Hook + Gaff customers and fans have asked me for some insight into why we construct our watches the way we do. In fact, it’s the question I get asked the most at our various trade shows or even when we get into a discussion about my business and what I do for a living. I actually just took some time this morning to respond to a Facebook message: “Why is the crown on the left side?”
So let me take a moment to tell you about the birth of this idea and how it progressed from a thought to a sketch, to a conversation with one of my college friends, and finally to the engineering and manufacturing of watches and the growth of our business.
I love the outdoors. I grew up on a hundred acre lake in the Upstate of SC until we moved to a golf course in the mountains when I was in high school. I was an avid golfer by day and an angler in the evening. In 1999 I was fortunate enough to play for the top golf team in the country at Clemson. I played with 8 guys who have played at least one year on the PGA Tour, and many more who played the Web.com. We were loaded during that time and it was a blast being around such great players. During my downtime, I’d sneak over to Lake Hartwell to fish, or I’d head up to the nearest trout streams about 45min above Clemson. My older brother lived in Charleston on Goose Creek, and I’d often make it down for redfish, flounder, and trout fishing in his 17ft Key West.
After college I did not play professional golf. Instead, I began a career as an insurance agent and continued to play amateur golf. My passion for fishing also continued and I began fishing more inshore and offshore when I had the opportunity.
My wife and I relocated to Lexington, SC in 2009 and I began helping her with her business for several years. She is an incredible businesswoman and is the owner/operator of now two different Chick-fil-A locations. I gained a vast amount of experience in customer service and good business practices from my time spent in the units, and I still love to help her however I can. We now have three kids and I am passionate about seeing them enjoy some of the same things I was able to enjoy growing up: sports, golf, fishing, and the outdoors.
So let’s talk about this watch idea. I’ve always worn a watch. As you can imagine during my high school and college years the types of watches I was wearing were relatively inexpensive quartz watches. As I transitioned into the business world I continued to wear these watches because my passion for the outdoors as well as my work in the restaurants put these watches through the ringer! They were “beater watches”—watches that were relatively inexpensive that would get scratched up and take a beating, but because I didn’t break the bank on them, it was never too upsetting to see these watches go.
However, I had two big issues with watches I wore and watches I sought out that were available at that time—there were no watches that appealed to my lifestyle, and there were no watches that were built the way I would build a quartz sport watch that I intended to put through the ringer. You see, I still expected to wear this watch in adverse conditions. I expected to wear it playing golf and have it fit and wear comfortably while swinging the club. I expected to wear it fly fishing on the Saluda River. No watches I could find had the look of luxury combined with the durability of the finest sport watches. None. There were no watches that fit my style.
So, I decided to make a few watches. I started having conversations with local watchmakers. I began an education of sorts. I was not a watch collector or enthusiast. I simply wanted to make the best watch I could make for my lifestyle, that appealed to both my sense of style and the function that I was going to use it for. So that’s how it started!
This is about the time I called my good buddy and college friend Gash Clayton in Greenville, SC and asked him to create a logo for a business idea I had. I told him I intended to make a few prototype watches and if we received good feedback on those we’d make a few hundred and see how we did with them. Just an idea. Little did I know that Gash was sort of a watch enthusiast. In fact one of their closest family friends in Spartanburg is a watchmaker and owns a local shop, and Gash had spent a great deal of time in there. Combined with his natural artistic abilities, graphic design experience, and his eye for style, we made a perfect team. We partnered at this time to collaborate on this idea and create something awesome.
The Original Sportfisher, our first quartz sport watch, was made in 2014. It was a moon phase watch. I have always been enamored by how the moon affects fish and even wildlife in general, and there is definitely something to that. For years my brother in law would make notes on every inshore fishing trip he took at his grandparents’ house in Beaufort, and I once borrowed his log to chart the phases of the moon based on his dates and the results were fascinating. For this reason, our first watch became a moon phase watch, and we called it the Sportfisher.
We had prototypes made, tested in adverse conditions by some captains in Venice, Louisiana where I love to go offshore, and we really put this watch to the test. When we received good feedback from these guys and from others we launched the business in 2015. We sold those first 300 Original Sportfishers by the end of the year, and we set it out to make the Original even better.
