An Interview With Zelos Watches: Homegrown Horologe
Back in March, a tiny startup called Zelos created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of its first collection, the Helmsman. The Helmsman was not your typical watch on Kickstarter, given its features such as a bronze case and an internal rotating dive bezel. Based here in sunny Singapore, Zelos caused quite a stir […]
Back in March, a tiny startup called Zelos created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of its first collection, the Helmsman. The Helmsman was not your typical watch on Kickstarter, given its features such as a bronze case and an internal rotating dive bezel.
Based here in sunny Singapore, Zelos caused quite a stir when it reached its initial target within four days, and cleared two higher “stretch goals” shortly after. These are impressive results, considering that Zelos had no track record to speak of, or even delivered a single watch before the campaign. Several watch enthusiast sites reported on the project, with some interviewing its founder and sole proprietor Elshan Tang.
Now that the proverbial dust has settled, we’ve decided to revisit Zelos to see how the Elshan and the company are doing. In this email interview, we quiz Elshan on everything horology related. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
On the man and his brand
For our readers who are unfamiliar, please tell us about yourself.
I’m Elshan. I graduated from National University of Singapore with a degree in Mechanical Engineering last year and have been working on Zelos ever since!
Tell us about your watch collection. Which of them gets the most wrist time?
I started out with Seiko watches way back during my National Service and slowly upgraded towards Ball, Anonimo and Audemars Piguet. I tend towards unique brands and designs instead of what most people usually lust for, so I’d likely let the AP go. Currently it’s the Helmsman that gets all the wrist time of course ;)
Do you have a holy grail of watches that you’re aspiring towards?
Going with my unique tastes, my grail would be an Urwerk or something from Harry Winston’s Opus collection.
Is Zelos a one man operation? Do you have any partners in crime?
It’s still a small one man show for now!
On Zelos’s firstborn
How’re things so far for the Helmsman’s production? I believe delivery has already started?
Deliveries to some of the backers have begun for the steel models. The bronze ones will be going out towards the end of this month!
The Helmsman has some less common features for even a dive watch, including the usage of bronze and the internal rotating dive bezel. Were you inspired by any specific brands or watches for the Helmsman’s design and features?
It wasn’t really a specific brand or watch that inspired the design, but I wanted to make a watch that hasn’t been done before. I’ve loved bronze ever since I bought an Anonimo 4 years ago with its vintage feel. The typical diver style has been overdone so I chose a dual crown style which allowed for a diver with a sleeker look.
The Miyota 9015 powering the Helmsman is a relatively new movement. Why did you choose it over more established movements with track records, such as its counterparts from Sellita or ETA?
An ETA/Sellita would be an ideal choice purely for its brand name and ‘Swiss Made’ status. However in terms of reliability/accuracy versus price, a Miyota trumps them by far. As an emerging brand, price is a crucial factor for me to attract buyers. An ETA would have doubled our selling price and deterred many prospective buyers. I have definitely not ruled out an ETA for future offerings though, when the brand is able to command higher prices!
Kickstarter projects to fund independently produced watches are not uncommon. What do you think is Zelos’ unique value proposition in this market?
Even though there are more boutique brands producing bronze watches nowadays, I think it is still a relatively new market for watches, especially for mass market consumers. I also chose to go all out with the minor details that would attract a serious collector of affordable watches, which many projects neglect. By appealing to both segments of the market I think I’ve managed to attract more backers!
Are there still watches available, whether from cancellations or other reasons?
There are plenty available in various colours as minimum orders for such a production run pretty high. Apart from the movement, everything had to be custom made according to my specifications.
On the Kickstarter process and its aftermath
Why the choice of Kickstarter as your launch platform?
It has a huge reach to buyers from all over the world which allows for great exposure. Also, backers were more involved in the project compared to a usual pre-order system. They gave me feedback on the colours they would like, helped to share the word in forums and gave me plenty of moral support!
Were there any especially memorable moments in the process of getting Zelos launched, whether good or bad?
The first few days of launch were nerve-wracking but also very exciting. All the months of hard work and money spent were finally being put to the test. It was a great relief to see the goal being hit in just 4 days which I never imagined would be possible.
Given your experience with Kickstarter so far, will you be using it as a platform to launch Zelos’s next collection? Is there anything you’d do differently this time?
Definitely! I’ve learnt many things while launching a watch company on Kickstarter for the first time. For one, manufacturing delays were a huge headache. Even with an extra month of buffer time, I still missed some deadlines. Thankfully, the backers were very understanding! With a better grasp of the manufacturing periods and processes now, I hope to deliver according to the deadlines proposed for the next project.
What are your future plans for Zelos? Is there anything concrete that we can look forward to in the near future?
There are a few models in the pipelines but I can’t say much at the moment! An upgraded Helmsman with a far better water resistance rating is being developed as well, along with a chronograph version.
What would you change about the watchmaking industry if you could?
I hope to see more affordable movements being developed by Seiko/Miyota with various complications. The new Seiko NE88 chronograph is a great step but I feel that its price does not offer much value over a Valjoux 7750 from a buyer’s perspective.