The $95 Watch Designed To Win Over The Luxury Market

Upstart watch brand Leonard & Church wants to deliver luxury-caliber watches at prices that appeal to discerning consumers.

Leonard & Church began, like so businesses do, when the founder wanted something. Chris Chon was approaching the end of his MBA at Kellogg School of Management, and he was looking to buy what he calls his “first entry-level high-quality watch.” Chon, who had previously worked for Gap’s strategy team, felt he was at the age where “a fashion accessory gives you an extra confidence boost.” He was prepared to spend $500 to $1,000, about what you'd pay for something from Movado or Bulova.

Chris Chon

His childhood friend Jeff Leung was also looking for a watch. As the two hunted around, though, they were bothered by what they saw. “We saw a wide disparity in pricing, even for watches that had the same movement, the same components,” says Chon. They found a supply chain “riddled with middlemen and legacy markups.” All in all, “the closer we got to the luxury watch industry, the more we were turned off by what we were learning.”

They saw an inefficient market. And they just plain thought they could do a better job themselves.

Their watch brand, Leonard & Church, bears the tagline, “a new way to buy a luxury watch.” As of this writing, their Kickstarter campaign has over $120,000 pledged on their $75,000 goal, which was met handily within a week and a half. Chon says that the Kicktraq prediction model is yielding numbers that “would place us as one of the biggest launches in fashion accessories” on the site (Kicktraq says the project is trending toward around $229,000). “We’ve gotten tons of positive feedback,” says Chon. “We have large aspirations. We’re hoping this could be the start of something cool.”

What makes these watches “luxury”? And how do a couple of upstarts without any experience in the business build a luxury watch brand from scratch?

It all comes down to their partners. Chon and Leung and a few collaborators (including the actress Arden Cho) teamed up with top manufacturers, spending a year working on designs. Chon says they were going for “a sort of clean, classic style,” asking the question: “How do you take a classic design and add a small modern flair to make it even more accessible?”

“We just wanted to create styles that we thought were cool, and that our friends thought were cool.” And that the Internet would think was cool, judging from the Kickstarter and fashion blog response.

The team says that one of their manufacturers made the watch President Obama wears in office. And they say they’re confident enough in their designs to give a 10-year guarantee on each watch sold.

The ultimate result is a watch that they say is on par with something that would traditionally retail for as much as $800. But the Leonard & Church version will go for that magic, Warby-Parker figure: $95. (Or just $70 for Kickstarter contributors.)

“We are surprised at how quickly this is moving,” says Chon. “What’s interesting about Kickstarter is, once you gain a certain level of traction, all sorts of people start reaching out.” He says many brands have reached out about possible partnerships.

But he adds that he doesn’t think it makes sense to aim for high-level partners at the moment, or to gun for opening a retail store “if we can’t do that in a way that keeps our price point fairly consistent. One of our core beliefs is that even at the end, at retail, there are all these markups and crazy promotional games.” The average discount at the Gap is 35%, he says; if you’re buying something at list price, you’re getting a raw deal. “That’s not the ecosystem we want to play in,” he says. He cites as a model brands like Everlane, which are radically transparent about the “true cost” of their goods.

Leonard & Church--and other emerging direct-to-consumer brands like it--may be said to compose something like a “reasonable luxury” market: for discerning, Internet-savvy consumers who want to shop smarter. “If you want to buy a Patek Phillippe watch for $50,000, if that item makes you feel good, that’s great,” says Chon. “But for us, we felt there was a point of diminishing returns in terms of things you can actually quantify,” when it comes to a watch’s true quality. “At a certain point, the watch is what the watch is, and all that premium, all that extra you’re paying for, is the brand name.”

He doesn’t judge: “If that’s what turns you on, that’s okay.” But it’s discerning--rather than conspicuous--consumption that Leonard & Church’s own brand hopes to signify.

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16 Comments

  • Unfortunately "Quartz" and "Luxury" are not compatible terms for anyone looking to buy a watch... A decent, inexpensive watch that looks like dozens of other decent inexpensive watches out there? Sure. But if their goal was to create a luxury product, or one with distinctive design that distances itself from competitive offerings, the article fails to even touc on how or why their product meets that goal.

  • justanothertroll1

    i love how every watch snob is aghast by the quartz movement, the same way bedding snobs misguidedly obsess over thread count.

    gearpatrol.com/2014/07/29/best-new-quartz-watches-for-men/

  • helloimolivia.l

    Just saw this article from marketing professor @AndrewTStephen and pledged on Kickstarter! The chronograph watches look beautiful. Sure it's a quartz movement and not studded in crystals but it's also 70 bucks. This is a fine way to start and a nice longer term aspirational goal for the company. Wish these guys the best of luck.

  • flipfury5

    As is the case with most product or fashion brands attempting to launch off Kickstarter the rubber hits the road when backers get touch products for the first time. The problem with Warby Parker is their glasses feel so flimsy to the touch I can hardly imagine many return buyers. A young hipster may not care about what movement is being used by a watch but the feel/quality of the band, case, lens, dial.... will this be just another "10-year hoodie" (which let's not forget was horrendous quality according to those who supported the project and there were many of them) or the start of an actual brand

  • artornish

    It would be the same way Warby Parker became successful even though their glasses are crap and tens of other glass brands sell the exact same styles direct online for even cheaper = marketing, timing, gullible young job seekers, dumb luck, etc etc etc. Only time will tell.

  • I love watches and like this idea, but wonder what will make them more successful than other watch brands that have tried to do the same thing such as Toy Watch.

  • drewgarcia500

    interesting article.... seems like there's a new warby parker for _ startup every time i turn..... these wathces look really nice....

  • Greg Nablok

    Considering one of his watches is a blatant copy of a Larson & Jennings watch, I suspect he'll be getting contacted by other big brands again.

    I'm getting annoyed with Kickstarter watch brands copying other reputable brands, then undercutting on price, claiming to offer equal quality and something 'new'.

    Yes, watch brands mark up, but there is more to a watch brand than production costs. Paying staff, paying shop leases, after sales service etc.

  • How about this watch campaign on KS (Vincero Watches) . Im not a big watch guy but they are claiming to be the only mechanical watch with Italian marble.

  • perillospezio

    I'd consider myself a semi-serious watch collector although I still support Kickstarter watch brands quite frequently, as I have backed both Vincero and Leonard and Church as well as and Vincero's older venture Lexell. I own a self-winding timepiece which is obviously unfair to compare against a Quartz movement but also unfair to lump all Kickstarter watch brands into one together.

  • Presumably they're only using a cheap quartz movement for that price, though? Part of the 'premium' I paid for my Omega was to get a proper, self-winding mechanical movement.

  • Keyvan Irvani

    These watches don't look bad but there's a bit of an issue saying these might cost $800... I think $95 is a "normal" price for a Quartz watch made by an unknown brand using Miyota movements. Saying that "all that extra you’re paying for, is the brand name" when paying $800 isn't serious. There's a huge difference between a Quartz watch with mineral crystal lens and a Mechanical/Automatic one with a more original design, premium materials and sapphire crystal!