The exclusive Life of a WIS interview series continues with my next guest: Lee Scott, Founder of Vulcan Watch Straps. Stay tuned for a strap review of the Azure Blue strap and find out how Vulcan Watch Straps compares to Rubber B and Everest Bands!
BRIAN: Thank you Lee for taking the time to do this interview. We are very excited to learn more about your new brand and watch straps for Rolex. What made you decide to start your own rubber watch strap brand?
LEE: I have always wanted to bring some kind of product to market. I am a mechanical engineer and product designer and I have designed a few products for the luxury market, so I know what it takes. I have been a watch collector for a number of years and I wanted to combine a passion with my skills and my ambition to bring a product to market. I own a number of Rolex watches and thought it would be a great idea to produce rubber straps for them. So I was on the beach in Portugal last summer and I was wearing a Hublot Big Bang. I always wear my watches at the beach and at the pool and I looked down at the rubber strap on the Hublot. I thought, you know the other rubber watch manufacturers out there, I think I can do a whole lot better. So I decided that I was going to bring my own product to market and try to do it better than the competition, giving the public more rubber strap choices for Rolex.
What makes Vulcan straps different from Rubber B or Everest Bands straps?
It is a valid question and a question I am asked a lot. There are a number of differences. In an age where everyone wants to be different, we allow our clients to completely customize their strap colors and buckle material. Our clients can choose from a range of 7 different colors:
Using our online real time customization tool on our website, our clients can choose a base color of their strap from one of the options above and then combine this with different color strap retainers if they wish, or the same color as the strap. Then to finish the strap design, our clients can choose from 316 Stainless Steel Polished, 316 Stainless Steel Brushed, or a Black polished ceramic buckle. These options give our clients a huge range of choices to match their Rolex or their style in any way they please.
On the quality front we also differ from the competitors, our straps are made in a clean room environment in London (alongside NASA and Formula 1 rubber parts) using a single cavity M1 aerospace grade tool to individually manufacture every strap to perfection. A specially developed Vulcanized Rubber is moulded over a precisely manufactured solid watch connector block and buckle end boss to create the perfect strap for our clients. Once a single strap is manufactured and inspected, it is then hand finished in the same factory in London by highly skilled craftsmen, then packaged up in luxury packaging, and shipped to our clients with a 12 month warranty. This ensures our clients are getting the highest quality vulcanized rubber product available for their Rolex.
Your straps are priced slightly higher than Rubber B and Everest Bands, how do you justify the difference?
The difference in price was due to an exchange rate variation on our website. The global exchange rate had moved significantly and the coding on the website was programmed as a set exchange rate. This made the prices look like we were more expensive than Everest and Rubber B to our clients in other countries. In fact, we are not more expensive than Everest or Rubber B, we are in fact cheaper than the competition. We have adjusted the coding on the website and the exchange rate is now tracked in real time. Our base currency is in GBP as we are based in London so this will not change, it is the currency fluctuations which vary the prices for clients in other countries.
The price of our buckle and tang strap is £175 ($229.50)
Everest price is £175.67 ($230)
Rubber B is £183.82 ($240)
So we are actually cheaper than both Everest and Rubber B.
But to be cheaper was never our intention. We did not create the brand in order to compete on price, we created the brand to compete in all areas with the competition from better branding, to a better customer service experience, better packaging and a higher quality watch strap. This is our aim, to produce the best aftermarket rubber straps for Rolex available today.
What is next for Vulcan Watch Straps?
We are currently working on a deployment version of our straps (which utilizes the Rolex deployment clasp rather than a tang and buckle) along with some other colors and interesting color combinations. We have a few other things in the pipeline but we cannot reveal too much at this stage. We are talking to retailers all over the world and have some really big names interested in working with us. So watch this space and hopefully Vulcan Watch Straps will be available in a retailer near you soon.
Will Vulcan Watch Straps make rubber straps for other brands?
Yes, we will be developing a strap for the Tudor Black Bay Heritage initially as our offering to other watch brands. We may in the future look at developing rubber straps for other watch brands too but we need to establish our place with our initial products first, rather than offering everything at once. Once everyone has seen the quality we offer, we can then start developing straps for other brands along with other horology based products.
What is your favorite combination so far (color of rubber strap with which Rolex model)?
There are a huge number of combinations to choose from but I like to be loud, so the Sunset Orange Strap, Onyx Black Retainers, and the Black Ceramic Buckle I think looks great on the Rolex GMT Master II 116710LN. Or a plain combo, I call the “Stealth”, also looks good… which is Onyx Black Strap, Onyx Black Bands, and the Black Ceramic Buckle. This works really well for the subtle look and looks great on the blacked out DLC Rolex customizations available. We have also had a number of customers buy the Azure Blue for the Rolex GMT Master II 116710 BLNR (aka “The Batman”) and combine this with the Onyx Black retainers and the Black ceramic buckle.
