Myanmar’s First Signature Watch Sports a Vintage Flair
By Lwin Mar Htun 14 February 2019
A young man’s watch-collecting hobby developed into a skill after he learned to assemble and repair them himself. Kyaw Thura Naung eventually developed his own brand, Mandalay Watch, and it has become highly sought after.
“Back in 2014, when I was studying in a foundation year program in Manchester [in the U.K.], I started to dream about owning a watch,” said Mandalay Watch Company founder Kyaw Thura Naung, who is currently in his final year of a Trade and Business Communication major at the University of Portsmouth in the same country.
He realized that he was more than just a watch collector and decided to have a try at creating his own brand.
“First, I drew the watch body case design using AutoCAD [design software] and created the case in the engineering lab of the university. That was the moment I realized I could create a Myanmar-brand watch.”
Starting in January 2018, he produced 40 exclusive watches called Vintage1 and sold them to his friends.
“The feedback was great. So I created a Facebook page and website. I started publicly posting photos of the first Mandalay Watch product [Vintage1] and luckily they went viral in a day,” Kyaw Thura Naung said.
Soon he started receiving emails and messages inquiring about his watches.
The first order he received was from a customer in Singapore. He shipped the watch there immediately. The feedback has been amazing and has motivated him to create more products, he said.
“The feedback was positive; the customer thanked me for creating a unique Burmese watch brand and that at this price, the watch is more than amazing, though he said the packaging should be improved. ‘Please create more! That’s all,’” he recalled the customer saying.
Kyaw Thura Naung added, “It was the proudest moment of my life; I couldn’t ask for more. Dreams do come true.”
Initially, the watch was named Rangoon Watch, but he decided that Mandalay Watch would be a better name, as it was the country’s last royal capital and has a richer history than Yangon. So, he changed the brand name.
Another hobby of Kyaw Thura Naung is collecting vintage products. Having observed that Myanmar’s culture isn’t represented in a watch brand, he decided to create a traditional vintage design.
“I would say I am a little bit old fashioned. I’ve always liked to collect vintage products. There’s no watch brand that represents Myanmar. The traditional vintage design matches the name Mandalay perfectly,” he said.
He decided to produce Mandalay Watch models with unique vintage designs influenced by Myanmar cultural themes.
Their first design was the Vintage1. The second design, Amara Edition, was a hit with local people because of its watch strap made from traditional fabric in a Cheik design.
“I hadn’t thought about women’s watch designs until some customers asked for lady-sized watches. In the market, there are a variety of lady’s watches in many designs. I went through Pinterest looking at vintage Burmese fashion and noticed Burmese women proudly wearing the Chate longyi. That was the inspiration for the Amara Edition,” Kyaw Thura Naung said.
The other design produced by Mandalay Watch is the Myanmarsar Edition featuring Burmese lettering.
Like the creators of other local brands, Kyaw Thura Naung faced some difficulties getting started.
“The first problem was deciding the price. Our watches are sold for around US$65, or around 100,000 kyats. We noticed that people pay this price for famous brands, but we use high quality components as much as possible, even though we could get a higher margin if we used components that weren’t so good,” Kyaw Thura Naung said.
He added, “Customers can trust our product quality. The [priority is on] quality over quantity.”
The major problem he faces is that the brand doesn’t have its own showroom and is sold exclusively online. Many people want to see the product first before purchasing it.
“That’s the major problem but now we’ve managed to sell our watches at Yangoods outlets in Yangon and Mandalay,” Kyaw Thura Naung said.
Mandalay Watch is a local brand but the basic components needed for the watches are ordered from Switzerland and assembled in Hong Kong.
“At this moment, to create the watch in Myanmar is not easy. The basic components we need for the watches are not available. Even if they are available, the price is far beyond what we expected. So with the sources I have, I ordered the watch movements [the internal mechanisms] from Ronda, a watch movement manufacturer in Switzerland and sent them to an assembly factory in Hong Kong. That Hong Kong factory produces watches for some of the major companies in Europe,” he explained.
He added that, “The rest of the components are from the Far East, and final inspection is done in Yangon. This process is now used by most watch companies.”
The Myanmarsar Edition is a limited edition of 1,200 pieces. The other two models are not limited editions.
Currently, the watches can be ordered at Mandalay Watch Company’s Facebook page or purchased at Yangoods outlets. For international customers, the company is in the process of updating its website to accommodate international delivery and payment.
“It has been one year since we began operating. Our plan is to have a showroom within three years, as well as to get into the global watch market. So, just wait; new things are coming,” Kyaw Thura Naung said.