Menswear Style Podcast

David Henderson-Stewart, Managing Director at Raketa Watch Factory

September 14, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 84
Menswear Style Podcast
David Henderson-Stewart, Managing Director at Raketa Watch Factory
Chapters
Menswear Style Podcast
David Henderson-Stewart, Managing Director at Raketa Watch Factory
Sep 14, 2020 Episode 84
Menswear Style

Raketa was created in 1961 in honour of the first cosmonaut in the world, Yuri Gagarin. With its moving parts all produced in the Factory, and with a design marked by the DNA of three centuries of Russian history, the Russian brand Raketa has acquired a strong reputation amongst worldwide collectors. The main sources of inspiration for the brand comes from heroic personalities and sensational achievements e.g. the Baikonur model has special features needed for space travel and was designed in collaboration with famous Russian cosmonaut Sergey Krikalev. The Factory has also collaborated with the great Russian aircraft constructors Sukhoi and Tupolev to develop watches for pilots. Some models have achieved iconic status and are prized by collectors around the world, such as the Polar model with a 24-hour movement specially designed in 1969 for Soviet arctic explorers. Raketa is one of the few brands in the world whose mechanical parts are all products within its own factory, including the spring (the beating heart) which is one of the most difficult parts to make. Each watch has no less than 242 separate components and manufacturing of one watch involves the work of 103 specialists, and 8201 separate manual operations.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Raketa Watch Factory Managing Director David Henderson-Stewart about how he came to be involved within the horology  industry with no prior interest or knowledge of watches. David was attracted to the rich history of the Raketa brand and he had noticed his friend buying Soviet watches. He adopted the brand at a time when nobody was interested in it, describing Raketa as a "diamond sitting on the floor". Our host Peter Brooker and David also chat about the time and resources required to modernise a factory, the difficulty of making mechanical movements, making watches for cosmonauts, having a unique and "unconventional" brand identity, the emotional side of watchmaking, and the Russian tradition of gifting watches.

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Show Notes Transcript

Raketa was created in 1961 in honour of the first cosmonaut in the world, Yuri Gagarin. With its moving parts all produced in the Factory, and with a design marked by the DNA of three centuries of Russian history, the Russian brand Raketa has acquired a strong reputation amongst worldwide collectors. The main sources of inspiration for the brand comes from heroic personalities and sensational achievements e.g. the Baikonur model has special features needed for space travel and was designed in collaboration with famous Russian cosmonaut Sergey Krikalev. The Factory has also collaborated with the great Russian aircraft constructors Sukhoi and Tupolev to develop watches for pilots. Some models have achieved iconic status and are prized by collectors around the world, such as the Polar model with a 24-hour movement specially designed in 1969 for Soviet arctic explorers. Raketa is one of the few brands in the world whose mechanical parts are all products within its own factory, including the spring (the beating heart) which is one of the most difficult parts to make. Each watch has no less than 242 separate components and manufacturing of one watch involves the work of 103 specialists, and 8201 separate manual operations.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Raketa Watch Factory Managing Director David Henderson-Stewart about how he came to be involved within the horology  industry with no prior interest or knowledge of watches. David was attracted to the rich history of the Raketa brand and he had noticed his friend buying Soviet watches. He adopted the brand at a time when nobody was interested in it, describing Raketa as a "diamond sitting on the floor". Our host Peter Brooker and David also chat about the time and resources required to modernise a factory, the difficulty of making mechanical movements, making watches for cosmonauts, having a unique and "unconventional" brand identity, the emotional side of watchmaking, and the Russian tradition of gifting watches.