When you think about watches, you think immediately of Switzerland: a country that has adorned the world's wrists with Omega and Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, Raymond Weil and Longines, among many others.
Another country obsessed by time is Japan. It's hard to go past a Seiko Professional Diver when it comes to an affordable and ultra-reliable timepiece, while Casio's G-Shock range is universally recognised and loved.
One country that doesn't spring to mind when talk turns to watches is Australia. Some might be surprised to discover it even has a watch industry, and a rapidly evolving one at that.
Last week Sydney jewellery designer Ben Bunda joined the party with his first watch, launched under his own Bunda label. "I'd spent a decade going to Baselworld (watch and jewellery fair) and it inspired me to investigate the process of creating an Australian designed, Swiss-made watch," he says. "Over time I came to understand all the components required to produce a watch, and I met with case makers and movement makers and discovered it would indeed be possible to bring all the elements together to assemble a Bunda watch."
Initially Bunda began to create an 18-carat gold watch with a handsome dial and a nice strap, but changed his mind when he realised he'd be competing against the classic European watchmakers who had been making such watches for centuries. "I decided instead to make something unique based around a sports watch that people could not only add to their collection, but also wear and enjoy."
These watches are built to last at least 50 years, and I am looking forward to maintaining them for our customers.Nick Hacko
Already known as one of Sydney's finest jewellers and with a global client base, Bunda was confident he could sell such a watch with a limited edition run. The finished product - created through a collaboration with Bausele's Christophe Hoppe (see below) - features Bunda's signature colours of purple, black and silver. The movement is a Swiss-made self-winding automatic Selita, with the jewels visible through the dial. To add an Australian touch, a boulder opal is inset in the crown. The five-spoke motif at the centre of the dial is a nod to Bunda's history as a three-time Australian motocross champion. The watch comes with a five-year warranty and the option of a black rubber strap, or supple leather. Only 50 have been made, with an asking price of $2950. Ten were sold prior to launch, with three of the buyers being 'serious collectors', according to Bunda. "It's the absolute best watch I could make, using the highest quality componentry available," Bunda says.
Bunda joins a growing number of Australians to launch their own range of watches. Christophe Hoppe, a French-born, Swiss-raised Sydneysider, launched his own Bausele watch company in 2011.
The chic name may sound Euro-inspired, but is actually a loose acronym for 'beyond Australian elements'. To emphasize this connection, every watch in the range features a hollow oversized crown containing a tiny sample of Australian beach sand, red earth, or coal.
Bausele's latest release is the Oceanmoon II, featuring a moon and tide phase, 47mm sapphire crystal face and two bands (Italian leather, and rubber). "With its connection to the ocean, it's the quintessential Australian watch," Hoppe asserts.
Third-generation master watchmaker Nicholas Hacko describes his company Rebelde as the 'world's smallest watch brand'. What Rebelde lacks in size, it makes up in street cred. Hacko launched Rebelde in Sydney in 2013, as his way of shaking up the stranglehold the giant Swiss companies had when it came to providing spare parts to independent watchmakers. He figured: what better way to beat the big guys than to start your own watch company?
Hacko's watches use a Swiss-made Unitas mechanism. His cases are surgical grade stainless steel, titanium, or solid gold. Every Hacko watch is signed: 'designed, assembled and adjusted in Australia'.
Hacko's idea seems to working. Everything he makes sells out months before the watch is actually assembled. Of the 442 watches currently sold, all have gone to collectors, with many spread across the globe, from Canada to Malaysia. He currently has nothing for sale and his waiting list is growing. "The waiting is part of the excitement when you are a serious collector," Hacko says. "What drives me is that I love putting watches together, but even more, I love fixing them. These watches are built to last at least 50 years, and I am looking forward to maintaining them for our customers."
The brainchild of Richmond AFL footballer Brandon Ellis and his mate Robbie Ball, Uncle Jack operates from a Melbourne warehouse and ships to more than 40 countries. Like JDRT, Uncle Jack starts with a simple, elegant watch face in variety of finishes and adds a wide array of inexpensive bands in leather and NATO finishes to encourage wearers to constantly change their look.
Melbourne Watch Company
In 2013, IT consultant Sujain Krishnan threw in his job and kicked off the Melbourne Watch Company following a successful crowdfunding campaign. All of the timepieces made by MWC feature surgical grade 316L stainless steel cases, precision Japanese movements and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass.
The cool point of difference is that they are named after iconic Melbourne locales: Flinders, Hawthorn, Parkville, Portsea, Avalon and Carlton, with the names etched on the dial. The Portsea also features a 3D-stamped caseback, while the Avalon has a Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) coating.
Haigh & Hastings
Another local watchmaker with a promising future is Perth-based Haigh & Hastings, which launched in January 2014 with its M2 Diver model. Founded by entrepreneurs Matthew Sears and Simon Haigh, the fledgling company has already expanded into the Middle East, UK, and US.
The M2 uses a precision Japanese mechanical movement. It features a screw-down crown, unidirectional bezel, 316L stainless steel case, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and is water resistant to 300 metres. The potential to customise is huge, with five bezel options and a choice of 19 non-allergenic rubber dive straps.
Haigh and Hastings also has a range of limited edition watches, such as the SASR M2 which commemorates the Australian Special Air Services Regiment's Golden Jubilee and features a 50th Anniversary logo on the steel caseback.
More recently, Haigh and Hastings collaborated with renowned Audemars Piguet watch designer Emmanuel Gueit to create a Classic range of automatic watches, with two faces and 18 strap options. The Classics combine the robust efficiency of a Seiko movement with a gorgeous, clean and simple design.
One of the oldest watch brands in Australia is Adina. The Queensland-based company was started in 1971 by watchmaker and current managing director Bob Menzies and now moves more than 60,000 watches per annum, with each hand-finished in its Brisbane factory and using components from five different countries.
A more recent arrival is JDRT, named after its founders, Joel Davis and Rhys Thomas, two mates from Sydney's Bondi. Their goal was to create a watch that could be customised according to the wearer's whims, hence their catchphrase: We don't want to style you, we want you to style yourself.
Their watches all feature a Japanese Miyota (Citizen) movement, sapphire scratch resistant glass, and are water resistant to 100 metres.
Customers go online and use a 'watch builder' platform to select one of five face types, then pick two bands from a choice of 18 (including silicon or fabric). The bands are slip-through, making them simple and quick to interchange, and you can buy extras separately so you can create a different look for every day. If you don't fancy 'building' your own watch, or just need some inspiration, there are three pre-built collections to choose from.
Tick, tick ... boom
Ken Buckley, Rolex Australia's master watchmaker, says he believes the Australian watch industry is as healthy as it can be, considering our small population base. "But it will always be limited, because people will always want Tag, or Rolex, or Patek on their dial," he says.
"There are no actual watchmakers in Australia; if we are talking about someone who makes every component of a watch from start to finish, we are in essence a nation of watch assemblers. We take a case from here, and a dial from here, and hands from here, and put it all together. It has been this way since the earliest time in Australia. We've always been watch assemblers."
However, that may be about to change, Bausele's Christophe Hoppe is establishing a production unit in Adelaide in a joint venture with Flinders University. The collaboration has already resulted in a new ceramic-like case material that Hoppe has christened Bauselite. He hopes the next step will be manufacturing his own components.
See some of the best timepieces from Australian-owned watch companies in the gallery above.