How a Spaceship Watch Raised Almost $1 Million on Kickstarter

·4 min read

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I’m trying to figure out the most mystifying element in this entire sequence of events:

  • That today—in the year 2023—I’m writing about Kickstarter watches, long after the category seemed to be coffin-flop fodder.

  • That the watch in question has raised nearly a million dollars! ($914,646 at the time of this writing.)

  • That the piece putting Kickstarter back on the map is a funky, Millennium Falcon-looking watch.

Something very curious happened last weekend. Suddenly my Instagram feed was blowing up with discussion around a new watch brand called Argon, which got coverage from popular watch blogs like Worn & Wound, Fratello, and Monochrome. The firm’s debut watch, the Spaceone—which comes in stainless steel, blue steel, and black forged carbon—blew past its original funding goal of $100,000, and is now the first relevant watch to come out of Kickstarter in some time. “This design resonated because of the crazy shape and also the cool jumping complication which animate the hour disc,”said Guillaume Laidet, Argon’s co-founder. “Moreover, it is very easy to wear—even for small wrists—because there are no lugs.”

The shape is certainly crazy; it’s the watch mom is talking about when she says you already have MB&F at home. (That’s not a dig—someone had to make a spaceship watch that doesn’t cost six figures like MB&F’s!) “We wanted to make affordable what you are used to seeing in high independent watchmakers’ collections,” Laidet said.

Argon isn’t the type of brand that usually makes hay on Kickstarter. For so long, brands that ruled the space tended to focus on near-replicas of industry icons like the Royal Oak and GMT. Other successful watch projects leaned into gimmicks, pumping out pieces made out of “rocket material,” or classic-looking smartwatches that can control the music on your smartphone via its pushers.

Kickstarter was quite a thriving space for watch brands at one point. “It got really crowded,” said Ariel Adams, the founder of aBlogtoWatch, which documented the phenomenon closely, and used to frequently work with these new brands on sponsored posts. (Tellingly, the site hasn’t posted a sponsored story like that since 2020.) “It was like a feeding frenzy.”

According to Watch Pro, watch projects on Kickstarter raised a monumental 31,810,783 Swiss francs in 2017, but that number dropped precipitously over the next few years. Funding for watch projects fell to 18,843,135, 17,029,546, and 11,828,725 Swiss francs in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Naturally, the number of successful projects dipped too: from 93  in 2017 to just 38 in 2020. (Kickstarter did not respond to a request for more recent figures.) Adams remembers the phenomenon reaching its peak sometime around 2015, when the Pebble—remember that!—raised over $20 million.

So what happened? People started to lose faith in the Kickstarter model. What at first seems really novel—like you’re getting in on the ground floor of something—quickly sours when a project you backed results in an inferior product to what was advertised, or worse, it never delivers at all. Adams points out, however, that while Kickstarter may have lost its luster, it helped introduce collectors to a buying behavior that’s stuck. “The idea of pre-ordering is alive and healthy,” Adams said. “Is it happening on Kickstarter? Not necessarily.”

So…is Kickstarter so back? Probably not. Argon seems like more of a one-off than a trendsetter. A couple of days before our interview, Adams recorded a podcast episode with Theo Auffret, Argon’s other co-founder. “Theo truly admitted, ‘We didn't need to use Kickstarter, we could have done it ourselves,’” Adams said.

But Laidet saw Kickstarter as a way to reach consumers beyond the core watch community: “We used Kickstarter as a tool to reach not only the watch nerds, but also the design and space aficionados,” he said. “But nothing would have been possible without the watch community and all the watch meetups we did to introduce the prototypes.”

As Auffret admitted himself, Argon didn’t need Kickstarter to launch the Spaceone. Laidet has a long resume in the watch world, spanning stints at Zenith, Girard-Perregaux, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, as well as other funded Kickstarter projects like William L. 1985. Auffret, meanwhile, is a former recipient of the F.P. Journe Young Watchmaker’s Award. The duo came up with a novel design and offered it up at an unprecedented price—collectors would’ve lined up to buy the watch either way. Still, it is fun to click over to Argon’s Kickstarter page every few hours and see the dollar amount get higher and higher.

Originally Appeared on GQ