Kevin Rose Explains How He Got Into High-End Watches & Making The Watchville App For iOS & Android
Now in his late 30s, internet entrepreneur, founder of Digg.com, and Google Ventures start-up savant Kevin Rose is growing up. Meeting with him in Los Angeles in November 2014, he talks about juggling a work-life balance, looking back on his career to identify trends in technology, and his own perspective on the evolving landscape of online media consumption. What he also talks about is a growing appreciation of items that are truly timeless and an interest in goods that aren’t disposable, but that are finely made and intended to last for a long time. While Kevin doesn’t yet have children with his wife Darya, he smiles when discussing the topic of passing his watch collection on to his kids someday. It is the type of genuine smile that transcends status and wealth for those holding something in their hands that they are truly passionate about.
Kevin Rose has become a rather serious watch guy over the last few years – an interest he never really saw himself getting into (until it happened). One of his favorite brands is A. Lange & Söhne – the apex of horological quality from the no nonsense minds of German watchmakers in Saxony. He happens to own two different Zeitwerk watches from the brand – which also happen to be among the brand’s most controversial pieces. The Zeitwerk is an incredibly complicated watch that A. Lange & Söhne only produces a few of each year, across a few limited editions. Rose also owns a Zeitwerk Luminous (which was in for servicing at the time of our meeting), but he brought along a Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst, which adds a myriad of hand-finishing and engraving techniques to an otherwise very geek-friendly mechanical watch.
Holding the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst in his palms, Rose is observably nervous holding the extremely valuable timepiece that he purchased via an auction. It is probably among the most valuable items he owns that isn’t real estate. Kevin said that when he first started getting into watches, there was a tendency for people like him to go straight to the top. Basically, you enter the world of watches, and quickly begin to take in information while learning about more and more exclusive timepieces. Eventually, you discover the apex of what is currently available in a commercial environment, and the tendency is to desire the best.
That is natural, but what Kevin later acknowledged is that in some instances, he purchased watches in advance of his own ability to fully appreciate them. I can relate to the feeling, having spent over a decade of my life thinking about watches and learning new things about horological items and the production thereof. Even though Rose is considered by many people to be a genius, the world of watches presents a formidable learning curve to even the most adept minds. Rose comments that he has already bought and sold many more watches than he still owns. A survey of his current collection reveals something very interesting about Kevin’s watches – for the most part, they all reflect his personality very well.
…Except for the A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst, in my opinion. That is Rose’s one true aspirational watch. Even though the Zeitwerk itself comports with his values and personality, the highly limited edition model with its great artistic effort is not a timepiece meant to be worn on a regular basis. It is a precious piece of art not so subtly displayed over the the surface of a mechanically complex item, which marries the world of traditional watchmaking and modern culture in a way few other watches have been able to do.
Kevin – like many of his generation – grew up in the shadow of ever decreasing product life cycles. From hardware to software, Kevin has become accustomed to abandoning the old and searching for the new. He muses about how people look down upon you for having a mobile phone that is more than a year old, and how we infrequently form any emotional bonds with actual products any longer. In fact, what we used to feel about particular products, we now feel about brands – a sentiment that can rapidly change as new products exceed or, in many instances, fail to meet our expectations. With watches, you have something a bit different.
Kevin also discovered a concept that I have discussed for a few years now, and that is that timepieces are not trying to be the next big thing because they are, in fact, one of the “last big things.” As major horological developments are mostly a thing of the past, there is little worry that your next luxury watch will become any more obsolete than it was when you bought it. We purchase timepieces for their quality and craftsmanship. Rose jovially explains that when one of his colleagues becomes curious about his fascination with expensive watches, he simply shows them the case back of his A. Lange & Sohne or F.P. Journe watch and leaves it at that.
Kevin talks about being at a point in his life when things of lasting value are becoming more and more appealing. Whereas traditional arts and craftsmanship rarely find a home in the working lives of technology professionals, they are an inherent part of high-end watches. There is something incredibly appealing about the fact that a watch exists in a timeless static fugue that ignores the rest of the world. There is a double meaning to calling the innards of a mechanical watch movement a “city” – because not only do the many bridges and springs resemble architectural details, but it is also a metaphorical city of technique and performance which exists totally independently of the rest of the world. For the enthusiast who is able to pick up on such subtle yet important nuances of timepiece appreciation – the hobby proves incredibly fulfilling (especially for those who can afford it).
One demographic of individuals that tends to both appreciate high-end timepieces and can often afford them are today’s Silicon Valley tech industry professionals. People like Kevin Rose and many of his colleagues have discovered mechanical watches over the last few years. The combination of being an engineer, appreciating details, and a worldly lifestyle of travel and meeting new people creates the perfect mentality for both loving and sharing timepieces.
