Earlier in the year we went hands-on with one of the most interesting and cool revival watches we’ve seen in recent years, the Airain Type 20. Resurrected by the same team behind the Lebois & Co revival, headed by Tom van Wijlick, Airain is now entering the production phase of its hand-wound, reissue pilot’s chronograph. On the other hand, things haven’t been exactly slow for Lebois & Co either, as the new Heritage Chronograph is in development as well. And in typical fashion, Tom does things a little different and involves you, the watch community, for help designing the new collection just as he did with the Airain. Perfect timing to catch up with Tom again, and see what’s what with both brands.
Airain and Lebois & Co are part of the same company, Compagnie des Montres Lebois & Cie, which was founded by Tom just ahead of the revival of the Airain name. Through a series of articles we’ve shared the story of Tom and his team in developing both brands and creating new collections, and the process has been very intriguing to see unfold!
Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME – Hi Tom, thanks for sitting down with us. We’ve recently learned you’ve quit your job and are now working full-time on Airain and Lebois & Co. Congratulations on such a big step! The time was finally right?
Tom van Wijlick, Founder of Airain and Lebois & Co – Thanks! Yes, the time was really right! With a nice investment via Eureeca earlier this year and a very successful launch of Airain with the new Type 20, it was indeed the right moment to step 100% into the Company. And then we also had the upcoming introduction of the Heritage Chronograph of Lebois & Co, our other brand. So plenty to focus our attention on.
How has it been to balance the work between the two brands and keep a clear focus on what needs to be done?
Actually, that’s going very well. I think it helps that we make no secret of the fact that we have multiple brands. They even go hand in hand and our customers are completely used to the fact that we work this way. However, we do make sure that the projects of both brands are not in the same phase since that could be confusing. For example, at Airain we have just started production of the new Type 20 while the Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph is still in the development phase and we have yet to make any prototypes there.
The Airain Type 20 Re-edition has been getting some positive feedback, very good. How’s the launch coming along?
Frankly, we couldn’t have hoped for more. We indeed received very positive feedback on our prototypes which then resulted in a great number of pre-orders. Meanwhile, production has started which takes longer than expected but we hope to have the watches ready by the end of May 2022.
You’re also in the middle of developing the Lebois & Co Heritage Chronograph. Any updates for us to know about at the moment?
Yes, the Heritage Chronograph is the first Lebois & Co watch for which we went back to an original design of the brand. Because of the many interesting versions and variations that exist, we decided to let our CoLAB community decide which design we should bring back. Meanwhile, we are in the final stage of the design phase and presented a quartet of timepieces. These are now available for pre-order in the first of two pre-order rounds which end on January 7th. Then we will start making prototypes and present them in the next CoLAB step. Interest during these first days has been overwhelming, with a strong preference for ref 324.478 (salmon-coloured dial with applied indexes) which promises to be an instant classic.
If you’re looking back at the past two or three years, what has been the most challenging for you as a young company?
It must be finding the balance between working towards your goal and finding the funds and time to do so. We always tend to aim high. To name a few; the OC+ certification for our Venturist, the almost 1:1 execution of the Airain Type 20 compared to the original including hesalite crystal, sourcing the right column-wheel chronograph movement with flyback complication and for the Heritage Chronograph a column-wheel chronograph movement again. And of course, the Digital Twin with which we are going to record and secure each of our watches in the blockchain with all the benefits that come with it. All these choices ensure that we are not taking the easiest path but certainly an interesting one…
How much has the pandemic impacted you, and would you have done things differently if Covid-19 hadn’t happened?
The pandemic has a particularly noticeable impact on all the lead times of our productions but also on a number of choices we made. As far as the latter is concerned; we were of course already doing a lot digitally and that has only become more so. Our CoLAB collaboration concept fitted in perfectly with this. ‘Evenings with Lebois’ became ‘Virtual Coffee Catch-ups’, or in other words, we sought opportunities rather than letting impossibilities hold us back. Because we can’t meet up for real-life coffee catch-ups, we’ve decided to offer participants a cup of coffee (or any other beverage) on our expense in these Virtual Coffee Catch-Ups.
What has been your biggest personal lessons from this amazing journey so far? Do you have advice for people looking to venture into doing something similar?
Actually very cliché but they are all true: go for it, make mistakes and learn from them. Get up and try again. Furthermore, I think it’s about surprising your clients and giving them the treatment you like to receive yourself. And beyond that, get advice and feedback on your plans. By this, I don’t mean asking your mother or your very best friend. They might still be biased and want to spare you. No, ask for feedback from people who have your best interests at heart but dare to be critical. Think of entrepreneurs who know how hard it is to put a company or idea on the market but also industry experts who know what works and what doesn’t. It helped me a lot and still does…
If we look past the Heritage Chronograph, what lies ahead for Lebois & Co, or Airain for that matter? Anything you can share at the moment?
For Lebois & Co I can’t give anything away yet but for Airain I can say that there we are again looking at the past for inspiration for our next watch.