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete broca. On this episode, I'm going to talk to David Henson Stewart, he is the managing director of the CATA watch factory. And I'm going to peel off a little info here from the ricotta site which you can find by the way rocchetta.com if you were a keta mechanical watch, you are carrying on your wrist no less than 242 separate components. The manufacturer of one of these watches involves the work of 100 free specialists and 8201 separate manual operations Jesus, the factory uses traditional machines operated by men and women who give a piece of their talent and their soul to each watch that they make. So that interview with David come I really enjoyed it. David is a great guy very generous with his time. And this was also a bit of a history lesson surrounding Russian culture and we dip into the misconceptions of mechanical watches and even get to talk a little red heat. I have a burning question about the end of that movie that David surprisingly had an answer for. So stay tuned for that interview that's coming shortly before we get to David though don't forget to check out the show notes at menswear style.co.uk and on the social at menswear style. All the latest fashion news Craig editor has just published an article on how to upgrade your grooming regime. He has listed some tips on beard care shaving essentials, let's have a look here at hair products for men. I will skip that. He's recommended some good ones for the beard there though. I like that. Yeah, some of those one starts to get a bit unruly on the boat race. So check out that article and many more on menswear. style.co UK. And if you want to tell us about your brand and your journey, you can email the show at info at menswear. style.co.uk Okay. Let's get to it. This is a good one. I hope you enjoy it. Here is that interview with David Henson Stewart, Managing Director of the raketa watch factory. But it's my great pleasure to introduce David Henson Stewart, Managing Director of the record watch factory. How are we doing today, David? I'm doing very well. Thank you very much, David, great pleasure to talk to you. Perhaps you can give us a little insight into who you are and what it is that you do. So basically, I've lived in Russia for the past 17 years in moscou. And I love the piece. I never thought I would stay here such as long time. And when I look back 17 years looks long, long time. But it went very quickly. And I'm Everyday I'm really excited in living here and doing what I do. Right? It's so I've had people who've listened to this podcast. So now I've got a Russian girlfriend. And a couple of years ago, I tried learning how to speak Russian. I had it on the go on and off for about six months. But it's hard. I mean, it's one of the hardest ones, right? It is hard. It's quite hard. And I still do mistakes. But I mean I the language I speak I mean I can say speak fluently. No. It was a very beautiful language, you know, and when foreigners listen to you, someone speaking Russian appeals is such a beautiful language. It's like Italian. Yeah, now, it's one of these languages that I hear and I just want to dip into it. It sounds really rich, but I don't know if it's because I'm in my 40s now and perhaps I'm just not giving it the attention you deserve. It's just I can't, I can't and also I don't have my other half bless her. She's not really encouraging me. You know, she's saying like, you don't really need it. Okay, great. I can get on with watching a Netflix and killer. And the thing is not to start with the grammar grammar is very tedious and difficult. So when you know moose, I have a lot of friends who moved to Russia, and they started by learning the grammar. And they stopped basically, and they never learned Russian. So you should really just start just talking to people making lots of mistakes. It doesn't really matter. People can still understand you. Yeah, and I have a lot of foreign friends who make a lot of mistakes in nearly every word. But they can still get along and have a conversation now that's the most important thing. My advice is don't do the grammar. Forget about the grammar. Just have a bash. Yeah. So are you from the UK originally? Well, my father's English my mother's French. Hmm. So I've received like you French English education. And where did you get your with the Oxford that you studied? Yeah, I was in southern I was in Oxford. I didn't move. Okay. How did you then transition? or What did you take from your studies into your professional? Well, I read law. So I'm a lawyer. I did six years of law in the US law firm in mergers and acquisitions, there was lots of long hours long weekends. And I hated the job. I mean, now, when I look back on it, I, I can't believe I did that. But then I moved to Russia, and we're in business. And then I got really bored of that also, and I really wanted to do something, you know, interesting that I could be proud of. And that's how I discovered the wash business. And this is this is what I'm interested in. So if you have an interest in watches, where do you start looking first, or is it something that falls on your lap? No, no, I had absolutely no interest in watches. And I still remember the moment when, nine years ago, someone explained to me the difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch. I honestly didn't know the difference. And that was after the time I went into the kitchen. So I decided to go into the watch business in Qatar, knowing nothing about watches, I was more interested in the bronze in the idea of repositioning a very old Subic bronze. Those jangled that I liked, I knew nothing about watches, it just so happened that I it was watches, it could have been puzzling, it could have been in fashion, anything else, it was just a pure, it was just a coincidence that it was in watches, I just liked the idea of the brand itself. So the history and the romance of the brand. Maybe you can just give us a little thumbnail sketch of that, please, if you don't mind. Absolutely. So I lived in Russia. And I was I was always amazed. You know, Brush Brush has an amazing culture, a very rich history, and a lot of new how and, and, and traditions and legacy unit, all of the things on which you know, high end brands are based on you know, if you think of commerce with your tongue, Russia has word that doesn't have any brands. And I was always surprised by that. You have a very famous Russian brand called Father effer, for example. But fabisch he left he run away from Russia in 1917, during the revolution, because Russia has a very chaotic history that was very destructive of brands, you know, but so, but Russia has all the foundations to build a really cool brands, be some traditions legacy know how craftsmanship and all of that culture. And I thought, whoa, I'd love to build the brand based on all of that. And then I and then I noticed that a lot of my friends coming to visit me wanted to buy civic torches. So I discovered the dusts. There was some there was something about Super tortious I knew nothing about it. So I discovered that Russian Soviet Union had a lot of watch factories, and none of them survived the difficult times, perestroika, the 90s the transition from Soviet economy to capitalist economy, and only one factory survived. That was the record torch Factory in St. Petersburg. So I took a plane, I visited the factory and I saw Well, you know, credible history. They kept all the machines, they still produce their own mechanical movements that has a lot of iconic models that seems to be quite famous amongst collectors worldwide. And it was just, it's like, it was like a diamond laying on the floor. Which I just picked it up. Because at that time, 10 years ago, no one wanted it. I mean, Russians were not at all interested in Russia brands. When I was a time when Russian women wanted to marry you know, Americans, or the Russian guys wants to work in Newlands. Everyone wants to eat Russia raise even my closest Russian friends that said, you know, David, you know, we like it very much, but you will never see us wearing Russian watches to come cool. You know, we have to wear you know, Swiss brands, not Russian watches. So yeah, I started. So that's fascinating. So, so you, you go into the factory or presume you start paying some visits and then who do you speak to down there? Is it the people on the ground floor? Is it the whoever's around the CEOs at the time? Yeah, I was thinking naive. I mean, I thought I thought you know, my technical auditor the factory was limited to picking up a watch and he did Tick tock tick tock tick tock and the hands kind of moved on the dial and I thought was cool, it works. I'll just read the design I'll just do a bit of marketing and you know, be very successful. I mean, obviously the proof was was very, very different. But and so you've you've inherited the brand or you've you've adopted this brand, what are the next steps and you've you have to then take on the world are you kind of trying to change the narrative or are you trying to let people know about the rich history of rock so how does it work? Yeah, well, we this numbness Delta towards the past, you know what we're brand The brand is was created in 1961. When goguardian went into space, the first man to go into space feast was such a big event that the series decided to create a watch brands named rocky altar in honour. fistfights getting into the Russian space rockets. Okay, yeah. So next year, we can celebrate the six year anniversary of the bronze because it'll be six years. And so we're super proud that the history and afford gay clinic models and all of our modern models are inspired by old civic models, but we're very much a brand does is a modern Russian brand that looks towards the future. The suit basically the biggest problem at the beginning was was the factory itself, we never realised, I mean, I never realised how much time energy resources I would have to put into modernising this factory, because, you know, making watches is much more difficult than making any of the products that you have in your house, for example. Yeah, watch. If it doesn't work, the client notices immediately. You know, if you buy a defective knife or defective for, for example, you never notice that defects are worse, you can note that you'll notice immediately, but there's no way you can fool your client. So and that there's a reason why so few Swiss brands make their own mechanical movements. 95% of the brands that you know, in Switzerland do not make the rune watches. They choose to design and marketing, but all the production is outsourced, they buy the mechanical movements from wherever they bite from day by day cases, they kind of assemble the whole thing. It's just there's a reason for that making mechanical movements is extremely complicated. It's like, it's nearly as complicated as sending a rocket into space. And so, so, I mean, I guess that's reason partly why there's only one factory going in Russia as well, because it's, it's just so much harder to do. So where did they outsource it then? You mean Switzerland? Yeah. Where do they normally go? Yeah, well, you know, at the biggest, like 95% of the brands they buy from switch groups makes all the mechanical movements to most likely old mechanical watches that you know that they buy them from switch, because they were one of the brands that really revived the movement industry, the mechanical watch industry crisis. So just switch PC has nearly a big monopoly of the production in Switzerland, otherwise, in a merciless meeting trainer, right. People don't know that no one is known. So So basically, after a year, I realised Whoa, I mean, I can be very complicated. And at some points, I thought, let's just, you know, shut the factory. And do like everyone else, you know, you buy somewhere else, you put it and you kind of assemble it, and you just throw it to me in Russia, and you pretend it's Russian meat. But then then we took the decision to keep the factory because the factory really is the soul of the project. And this is what really makes our watches unique, is because we make our own mechanical movements for a room brands. And this is something that very few brands do like Rolex does it and a few other brands have really high end brands do that in Switzerland, but that's it, you can count them on, on the tip of your fingers. And this makes up our brand very unique. So we decided to keep the factory. Right. Okay. And I want to know about the Gary, Gary watch. So the first one is there like an archive or like a museum where this one is house? Do you do you know how many were made? I'm sorry, what was that? So the first one that you mentioned? Um, I guess I'm screwing the name up. The Gagarin Yeah, go go go. Yeah, no, no, he, he's just the guy who flew into space. He was the first guy they sent into space, right. So you have to always meet from that moment on the wheels made washes for customers. And we still make washes because we want Actually, we have a super cool watch that we made in collaboration with a guy called Sergei Karloff. He's like the most legendary cosmonauts living today. He's he went seven times up into space, he spent two and a half years in space. Wow, he was the guy who was stranded in space when the Soviet Union collapsed. Basically, he was in a state in station mute. That was does that was a stupid Space Station. And when the Soviet Union collapsed next morning, instead of having one country, there were five countries in the Ukraine, the other Russia, Kazakhstan, and no one knew who had the responsibility to take the guy down. And no one had the money to take him down. We'll see because taking down you have to send the rocket up the terminal with Tom Hanks, but in Yeah, so people started collecting funds worldwide to help him to bring them down, so that the poor guy had to stay six additional months in space. Okay. Eventually Russia took him down. So he knows better than anyone knows what kind of watch Cosmos means. So together with him, we did. It's really cool. Watch, which we call record by krunner. So watch for customers. That is awesome. And is that ready to bike? Yeah, that's on the website. So going through the website, I mean, there's so many awesome designs on here, I'm just gonna, and we can leave a link to the show notes by the way, people can get to raquette a.com. To find these are a K eta.com For those unfamiliar, but I'm in love with it, which one I'm in love with is the one where you go to the history section from 1980, the factory produces the official watches of the Soviet Olympic Games. Now, I love the look at people who've got a go see is it looks like it has like a perforated bezel. And then you've got the Olympics ring, but kind of on the nine. So it's off centre, and it just looks beautiful. And vintage, is that the is that the kind of theme for the brand is to kind of call upon the vintage looks. Yeah, I mean record to watch is a very have a very strong identity. We do things that people in Switzerland doing do. For example, I'll just give you a few examples, please, on the dial, we always have a series, instead of having a 12 new someone decided in Switzerland that's on top of the day, we should always have a 12. Right. And that I get to always such as Europe, and I asked my guys at the factory, you know, what, who took the decision to purchase your instead of a 12? He said, and they said it's you know, it's just it's just more logical, you know? Did you start counting from 12? Do you count 12 12345? No, we don't use to count time he starts at 0012345. It's just more logical. Very much comes down to that's, that's really the Russian mentality. Russians do simple things, not complicated things. So if timestamps is your route, then work at 12. Noon to zero. Going backwards now. Yeah. So we also have really cool designs with you know, everyone has very straight hands on the dial. We have round hands triangular hands, she knows. Yeah, I'm looking at now. Oh, yeah, that's really cool. We also have watches that should not 12 hours in the dial, but 24 hours, like for example, the watch for cosmonauts will show you 24 hours instead of 12 hours. Okay? That's a very simple reason for that is when you're in space, like now imagine it's, you know, five o'clock in the afternoon, I know, it's five o'clock in the afternoon, because I look through the window and I see light. If it were dark, it would be fine looking at night, right? in space, you can't look through the window, you need a special movement that makes our hands turn 20. In in 24 hours around the dial. It was either five o'clock in the morning, or 17 o'clock in the afternoon. And also if you're talking to a military man, and he's always going yeah, I'll see you at 16 Oh, 100. You know, someone like me is not going to get that unless I look at the watch. Yeah, yeah. So we also have another model. That's really cool. That's where all the hands go backwards. Tell me about that. Yeah. Well, that's so so you know, so, so that I get them into space rockets, right. So in the DNA for a capsule, you have space cosmos is very important for us and for Russian people. And when we realise and you can check on Wikipedia, what I'll tell you now is all the planets turn around the Sun counterclockwise. And even the moon turn turns around to counterclockwise. So we thought, hey, the counterclockwise movement is the most natural movement in our solar system. So why did someone decide in Switzerland or in you know, that's the hands should go against natural movements in that in the solar system. So let's do a watch that moves in harmony with the solar system. We need the mechanical movement that makes all the hands go anti clockwise. And we thought you know, that we'll be talking piece but no one will ever buy it. And it became the number one first sales in Russia and outside Russia. Last year. I'm looking at just a storytelling is so cool. Yeah. I'm looking at a picture of it now. And it's so nice to get you to get the hang of it. Yeah, but then but then then it becomes very normal. And so what's the next phase for ricotta watches now? I mean, where are you looking to kind of point your guns so to speak in terms of marketing? Well, basically, I mean, we sell very well in Russia and we started we started exporting two years ago. So we have a huge shops in France, we sell through internet all around the world. Basically, we have to get the story out you know, we what's very special about that IKEA is that it's very much a handcrafted, you know in we didn't have any of the CNC machines, all the operations, all the components and meat by hand. So every like specialist puts a bit of his soul into every component. I think So it's very much handcraft it's it's very old school production technology. And it's like, you got about 103 specialists, right? working at a time. Yeah, so it's a, you have a lot of specialists, and it's just, it's very complicated to make them kind of movements. But that's why, you know, so um, but that's why mechanical watches is luxury, basically, when you realise how complicated it is, you realise, you know, it's, it's a piece of art, really. And so when you see all these guys, you know, assembling all of these components, and suddenly the word screws, it's like, it's magic. Yeah, because this new battery, there's no chips, there's no electronics, and it's just pieces of metal, and then you put you assembled the very last piece, and suddenly the hands start turning. And that's magic. It sounds like, it sounds like there's a lot more emotion in your voice now than there would have been, say 10 years ago, when you knew nothing about watches and going into, Oh, definitely a you know, being a watchmaker is very much a passion, you know, you cannot be a watchmaking and not be passionate about, about what you do. It's, um, and washes are very much about emotions. It's very, it's very human, a project is some, like, if you go back to the counter clockwise, which, I mean, why do people buy it? It's not so much to read time. It's just because it's storytelling is so cool. Yeah. And the watch is beautiful, and it's handcrafted. And so people buy it because it generates so much emotion. And you're at a dinner party, and you ask a neighbour, you know, do you know how to put a timer on the watch? And the guy says, Yeah, of course, and you show them your watch, and then look at his face and read. He can read the time properly. It's really cool. How are you any Are you hands on with the designs at all? Yeah, we do everything in house. We do the design, the marketing, everything? Yeah. And no, I mean, we have a marketing team. We have designers, all of our designs are inspired by all suey designs, but you haven't said anything? Oh, yeah. I mean, I do. Yeah, I have designers. It's always gonna happen my words soon on everything. Right. But we have really good designers. And we have a really cool team. That's finally if ever you come to Russia, you can. You're most welcome to come and visit the factory and our creative studio designer, designer team. It's really, really interesting. I'm going to be taking you up on that. No, no doubt about that. So Well, listen, it's been a great pleasure talking to you. Thanks for giving me such an insight into the brand. The watches are beautiful. By the way. Do you have a personal favourite amongst them either in like the modern range or something from days gone by? Well, the