(archive) 7th July 2023
"Boost Your Value" - Entry-Level Mechanical Business Watch "I.TARU" with a saga of updates based on passion and user feedback.
#Watches #FoundingStory #BehindTheProject
July 7, 2023, 07:19
ISHIDA C&T OFFICE
I.TARU is a newly established Japanese-made mechanical watch brand founded in 2022. It's an entry-level mechanical watch brand dedicated to creating a positive impression in business settings. As a micro-brand for watches, we collaborate with domestic watch OEM manufacturing companies to propose watches that strike a balance between individuality and needs.
Mechanical wristwatches are now a matter of personal taste. Consequently, there are very few brands globally that specifically target business-oriented automatic watches. Launching a brand without even the recognition of a category like 'business-oriented automatic watches' posed significant challenges from product development to subsequent brand building.
Moving forward, we will continue to earnestly respond to the efforts of domestic OEM manufacturers, the warm reception from the watch community, and the expectations for improvements that better align with user needs. This story touches upon the founding journey while conveying the passionate dedication put into product development.
Background of the "I.TARU Brand" - The Fading Accessibility of Automatic Watches
I am Wataru Ishida (Mr.) from ISHIDA C&T OFFICE. "I.TARU" is a business-oriented Japanese-made entry-level mechanical watch brand we established in Tokyo in 2022.
As of July 2023, we have introduced two collections. The first is the "I.TARU watch Classic," incorporating the craftsmanship of watch artisans involved in luxury watches to create a slim-profiled, blue sunray dial, three-hand watch with a blue dial. The second is the unisex "I.TARU Classic gauge," a pop-styled casual entry-level mechanical wristwatch with a white dial that unusually incorporates blue-tempered hands for an entry-level mechanical feature.
Our sales methods primarily involve online sales through our website's e-commerce platform and monthly one-day showrooms held in Tokyo. Avoiding permanent storefront sales allows us to offer products with higher cost-efficiency by reducing sales expenses. The showroom sales enable direct customer feedback, making it easier to reflect these needs in future products.
Breaking Free from Personal Conventions
When I was stationed in Singapore for a shipping-related company, discussions with Japanese financial institution members about Japan's future economy led me to the belief that surviving in the future required personal initiative. Hence, the idea of doing something with what was close at hand lingered in the back of my mind.
The significant turning point came in 2019 during the pandemic when Haruno Yoshida (Ms.), the first female member of Keidanren (Japan's business federation), passed away. Despite facing health issues in her youth that prevented her from entering a company as a new graduate, she had built a long career in the telecommunications industry. A few years before her passing, she reflected on her business journey in a television program, saying, "Following the voice in your heart is one way to build a career." Her words left a strong impression, connecting various past experiences and sparking the idea of watches that had always been close to me.
The Fading Accessibility of Automatic Watches
Japan, like other developed countries except the United States, is experiencing declining birth rates. The global watch market saw a significant decrease in sales quantity and revenue due to the rapid spread of smartwatches and ongoing pandemic-related restrictions in 2020. As a result, many overseas luxury watch companies shifted from primarily in-store sales to partial online sales through manufacturers' direct channels.
The overall wearable device market, particularly in the United States, is witnessing massive investments in the "luxury x ESG" business, shaping a technology-driven wearable wellbeing market. We anticipate that this trend might further erode the traditional watch market. Major apparel companies worldwide are increasingly focusing on ESG+, posing concerns about their entry into the watch and wearable device market. Sales volumes and revenue of quartz watches have been steadily declining year by year, particularly noticeable among individuals in their twenties in Japan compared to other countries.
As we pursue ESG initiatives, we anticipate that the cost of producing watches will increase. Consequently, the watch market will no longer be driven by low-cost competition. In the realm of luxury watches that involve technology, material sourcing, and artistic involvement, rising labor costs in Switzerland and the escalating prices of rare metals such as gold suggest that existing clientele might find it increasingly difficult to afford them.