Is it true that you lose some of the passion for the industry once you are part of it?
Well if it is I have not experienced that loss of passion yet. I am always driven and looking for a new challenge. This brand has the potential to open lots of doors into other avenues in the horology industry so I think there will be enough to keep me interested for a long time to come. Building a business around your passion is the best way to start any business, then when things get tough, you are less likely to want to quit because times do get tough in business… so it helps to be in a business you consider a hobby rather than a job.
Which watches (or brands) do you currently own?
I currently only own Rolex and Tudor. My collection moving forward will now mainly be focused around Rolex due to the products that we offer. With me owning a number of Rolex watches means I can get all of the photography done easily for our different strap combinations to keep things fresh on social media. I am itching to buy another Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore though. I owned one a while back and absolutely loved it, but liquidated it towards a couple of Rolex watches 3 years ago. My collection will always be predominantly Rolex, with a couple of others thrown in there for good measure.
From your current collection, which watch is your favorite and why?
My favorite from my current collection has to be the Rolex Submariner 116610LV (aka “The Hulk”). I think the green on this watch really pops and gets noticed. The way the green changes in different lights, you can really catch some great tints of green. This coupled with the iconic shape of the Rolex Submariner and the timeless design, just makes the Submariner the watch of choice for me. I wear the 116610LV with the Ice White Vulcan Watch Strap and it looks great, the white on the dial really matches with the Ice White rubber strap.
Which was your first significant watch? Any interesting story or significance behind it?
The first “expensive” watch I bought was a Tag Heuer Indy 500 and that was just because I loved watches. It was a reasonable price, one which I could afford at that time. The significance in this watch is that it was my first Swiss made watch and it opened the door for what would become a passion. I have owned many watches over the years, some of which I wish I never got rid of, but I traded the watches up over the years to get to the collection I have now. One of my ambitions is to buy back every watch I have ever owned to rebuild my collection, but that will be a few years off yet.
Which are your three favorite watch brands right now and why?
Rolex has to be number 1, which is an obvious choice for me. The whole brand is just so iconic and a great brand to collect, especially with the current upward trend in prices on the stainless steel models, they retain their value while you get to wear them.
Audemars Piguet would be my 2nd choice, I really love this brand and I really love bigger watches too, so this really suits my frame and large wrists. The whole Offshore collection I really love, the hexagonal bezel and the waffle dial just look so good.
Richard Mille would be my 3rd choice, I love the brand and the watch designs but they are just a little out of my price range at present. Hopefully I can afford one in the future, it is a goal I have set myself.
In your opinion, which is the most underrated brand?
Tudor, without a doubt is the most underrated watch brand in my opinion. I was even guilty of believing the “poor mans’ Rolex” myth until I actually bought and wore one. I own a Tudor Black Bay Heritage and I absolutely love it. For the money this watch is an absolute bargain. I have owned Omega, Tag, Bell and Ross, and Breitling in the same sort of price range and I have to say that the Tudor surpasses them all. I would say the closest competitor in the mid-range of watches would be the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean, but it is £2K more expensive and I do not believe it is £2K better than the Black Bay. I wrote a blog post about this.
Which is your favorite watch at the moment?
My favorite watch at the moment, which I just cannot get my hands on, is the Rolex Daytona 116500LN. They are going for nearly double retail value on the grey market, which I cannot justify. But I have my name down on a few waiting lists so hopefully I will have one at some point in the not too distant future (I hope).
If you have one, what is your grail piece and why?
I actually have 2 “grail” watches. One is possibly attainable in the shorter term and hopefully the other may be attainable in the long term if I am successful as I am aiming to be in business.
The first attainable watch for me, and possibly my next purchase, will be the Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680. I really love this watch. Not that I do any yachting, but I just love the way the blue and red combine with the stainless. I think it just looks so unique and you do not tend to see a lot of them around, but I guess if you do not move in yachting circles then you will not.
The second watch, which may take a little longer for me to achieve, is the Richard Mille RM050 Felipe Massa. Being a huge Formula One fan, there are a large number of Richard Mille watches in the F1 paddock. Richard Mille sponsors a number of teams and individuals in F1 so I see them a lot on the wrists of the F1 gang. I like these watches as they do not look like anything else, they are really special. The intricacies of the movements and all of the workings, which are visible through the dial, is just first class. The engineering behind the watches is something that I am really interested in too, being a mechanical engineer.
Tell us something about yourself.
I enjoy travelling and with what I do I get to travel the world a fair bit which is nice. I am a huge F1 fan and I have been to many races all over the world, including the season finale a couple of years ago in Abu Dhabi, which was just mind blowing. I bumped into Daniel Riccardo (Red Bull racing driver) in a restaurant on the Thursday before the race weekend. Then to finish the weekend, I actually walked back to my hotel chatting with Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert. So it was a really great F1 weekend for me and certainly my most memorable. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my family and love watching movies.
All images in this post by Vulcan Watch Straps and used with permission.