In Designer’s Corner, we feature extraordinary artists and fashion designers from around the world. Each designer has a unique journey into the accessories and jewelry space which influence their work and is a huge part of their success. We share these stories in this interview series.
Today, we take a look into the foundations of what Oak and Oscar watches were built on. Taking giant leaps into the unknown, and leaving a comfortable and safe life behind isn’t what most people find attractive. Yet, Chase, founder of Oak and Oscar, wanted control in his life. His dream was more than just a passion, it was a necessity.
Can you provide us with some background on yourself, anything you want to share, your upbringings, and what you are like as a creative director, founder, and individual?
I was born in Tennessee, but I have lived everywhere from Kansas City to London and in between. When I was younger, I lived just outside of Chicago, across the street from the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio. I moved back there after a couple of years after college, and have been living there since for over 10 years now.
How did the brand launch, what was this process like for you?
It’s not the same old story in which “I couldn’t find a nice watch in my budget… so I decided to make my own.” No, frankly, there’s a watch out there for everyone at every price point. You just have to find it. For me, the decision to start is two-fold:
1) I wanted to spend more time with family
2) I wanted to love my job and be proud of what I was doing. Oak & Oscar is about doing what you love and taking the risk of going out on your own. You have to make big plans.
I previously worked in a ridiculously corporate environment and it just wasn’t me; very little freedom and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great company and I enjoyed my coworkers I just couldn’t handle the 9-5 style job. Think “The Office” and you’ve got a decent idea of what I was dealing with. My father really pushed me over the edge though. I remember asking him at Thanksgiving a few years back for advice on what to do. I’d already developed some designs and 3D printed prototypes and was at a crossroad. Either, I keep pushing, which required putting some significant skin in the game and committing to make the brand happen; or pull back and let the dream slide. His response to me was, “What would you tell your own kid? Would you tell him to remain in a stable job that you aren’t passionate or go out and chase you dreams?” I mean, come one. Some of the best advice you can possibly give, right? I was pretty much set on Oak & Oscar after that. I wanted to take control of both my own future and schedule. I love that I can go to my son’s music class or take him to the park whenever I want now. It’s really amazing to be able to spend time with him and my wife, who also works full time running her own small business.
What is your creative process? What do you want people to associate with when they hear the name of your brand?
To me, these are two totally different questions so I’ll answer them separately.
The creative process: Honestly, it starts with a mix of inspiration from the market, my friends, and what watch I’d like to create next. The process then becomes a lengthy discovery of the details that I’m drawn to and, just as importantly, what I don’t like. I typically then create a written list of attributes that I want in my watch – complications, colors, the feel it gives you, the size, etc. Developing a written story board.
The process after that is more of the creative design aspect with the help of talented and patient designers. We go through several iterations and narrow it down to one that just, well, feels right. From there it’s about tweaking the details and making sure every little piece is complete. And that’s just the watch head – I do the same with the straps, the watch wallet, and anything else that we create. It helps to have a close group of friends that balance a mix of incredible watch knowledge to understanding design. We frequently chat over a glass of bourbon about ways to improve the design, the brand, everything.
Association: I want folks to associate Oak & Oscar with high quality watches, good design and an old-school sense of customer service. And I don’t mean just when things go wrong – I want the owners of my watch to feel like they’re part of a small special club. They’re always welcome to the shop for some bourbon and a chat about watches. It’s very personal to me. I want Oak & Oscar to represent a phenomenal value in all aspects.
How has your brand grown over time, and how have you personally grown over this period?
Oak & Oscar started out as something simply in my head, and it has grown to an already far bigger place than I could have imagined. I would have never had expected to have this level of support. The success has been humbling, and not because of the number of watches sold, but because of the appreciation of what I’m doing, and the validation of it all. I’m honoured that folks connect with what I’m doing in a bigger way than just watches. I took a big risk leaving my cushy corporate job to chase after something that was important to me. It’s really been absolutely amazing.
Throughout this journey what has been your biggest struggle?
Exceeding everyone’s expectations. As simple that. I always want to under promise and over deliver. I look at how I want to be treated as a customer and I try and do better.
Describe your customers and clients… What would you say is one thing you have that other brands might not?
My customers and clients are great. They know so much about watches and have a deep appreciation of design and minute details. It’s amazing to have my watches sit in collections next to everything from FP Journe to Hamiltons. I feel honoured that both seasoned collectors, and folks just getting into mechanical watches connect with what we’re doing here. There are a ton of great watch brands out there that each offer their own spin on things. It’s a great time to be a watch lover!
What makes Oak & Oscar different?
