Three years ago, three German university students bought a bunch of watch components, screwed them together in their spare time, and flogged them to their friends. At first they moved 100 watches. Soon it was 10,000. Now Kapten & Son has a presence as far away from Munster as physically possible: King Street, Prahran.
The analogue watch’s resurgent popularity is probably unsurprising in a relentlessly digital age.
“It's a feeling of technological overload,” explains co-founder Artjem Weissbeck. “We are not only consuming technology, but technology starts to consume us – especially millennials who also remember a life without smartphones. It’s a relief having something simple and analog in their life.”
Kapten’s timepieces are 100 per cent 318L stainless steel, attached to your person by all-Italian leather, with innards produced by Swiss manufacturers Ronda AG. “We can’t say it’s Swiss made, because a couple of parts come from elsewhere and they’re pretty brutal about that,” says Australian managing director Chris Telley. “For us, we just want to make a good product.”
The base range of four faces – in rose gold, silver, white and black – can be configured with an enormous variety of bands, providing more than 300 options. Recently, the brand released a new minimal variation named PURE, which was created with the help of Bang & Olufsen designers. “Our first tagline was ‘Embrace Your Character’,” says Telley. “It’s about the watch that suits your personality.”
While the focus on the watches themselves is resolutely analogue, the brand owes its success to social media. For the first couple of years, Kapten & Son relied on its sizeable Instagram following to drive sales, and has only recently moved into bricks-and-mortar. But, instead of following the standard retail playbook, Kapten & Son’s Prahran store operates more like a tailor or new-wave barber – read: with beer. “Anyone can walk off the street and buy stuff, but what we try to do is encourage people to book,” says Telley. “When most people come here, we know who they are and what they want. We’ll offer them a drink or a coffee, and we start walking them through. When you get a suit made, it’s the same kind of process. You go to a barber, get your beer – there’s a lot of banter. We know they want to buy something, so it’s not that hard retail sell. It’s about customer experiences.”
Watches remain Kapten & Son’s bread and butter, but the company has been moving into other items, such as sunglasses, which have a wall of their own in Prahran. “Our goal was to be a younger, cooler version of Fossil,” says Telley. “We’ve got more and more products coming through, and the whole brand will become a bit more of a fashion house.”
Like the company’s founder, Telley believes that the tradition of handing down a watch to your grandchild is here to stay. “An analogue watch is more of an accessory. Sure, it still tells the time. The smart-watch has got a lot of productivity in it, but these give a more fashion-based look and feel. That’s why I think analogue watches will never die,” he says. “An Apple Watch probably ain’t ‘gonna last 60 years.”
Kapten & Son
11 King Street, Prahran
(03) 9529 7631
Mon to Fri 10am–5pm