Interview with The Sacred Crafts founder – Matthew Harkins
Introduce yourself. My name is Matthew Harkins. My brand is called The Sacred Crafts and we are from San Diego, California. I am 43 years old. This brand is the result of 25 years of hard work in design, manufacturing and global fashion marketing.
What started your watch passion? I love all things mechanical. I have been taking apart things my whole life. My oldest watch is from my grandfather – a pocket watch made by Waltham Watch Company…way back when the USA was a player in the USA market. Professionally, I started watchmaking in 2014 where I was the lead designer and product developer for a brand called Original Grain. We innovated the wood and steel watch space. This experience helped me form expertise in a very interesting niche in the watch market. I got to develop a kind of “story telling” watch that was made with what you might call “emotional” materials. Once I really understood the power of this niche, I also realized the stories I wanted to tell were just too big for that brand, so I went on my own to make sure I could really tell the stories that were important to me. In 2019, I launched The Sacred Crafts.
What makes a good wristwatch to you? Ahhhh well. For me, it has to have a proper movement or it’s going nowhere. I prefer pure Swiss Movements when I can choose. Next is the balance on the wrist…not so much the size but that sweet feeling of density and balance when you hold it in your hand – it becomes clear at that moment whether you are holding something special or not. I regard watches as instruments and tools so to speak. In that way the dial and features should be intuitive and easy to use regardless of how “complicated” a watch is, it can always be designed in a way that is a joy to operate.
What watches do you have in your personal collection? And maybe you could list them or tell an interesting story about one particular one? The Waltham Watch Co pocket watch from my grandfather is special to me in many ways as it connects me to the WW2 generation and a lost era of American manufacturing. I also have one of the very first We Wood Watches before they blew up into a commercial brand…not an expensive (or valuable) watch but sentimental to me because I got it about 7 years before I got into watch making and eventually innovated in the wood watch space. I have a few special watches I made for Original Grain, namely a chronograph with 7750 movement that I made for the Boston Red Sox (I grew up south of Boston) using 100 wood from Fenway park seats. Aside from that, I have a few name brand watches including an IWC Aquatimer that is a real beauty.
Who is your ideal customer? My ideal customer is an active person who loves to get out and be everywhere in the world…a global citizen. This person (man or woman) has seen enough to know how culture and craft are so connected and to truly experience them, you need to be willing to respect, listen and learn as you go. Our products are expensive but they are meant to be used, worn and made to perform. They are not meant to be in a box and used on special occasions. I would say our price point is that top end of a performance product that you can wear on the daily without worrying it will attract too much attention or get damaged and become worn down. The more you wear our watches, the better they look! The other part about my customer is they really care about what they are buying. Not in terms of brand name or recognition, but from a “what’s inside” and storytelling standpoint…they care about why and how their products are made. The fact that we are a company of watermen focused on the issues of keeping balance on our coasts is a point that our customers really connect with and want to be a part of – not just in purchasing and supporting our mission, you would be surprised how many people ask me to come along and actually be a part of what I am doing to preserve our fragile seas. This is what keeps me working honestly and I love it.
Tell about what you like to do outside of watches. Where do you find inspiration for your work? I am trained as a visual artist and I have been working creatively my whole life. Surfing is really my guiding light to everything in my world. As a college student at the University of California San Diego, I also was fortunate enough to fall into the craft of surfboard building. It has inspired me in so many ways and allowed me to meet many iconic craftsmen here where I live, and all around the world. Traveling to so many beaches and coastal areas, you really see the [negative] impact we are having on this planet. Having been involved in so many different products from eyewear to dive equipment to cameras, surfboards, cars and watches, I am really blending all those disciplines into this brand and leaving the rules behind. I can take material stories I have innovated from a past product and put them into a watch that no one is even thinking about…This to me is my place in the market – to make luxurious products from unexpected materials with a story to share.
How do you see your watch brand in the future? We have just launched our debut watch, “La Grande Mer” 44mm. All our collections are limited edition. We make about 500 pc across 4 or so styles and when they are gone, they are gone. We are committed to releasing 1 new watch a year and 1-2 collection stories like this one from the boats in Thailand. We also have a few higher end collaboration watches coming at the end of the year. Once we get enough brand awareness, our collections will be strictly sold on a pre order basis and we will continue to innovate with both material development, celebration of craft and culture, and to drive innovation in sustainability and reclaimed materials. So yeah, we are just getting started.
Are there any plans for the future watches that possibly will come? Yes of course! Our next watch will be a 42mm GMT style “driver watch,” followed by a 38mm watch that is more for ladies. Given the situation in the world, I just need to manage all this according to pandemics and global economic fallout [hahaha] – things we never even thought about in 2019 when we started all this. Keep in mind we also develop “other” products and materials that we first introduce via watches…our “hook” so to speak. By creating awareness for these sustainable building products (décor, wood paneling, etc) we don’t actually solve the problem of removing built up waste from the environment. So these other products are really key to our mission as they do offer a way to consume the materials we are working with in a beautiful and sustainable application (Interior Design, Architecture & Construction).
What was the hardest part of creating a microbrand watch company? Well if we were talking about this when I started in 2019 it would be the cost of developing your product, bringing in the inventory and then the costs of getting awareness in a crowded market. None of that is easy. Most people can’t do it themselves so you then rely on other people who may or may not perform but will surely take your money to “try.” Now fast forward to now and it’s all that plus a major pandemic, global meltdown and further separation of wealthy and poor…that adds a few more grey hairs to say the least. In the end, one’s ability to tell a story on some level and find the first few people who “get it” is everything. Learn to do as much as you possibly can all the way to the accounting, photography and webstore…you won’t always want to do it but in the beginning you need to. When you are ready to hand it off, at least you know when someone is bullshitting you.
Any suggestions to someone who wants to make their watch brand? I hold strong to the idea that if you can sell one watch, you can sell two watches and so on…Don’t give anyone a reason to say “no” by being honest, reachable, accountable and prove you really, really care. Most importantly, don’t look in the rearview mirror when it comes to design. Just because you can find a factory to slap a logo on a watch and paint it a color you ask them to, does not mean you should. The market will respond to “easy.” If you can really bring a new idea to the table, embrace it and build your brand fortress around your own ideas. Lastly and sometime most painfully, get used to the difference between “perfect” and “ready” when it comes to entering the market. With the right attention, your products will always be refining and getting better but your first one will never be “perfect” – I keep on hand my original iPhone I got in like 2008 or something…I thought it was amazing then and surely it was. When I look at it now, it’s a chubby, silly looking version of what that product has become. It would never have evolved into such a masterpiece if the Apple team didn’t have a good notion for when a product is “ready” and that’s a very important thing to keep in mind as a small brand who needs to get into the market and get revenues going before they run out of cash and get left behind. Oh one more thing…be nice to EVERYONE. If it’s your first go you are for sure indulging the patience and expertise of anyone willing to help you in the early phase…respect and a commitment to a kind, even communication will open more doors than you could imagine and probably more than you deserve when you are just getting started.