It was the now-defunct Pebble that started it. Back in 2012, when TikTok was still just the noise a clock made, Pebble Technology Corporation took to Kickstarter to finance its first-ever smartwatch. In just over one month, it raised $10.3m (approx. £9.4m) becoming the most-funded project in the crowd-funding platform’s history at the time; a record it then surpassed when it raised $20.3m (approx. £18.5m) for its follow up. Suddenly Kickstarter wasn’t just a place to fund small-time art projects, it was a platform that could help you turn a profit.
The premise is, and remains, simple. If you’ve got a project you need to fund, set up your page, specify how much you want to raise and in what time frame. Finally, decide what packages you’ll offer in return for what level of investment and hit go. The money only gets released to the campaigner if it is successful.
But Pebble wasn’t a one off. Kickstarter has proved very popular with many nascent watch brands, and become a place where the curious come looking to dip a toe into watch-infested waters, but with the knowledge they won’t be paying the four-or-five-figure sums commanded by more well-known names.
“Watch projects are very popular on Kickstarter. It’s actually one of the most searched terms in our search function,” says Kate Bernyk, director of communications for the platform. “While I can’t nail down a statistic for watches specifically, as we don't have a category just for watches, we can estimate about 1,300 successful projects related to watches have raised about $150m since our launch in 2011.”
One of those successful projects was Jennifer Zhang’s watch-movement kit idea – Rotate. Zhang come up with her project after being frustrated, when trying to build her first watch, that there was no complete kit of parts and tools available off the peg. So, she decided to do it herself.
Once components were assembled, she turned to Kickstarter to get the money together. Zhang's campaign raised $91,840 (£70,146); an incredible $76,840 (£58,681) over the initial $15,000 (£11,444) she requested.
“One of the reasons [watch brands are so successful] may be the 'pay later' structure of Kickstarter versus other crowdfunding platforms, which charge the backer's card immediately,” Zhang explains. “Especially since watches tend to be a higher price point than other products, backers may feel more comfortable pledging on Kickstarter, where they have some more time to decide whether they want to make the investment.”
Although the visibility of some high-profile Kickstarter projects, such as Zach Braff using it to fund his 2013 film Wish I Was Here, has attributed to a feeling of trust with the platform, it still involves an element of caution.
As Bernyk says: “Kickstarter is not a store and backers are not investors. It’s a place where artists, filmmakers, designers, and other creators can find support for their creative projects. [As such] Kickstarter is not a part of the contract between creators and backers and does not guarantee the outcome of projects.”
The encouraging thing is most people are on the platform because they want to share what they’ve created, not because they are trying to do an Anna Delvey and fleece people.
Look for great images, well-made videos, enthusiastic descriptions. When you’re dealing more specifically with watches, take advice from Oliver Goffe, managing director of British brand Marloe, which raised £179,000 for the launch of its first watch back in 2016.
“Look for brands which show photos of functioning prototypes and, once you’re involved, expect reassurance with accurate timelines and detailed descriptions of how production is going to progress,” Zhang describes.
She also recommends digging around in the FAQs: “See how in-depth it is. Then go to the comments section and see if the campaign creators are responsive to other backers. All of these factors help validate a brand, their legitimacy, and the quality of the products.”
As boring as it sounds – do as much research as you can. Check if the brand has a website that is separate from Kickstarter, see if it has been mentioned on watch blogs or in specialist magazines. And, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that creatives love talking about their projects, if in doubt ask the campaigner. They’ll relish the opportunity to wax horological.
If you’re sold on the idea of getting your next timepiece from Kickstarter, here are two projects live right now. Credit cards at the ready.
Flawsome is a wabi-sabi hand-crafted watch; wabi-sabi is a traditional Japanese aesthetic world view that centres on an acceptance of transience and imperfection. This watch, which is powered by the incredibly reliable SeikoNH35 automatic movement, reflects that with its divided dial and split bezel. Made from a random assortment of wood, resin, gold and silver foil with flecks of luminescent glow stone, each one’s make up is uniquely imperfect. Back it for a perfectly reasonable $299 (approx: £232).
If you scuba dive and are fed up with having to strap a carbuncle to your wrist any time you want to swim with the spider crabs, then this is ideal. The chaps at Feynman were so frustrated with the heft of a traditional diving watch, they decided to create a super compressor with a little finesse – the Cove. The result is something that is good to 200m and has an inner rotating bezel, but that only sits 12.8mm’s high on the wrist. Meaning you can pair it with your trouser suit as easily as your wetsuit.