The exclusive Life of a WIS interview series continues with my next guest: Chase Fancher, Founder of Oak & Oscar. I met Chase for the first time during his visit to Los Angeles last year. Though I had seen many photos of the Burnham (his very first model) on Instagram, I had actually never seen one in person. After playing and dissecting the watch, it is evident that no detail was left to chance. Every detail on the Burnham has been meticulously designed by Chase.
BRIAN: First of all, thank you for being a part of my exclusive Life of a WIS interview series. We are very excited to learn more about you and your brand. Where does the name Oak & Oscar come from?
CHASE: It combines two things I love: bourbon and my dog.
Bourbon is aged in oak barrels. My father’s side of the family is in Louisville, Kentucky and every visit, every holiday, my uncle would let me sample from his bourbon collection. He and his friends, are remarkably passionate about the spirit and their love for it rubbed off on me. I probably have anywhere from 18-25 different kinds of bourbon in my cabinet at any point in time. I’ve had to make room for my wife’s bottle of gin though.
As for Oscar, he’s my unbelievably sweet and rambunctious 3-year old Portuguese water dog. I grew up with dogs. In fact, my first word was my old dog’s name! Dogs have always been part of my life. My mother’s side of the family are based in Philadelphia and run a local dog shelter that’s helped saved hundreds of dogs (and cats and even some horses!) and raised significant capital to further their cause. I wanted to do my part as well – which is why portions of my profit go to a local Chicago shelter, One Tail at a Time.
Bottom line, Oak & Oscar is really just about combining the best things in life; bourbon, dogs and watches! What could be better?!
What made you decide to start your own watch brand?
It is not that same old story that “I couldn’t find a nice watch in my budget… so I decided to make my own.” No, frankly, there’s a watch out there for everyone at every price point. You just have to find it.
For me, the decision to start my own brand is two-fold: 1) I wanted to spend more time with family; 2) I wanted to love my job and be proud of what I was doing. Oak & Oscar is about doing what you love and taking the risk of going out on your own. You have to make big plans.
I previously worked in a ridiculously corporate environment and it just wasn’t me; very little freedom and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great company and I enjoyed my coworkers. I just couldn’t handle the 9-5 style job. Think “The Office” and you’ve got a decent idea of what I was dealing with…
My father really pushed me over the edge though. I remember asking him at Thanksgiving a few years back for advice on what to do. I’d already developed some designs and 3D printed prototypes and was at a crossroads. Either I keep pushing, which required putting some significant skin in the game and committing to make the brand happen, or pull back and let the dream slide. His response to me was, “What would you tell your own kid? Would you tell him to remain in a stable job that you aren’t passionate about or go out and chase your dreams?” I mean… come on. One of the best advice you can possibly give, right? I was pretty much set on Oak & Oscar after that.
I wanted to take control of both my own future and schedule. I love that I can go to my son’s music class or take him to the park whenever I want now. It’s really amazing to be able to spend time with him and help support my wife (who also works full time running her own small business).
What was your inspiration for the design of your first model, the Burnham?
The key things to me that had to be right about the Burnham was the grey sandwich and the combination of all the other design features. I wanted to create a watch that was casual and simple, yet refined and complex. Every detail on the watch has been considered – from the sweeping counter balance to even the serial numbers of the case back (any serial with a 7 in it also has the hash through, a detail carried throughout). You’ll notice new things as you wear the Burnham – always keeps you interested.
What makes Oak & Oscar different from other independent watch companies?
There are a ton of great independent watch brands out there and each offers their own spin on things. It’s a great time to be a watch lover! What makes Oak & Oscar different? Design and quality. I wanted to make a watch that was designed well, that would fit comfortably, was legible, and exuded quality. My suppliers were key. Working with folks like Lum-Tec, Woodnsteel, Defy Mfg,, Soprod, Horween Leather, etc. means that every component is being produced by an expert who’s really damn good at what they do. It was important to me that my brand push the limits of what is expected from a micro-brand and I think I’ve succeeded at that goal.
Were you surprised by the large positive response the Burnham has received so far by watch aficionados?
It’s scary as hell to put yourself out there. To risk a significant amount of capital and go full tilt on a project that is so personal and meaningful. I’ve been absolutely honored by the acceptance in the market and the positive response from aficionados.
What is next for Oak & Oscar?
A second model is in the prototype phase right now. I’m really excited about this one. Continues a very similar brand identity but has an added complication and some other fun bits. Can’t wait to release it!
Is it true that you lose some of the passion for the industry once you are part of it?
I suspect that it could be true for some folks. I’ve been lucky though – my passion for watches and the industry in general has only grown since I’ve started Oak & Oscar. The watch industry is full of great historical significance, wonderful people, and of course amazing watches - putting my stamp on the world of horology is an absolute honor!
When did you discover your passion for watches?
I’ve always loved watches. As a boy I had the ubiquitous calculator watch, a digital dive watch, and everything in-between. I got into mechanical watches as an adult. The idea that you’ve got a little engine on your wrist that keeps time, dates, months, etc. by just the use of gears, springs, and levers is fascinating to me. But what also fascinates me about watches is that they do so much more than just tell time. They can mark a significant occurrence in one’s life like a promotion, they’re passed down from generation to generation, and they can provide an outlet for one’s own personal style. It’s amazing what a watch can do.
Which watches (or brands) do you currently own?
I have a great respect for a ton of brands out there. You’ll find me wearing not only my own watch, the Burnham, but also my Nomos Worldtimer, Rolex ’86 Sea Dweller, Omega Speedmaster Sapphire Sammich, Tudor Black Bay Red, and a vintage Nivada Grenchen Datomaster. I’ve got some other watches as well but those six are my favorite pieces that I own.
All images in this post by Oak & Oscar and used with permission.