So what is it about these watches that makes it a golf watch, makes it a “fishing” watch, and why are our customers drawn to it? It has to do with construction and our luxury design principles, and I’ll tell you about my favorite features!
We assemble these watches right here in the Carolinas now, beginning with our Sportfisher 2 models that we created in late 2015. Our watchmaker has been ranked a top 10 watchmaker in the world. We source our parts, and we do all of our own design and assembly here at our various shops (one in NC and one here in Lexington, SC).
We chose titanium casing to house our Swiss Quartz movements. So why titanium? I love the titanium. My old “beater watches” from the past were all constructed with stainless steel, and within 6 months the number of scratches in the metal were visibly prevalent and the watch just did not look appealing. It certainly didn’t have a look of luxury. We chose titanium because it is such a very hard metal. It is difficult to scratch our casing. We also chose titanium because it is not a great conductor of heat. How many of you have worn a stainless watch bracelet on the course, or have put on a stainless watch after a round that’s been in your bag on a 95 degree summer day? You guys know what I’m talking about. I can play comfortably in this watch, particularly with our FANTASTIC dive straps and not have to worry about heat.
All of our watches, including the Golf Collection, are certified dive watches rated for 200m water resistance. We use screw down crowns and case backs, in addition to thick sapphire glass crystal and appropriate seals to obtain this certification. We pressure test all watches after assembly. One of the issues I used to have with my old watches is that the glass would get so scratched, chipped, etc that it would let water in. Or, some of my watches were rated for 50m or 100m but did not feature screw down crowns, and it was inevitable that within 6 months to a year that those particular watches would get water intrusion as seals became worn and warped. I LOVE the fact that we are building these to 200m water tightness!
I mentioned the glass. Many sport watches utilize what they will call “mineral crystal” which is simply a fancy word for regular glass! These watches will get scratched and chipped over time, and it is not a good look. As I said before, it can also compromise the water resistance of the watch. Our thick scratch proof sapphire glass keeps our watches looking like new!
I love our design. I love working with Gash on new designs. He has such an eye for classic aesthetic and what looks “clean” on the dial. You won’t ever find clutter on our sport watches or dials. If there are complications that are not needed, we don’t choose those movements or we cover those subdials. The dials will look clean and classic—that has become our style.
Finally, the straps!!! The straps are awesome! We’ve tested many, many straps over the years. Our imported Italian rubber dive straps are amazing and we continue to add more color options for styling. We’ve added “made in the USA” leather straps to the collection, and these are perfect for office or evening wear. Our woven straps are easily interchangeable and are also popular with certain segments of our customer base. You can give it a very nautical look with a woven strap or more of a field watch look with an earth tone color. And I really think, as this is such a major appeal to Gash and me, the ability to interchange straps and give our watches different “looks” has become quite popular with our customer base.
We get asked fairly often about mechanical or automatic watches. We do have a very nice watch featuring an automatic ETA 2836 movement, and it is a GMT watch we call the Fleetmaster. It is one of a kind. Our watchmaker modified the ETA 2836 to perform a GMT function, with date set at 4 o’clock on the dial. A GMT feature allows you to set an extra time zone (or two if you use the bezel), and this feature is used often by pilots or captains who travel often and cross time zones regularly. We are starting to see sales of our GMT pick up, so rolling out a new design using another automatic movement could be in the works very soon for all the traditional automatic watch enthusiasts out there!
I am ecstatic about the future of our business. We continue to grow and we see our logos and watches popping up everywhere. In fact, just this morning we shipped watches to California and Hawaii—last week to a fishing tournament in Australia! Our customers give us great feedback and we love what we do. One of our popular hashtags among customers has been #timewellspent. We aim to embody this principle in everything we do. Gash and his wife have three kids as do Britt and myself, and as parents we have that innate responsibility to pass on the things we love about life to our children. Our watches are about a lifestyle, a passion for the outdoors, for golf, fishing, hunting, surfing, cycling, sailing, hiking, and spending time on the water or course with family and friends. Our watches are reminders that time is valuable, and time well spent is time with the ones we love doing the things we love to do!
President and Founder, Hook + Gaff