Interview Hakim El Kadiri – Founder of Elka Watches - Watchisthis
It’s been a long time, so let me first of all wish you a very happy new year 2023.I was in the middle of work and moving so it’s true that I haven’t shared many articles with you lately.And that’s why we start January with an interview with Hakim El Kadiri, CEO and Founder of Elka Watch.
Could you tell us a bit about you and about your history with watches?I received my first watch from my grandfather when I was around 5. It is a souvenir that I have anchored somewhere in my spirit. Having said this I have no memory of the brand nor anything more than this vision, of wearing a watch.In early 80’s I dreamt of getting a Casio with a calculating machine- which I did !Then during years, I had no watch, up to the day I wanted to travel around the world. That was in 1990 and I bought a PoP Swatch.Then back from my trip, I think I bought a new Swatch Automatic, or Chrono each 6 months … up to the day I started working for Swatch in January 1998.Since then I have worked for Swatch, Hamilton, Rado (+Endura : Timberland, Asics, and Mango).When did the idea to relaunch a brand come to you? And when did you start working on it ?When I left the Swatch Group in January 2021, I had no real idea what to do! But frankly after 23 years in the watch industry developing watches with passion, I had no other choice!At the beginning it was for the fun! For me, developing something from scratch, trying to develop few prototypes, in working on all the details around the product. Slowly and slowly I was also looking for a name, I checked in a huge list of watch names, still being produced and defunct ones and found “Elka Watch en Clock Amsterdam”. My name being El Kadiri “Elka” is my surname and since the brand name was deleted in 2012 I could protect the name ELKA under various classifications.
Could you tell us a bit more about the history of Elka Watches?The new ELKA Watch Co. of 2022 has no connection with the defunct Amsterdam brand. I just wanted to pay a tribute to the old Dutch brand with the first 2 models.About them :Founded in 1877 in Amsterdam by Eliazer Kiek, inventor of the tactile watch for the blind and watchmaker to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. In 1949, the Elka Watch opened its Swiss branch in La Chaux-de-Fonds (it produced wristwatches of course but also pocket watches, braille watches, chronographs, chess and signal clocks). Then, in the mid-1970s, the brand disappeared along with Ernst Louis Kiek, grandson and last heir.What’s the most important thing in the process of creating your timepieces?To make it with passion. In fact, I have always been passionate about developing products, for all the brand I was working for. Developing a watch that will please, a watch with a spirit, a story behind, even if it is a new brand the watch has to tell a story.What steps do you go through to develop and produce them?In this project, I want to understand everything, I’m not a designer, but I wanted to design it myself, to make rough technical drawings of the case, the hands the dial, ..to contact suppliers, to develop each component separately with them to ask for quotations, to bring components to the assembler T2, to create the product environment, to follow the photo shootings, to create marketing contents, to create the website from A to Z, to raise funds on Kickstarter and now to have the watches produced and manage the deliveries and think about the next steps!When you’re in a big company you have a dedicated job, here my desire is to learn everything and really get my hands into the project – I frankly enjoy learning new things every day!
From where comes your inspiration concerning the design of your pieces?Since I love the 60s, the products and the aesthetics of that era I have decided to make it my design line for this and future collections. The idea for the models is rooted in watchmaking history, when pocket watches were common.The shape is taken from the shape of a pocket watch. The aim of this design is to have an organic object in hand, something like a pebble, something we want to touch, to feel.The design of the Elka D Series is inspired by a dial created by Ulysse Nardin for the defunct Elka Watch, the same hands, the same applied indexes,The ELKA X Series is inspired by a flight instrument created by Heuer for the defunct Elka Watch. The watch case is the same as for the ELKA D Series, whose shape is taken from that of a pocket watch.2 models, but 2 different characters.
Do you have an anecdote about the design and creation phase of your timepieces?The anecdote is not about the creation of the timepiece but it is the whole story! From the beginning of the project till the outcome of the brand.To start off, I dreamt of developing my own company but at the same time I had a good position in the company before I left, so why leave it? To be independent, to become an entrepreneur…Then the name of the brand !! finding a name that suits me!There will be tons of anecdotes, tons of surprises, but I like that.To go into a little more detail, can you tell us what materials you use, what type of movement, where is the assembly done… etc?The case is in Stainless Steel, as the Crown and the case back,The sapphire is a Chevée box Sapphire Crystal, one of the most complicated shapes in the watch industry:The choice of this type of shape was a must in order to take up the codes of the 60’s, period during which the watch glasses were made in hezalite/Plexiglass, thus formed easily in a mould. The glasses had elegant shapes, they were rounded, they had curves; but the advantage was the malleability of this non-hard material which allowed to do many things, today we are used to scratch resistant watches, so impossible to go back.
