A watch that goes counterclockwise and a wooden timepiece — two local watchmakers tell the writer they are out to make a difference.
A WRISTWATCH is no longer just for checking the time. Now, people wear it as a fashion and lifestyle statement. Those who wear a smartwatch can track their exercise regime. If someone wears a luxury designer brand, it means he or she has expensive tastes.
However two local watchmakers want their brands to represent more than just fashion and lifestyle.
Helmed by young and innovative people, MEM Watches wants its customers to be bold, daring and positive while Project Woodworks is raising awareness on the need to be socially-responsible.
Through their products, thebrands are hoping to change people’s mindset and make a difference with a watch.
Izham Fitri Ismail’s fascination with counterclockwise watches started when he attended a talk — as a student at Multimedia University — on objects that move in such a way such as the rotation of the Earth around the sun and the pulmonary veins that carry oxygenated blood to the heart. Certain plants also climb and twist in a counterclockwisedirection.
“My friends and I discussed the reason why so many things in this world naturally work from left to right. But why do watches move the other way? I then decided that I wanted to create counterclockwise watches.”
His first creation was the DUCT (or Do Unclockwise Timing) brand in 2009. However, as he was a student at that time, he did not have the experience in marketing and the business folded.
Izham then joined Hijra Timepiece in 2012, making counterclockwise watches for the Muslim market only.
The brand was a success because the movement of the watch relates to the way Muslims circumambulate the Ka’abah. But he realised there was a need to expand into new markets. To do so, the watches cannot be linked only to religion.
In 2014, Izham launched MEM Watches based on the concept that the counterclockwise direction is a natural movement that contributes to the balance of the world.
“I am not saying that the clockwise movement is wrong. I am saying, why not change? That is the reason we put the +clockwise or positive clockwise on our watches. It is our unique interpretation of the counterclockwise movement. The watches inspire wearers to have a positive mindset, to spread positive vibes and to lead a positive life.”
Pronounced “meem” (from the Arabic letter “m”), the watches are designed locally and assembled in Shenzhen, China while the technology is from Miyota, Japan.
Some of the parts are sourced from Taiwan, India and Indonesia. Izham has launched 16 styles including Braune, Verso, Enigma, Noir, Karlene, Cleopatra, Ocean and Krom.
The 28-year-old, who is chief executive officer, says the most common misconception about MEM Watches is that it is a tawaf (circumambulate the Ka’abah) watch.
“Tawaf is one of the many examples of counterclockwise movement but there are many scientific theories about the direction that are not related to religion.
“There are also those who said it is bothersome and confusing to tell the time when a watch runs counterclockwise. But those wearing the watches have a unique and fresh way to tell time. Theyare brave enough to not follow the norm. When you wear the watch, you have a positive outlook on life and you have the knowledge.We are not only selling watches, but also knowledge.”
Izham and his team’s hard work has off as the company’s watches aresold in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Japan and the United Kingdom. There are also online buyers from South Africa, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, Central Europe and West Asia.
Inspired by the late Steve Jobs, Izham says he wants to turn MEM Watches into a global brand.
“I want MEM Watches to be sold around the world and to make the country proud. We plan to bring it to New York and Paris as well as in countries like Brazil, India and China.”
Zac Tan grew up in the knowledge that wooden products are exclusive since his father had a wooden antique furniture business.
Together with childhood friend Bryan Chang, he set up Project Woodworks in 2015. Its first product is a wooden watch. Joining them is another childhood friend, Wallace Fong.
It is also Tan’s way of continuing his father’s legacy after his business closed down nine years ago when prices of wood increased due to non-sustainable logging practices.
“With my background, we felt that it was the perfect first product for our company. We spent a year on research and development, finding the right technology and suitable wood for the watches. We are proud to say that we are the first local company to make wooden watches,” says Tan.
They have visited factories in Hong Kong and China for ideas because wooden watches are popular in these countries.
Once they were confident there is a demand for locally-made wooden watches, they begin to outsource the technology and the making of the parts.
“The movement technology is from Citizen Miyota Quartz while the wooden parts are made in Hong Kong. We assemble the watches ourselves. We have to outsource the technology and parts because they are not available in Malaysia.”
The first collection, Shivelight, was launched last September. Priced at RM469, the timepiece is a full-wood square-shaped quartz watch, using maple and black sandal woods.
Early this year, the company launched its second collection, Luxore. It comprises semi-full wood round-shaped quartz watches that incorporate green materials such as sustainably-sourced walnut wood and recyclable canvas fabric. The watch is priced at RM399.
Project Woodworks uses imported wood from sustainable forests.
“We are still doing research and development to find the right local wood,”says Fong.
Chang says initially it was difficult to change the mindset of Malaysians. They believe that wooden watches are fragile, not water-resistant and that the wood will attract termites.
“We countered that if wood can be used to build boats, why can’t it be made into watches? Our watches are made from solid hardwood andare finished with a layer of teak oil.
“The watches are water-resistant and durable, and with attention and care, they will last as long as stainless-steel watches.”
Chang says as no two trees are exactly alike, each watch is unique — with different wood grain, colour and texture.
“That is the unique feature of the watches as you can see the different characteristics of the wood. The grain, colour and texture pattern illustrate both the time and place of the tree’s growth.”
He says the idea to create the watches is also in line with their aim to build a business that is socially-responsible and profitable at the same time.
Project Woodworks is setup based on the concept that every person has the power to change the world for the better. It is inspired by two elements — wood and social mission. The aim is to promote the concept that consumer style can change the world, one product at a time.
“Our product-design and manufacturing process are driven by sustainability, so we face a lot of challenges in terms of material use compared to the manufacturing of conventional products. For example, normal watch brands use nylon to make their watch strap, but we opt for biodegradable canvas fabric instead.”
To these 24-year olds, Project Woodworks is more than just creating wooden watches or other wooden-related products. They want their customers to know the social cause behind the brand based on three pillars — impact, responsibility and sustainability.
Their concept is to utilise sustainable wood materials to create products because wood is 100 per cent biodegradable and is the most sustainable material on earth. They also donate between six and eight per cent of their sales proceeds to Landskap Malaysia and Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre.
“We have deep passion for wood and we believe that awareness on sustainability can be spread through wooden products because wood is the greenest material in the world,” says Chang.
As for future plans, Project Woodworks will launch a third collection soon. It is also creating wooden corporate gifts including card holders and desk organisers.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected].