Born in Australia
Rebelde is the World's smallest watch brand, coming to life in 2013 as a project of Sydney-based watchmaker Nicholas Hacko. The rebelde project was not conceived as a brand to showcase the watchmaker's genius or his ability to produce watches, or even to fulfil a need for a mechanical timepiece.
It was born simply out of necessity for physical survival - a survival of a small, independent Australian watchmaker.
Nicholas Hacko is a third generation Master watchmaker. Like many of his colleagues, he has spent his entire life doing what he was trained for: repairing high grade mechanical watches. For generations, or at least since the early 1800s, independent watchmakers would offer their knowledge and expertise to watch owners. A watchmaker would repair a variety of timepieces, ranging from fine and complex carriage clocks, marine chronometers and pocket watches to modern wrist watches. Versatile, yet highly specialized, independent watchmakers were an integral part of the horological industry; a crucial link between manufacturers and watch owners who needed them to repair, maintain and service mechanical timepieces.
The knowledge of the craft was often passed from father to son, from Master to apprentice, under strict supervision, ensuring that only the most dedicated and skilled craftsmen would carry on the trade. While the industry reflected 'ups' and 'downs' and inevitable technological changes and advancements of mechanical watches, it was a fairly steady and predictable affair for a few hundred years.
During the mid-1990s, the Swiss watch industry went through yet another major shake-up: a renaissance of mechanical watches. The watch owners, previously satisfied with highly accurate yet mass produced 'soul-less' watches, flocked back to old-fashioned mechanical pieces. Once again, owning an expensive Swiss mechanical watch was a sign of prestige, sophistication and pride. The Renaissance was aided by the advent of the Internet allowing the rapid spread of information and ease of trade.
Surprised by the new trends, Swiss manufacturers re-grouped, seeking to take full advantage of the market situation. The demand for watches attracted large corporations, which, in a very short time, acquired a number of well-established watch brands. Unfortunately, those corporations were industry outsiders whose only aim was to maximize profit.
By the early 2000s, the horological scene had become paradoxical: while Swiss makers were once again producing the watches to full capacity to satisfy buyers’ demand, and while buyers were enjoying the variety of timepieces on offer, frantically building their watch collections, the skilled independent watchmakers were seen as an unnecessary link in the chain. Their ability to provide specialist services to a variety of watches in a timely and affordable manner was perceived as a 'competitive' threat. The goal of big watch brands was the total control of production, retail and servicing ('in-house' integration), and in a very short period of time, heavy restrictions on the supply of spare parts to independent watchmakers were in place.
Inevitably, such restriction forced many watchmakers to the very brink of existence. Without spare parts, watchmaker's skills were practically useless and their ability to repair watches was severely limited. The climax in restriction was reached in 2012 when almost all Swiss watch brands cut supply to even the most experienced independent watchmakers who had been loyal to both brands and customers for generations.
But it was not the commercial loss that hurt the independent watchmakers the most: it was the hypocrisy and greed of the Swiss brands who proclaimed that independent watchmakers were simply no longer capable of repairing their watches. The restriction was defended and justified by the Swiss brands as necessary to protect the customers!
The days of independent watchmakers were numbered. A slow death of many long established businesses was both predictable and inevitable.
In order to protect his integrity, reputation, livelihood and ability to pass his skills onto the next generation of Hacko watchmakers, Nicholas decided to take fate in his own hands by starting his own watch brand. The rebel(de) was born.
The challengeBy the age of 50, Nicholas has personally repaired over 17,000 watches and bought and sold over 9,500 high grade Swiss timepieces. He knows what works and what does not, and what sells and what does not.
However, the making of his own watch was a completely new endeavour. In order to produce a piece which would be on par with similar Swiss-made watches, he needed to acquire a new set of skills, engage the support of similar-minded watch parts manufacturers and then assemble a timepiece that would be of very high quality, yet priced well.
The three fundamental pillars of the 'rebelde' watch concept were obvious from the very beginning: rebelde would be a robust, reliable and repairable time keeping instrument- not just a good looking fashion statement.
But Nicholas was running fast out of time: the availability of a core component - the Swiss made Unitas mechanism- was both uncertain and restricted. In June 2013, thanks to established connections within the trade and with plenty of luck, he secured the first 100 movements from a small Swiss movements supplier.
The design and construction of the case had finally commenced.
The material of choice was surgical grade steel. The case was 44mm in size and would accommodate two different bezels - a 'ribbed' one which would be used in the 'Pilot's’ style model and a smooth one for a model nicknamed 'The Control Tower'. The rebelde case would be water resistant to 10 bar and of a unique 3 piece construction - far more complex than any other similar case on the market, intended to house a Unitas mechanism.
In four months’ time, hand drawn sketches were translated into production-ready CAD files. The files were then sent to an overseas manufacturer who was already providing the case manufacturing service to other well-known Swiss brands. The first prototype was ready in December 2013. Nine other manufacturers were contracted to make dials, watch hands, winding crowns, sapphire crystals, rubber and Teflon seals, spring loaded bars and leather straps and buckles. The components were then shipped back to Nicholas' Sydney workshop for finishing and assembly.
The design and manufacturing challenges were too numerous to be detailed here. Yet miraculously, thanks to dedication and perseverance, the majority of components were machined well within tolerance. The hand-assembly process was initially slow. For example, fitting a winding crown to winding stem required precision cutting of 3/100 of a millimetre. And fitting a second hand to its arbor would require drilling within tolerance of 3 thousand part of a millimetre – a process that simply cannot be rushed.
Slowly, the very first batch of rebelde Pilots' watches in series of 75 individually numbered pieces was completed. Each piece was carefully adjusted for the best possible time keeping. Each watch underwent rigorous water resistance testing (a total of five tests, including one with the crown pulled out to its time-setting position). And each rebelde passed the tests with flying colours!
Proudly, each rebelde watch was individually numbered and against all odds, signed "designed, assembled and adjusted Australia".
But most importantly, with each watch delivered to its 'comrade', the Swiss brands deadly grip over Nicholas was slipping away.
The rebelde project was exciting and above all, liberating for Nicholas. For the first time in many years, the future of one small independent watchmaker looked more promising than ever.
The overnight successThanks to overwhelming support from many loyal customers, rebelde was an 'overnight success'. Even before the first watch was assembled and delivered, many watch enthusiasts have added their names to an ever-growing rebelde waiting list, patiently waiting for their watch to be completed. Unlike any other brand, rebelde is still sold only to faithful followers of the project- to those who appreciate bespoke watchmaking, those who are attracted to the brand because of its uniqueness and individuality; those who respect the very personal story behind the hand-assembled watch.
But for the rebelde and its designer, success is not measured by the number of watches sold. The mark of true success is the number of watches in perfect working order, worn daily, by the owners who can be assured that their rebelde is capable of withstanding almost any challenge of daily use, keeping correct time. And in the rare event of a failure, the owner can rest assured that the very watchmaker who has designed, assembled and adjusted the watch in the first place will be more than happy and capable to undertake any repair in the quickest turnaround time possible.
Your rebelde watch is here to stay, to tick cheerfully for at least the next 50 years: robust, reliable and repairable in Australia.
2014 and beyondAt the time of writing (December 2014), a total of 225 rebelde watches have been assembled and delivered to customers mainly in Australia, but also in Canada, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Serbia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, United States, Norway and Hong Kong. The production run consisted of rebelde Pilots (N serial, 75 pieces), Control Tower (I serial, 75 pieces) and the Pilots RED (K serial, 75 pieces).
The next stainless steel batch, to be completed in February 2015, will be the Control Tower II, another limited production of 75 pieces.
In 2015, the rebelde project will enter a new phase with an exciting new model: a 45mm Titanium piece. Producing a watch in Titanium is a very unique challenge: being 40% lighter than steel, yet 40% harder, titanium requires even more specialist manufacturing expertise. The tolerances, production tools and machinery are very different to those required for the making of stainless steel cases. At the moment, all CAD drawings for rebelde Ti are completed and submitted to a case maker and the high-grade Titanium alloy is sourced from the Japanese Ti mill. The first case prototype is expected by the end of January 2015.
The second project is the Rebelde G: a solid 18K gold watch in original Pilot's style. The initial batch will consist of only 10 pieces in 18K yellow gold, followed by 10 pieces in 18K rose gold. The rebelde G is expected to be Hacko Watchmaker's 'flagship' model. The watch 'head' will weigh a massive 115 grams and will be accompanied by a Horween hand-made leather strap with matching solid 18K gold buckle. As with the previous models, it will be powered by the robust and reliable Swiss-made Unitas manual wind movement.
The total production output for 2015 will remain low, ensuring not only an exclusive supply to faithful customers but also allowing NH to focus on the development of more unique dial styles. The focus will, however, remain on customer service, ensuring that sufficient time is reserved for assembly and eventual post-sales maintenance.
A rebellious watchmakerNicholas Hacko does not see himself as a rebel. Rather he prefers to be seen as a "down-to-earth Master Watchmaker who is doing what he is trained to do". He adds that rebelde is a very young brand and it should not be judged either too harshly or too kindly, too soon.
Yet the fact remains that starting a watch brand is undeniably rebellious. He also believes that wearing a rebelde watch is a rebellious act in itself. Stepping out of your comfort zone, putting trust in the hands of an independent watchmaker, supporting the dying trade and fine art of mechanical engineering is a sign of sophistication. Rebelde owners are an enthusiastic, non-conformist bunch who highly prize individualism and are not afraid to say 'no' to corporate greed.
"When a collector puts his $30,000 Swiss watch into his pocket so he can strap on his new rebelde instead, such an act is no longer about watchmaking - it is scandalous and inspirational. But I didn't start 'la revolution'. I am just enjoying it. Immensely."