But today the manufacture of these shapes is more complicated, requiring diamond tools to be able to machine the material and “sculpt” them to give that old-fashioned visual aspect. The big advantage of this shape is a generous opening on the dial and a thin aspect of the watch, because the walls of the case middle are reduced and replaced by the transparency of the sapphire.The movement is the G100 from La Joux Perret The movement has a power reserve of 68 hours24 jewelsA frequency of 28800 A/H (4Hz)
Could you tell us how your collection is composed and what are the prices of your watches?There is only one case but 2 product lines: the X and the D.The X (pronounce Khi in Greek) is the adventurous version.The D (for Design) is the more classic version.A silver one with applied indexes in rose gold, and a blue version or a grey one both with applied indexes in Rhodium. These three models are equipped with elegant bracelets in semi-embossed leather or Milanese mesh.There are 3 X watch heads and 3 D models.A black one with numbers and hands equipped with Superluminova that looks like burnt tritium, another version with a dark blue dial and white Superluminova and a beige version that remains the color of a pocket watch made by the former brand.Prices are as following:1690.- Chf on Nato1750 .- on Leather1790 .- on Milanese MeshDo you have a favorite piece in your collection?The X02, is the most iconic model from the collection (the model was competing in the Challenger segment for the GPHG).
To launch the project, you were on Kickstarter and we can say that it has been a real success. How do you analyze your campaign?The result was fine, I dreamed about a bit more, but it will help me going ahead with the project- that was the purpose – one thing is sure, I have real friends who supported me to develop this journey.Social networks are really important for microbrands like Elka Watches. Could you let us know how and why do you use them? and what’s your strategy to stand out from other brands in your price range?Social networking is fantastic, you can communicate straightly to your friends, customers, watch lovers, it is huge, even if you start a new company where you have no revenues to invest as it was the case years ago, you can do it now– it is a huge work, it is time consuming, but you know why you are doing it. For the Strategy, you have to be true, honest, and try to communicate it.Let’s talk about distribution. Obviously, you use the direct sales strategy which is better for a young brand like yours. Could you tell us how people can buy your watches? In the future you want to develop a different distribution strategy?I’m trying to work task by task, there are many things to do, from development up to the kickstarter, now I have to deliver the preordered watches!!There is a website: www.Elkawatch.ch, but it is more an informative tool, I have to finalize my 1st production, supply the preorders before being able to supply new watchesI already have an idea with whom I’d like to work as retailers, now to see if they will be interested!!
As you are not in the mass market, do you have an idea of how many watches were already sold? And how many watches do you want to sell per year?My idea is not to manufacture too many watches, I want to do this job with passion…! Let’s wait and see what will be the success of Elka Watch Co. I’ll come back to you in one year!Now and more generally, what are your plans for the future?I already drawn and develop few things…let’s keep it secret!!What aspects of your brand you think people should know more about?The product environment, the 60’s -70’s.The product is the vector, it smells this period, it communicates it.All details of the product are good, everyone expect it, there is no doubt.
OK, now something more personal. For you, what’s the most important thing to find in a watch?I will continue my last sentence in replying this one!The watch is your expression, it communicates who you are and what are your expectations.What you want to show from you, from your personality.A watch is not used anymore to give time, it is your jewel….To finish, are you also a watch collector? If yes, what kind of watches do you collect?I can’t say I’m a watch collector, I was working in this field, I have few of them (Swatch, Hamilton, Rado, Timberland, Asics,) I have just started a new collection with old Elka Watch En Clock from Amsterdam.Last word for you …This journey is incredible, interesting, I’m positive, I hope I’m not the only one to having this idea about Elka Watch Co.Let’s see what’s coming.Thank you for your interview!
You can follow Elka Watch on the social networks :Facebook / InstagramIf you’re interested to buy one of them just click HERE.Jonathan Kopp