Mick Mooren is only 19 years old but he’s already launched his own automatic timepiece, become a hit on global watch blogs and has taken the Netherlands by storm. He speaks to Kathryn Bishop.
There is an old saying that states you should do what you love and love what you do. In this case of Mick Mooren it could not be truer. He might only be 19 years old but he’s launched his own watch brand and, boy, does he seem to love it.
For Mooren, it all began four years ago when he was 15. At an age when most of us spend our Saturdays in town or hanging around in the park, Mooren was becoming ever-more engrossed in his father’s watch magazines.
“My father worked as a goldsmith at a jewellery store so he regularly brought watch magazines home and I started reading them and was intrigued by the mechanical watches and by their special designs,” explains Mooren.
Next came the internet, where Mooren was introduced to a world of watchmaking; watch blogs, brands and opinion. The more he read, the more interested he became in how a timepiece was created. “I especially read a lot about the technical part of watches so I decided to get my hands on a mechanical watch and I made myself acquainted with it.”
Mooren had just a few simple tools in the very beginning of his watchmaking explorations, but little did he know that half a year later the direction of his young life would be changed, thanks to a kind gift from a distant relative.
“At 17 I was given an old watchmaker’s workbench with a lot of tools, watches and equipment by an uncle of my father,” explains Mooren. “He was too old to be able to keep watchmaking and gave it to me because he knew that his tools and workbench would still be used.”
So Mooren got down to work, busying himself with an old movement and steadily learning from taking it apart and rebuilding it.
Interestingly, despite being so passionate about watchmaking, Mooren has never taken any formal training classes or studied watchmaking on an official course. In fact, it is a book that has become his bible of sorts. A dog-eared 1950s manual called Modern Watch Repairing by H. Jendritzki has become his companion on his journey into the watchmakers’ world.
“I was always dreaming about making my own watches, but that seemed almost impossible at that moment in time,” he says. “At an age of 17 I found an old Zenith El Primero through a watchmaker who was an acquaintance of my father. The watch was in very poor condition; it was rusty, it had broken parts, everything was heavily damaged and it was clear that the watch had water damage.”
The watch presented a Mooren with his first challenge and he snapped up the timepiece and took it home with a plan to restore it to former glory. Carefully, he went about hand-cleaning every part of the watch.
“After an awful lot of work, I finally succeeded; the watch was running again and I refurbished the case and hands of the watch. The only problem was that the dial had lost its colour. I decided to write a letter to the chief executive of Zenith, Jean-Frederic Dufour, to tell him about the watch I repaired and to ask him whether he could get me a new dial to fully finish the watch.”
In what was a moment straight from Jim’ll Fix It, Mooren later received a short hand-written letter from Dufour’s office. “He rewarded me for my patience and dedication and he also included a new dial,” Mooren enthuses. “I posted that story on [watch forum] Watchuseek and I received tons of messages. A lot of blogs and forums all over the world wrote about my story.”
It’s not often that a brand with as high a profile as Zenith would take time out to reply to such a request, let alone the chief executive offer his own support, but it was this small gesture that led to something huge for Mooren: the decision to launch his own watch brand.
“Because of the positive messages I decided to just go for it and to take the step of starting my own watch brand,” he explains. “Based on all my previous sketches I made one definite design – the New Vintage.”
With this design in mind Mooren put the wheels in motion to create the first ticking timepiece under the Mooren brand name. But being an independent watchmaker with no previous experience of the watch industry, he was already up against it when it came to finding companies to work with; it is never an easy process to reach out to casemakers and movement manufacturers as a new brand with a limited budget to work with.
“The biggest challenge was to find a casemaker who could produce a small quantity for an affordable price. Luckily, I met someone through a Dutch watch forum who works as an engineer for ASML and he offered to make the technical drawings for me.”
This stroke of luck was a cost-saving coup for Mooren and also helped him present official drawings to casemakers that would ensure his quotes were as precise as possible. He spent three to four months contacting numerous companies but his enquiries were often rebuffed due to the small quantities he required and his limited launch budget. But it was the Germans – never the type to run from a technical or manufacturing challenge – that came through for the young watchmaker.
“I contacted Ickler, a German casemaker and I explained my idea and the difficulty with costs and quantity and I received a reply and they were willing to produce a quantity of just 50 pieces for a fair price,” he says. “That was really awesome, because that enabled me to finally give a green light to the whole project.”
Mooren spent about 10 months working on the whole manufacturing process, from the initial sketches through to the final product. After making technical drawings he went on the hunt for his various manufacturers, finally launching the timepiece on October 15 last year, revealing the New Vintage model.
His highlight of this journey was, expectedly, the final product that he could strap to his wrist and wear with pride.
“It is great to see all the separate parts together and to see how everything works as one whole,” he beams. “Still, every time when I assemble one of my watches I am very satisfied by the look of the finished watch.”
Mooren made 50 models in the first run of New Vintage timepieces – 25 with a black dial and 25 with white, and already has plenty of success to report. Of the debut 50 timepieces about 40 have sold – all in under a year.
This New Vintage houses a Swiss ETA 2824 automatic movement, a German-made leather strap, orange Superluminova on the dial and retails for about £657, offering a highly competitive price for an independent brand’s first output.
“I have based my price on both the costs and the competition and I decided to keep the price relatively low to appeal to more people and to make the watch easier to sell,” he said.
Mooren Watches has secured four retailers in the Netherlands, though Mooren himself is already eyeing potential partners outside of the country, including the UK.
Certainly not one to rest on this debut success he has already begun work on the next Mooren Watch models. Next up? A more high-end timepiece.
“I am now working on producing an improved model of the New Vintage,” he explains. “With this improved model I want to take the watch to a slightly higher sector, so besides the regular model, I am also planning to produce two limited editions of 10 pieces each, one in matt black [a DLC coating] and one in pink gold.”
He says the next collection of more high-end models will be “even better”, resulting in higher price points. “I noticed that I can appeal to another market with a higher price, high-end product [and] I think that my product fits better in that market,” Mooren states. “The improved New Vintage will probably cost between €1,099 and €1,199, though the two limited editions will be more expensive.”
When asked to hypothesise where he might be in the future – a question that most teenagers would probably dread – Mooren is decidedly confident but also a realist, noting that cash will be the conduit to make his dream come true.
“I hope that I will be able to find a good selection of retailers for my product around the globe, and I hope to make Mooren into a known brand in the worldwide watch industry. As part of that, I would like to design and make a larger collection of Mooren watches.”
An inspiration to many in the industry, Mooren has show that with hard work, persistence and good old passion sometimes the things we really want can happen. And it seems the industry is already backing this young man as one to watch.
This article was taken from the September 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.