders of Maen, Julian and Sebastiaan, do not come from an old watchmaking family and are not descendants of famous watchmakers. They are basically watch enthusiasts and amateur collectors. Watches were a hobby, and for a long time, they did not think about creating their own brand. Jules is a computer and motion designer with experience in the e-commerce industry. It was through this career that he met Sebastiaan, a friend of a friend who needed advice on creating a website.
The two men became friends and soon realized that they had something in common: watches and a certain affinity for design. While discussing matters of online business, they both felt that watch brands should market their products directly to the consumer, as this is the best way to offer great watches for good prices. This idea is not new, of course, but it is nice to see it implemented by a growing number of brands. Naturally, deciding to sell watches online is just one step towards creating a successful watch brand.
As an e-commerce expert, Julian knew how to manage supply chains, marketing, and customer service. That was a good start, but that’s not enough to guarantee that you will come out the other end with a good watch. What makes a good watch is creating a process where the innovators can clearly express their ideas and preferences. Their approach was the same as for any other product launch: market research, brainstorming sessions, and researching how to manufacture the watch.
What came out of their process was a coherent collection that sells for much less than it should.
The Brand's Philosophy
Jules and Sebastiaan design watches that they would wear themselves and that they believe do not exist on the market today. They aim for harmony between design and specifications and are always seeking ways to fit both into smaller cases that are no less functional and robust. All of their watches have reasonable proportions and versatile designs, no matter what collection you might be interested in. Their prices are also amazing. Once I tell you more about the price of their watches, in fact, you may wonder how they manage to pay their bills.
When they design a new collection, they first think about the overall design of the watch and its style. The watch must serve a particular purpose and have some visual appeal to those who will wear it. They create initial sketches and produce prototypes that they refine until they get the right feel. It's a bit like a sculptor working on a piece of art for several months, chiseling away at a small piece of rock each day until the work is perfect. For Maen, what must be perfect is the proportions and design of the watch. The watch doesn't have to be a monster of a timepiece, but it does have to be robust enough to do the job.
It takes Jules and Sebastiaan between 8 and 14 months to make a watch, which includes the many back-and-forth discussions with the manufacturer to refine the prototypes. With the exception of the technical design (CAD) and the actual manufacturing of the watches, they handle everything else in-house. Photography, videography, marketing, e-commerce, and of course, watch design. It's a real passion, and the fact that they do almost everything themselves also explains their reasonable prices.
In other words, they keep their overhead low.
This is the third time I've mentioned the brand's reasonable prices, so let me put those prices in perspective. Maen currently offers four collections: a diver (the Hudson Mark IV), a chronograph (the Skymaster Mark II), a modern everyday watch (the Manhattan 37), and a GMT (the Hudson GMT). The diver has a water resistance of 300 meters, a Swiss-made movement, and a Swiss construction and assembly. It measures 38mm in diameter, 46mm in length, and 12.05mm thick. It retails for $560.
Not bad, eh?
At the Risk of Going Bankrupt
As we already know, Maen is essentially a two-man show. Jules and Sebastiaan do everything they can themselves to reduce (or rather annihilate) their overhead. Moreover, they deliberately sell watches cheap in order to create momentum, a following, and the ability to create new collections (in this strategy, charging more could jeopardize their longevity). While brands usually charge at least three times the production cost, Maen charges a third of that (they didn't tell me so explicitly, but knowing that a movement made in Switzerland costs more than $200, one can imagine the tiny margin they leave for themselves). This is not their long-term plan, though, as they will eventually have to raise their prices to keep making better watches.
Their passion for horology explains Jules and Sebastiaan's deliberate efforts to make little profit. They both collect good quality watches that can last a lifetime (Jules' watch of choice, which is not Maen, is a Royal Oak 15450 with a gray ruthenium dial), so it was only natural that they wanted to make their own quality watches and sell them at a comparatively low price. The Hudson GMT, for example, sells for $799 on pre-order. Making a Swiss GMT for less than $1,000 shows the two friends’ desire to provide quality watches to as many people as possible.
Current and Upcoming Collections
Like many, many, many young brands—notice how many times I wrote "many"—Maen started with a dress watch. That was a long time ago, though, so I'm going to skip that and just talk about the current and upcoming collections. As we already know, Maen has made four versions of a diver, which might indicate that this is the most important watch in their collection, and it is. The Hudson has been around for a few years, and every year Jules and Sebastiaan improve it with a better movement, better finish and construction, and increased water resistance.
The current version of the Hudson is equipped with a Ronda R-150 movement, a recent caliber that we haven't seen in many watches yet. The case and bracelet are made of 316L stainless steel, the crystal is sapphire, and the bracelet with five links is both pretty to look at and very comfortable to wear (Maen also uses this bracelet for other collections). The Hudson is available with black, gray, or blue dials, some with dates and some without, and there's even a quartz version for $323.
The second model that made the brand famous is the Skymaster, a 38mm chronograph inspired by the Speedmaster that costs $1,085. The Skymaster is equipped with an ETA 2894-2 Top Grade movement, sapphire crystal, and a 12-hour ceramic bezel. It has a 46mm lug-to-lug distance and 12.9mm thickness. That's a lot of watch in a small case. In general, chronographs with an ETA Top Grade movement sell for much more. Once again, one has to wonder how Julian and Sebastiaan manage to feed themselves.
The third model of the brand is the Manhattan 37. As the name suggests, its case diameter is 37mm, but since it is square, it looks larger than what its dimensions suggest. The Manhattan has a beautiful Côtes de Genève texture on the dial, a sapphire crystal, a Ronda R-150 caliber, and an integrated bracelet. The Manhattan is the second-most dressy model from the brand, but Maen has come a long way to create something unique while still being definitely Maen (I'm referring to the hands, which are the same as the Hudson's).
Finally, there is the Hudson GMT. This one has the same dimensions as the diver: 38mm in diameter, 46mm lug-to-lug, and 12.05mm thick. The GMT is also water resistant to 300 meters, and it would seem almost impossible to keep these dimensions while adding a GMT complication, but it is! Maen has opted for the SOPROD C-125 movement, a robust caliber that is also found in GMT watches from other young brands that cost $400 more. Indeed, the Hudson GMT will retail for $799 on pre-order and $862 thereafter.
Maen is the type of brand that exemplifies what’s best about the independent watch market. Nice designs, good quality watches, and reasonable prices. Moreover, Maen is a brand that innovates by making its watches thinner and more interesting, that is, by adding more complications without compromising the wearing comfort. And Maen isn't planning to rest on its laurels: in a month or two, it will launch the Brooklyn 36, a mechanical watch with three subregisters. It's the kind of watch we haven't seen in a long time, and it shows that small brands can set trends just like the big Swiss houses.
Thanks for reading.