Design and quality. It is important to me that my brand push the limits of what is expected from a micro-brand – and I think I’ve succeeded at that.
In an age where time can now be told through the use of cellphones and electronic devices alike, how significant do you consider the wristwatch to be in our fast-paced lives, and why?
A timepiece can easily be one the most significant objects we own. Accurate time is all around us – our phones, microwaves, computers, cable boxes….it’s everywhere. And it’s more accurate than our beloved mechanical watches. But none of those objects possess the same character, personality and soul that a watch does. Timepieces are often purchased by special people and worn for special occasions. They can signify an accomplishment. They can mark graduations, weddings, births. They’re passed down from generation to generation. They can provide an outlet for one’s own personal style. It’s amazing what a watch can do and symbolize – more than just time.
To me, the romanticism of a watch sitting on your wrist with its tiny little engine inside comprised of a mass of arguably antiquated technologies (gears, levers springs) working together to tell the time, date, month, day, moon phase, etc. … is the true significance of a watch. It is truly a piece of functioning art.
Did you have an interest in watches growing up that inspired you to start Oak & Oscar?
I’ve always loved watches. As a boy I had the ubiquitous calculator watch, digital dive watch and everything in-between. I got into mechanical watches as an adult. The idea that you’ve got a little engine on your wrist that keeps time, dates, months etc by just the use of gears, springs and levers is fascinating to me.
Both of Oak & Oscar’s watch models sold out due to a high volume of interest and demand, with no plans to ever restock. For those who feel left out for not clicking “add to cart” the first two times around, what can customers expect from Oak & Oscar in the near future?
I literally get emails everyday asking when I’m going to restock the Burnham and the Sandford and I hate telling folks that the answer is, well, never. The good news is that we have a design language that can translate into a lot of different watches. The character in our watches is natural and genuine – it’s not forced and it’s not designed by committee. Our watches are meant to appeal to sophisticated watch lovers who understand the uniqueness of our watches within the marketplace, both modern and vintage.
As for the near future, after months of R&D, we’re currently in the prototype phase of the next piece and I’m exceedingly excited. The next watch is going to be a defining piece for Oak & Oscar. Every aspect of the next watch is a direction forward for the brand. We have a new team of Swiss engineers, technical designers and experts driving the quality to a whole new level. In addition, the movement / complication combination we’re using has never been used before. No, it’s not some crazy triple axis tourbillion with a perpetual calendar that reminds you of your partner’s birthday. It’s a classic, beloved complication that harkens back to a truly remarkable era in timepiece design. All with an Oak & Oscar twist.
Oak & Oscar supports One Tail at a Time, a no-kill rescue that aims to provide dogs with an adopted home. On the Oak & Oscar website, it’s said that your first word was your dog’s name. What name was it, and how important was your dog in relation to starting up Oak & Oscar?
Jesse. I was too young to remember much about him as he died from an unexpected heart condition when I was two. But we’ve always had dogs growing up and they were always my buddies.
My dog (as my wife likes to tell me when he needs to go out….) Oscar, had no direct relation to starting up Oak & Oscar except the he constantly serves as a reminder to do what you love and spend time with those that you love. He is happiest wherever his people are. I couldn’t do that at my former corporate job – I didn’t have enough time to spend with my family. Throw a baby in the mix and all hell breaks loose!
But in all honesty, being able to help support a local dog charity is an honor. My family also helps run an animal shelter out in Pennsylvania (Main Line Animal Rescue) that does some really significant work fighting for the welfare of animals. Our pets give us so much love and support it’s great to be able to give new families the chance to experience that same devotion.
Your story with Oak & Oscar shows us the importance of the company to your own personal growth. It’s quite inspiring to be honest. To anyone hesitant on chasing their dreams out of fear from stepping out of their comfort zone, what would you say to those individuals?
To quote Daniel Burnham, the namesake of our first model, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” The only difference between me and someone else with a unrealized dream is that I took the chance. You’ll never know if you don’t try. And yes, I know all of that sounds simple and a bit cliché, but it really is that straightforward. You might fail. You might not. But at least you’d fail trying.
It’s clear that quite a lot of time is invested in the research and development for the watches to ensure that they are perfect for the individual purchasing them. As time progresses, we are sure that Oak & Oscar will continue to outperform itself time and timeagain (pun may or may not be intended). Moving forward, what are your future plans for Oak & Oscar?
The long term plan is to keep upping our horological game. I want to make watches that are horologically significant – pieces that continuously push the line of what is expected from a brand like Oak & Oscar.
Be sure to check out Oak & Oscar watches over at their official site.