two watches I loved the most, and I talked about them is to watch the cosmos. That's a really cool watch. And obviously, the counterclockwise I love that one. It's a su special. And three push. And the movement is actually everyone thinks is so easy to meet the hands go counterclockwise. It took us a year to do that. I took a senior to to tweak around the mechanical movements to make the hands go counterclockwise is very, very difficult. Wow. And no one else. I mean, I guess you have to take everything can kind of invert it very tenet. As we were speaking about of Mike, everything's in reverse. Yeah, and this is something you can only do if you produce your own mechanical movements. You can't go on the market to buy and mechanical movements like all the other brands do and disassemble it and change some important parts in it. It's just impossible. You can only do that if you produce your own movement, any Apple technical drawings and you can change them. Yeah. Yeah, so I go. No, no, I certainly so these are I mean, I love every single one we produce, but like today, I would see. Yeah, these are my two papers. Stunning pieces. David, I've got a question for you. And it's only just come to mind that at the end of red heat with Arnold Schwarzenegger and came for Lucy. He they've become friends at the end and Arnold Schwarzenegger eyes up Baluchis Washington says, you know, it's customary where I come from in Russia that we exchange watches as a sign of friendship. And so like he passes off is like 50 pounds, knockoff Casio or whatever it was, he's wearing and congenital, if he gives him his like, beautiful kind of heirloom piece. Now, is that a myth? Is that is that a tradition over there in Russia? No, no, it's not a myth. There is a tradition in Russia to to offer watches as a distinction as a present as a gift. Oh, it exists in the Reggie I was told at the time of jumpers and it existed during the Soviet period and still today. Russians offer watches a lot Yeah. Wow. So yeah, they were actually spot on in the end. I knew I knew I knew. When was the last time you saw red hate? Or a long time ago? I stopped watching all these Hollywood movies because the budgets always Russian guys to tell me about Yeah. Well, if anything, though, at least sometimes we get to see some beautiful parts of Russia. I mean, yeah, well then if you see Russian movies and most of the time also the bodies of the Americans. Ah, okay. You know what I mean? I've, like I say my girlfriend, she, she plants me in front of the telly every now and again and says, look, you know, if you really want to see a good historical war movie, it's gotta be in Russian. You know, you can't see these kind of perfectly glitched up American films, they don't give you the correct insights. It doesn't look right. You have to get in the weeds with some of these stories. No, it is true. I mean, Russians do very, very good movies. And fortunately, you never see them outside Russia, because obviously, it's in Russian and Russian actors. So there's no chance to become blockbusters outside Russia, but they do very, very good war movies. That's probably true because they've experienced firsthand you know, the Second World War. So city in general, lots of unwholesome at some very realistic very good movies about war, as well, especially the Second World War. Is there any that you can recommend? Or? No, I'm trying to think, you know, all the titles are in Russian, so I kind of look at them. And to tell you the truth. I don't watch too much Russian movies. Okay. Yeah, but they are out there. Well, you know what, you know, I live in the Russia sighs you crushing all day long at work. So when I come home, I like to watch you know, good American series or? Oh, yeah. What are you watching at the minute? I just finished watching the crown. Oh, yeah. Which, which is such a good Series. I love it. Yeah. And the actors are so fantastic. Are they just introducing princess die into this in this series? Apparently? Yes. I haven't seen one yet. Right. So you're catching up with the old one. Yeah. Interesting. Well, listen, David, thanks so much for jumping on and giving us such a colourful insight into the brand. I will certainly be taking you up on your offer when I come over to Russia be knocking on your door, but remember me and then I'll hand over my crappy Timex and take one of your beautiful watches off your wrist as is customary in your country. And in the meantime, take care yourself. Thank you very much. Well, how about that David, what a nice guy and even off mic we talked about 15 minutes or, or more than Ghost Protocol on rocky for, you know, all of my go to Russian films. And if you ever cross paths with David, having told you the story behind the Russian Olympic watch that we mentioned in the interview that there is an entire movie that can be made around that watch fascinating stuff. You know it make sure you're supporting the good guys and head over to a cat a.com treat yourself or your loved one to watch and, you know, as far as in history there. In the meantime, thanks for tuning in. If you like what you're hearing, leave us a review. It does help our egos here and until next time.