Standing out from the crowd in the jam-packed premium watch market isn't easy, but Christo Hoppe thinks he has hit on a unique hook for his Swiss-made range of watches.
Every one of the nine models of his Bausele range incorporates a tiny fragment of Australia, the French-born watch designer's adopted and now-beloved home.
The 38-year-old devised a hollow, oversize crown – the winding mechanism on the side of a watch – with a viewing window that reveals a tiny quantity of genuine Australian beach sand, red earth or coal inside.
It's a subtle lure that has proven attractive to departing international tourists and Aussies living abroad, although Hoppe is now trying to broaden the range's appeal to the rest of Australia on the basis of his watches' smart looks and premium feel.
Even the exotic Swiss-sounding brand name actually has dinki-di derivation, with Bausele a loose acronym for "beyond Australian elements".
The tiny New South Wales coastal community of Catherine Hill Bay, south of Newcastle, can claim credit as the birthplace of the brand after inspiration struck Hoppe during a walk along the beach near a holiday home owned by his Australian wife's family.
"I already had a watch brand before, but it was nothing special. I was selling my watches, but was always looking for that thing that would make it different," he says.
"And then I realised this is it, it's Australia, let's use that, I'm here now, let's use Australia. I was walking along thinking about this and on this beach there is sand, and because it's next to Newcastle you can see quite a lot of mining and from the beach you can see sand, red earth and coal.
"I was like, this is amazing, this country with all these natural resources, let's put a piece of Australia in every watch. It didn't have to be tacky, it had to be cool.
"I tried putting it on the dial but it wouldn't stick, so I found with a supplier that were very patient, a way to put it in the crown. It looks good."
Even though the brand is taking off with strong sales, a range of brand ambassadors and even special limited-run orders coming in, it remains a part-time passion for Hoppe and his business partner, fellow Frenchman Dominique Portier.
During the day Hoppe is the financial director for a successful surfwear company, Hurley, but remains committed to a plan to eventually become the full-time CEO of Bausele.
"I'm doing [watches] on the side to express my creativity, which you can't do when you work in numbers or you end up in jail," he says with a laugh.
It's the realisation of a lifelong passion for watches, something evident at age 12 when his parents lost him during a shopping trip, eventually tracking him to a watch shop where he was haggling over a watch with a shopkeeper.
His "boring" career in finance led him to a Hong Kong posting with Swiss watchmaker TechnoMarine, where he began to pay close attention to watch design and engineering and began a side business manufacturing watch cases. He then joined the Swatch group in Switzerland, still in finance, but continuing to soak up all the design data he could lay his hands on from the inside of one of the world's biggest watch companies.
"I wanted to get involved in design there but of course they told me 'you are good at finance, you can keep doing that'," Hoppe laments.
Undaunted, he pursued his dream when he moved to Australia with his Sydney-born wife and set up a small watch company as a side project before his lightbulb moment struck on Catherine Hill Bay beach.
Bausele was born and while the company is still in its infancy – Hoppe, Portier and graphic designer Will Birks are its only employees – it is gaining traction helped by competitive pricing and Swiss manufacturing quality.
"The price at the moment doesn't reflect the real quality of the watch, the Ocean Moon watch sells for $370, and it should be $650. The competition sells for $650 with the same movement," he says. "This is because I'm alone and I can take a small margin and then increase [my margins] with a new model in the future. The point is, they are really good-quality watches."
Hoppe has signed several ambassadors to the brand – including professional surfer Ace Buchan, and world championships silver medal-winning cyclist Rachel Neylan – to increase its appeal to Australians.
"We have ambassadors all around sport; that's where we want to go, to bring Australia to the world," he says. "I am not here for nothing, I am here because I love Australia and I want to sell that to the world through the watches."