It’s fascinating how things play out sometimes.
You may have always wanted to create your own business, but you didn’t know how to do it. Perhaps you were drawn to the stories of the first explorers and dreamed of doing the same, but you never thought you were meant for it. In certain aspects of our lives, there are moments when the stars align, and when they do, we need to take our chance, regardless of how challenging it may be. In this case, I interviewed the co-founder of MONTA Watch, Michael DiMartini, a couple of weeks before coming across the book “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel. In Housel’s book, he talks about the many flops that are born of inexperience from which people recover and learn to improve their game.
People raved about MONTA, so when I first came across them two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that the brand creators had gone through hard times. I assumed that they knew exactly what they were doing when they first sat down to sketch their first model and that they had their entire business plan figured out from the get-go.
Not so. Speaking with Michael helped me understand that all businesses go through difficult times, but only the businesses that have the humility to learn from their mistakes and pick themselves back up succeed.
This story is about the power of perseverance and how it makes us better.
Co-founder and CEO Michael DiMartini (right)
and Justin Kraudel (left)
An Overall Sentiment of Courage
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of Michael’s path into horology and business, let’s take a moment to discuss the overall necessity of doing what we love and working hard at it until it works, despite the bumps in the road. It is easy to assume that all successful business people we hear about in the news never make mistakes, otherwise why would they be so successful? They must have a particular talent for creating business strategies or articulating their vision. They must have had a wealthy parent who gave them everything they needed to be successful like a good education and better opportunities. It’s easy to get lost by how flashy these people seem and fall under the impression that it has always been this way for them.
Well, that would be naive.
Morgan Housel’s book made everything click for me. We can be successful even if we make bad calculations or poor planning, and even if our business venture—whatever it is—flops repeatedly. Many people would quickly quit after failing more than once, as I have certainly done in the past, but once we find what we are truly passionate about, we discover that we have this superpower to push ourselves beyond the limits of our self confidence and mental courage. I experienced these feelings when I created Mainspring because each time I failed at writing a good article or making the right business connection, I persevered regardless of the outcome.
This is Michael’s story as well. He didn’t let previous difficulties drive him away from wanting to create MONTA. He had the courage to learn from his mistakes, have a good laugh at it, and move on to the next project. Again and again, he persevered no matter how difficult the tasks were. He knew he had to work at it relentlessly in order to get it right. The end result of this process is a collection of outstanding watches that the entire watch community raves about. Not only do people say that MONTA makes the best finished watches under $2,000, many watch enthusiasts and collectors see MONTA both as a microbrand and (more importantly) as “a” brand. That is the result of perseverance
Before MONTA: Everest Bands
Michael and his co-founders were not new to the watch entrepreneur world before creating MONTA. Indeed, Michael had been a fan of Rolex watches since his childhood when his dad, a physician, used to visit his patients on weekends and would let young Michael play with his Datejust, reference 16013. As he played with the watch, he grew to admire the bracelet and the fact that it didn’t need a battery to operate, leaving a long-lasting impression on Michael that would drive him to later build a collection strong of several iconic Rolex references. Even before having Rolexes in his collection, Michael became close to the watch community by way of the “Watchuseek” forum which he discovered in 2012.
Before getting into watches, Michael worked as a real estate developer for a decade and lived through the 2008 recession caused by the housing bubble in the United States. This made things rather tough for Michael and his wife, as he found himself with little to no work and having to part with a Tudor Sports that he had bought not too long before on a trip to Switzerland. Although at the time Michael did not own a Rolex himself, it didn’t stop him from admiring the brand and their models by going on forums. He said that just like we can admire the Mona Lisa without owning it, we can properly admire Rolex without owning one.
This admiration and the struggle to survive during the recession gave birth to the idea of making his own collection of high-end straps for Rolex watches. In fact, it was shortly after the birth of his first son in January 2012 that Michael presented the idea to his wife (while she was still in the hospital!).
It was then that Michael and David, the co-founder of Everest, decided to create their own watch band company. As is the case with many entrepreneurs who get into the watch world, they had to research the watch market and the materials that would later make Everest famous: Swiss-made vulcanized rubber and leather. They found a designer who made a decent prototype that could be used as a basis for their first Kickstarter campaign, which luckily turned out to be a success. Everest has made a name for itself as being the go-to manufacturer of high-quality Swiss-made, custom-fit straps for Rolex, Tudor, and Panerai.
Despite his later success, Michael did not always get the early support he would have hoped for, as back in 2012, creating a watch business was somewhat looked down upon (now, getting into horology seems like a decent professional path to take, given the resurgence of watches). He was advised several times to “get a real job” in a field like real estate or finance, but Michael had a vision and he persevered, so capitalizing on his success with Everest Bands, he created MONTA.