We believe that the value of automatic watches lies in the elegance that cannot be replicated by smartwatches or wearable wellbeing devices. They should adorn you, occasionally instill courage, and ultimately guide towards happiness with those around you. With the collaboration of domestic partner companies in OEM production, we have embarked on providing automatic watches that meet the future needs of everyone, considering the aforementioned aspects.
Improving Product and Brand Concepts
In 2022, we announced "I.TARU watch Classic" through crowdfunding. We engaged Kyowa Co., Ltd., renowned for crafting luxury watches, for its OEM production. The theme was a "three-hand wristwatch with a blue sunray dial, utilizing the expertise of watch artisans involved in luxury watchmaking in polishing."
Unfortunately, the crowdfunding did not succeed. However, based on feedback received, we managed to realize the reduction in contact angles of the stainless steel bracelet through changes in polishing, significant price reduction, and adopting anti-reflective coating on the windshield. Following these improvements, we held a pop-up store in Azabu-Juban during the month of January 2023. This garnered attention from the wristwatch web news site "WatchLIFENEWS," resulting in generally positive feedback from Japan's wristwatch community regarding our cost-effective automatic wristwatch.
The brand concept focuses on communicating a specialization in creating a positive impression in business while aiming to excavate latent needs by pricing the product below market rates. During the January 2023 pop-up period, the total views on Twitter reached 90,000, highlighting the warm reception from the watch community and the sincere anticipation for improvements that better align with user needs.
Infusing New Energy into the Automatic Watch Market
The thickness of a mechanical watch considers aspects like movement thickness and water resistance in relation to the case (*case thickness). Historically, thinner cases have been widely recognized as better, associating thinner cases with better movement and elegance. To simplify, dress watches worn at parties are designed with thin cases to avoid catching on sleeves.
However, to appeal to potential customers who have never been interested in watches, we realized the necessity of gaining recognition as a visually appealing watch, even from a distance. This challenge, specifically possible for micro-brands like ours, became our goal.
The key was to emphasize the watch's role as jewelry by focusing on exterior quality. Where costs allowed, we integrated materials and external quality used in luxury watches. In the first iteration, "I.TARU watch Classic," we meticulously
polished a slightly thicker case. We believed that the meticulous polishing by artisans involved in luxury watches could create a favorable impression in business settings as an entry-level mechanical watch.
While some may perceive the polished stainless steel bracelet in line with the case as too showy, others might find it heavy with the solid bracelet. However, one can adjust to their preference by choosing their own strap or commercially available watch bands.
In the past, techniques like coin edging were employed in high-end watches to enhance case thickness as a decorative feature or to minimize visibility of heat. Creating the "I.TARU watch Classic" involved countless sleepless nights until the samples were ready. However, after presenting the final product to multiple authentic bars in Tokyo where staff had worked at high-end hotels, receiving generally positive feedback led us to move forward with production. While the noticeable thickness may not suit the preferences of existing watch enthusiasts, we accepted it as an inevitable risk for the brand.
By giving the case a certain thickness, we increase durability, water resistance, and reduce the risk of magnetic interference. These factors, though not listed in specifications, are crucial for those unfamiliar with automatic watches.
Balancing Community Feedback and Brand Uniqueness in Product Development
In March 2023, during our first one-day pop-up store, thanks to the efforts of our partners, more than ten members from the luxury watch community in the Kanto region(i.e. Tokyo/Chiba/Saitama areas in Tokyo) gathered. We received valuable insights about belt preferences, desired dial colors for future releases, and other candid opinions.
What particularly delighted us was feedback from users of the first edition of the I.TARU watch Classic: "Among all the watches I own, this watch was the most well-received by students." This instance solidified our resolve as outsiders to take on challenges that might seem narrow in scope.
Subsequently, individuals from the Philippines purchased our watches and frequently posted on social media, saying, "The greatness of this watch isn't conveyed through photos alone." Recently, a wristwatch YouTuber from the UK contacted us, expressing a desire to feature our watch on their channel for free.
We are not merely a micro-brand but essentially a personal venture. While we cannot simultaneously offer multiple dial colors or release new products multiple times a year, we aim to steadily expand our initiatives. That's our approach.