If you had to make and “elevator pitch” of Lew and Huey, what would you say?

They’re serious watches for people who don’t take themselves or their watches all that seriously. Too many brands put too much effort into adding gravitas to their aura with their marketing. It’s just a watch!!! Our designs are handsome, and they’re a good value. We want the brand to be fun, for people to love their watch without worrying about what anyone else thinks about the brand.

Who are the people behind Lew and Huey?

It’s just me – I do all the designs, the fulfillment, the marketing, everything. My wife helps out a little. But we get a ton of support from people on Watchuseek.com and other forums. I think a lot of people feel a certain pride about the brand, because they helped shape the designs and the brand attitude. I like that. It’s “the people’s watch.

Chris Vail
Chris Vail

How did you get the idea and inspiration for your designs?

I take a lot of inspiration from great watch designs I see – the Zenith El Primero, the Omega Aqua Terra, the Stowa Sea Time, the Patek Philippe Nautilus. All of my designs incorporate some styling cues from other designs, but I still try to make each design original in its own right. They’re not homages or copies of anything else, but they do pay homage with their style.

Each design is also trying to answer some question, like “What would a modern flieger look like?” or “What would be the ultimate in versatile design, something you could wear to the office or on vacation?” 

Who is your target audience?

I never thought about it. Men, I guess, although people keep asking me to make a woman’s watch. I think people tend to look at watches as either being dress watches, or sport watches, but those labels don’t always fit perfectly. I think there are a lot of people who work in more casual environments, and appreciate clothes and accessories with a lot of versatility. That’s the sort of look I’m generally going for with the designs – something that can be dressed up or dressed down.

But they’re affordable watches, so obviously they’re for people who appreciate value. If someone collects Rolexes or Omegas, they may not “get” the brand, with our name and logo. I think of our watches as a smart alternative to the fashion watches or Invictas in the same price range.

So, the target audience – smart people who appreciate value and versatile style, and don’t need a prestigious brand name to enjoy their watch.

Acionna, Silver, White & Red
Acionna, Silver, White & Red

What is the essence of your watches and what makes them unique?

I’m not sure. It’s probably for other people to say. For me, I say a lot, “you’re not the boss of me” – I like to do my own thing, and do things my way. I could make another Rolex Submariner homage, but I think that’s boring. There are plenty of RolSub homages already. I try to do different things with my designs, but it’s impossible to always break new ground. Everything’s been done one way or the other. 

So I take the styling cues from watch designs I admire and try to re-combine them in a fresh way. It’s almost like I’m commenting on the entire history of watch design, like people liking posts on facebook or instagram – I’m saying, “I like these lugs on this Omega, I like the angular shape of this Stowa, I like this style from the ’70s.” If everything’s been done, then how can I do something differently? That’s a question I try to answer with each design.

What has been the most challenging part of your process?

Without a doubt, dealing with the success itself. I expected criticism, and I was ready for it. I wasn’t prepared for the level of praise that’s been heaped upon me and my brand. People write me messages or comment that I’ve inspired them in some way. I think of myself as a very regular guy, and I’m never really satisfied with anything I do, so it was hard for me to accept that so many people really liked what I was doing. It’s taken me a while to make the appropriate adjustment and accept that this is real, it’s actually happening, and I have to act like the owner of a successful (so far) brand.

That said, I think if the brand is going to continue to be successful, then I can’t lose the attitude that pushed me to do things and gave the brand its attitude. Everything I do, I’m doing for the first time, it’s all a learning experience.

Design is hard too, especially since I haven’t just been making copycat designs. If I was just going to make a RolSub homage, it would be easier. We know what they look like. But I’m always trying to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist – something with a case like this, lugs like that, dial like this, hands like that, but in these colors, in this size, etc, etc. 

Acionna, Black, White & Red
Acionna, Black, White & Red

Where do you want to take Lew & Huey?

Right now I’m still just looking right in front of me, and the long term stuff is somewhat vague. My goal for next year is to sell enough watches that I can do this and only this – the business supports itself and my family. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit, I suppose, but I think there are two very different roads I could go down.

If I want the business to be really huge, it would mean abandoning what’s been driving the success so far – the value, the attitude, staying very close to my customers. I can’t do that if we’re going to sell a hundred thousand watches per year. I’d have to hire designers, outsource fulfillment, hire customer service people, lower my costs, increase my prices, etc. In short, I’d have to go from being a one-man micro-brand to being a corporation – cold, impersonal, analytical.

It sounds great when I think of those huge numbers, and the money that comes with them, but I don’t see myself doing that. Right now I work from home, by myself. My wife and sons help me a little bit, but I don’t need any employees. My business is simple. I figure I could manage it this way up to maybe 6,000 watches per year. I’d make more than enough money, but still have a “lifestyle” business, where I could shut everything down and take a vacation for a week or two, without worrying about what’s going on back at my office. 

Money isn’t everything, especially once your basic needs are taken care of. I’m more interested in doing something I enjoy, without feeling pressure from having a boss or shareholders. Right now, I can do whatever I want when it comes to design and how I take care of my customers. My customers and my family are my only stakeholders, and they’re the only ones I think I need to care about.

Chris Vail

Owner, Lew & Huey Watch Company

Comments are closed.