Its fair to say I am selective about posting articles, it could be because life is busy and hectic, it could be because I want this site to be a little bit different and only post what deserves to be posted.
Steven Lee’s “Dufrane Watches” is one of those stories, a story where someone has a path that they need to follow, no matter how long they put it off they always find themselves slowly back on the same path, and eventually what starts off as an idea starts to take form on a piece of paper, and one day turns into a watch.
I caught up Steve to ask him a few questions about his brand, and his journey.
How old are you ?
I am 46 (just had my birthday earlier this month!)
When did you get into watches?
I have always been into watches. This is probably a constant for most micro brand founders… As a child, I was always infatuated with watches. There was something magical about “controlling” time. At least, that’s what I thought back then. I started collecting watches at probably 7 or 8 years old, and at that time they were digital. I still have my first Pulsar digital watch…
What was the first watch that you owned and loved?
This is covered in that blog post, but my first “nice” watch was a Seiko Kinetic.
Do you still have it?
I still have my original watch, a Pulsar. But sadly, my Seiko left with an ex-girlfriend…
What is your brief history before watches?
I studied aviation in university and flew for a corporation after I graduated. However, I found out that particular lifestyle wasn’t quite what I wanted, so I started a career in sales and have been in technology, enterprise sales for 20 years.
Why did you start producing watches?
I started DuFrane Watches in Feb 2016 and the initial piece (Bergstrom) based on several sketches I had drawn over the years, but the production pieces did not arrive until late Dec 2016 . I am self-funded, so I did not crowd source to finance my company, as I believe so thoroughly in it. I have thought of different ways to start working in this industry over many years, however, nothing seemed to actually scratch the itch I had. I am not an engineer or designer by trade, nor am I a watchmaker. I am, however, in love with this industry and deeply connected to it (I have been a collector for many years).
The more research I did, and the more tiresome I grew with my corporate life, the more I realized I simply needed to start my own brand. I have a fairly simply philosophy about the brand, I want to create pieces that help remind folks why they love watches in the first place. I believe this means a simple, yet durable piece that gives the wearer a unique sense of style and confidence, while at the same time it becomes a part of their daily routine.
I will only make manually wound mechanical watches, so each morning just as one goes about their morning routine, part of it is enjoying the process of winding their DuFrane piece.
Tell me about your movements?
The movements are genuine Swiss made ETA 6498-1 manually winding engines. These are absolute workhorse movements that are reliable, accurate and highly respected. I did have the winding gears custom etched with the DuFrane logo, but the movement is standard ETA production. I do have a partner that does final testing and tuning to ensure accuracy.
How did you find the journey of creating your first watch, any advice?
The creative process of the design was very exciting. There are so many tiny elements that make a watch unique, and working on combining your unique style ideas into a functioning piece if very rewarding.
The Bergstrom is a fully custom design, of course there are design elements from a myriad of watches (coin edge bezel, straight lugs, onion-like crown…), but it is not an off-the-shelf case and dial. Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time and money developing this stage and the patience to see the results. Additionally, ask for feedback. Especially from people you know and respect and who will not simply say yes. Getting direct, honest and critical feedback is a requirement.
The process of production can also be tricky. Some of the fundamental aspects to DuFrane is high quality and durability, so I made sure to vet production partners very thoroughly.
How has the Bergstrom been received by the watch world?
I believe it has been well-received. It is a unique piece in that there are very few hand-winding micro brand producers. There have been several blog/review sites that have been very complimentary to the Bergstrom in both design and quality build.
I was hearing concerning feedback with the original strap producer I was using, as many people believed that strap quality didn’t match the high quality of the watch itself, so I had to find and develop a new relationship with a new leather strap expert. And was I lucky to find 922Leather and the amazing work done by Dr. Spitz. This is has been completely resolved.
What direction are you thinking for the next watch, can you give any hints?
I have several concept designs that are ready to turn into full technical drawings, however, I haven’t 100% settled on which piece will be next. Stay tuned!
Is it a full time job for you now or are you still working towards that?
I am about to make it my full-time, dedicated job. I have been in technology sales for many years, but with DuFrane beginning to make traction, I will be able to devote all of my time to the brand over the next month or two.
In what countries did you settle on for manufacture for the various parts?
My partner (Wiegand Custom Watch) has relationships with manufacturers in many locations globally, including Switzerland, China and Japan. However, I do source the movements directly from Switzerland and will continue to only utilize Swiss engines. The leather straps and leather watch wallets are made here in the USA.
Anything else you would like to add?
The watch industry is my passion. I feel very fortunate that it has found me. Even though I was connected to watches at a very early age, I didn’t realize I would finally make a career out of it until I was well into my 40’s.
Our brand’s tagline is “History remembers those who are a little bit different” and this was chosen for two main reasons. First, it’s simply a very real statement and I believe that truly following your dream takes a lot of courage, dedication and devotion. It’s the lucky few who are able to follow this path and to me, makes them a little bit different.
Second, Austin (where we are based) is an amazing city full of energy, music, nature, eclectic style and incredible people. The city markets itself globally as the Live Music Capital of the World, but locally we are know as the “Keep Austin Weird” city. Since I pull many influences from Austin, the tie of a little bit different with keeping Austin weird is all too fitting.
You can find out more using the following links