The Studio Underd0g Phenomenon: How a Pizza-inspired Watch Served Up a Slice of Happiness
 

The Studio Underd0g Phenomenon: How a Pizza-inspired Watch Served Up a Slice of Happiness

5 min read
Rob Nudds

Brands

Studio Underd0g

Categories

Reviews

Rob Nudds

Brands

Studio Underd0g

Categories

Reviews

A nine-hour long order window. 5,930 watches sold. Approximately £3.5 million through the tills. Not a bad day’s work, in my book…

Studio Underd0g Stand, British Watchmaker's Day
Studio Underd0g Stand, British Watchmaker's Day. Credit: WatchGecko.

Who saw this coming? Almost exactly three years after Studio Underd0g — at the time, a one-man band — burst onto the scene with an inaugural trio of colourful chronographs, the ballooning British outfit is sitting pretty as one of the nation’s most adored brands.

The founder, Richard Benc (rhymes with fence), has recently brought the total of full-time team members up to four but still seems to do as much as he possibly can himself. What he does so well is embody the brand’s irreverent spirit, positioning himself as founder and ambassador with a natural grace that can’t help but recall the dual roles played expertly by H. Moser & Cie.’s CEO, Edouard Meylan.

Studio Underd0g Stand, British Watchmaker's Day
Studio Underd0g Stand, British Watchmaker's Day. Credit: WatchGecko.

While Benc does not have the family name and deep roots in the watchmaking industry that Meylan leverages expertly to Moser’s credit, he is carving for himself and Studio Underd0g a legacy that looks strikingly dissimilar to any other brand on the market.

In fact, so bizarre is Studio Underd0g’s ascension to not just credibility but rockstar status that fellow British makers present at the British Watchmakers Day held on March 9th at London’s charming Lindley Hall, couldn’t help but look on in awe as the brand’s booth commanded crowds several people deep just seconds after the doors to the event swung open. 

Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive
Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

 
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WatchGecko was present at the event in its role as one of the official media partners of the BWD, and was stationed close to the entrance, affording those of us manning the stand with an unimpeded view of the guests as they dashed (quite literally) into the exhibition space.

So fervent was the excitement, one man — the first through the door — looked to challenge the world record for the 60m dash (while wearing a smart pair of Oxfords, no less), as he sprinted full pelt through the hall to reach the booth of the brand whose name now seems something of a misnomer.

Studio Underd0g Stand - Credit WatchGecko

It’s impossible to argue with Rich’s assessment that his brand began life as an underdog, but it has long since outgrown the label. And although I’m not suggesting he rename it “Studio Fav0rite”, it would currently be a more accurate moniker. 

To be honest, I’m not sure I would feel confident making a single suggestion to Rich about what he should do with the brand. He doesn’t need any outside assistance at all. His mind works differently. He’s on his own path. What might have seemed like a crazy endeavour upon which to embark to some, has now been proven a wisely charted course. He began with a dream and through a combination of humour, humility, and finely-honed communication and release strategies, he’s buttoned the lips of his doubters (of which, it is fair to say, there were many).

Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive
Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

 
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Admittedly, it is odd that a brand that launched with a range of three hand-wound chronographs powered by movements from China and with big-eye “bi-compax” dial designs in mouth-watering colour palettes has not just survived but thrived in this market, but there are some very good reasons for it.

Studio Underd0gStudio Underd0g

Studio Underd0gStudio Underd0g

Studio Underd0g Stand at British Watchmaker's Day. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

The most obvious is that the Studio Underd0g brand is fun, self-effacing, and able to speak directly to watch lovers rather than down to them as so many more established (and even equally fresh but far more self-serious) brands tend to. There is a genuine warmth to Rich that shines through in the products he creates. People connect with him and the brand and actively want him to succeed. Secondly, the price of the debut pieces was tantalisingly accessible for a mechanical chronograph (regardless of provenance). Despite the runaway success of the Series 01, the price has remained relatively static, now sitting at £550 for any of the colourways.

Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD ExclusiveStudio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

Additionally, and perhaps the most surprising thing about the watches, is that they are actually good. The dials look wild in pictures and are quirky enough to separate many buyers from their cash without them having seen the watches in the metal. However, the execution of the dials isn’t at all apparent until you see them in real life. This is where the products sing. This is where they take over from the affable brand character, smart communication, and low-hanging price point. Those things may be what encourage consumers to pick up their first Studio Underd0g watch, but it is the watches themselves that are most likely to compel them to buy a second.

Studio Underd0gStudio Underd0g

Studio Underd0gStudio Underd0g

Studio Underd0g Stand at British Watchmaker's Day. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

Perhaps the best example of this surprising level of material quality can be seen in the stellar pizza-inspired, in-person-only edition created in collaboration with Time & Tide. Watchmaking’s very own James Bond (he wouldn’t be the first Aussie to play him, after all) Andrew McUtchen was on location at British Watchmakers’ Day to witness the furore surrounding the sale of the fifty morsels of mechanical wonder Rich had brought along to the show to sell. Better still, Andrew donned the apron and chef’s hat Rich had been rocking while satiating the appetites of his adoring fans.

Curious to see how my own opinion had evolved over the past three years, I went back to read the very first article I wrote about the brand for Fratello on March 10th 2021, which also happened to be one of the brand’s first appearances on an established watch media platform. Pleasingly, it seems I felt very similar then as I do now: I was intrigued and optimistic about the brand’s success but had very little other than the kind of gut feeling brands need a bit of magic to inspire to go on.

Studio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD ExclusiveStudio Underd0g 02SERIES BWD Exclusive. Credit: Studio Underd0g.

And so the story builds and the success rolls on. Wherever Rich chooses to take the brand next, I’ll be glad to follow. And for anyone hoping to emulate the brand’s first three years of existence, good luck, but don’t bet your house on being able to pull it off. To do what Studio Underd0g has done is anything but a paint-by-numbers process. It is a coalescence of talent, vision, and timing, the likes of which will be studied for years but never truly copied. It’s what many of us dream of. The major difference, though, is that Rich is wide awake for his own personal reverie, and that, without doubt, is a good thing for the rest of us.

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Rob Nudds

About the Author: Rob Nudds

Rob started working in the watch industry for the Signet Group, aged 17. Following university, he undertook the WOSTEP course at the British School of Watchmaking, developing a keen interest in watchmaking theory. After graduating, he worked primarily for Omega and Bremont before leaving the bench in 2015 to become Head of Sales for NOMOS Glashütte in the UK. After three years of managing an international retail network that grew to encompass 17 countries, he began writing full-time.

Since then, he has written for aBlogtoWatch, Fratello, Time & Tide, Grail Watch, SJX, Get Bezel, Borro Blog, Jomashop, Bob's Watches, Skolorr, Oracle Time, and Revolution USA.

He currently co-hosts The Real Time Show Podcast (www.therealtime.show) with his friend and long-time collaborator, Alon Ben Joseph of Ace Jewelers, Amsterdam, as well as working with several brands as a consultant in the fields of brand building, product development, global retail strategy, and communications. Follow him on Instagram @robnudds.

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