When it comes to staggering productivity and hyper-organised multi-tasking, not many can compete with Sherrie Han. Not only did she launch a watch microbrand for women in the midst of a global pandemic, she did so while holding down a full-time job as a senior associate at Tzedek Law LLC. Oh, and she’s had no prior experience with watchmaking or designing, and was heavily pregnant with her first child at the time.
Han’s story is not about having it all, but doing it all, and it started with a single watch servicing workshop she took on a whim to clear her mind of work. Newly enchanted by the world of mechanical watchmaking, she launched a successful month-long Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of 2020, and The Eliana Timekeeper was born, right alongside the daughter she named the business after.
Crafted using dials from the US, movements from Japan, and cases, straps and assembly from China, The Eliana Timekeeper offers affordable and elegant automatic timepieces for women, and so far its biggest fans are from Singapore and Japan. We find out how she did it so that you won’t have any excuses to leave any dreams on the back burner.
What was it about the workshop that sparked your interest in mechanical watches?
The workshop was eight hours long and it taught us the basics of servicing a watch. We had to take apart a Seagull, which was using an ETA 2824 clone, clean the movement’s various parts and put it back together. I was the only girl in the workshop — the others were middle-aged men — and to my surprise I was actually quite good at it. It was amazing to see how, once the mainspring was in place, everything started to work together as one.
And you weren’t interested in horology before that?
I never thought of myself as someone who could appreciate it, because it always seemed so high brow. As a kid I only liked your typical quartz watches and Casios, but interestingly, my real passion was in taking things apart. I enjoyed dismantling and reassembling my toys more than I enjoyed playing with them — so much so that my parents were always giving me broken things to tinker with. Even the name I used for my email address when I was in primary school was “scotchtape”!
Did launching your business during the pandemic cause any problems?
The unforeseen problems that we faced during the manufacturing stage proved more challenging than tackling the pandemic. Not long after we concluded a negotiation with a US supplier to have them coat our dials, they came back to us saying they had signed an exclusive agreement with a larger watch company. We were cut off. They still sent us the materials out of goodwill but couldn’t help us coat it so we had to find others to help us.
Secondly, Miyoto discontinued the Miyota 6T28 movement that we’ve been using so we were forced to buy up the existing movements at three times the original price. We knew the ladies’ watch market was probably not ready for a watch that was too expensive so we decided to absorb the extra cost.
On top of all that, the US-China trade war meant that we couldn’t send our materials from the US straight to the assembly line in China, so we had to reroute them through Singapore first. All of these things happened around the same time, and there was a moment when I wondered if it even made sense for me to go through with it.
We’re glad you did. Is this a one-woman show?
I pretty much drive this whole thing — I design the watches, reach out to suppliers and maintain those relationships — but I have very good friends who have helped me along the way. One of them assists me with marketing because I’m not very good at social media. It was only after I started an official Instagram account for The Eliana Timekeeper that I realised there was such a thing as Instagram stories. Then I have another friend who helps me with costing and some back-end stuff. They both share the same vision as I do, so that’s nice.
And what vision is that?
To introduce more women to the beauty of mechanical watches, and to further education in that regard. By growing this community, we can eventually manufacture more high-quality and interesting watches. Women are not being offered the same range of products as men; before we can create that range, we need a market that understands the value of mechanical watches. That is my long-term goal for the brand.
What about the short term?
Our focus now is on manufacturing our second collection. But my intermediate dream is to have everything fully made in Singapore. I started looking into Seiko movements instead and I was excited to learn that the company actually has a movement factory here. I want to try and find other local partners to help us manufacture the rest of the parts for our watches.