I started aBlogtoWatch while living in San Francisco, being part of that community, and I modeled a lot of my own journalistic style after many of my favorite tech blogs. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we at aBlogtoWatch enjoy being followed by Kevin Rose and many people just like him. In my opinion, the Silicon Valley audience is one the greatest customer bases for the modern watch industry that the watch industry is still more-or-less ignoring, when it comes to marketing and outreach. In addition to its focus on the nouveau riche and the fashion industry, I have strongly advised the watch industry to pay close attention to one of the most important areas of growth – the people in the Silicon Valley, as well as other tech hot spots around the US and the world.
Kevin Rose has been in the watch world spotlight lately because he recently released an iPhone and now Android app called Watchville. Kevin’s primary work is at his company N-O-R-T-H, but admits that he used an outside developer to create the Watchville app, because it is more of a personal project for him. The idea of Watchville is simple; Kevin wanted a simple and efficient way to consume all of his favorite watch news in one place. Watchville presents a curated selection of the sites that Kevin personally vets, and then allows the user to select which of those they want to view in their feeds while using Watchville. While so much of reading about watches is seeing high resolution “watch porn” (as I call it), Watchville doesn’t mean to totally replace a desktop or larger screen experience, but rather, to offer watch lovers on the go (like Kevin) an opportunity to not miss out on content.
One of the more deceptively simple features of Watchville is the clock and calender function. This part of the app is arguably as useful as the news feed. Kevin designed a clock that averages times from a series of servers around the world with data originating from atomic clocks (to ensure as perfect timing as possible), as well as a full calendar system with a moon phase indicator designed to make it easy for people with calendar complications to set their watches. New for the Android version of Watchville (likely to be later rolled out to iPhone iOS as well) are updated calendar and timing functions such as the day of the year of the year, time nearest to the next new moon or full moon, and a 1/100th of a second countdown timer with chime. These features alone make Watchville worth downloading, in my opinion.
A few tech industry journalists suspected that Watchville was the beginning of a new commercial venture for Rose, or that he has immediate plans on how to monetize Watchville. Rose denies these claims, saying that he isn’t planning on including any type of advertising in Watchville, and even plans to offer traffic metrics to publishers like aBlogtoWatch that he includes in his feed. Rose doesn’t outright prohibit the future opportunity to develop Watchville into something with a commercial element, but there are no current plans. Something like that would require a rich community of users – and Watchville has just begun.
Whether or not Watchville has 1,000 or 1,000,000 users a few months from now, I see it as an affectionate application by Rose for one of his favorite hobbies. Anyone who is involved with or sympathetic to the “tech lifestyle” will easily appreciate Rose’s labor of love and will likely find use in this highly refined and intelligent app. The funny thing is that with his talent and skills, Rose comes out of the bag right away with a useful and quality app, while over the years, I’ve seen people with a lot more incentive and time put together truly terrible ways of appreciating watches or timepiece news in app form. This is what happens when a true professional adds his touch to the technology of consuming horology.
Returning to Kevin Rose as a watch lover, you can really tell a lot about him by the watches that he likes to wear. The Ressence Type One watch is a good example; highly technical, modern, analog, and most importantly… very much under the radar. The Ressence looks like a real life futuristic cartoon watch. It also happens to be amazingly well detailed and exclusive. Like other watch lovers, Rose also felt the allure of Panerai. He is a Radiomir guy, and his black ceramic coated PAM 384 combines the legibility of the brand with a stealthy black case and the convenience of eight days of power reserve. Rose comments on how he particularly likes that he can go for a few days without wearing it, and it is still wound.
When I first met Kevin, he was wearing a watch that has become particularly popular for those transcending the line of being a lover of mainstream luxury watch brands to the more exclusive realm of the independent watch maker. The entry point into F.P. Journe is the wonderfully simple and beautifully blue-dialed Chronometre Bleu. Mr. Journe, of course, couldn’t produce just a basic watch for his entry-level piece, so he decided to make the three-hand Chronometre Bleu with a tantalum case (that looks a lot like tungsten) and unique metallic blue dial. The movement is, of course, in gold and remarkably attractive. You won’t see Kevin Rose wearing an 18k rose gold Rolex or a diamond-decorated Chopard. That isn’t his style, neither is it the type of so many of today’s most important emerging watch collectors. For Rose, watch collecting seems to be all about discovering timeless beauty in items of strong inherent value that tantalize his love of things that work well.