Having been making high-end straps for Rolex and a few other Swiss luxury brands, Michael felt as if he was living in the shadow of the aforementioned brands since many of its customers owned Rolex timepieces. He wanted to do something even greater than creating a line of custom watch straps and accessories, and he had some big ideas to help make a real name for himself. This mixture of frustration and longing to make something bigger made him come up with the idea of creating a watch brand based on the success of Everest. After all, they had been successful, and the company was building a solid following. It was only a matter of time, I would argue, before Michael would want to create his own watch brand, which he finally did in 2015.
Michael and his co-founder simultaneously developed two models: the Ocean King, the first one they released, and a second one, the Triumph. The Ocean King was for the most part a flop, at least according to Michael, who is very much a perfectionist. As Michael related, they had too many problems with the movement, the proportions of the watch were off, and the lume was almost nonexistent. The reasons why the first version of the Ocean King turned out this way are multiple (working with the wrong manufacturer and choosing a movement not reliable enough). I’m being as honest about this as Michael was with me during the interview and with MONTA’s first customers. He and David felt so bad about how the Ocean King turned out that they decided to refund part of the watch to every person who had purchased one. Despite the fact that customers were happy, Michael was not, and he strove to do even better.
Imagine this for a moment.
You are investing money to create a Swiss-made watch brand and product with high production costs for a watch that retails at a little less than $2,000. This means your profit margins are small, but because you believe so much in your product and in making it right with your customers, you deliberately jeopardize your financial future by refunding as much of the watch as you possibly can, despite this putting you into financial difficulties. Luckily for the brand and for watch enthusiasts, there was a third member of the MONTA team that played a key role in bringing the brand back to the surface: Justin, the head of sales at Everest, who then joined the MONTA team.
The latter saw an opportunity to make amends by bringing the Triumph, which they had developed alongside the Ocean King, to the market. The Triumph, they realized, would be much easier to sell, thanks to having better specifications: a Sellita movement, 150 meters of water resistance, and a thinner profile. They took another gamble and released the Triumph. It was a big success, and it allowed the brand to recover from the Ocean King fiasco. Not only did the Triumph sell out, it set in stone the brand’s philosophy of offering well-made watches with a unique design and an unprecedented level of finish for a young brand.
That’s the philosophy they have been working on since 2015.
Who Is MONTA For?
As Michael put it, MONTA’s success is due to the sum of the experiences of the people behind the brand. Each key player has had certain life experiences that led them to the ideas for certain designs. After the success of the Triumph, MONTA released the popular Atlas, their own take on the iconic GMT-traveler type of watch. It came about through an old dream that Justin, the head of sales, had nurtured for years: an elegant GMT watch with a white dial. He and Michael sat down with their Swiss designer to create the Atlas Opaline dial, which perfectly matched what Justin had in mind. Michael recalled driving through the mountains of Switzerland during a business trip and reflecting on how much Justin loved the Atlas. He could not take his eyes off the watch and kept raving about it. That’s what indicated to Michael that MONTA was on the right track.
Just like Lauren and Lorenzo Ortega from Lorier or Jérôme Burgert from Serica, Michael designs watches that he and the people around him would enjoy wearing. If you look at MONTA’s website, you will immediately notice that the Ocean King went through several revisions in order to become the pillar that it is now within the MONTA collection. That again is the result of Michael’s refusal to give up on making it as good as it can be.
Another source of inspiration and influence in the design of MONTA watches is Michael’s wife Theresa, who inspired the logo and also chose the new colors for the MONTA Noble, the brand’s latest model. It’s interesting to me how much goes into deciding how to design a watch, and more than anything else, it’s the compounding of our experiences that dictate how a product will come out. If Michael hadn’t had the experience of Everest or of playing with his dad’s Datejust as a kid, MONTA watches would look very different today, and maybe not exist at all.
Conclusion: What Watches Mean
During the interview, Michael shared that he had purchased his first Rolex because of the inherent status they give the wearer. Just like he wasn’t afraid to admit that the first Ocean King was a flop, he wasn’t shying away to admit that he used to purchase certain watches for reasons that in retrospect were maybe not the best. His vision of watches has changed over the years. Now they are tokens of happy moments and powerful experiences, like the memory of buying a Rolex at Bucherer with his son. I think many of us can relate to this.
I admired Michael’s candor throughout our exchange, and I believe that it is his capacity to see life and events for what they truly are—good or bad, successes or failures—that made it possible for him to create one of the most reputable and consistent watch brands of the past decade. I have the feeling that MONTA is going to be around for a long time and I for one cannot wait to see what Michael and his team come up with next.
Thanks for reading.