New Canadian watchmaker Vieren has a goal: to intro the sophisticated craft of automatic watchmaking to a whole new generation. Founded by fashion designer and Project Runway all-star Sunny Fong and CEO Jessica Chow, Vieren automatic watches (there are four in the inaugural collection, each built to tell time forever, no battery required) celebrate a century-old craft with contemporary, timeless designs. We chatted with the duo to get their thoughts on investing in an automatic watch. —Noa Nichol
Hi Sunny and Jess! When and why did you launch Vieren? What makes the brand unique?
JC: After years as a management consultant advising brands, I started to feel uninspired—my days felt like they were made up of meaningless motions. I always knew I wanted to start a business of my own one day and, when I turned 30, I realized that instead of “one day,” why not today? It was time to take a chance on myself and create something from the ground up, something that I could own. Why watches? I never wanted to do it, but I realized it’s in my DNA. My family has more than 40 years’ experience in luxury watchmaking and, as I dived into the process, it reconnected me with my childhood. I’ve seen how the industry has changed over time and how it’s becoming more intimidating for people today to experience a quality timepiece. That’s when I met Sunny. We knew we had the opportunity to combine his distinctive eye as a fashion designer with my consulting background and network of Swiss watchmakers to create a high quality handcrafted timepiece while explaining what to look for and how it works.
SF: I’ve been in fashion for the past two decades and always had a dream of designing a watch. Five years ago, I started wearing my dad’s automatic watch every day. It acted as my reminder to keep moving because when I wouldn’t wear it—time stopped. Automatic watches are powered by motion, and there was something about that as a concept that struck a chord. When we started talking about it to our friends, we realized many people haven’t had the opportunity to wear an automatic watch. Everyone is wearing technology on their wrists instead of something that has lasted hundreds of years and built to last forever. I approached designing the watch like I would a garment: by focusing on structure, texture, details to create a powerful piece that could be worn all the time as a constant reminder of what’s important to them, and to keep moving! The one thing with watches—it’s universally relevant. It’s not tied to a certain body size or season. We focused on every detail of the watch, from the crown to the case, to make it a truly signature watch.
We all have our phones with us at all times; why is a traditional timepiece still essential?
SF: Because who wants to stare at another screen! We’re in need of a digital detox. Between the notifications, the pinging, the updates and the new systems, it’s making us overwhelmed and anxious. I’ve been reflecting on the time when digital didn’t bombard our lives—a much simpler time. Especially with everything happening in the world right now, we’d rather focus on preserving the storied craft of watchmaking than contribute further to the world of fast fashion. We want to create beautiful pieces that are built to last because so much thought and care has been put into every detail. More than a watch—it’s also my lucky charm.
JC: I’ve always been interested in the intersection of art and science and watches are just that—a celebration of design and precision. At first, we knew nothing about what it takes to create an automatic timepiece. It needs to look good, but it also needs to function. We learned so much from the team at our watch studio in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The most surprising thing was the scale in which we are working—if you’re off by even 0.1mm, the whole piece won’t fit together. Each microscopic piece is handcrafted by expert horologists who build them together with meticulous precision. Rigorous testing and quality controls are in place to ensure a quality timepiece. These watchmaking practices have been passed down generations and we aim to support the next generation of watchmakers in the historical region known as Watch Valley, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre for its outstanding contributions to horology.
What should we be looking for when investing in a watch?
JC: We think about value: what is it worth today and how will it wear over time. The price of an automatic is generally tied to three key criteria: movement, materials and where it’s made. Similar to a car, a watch movement is like an engine. An automatic movement is one of the most complex and sophisticated mechanisms available, with over 160 microscopic components working together in perfect harmony to tell time. It features a mechanical movement that is powered by manually winding the crown (knob on side of watch) and also has the added functionality to power the watch with the wearer’s momentum. When worn every day, the rotor (weighted semi-circular disc) on the back on the automatic movement swings back and forth, winding and therefore powering the watch. It uses only the energy stored in the watch mechanism and does not require a battery like a quartz watch. When investing in a watch that will last you generations, look for Swiss automatic movements from ETA, Sellita or Ronda. And that’s the value of an automatic watch—it lasts forever, you don’t need to update it every couple of years like you would an Apple Watch or Fitbit.
SF: Of course it has to look and feel great! We believe in quality over quantity. As the gold standard for quality, Swiss Made is a coveted designation given only to the world’s most well-crafted and reliable timepieces. For a watch to be certified Swiss Made, it must meet a strict set of legal standards set by the government of Switzerland: a quality Swiss movement, the development of the watch must be in Switzerland, and the value of the watch head must be at least 60 per cent Swiss (just increased from 50 per cent in 2017 due to counterfeiting). Make sure not to confuse it with “Swiss” or “Swiss Movt” watches. These watches may use Swiss movements but the rest of the timepiece may also be made anywhere in the world with a range of standards. Look for quality, long-lasting materials including 316L high-grade stainless steel for durability, sapphire crystal glass for protection, and precious gemstones. Remember to get your automatic watch serviced every three-to-five years to ensure a long-lasting timepiece.
Which Vieren timepieces are you currently rocking?
JC: I love all of them, it’s so hard to choose! Today, it’s black jeans with a black T-shirt so I would generally reach for my Matte Black watch. I’m really liking the monochromatic look these days since it works anywhere. I especially love wearing this style downtown because it was inspired by the modern architecture of Mies Van der Rohe. But I ended up going with the White Diamond watch because it’s grey outside and I wanted to add a bit of light to my day. It’s really satisfying to look down and see my watch—a reminder to keep moving, to keep it powered.
SF: Lately I’ve been wearing the Black Diamond watch everywhere. When we were designing the hero piece in the collection, we really thought about who was wearing it, and where they were wearing it. We thought, Wouldn’t it be great if it was all black, as well as black diamonds? To achieve the stealth black tone-on-tone look, we plated the entire watch with Matte Black DLC (a diamond-like protective coating) and added a geometric pattern onto the dial with hand applied black diamond indices for depth and dimension. It’s an ideal combination of subtlety and sexy together. Our Matte White watch will always be my favourite—it’s the original timepiece that inspired the entire OG AUTOMATIC Collection. The stark white-on-white dial, our polished stainless steel watch case, and our signature 18K gold ring with subtle minute track detail etched on the inside—we want to create tomorrow’s classic.