Q&A SessionsWatch Focus

Q&A with Martin Russell, Phantom Watches

Officially launched last year, Phantom is a new British watch brand with a contemporary and minimalist style. TOM DAVIS caught up with founder Martin Russell to learn about the firm’s early stage growth

Tell us about your background and how you got into watchmaking?

I have been in the watch industry now for the best part of six years since leaving unviersity, working for a number of watch companies around the UK, such as Peers Hardy, who are based in Birmingham, and Breo, a watch brand based in Dundee, Scotland. I have also worked for retail companies, such as Next and River Island, helping to design their own-brand watches. I have always been in the design teams, mainly working on the men’s watches but I would sometimes go over to the women’s side and do a few things for them as well.

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What inspired you to launch Phantom?

Phantom 2It’s something that I have always had a passion to do – to start my own watch brand and to create something from nothing, and create a watch that inspires people and can push boundaries. After leaving Breo a couple of years back I felt it was the right time to do it, I had no commitments elsewhere so it was something I was looking to do. I got in touch with the Prince’s Trust and they really helped out on the mentoring side to get the business off the ground. It took a good year or so to get the brand out there and to get it up and running with sampling, and also to get the watches looking right for the market that we wanted to enter.

How did you market the brand?

It was case of getting the website up and running, which we have recently improved with a rebranding and the launch of a new online store, and then reaching out to the market through social media. The world has changed quite a lot in recent years, and social media has a huge impact on marketing a product – that was my main focus as a new brand to get the social media side of the business right. After that, picking up the phone and contacting independent jewellers, retailers and bloggers to get our name out there.

In Easter last month we did a photoshoot with Zac Herdman for Collection One which has added a little bit of character and an edginess to the brand. Whereas before all we had on our website was product shots, now we have an actual model on board to help build the brand awareness.

How big was the team when you launched and has it grown since?

It hasn’t grown since, it’s basically just myself. I do all the design, development, marketing, selling and I also approach the buyers. I do get help from my partner as well on the PR side.

Tell us about the design

My main aim of the design was to create a contemporary brand which had character and that was pitched at a reasonable price-point. About a year ago when I started the project, the country was in a recession and money was a bit tight, so I wanted to create something that consumers could afford without breaking the bank. I wanted to focus on a really well-designed product at an affordable selling point, while at the same time creating a brand that was about a contemporary ethos.

What about the design process and where the watches are manufactured?

The watches are manufactured in the Far East, in China. I know the supplier out there and I have been to visit a few times over the past couple of years to see them. I’ve been out there to meet with them and we went through the designs, and I pass over any new design ideas I have to them.

Tell us about Collection One

The collection is four colour editions, which I have tried to create in a way that they suit different personalities. I have tried to aim for design enthusiasts that like the simple and minimal designs of a watch. The aim was to create something that was well-made and looks great, the main ambition behind the collection was the contemporary ethos and the character that the watches have, and I feel we have got that across in the watches.

What sets Phantom apart from other British watch brands?

The first thing that I believe sets Phantom apart is the style of the watches and the case, because there is nothing on the watch market at the moment that is the same. There are a lot of brands out there that do the contemporary ethos look and a lot of the cases are similar, but I have tried to go for a completely unique case design and brand identity. We use Italian leather straps, and we also use a matte sandblasted case finish, which is quite unique in today’s market. A lot of cases are often brushed and polished in style, while we have gone for a more matte, slick, different look.

Phantom 3What has been the most challenging aspect of creating your own brand?

The most challenging aspect has probably been looking at each part of the business as a whole, whereas in the past I have just been working on the design of the watch. Taking on your own brand, you can’t just think about the design, you have to think about the market, what message is going across to the consumer and you have to think about sales – there are so many different aspects of business that you have to juggle about. You have to think about the whole perspective and not just one area which I was used to doing before. I have come out of my comfort zone, I have branched out my skills and started to look at other things such as website design.

What is thought-process behind your online store and has it been a success so far?

When I first started I had a brochure-type website, which is where people could go and see the products that we have, and then find out where our stockists were. But now we have that online element where people can actually buy directly from the brand, and it’s the first time we have ever done it as a business. It’s something that we really wanted to push this year along with getting a sales and PR agency on board to help with the marketing. So far we have had a great response, all the comments and feedback from our retailers and customers have been positive – they really like the design of the site.

What is the most important thing you have learnt since launching the brand?

In a couple of years I want the business to be a mainstream watch brand and I think the most important thing I have learnt is how the consumer perceives the brand. Because I see Phantom day-in and day-out and I work around the brand, the most important thing is how it gets perceived by the consumer and I want everything that I do, from marketing, PR and all my blogs, to be in-keeping with the brand’s contemporary ethos and make sure that it’s all relevant to the Collection One. I would say that was probably the hardest, but most important, aspect to learn.

What’s your view on smartwatches, do you view them as a competition?

I don’t view them as competition. I love what they are doing, and I love the Apple Watch, but I think it’s a different market to where Phantom is looking to go. I think there will always be a place in the watch world for traditional watches. I think people buy into smartwatches because of the generation that we are in now with smartphones, but I do think that they will leave their mark on the watch industry.

What does the future hold for Phantom?

We are looking to redevelop Collection One, and potentially bring out some new colour options later this year. We have been in some discussions with a couple of brands to do some collaborations, potentially towards the end of the year and in 2016. We just really want to keep pushing the brand and get to a point where people recognise Phantom as an established watch brand in the UK.

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