MING: Be Free To Dare28 September 2020
«We don’t close the doors on any possibility. Doing so just restricts creativity».
This would have been the answer to the last question of our interview, “What will we never see in a MING collection?”; but we chose to use it to open he interview with Ming Thein, one of the six founders and soul of the Malaysian brand, because his words fully express the creative concept that guides this watchmaking collective, unique in the sector.
A concept that goes well with a clear business line, which focuses entirely on online sales; a channel that literally “burns” the availability of watches in real time, decreeing their success (as happened with the diver MING 18.01) and, at the same time, allows to keep sales under control by limiting the parallel market. The watches are assembled, regulated and tested in Switzerland by Manufacture Schwarz Etienne, with the final quality done personally in Malaysia, while for its straps MING entrusts to the French leather craftsman Jean Rousseau Paris.
40 mm Titanium Grade 5 | ETA 2824-2 Modified – 40 Hour Power Reserve
1km Water Resistant | Screw down crown with triple gaskets
Can you tell us why you decided to begin this adventure?
Fundamentally, the six founders were friends with each other and/or MT going back up to 15 years, and watches had always been one of the core parts of that friendship – so it was only natural that when the opportunity presented itself, we might consider a horological venture. In late 2015 the discussion got a bit more serious, with us having gone through the process of commissioning independent watches individually and making more contacts within the industry. We knew that a standard business model would not work because of our newness and lack of access to retailers, but at the same time, the prevailing economic climate was also changing increasingly towards acceptance of online sales. We studied every level of the market from cheap fashion watches with heavy marketing focus to single digit handmade production, but in the end decided to stick with what we knew and produce the kind of watches that we would want to buy: pieces that remained horologically and aesthetically appealing but remained within feasible reach to most collectors. This gave rise to one of the core tenets we continue to observe today: we deliver value, regardless of the price.
Which kind of organization do you have in your company?
Each of the six founders has a role to play pursuant to their individual strengths, though three also have separate business interests that both allow for an external perspective and additional experience to be brought to the table. In addition, we have administrative and customer service staff, and project managers at our main partners who coordinate production. Without Schwarz-Etienne we would have a significantly more difficult task – they are effectively our own in-house production facility, with resources comparable to the bigger brands (e.g. the entire 19-series movement including hairsprings are made by them).
39 mm Titanium Grade 5 | Schwarz-Etienne MSE100.1 – 100 Hours Power Reserve
Sapphire dial, radial gradient from opaque deep blue to transparent
Which are the milestones of MING’s history?
Milestones? I guess that would have to include launching and selling out the first watch, seeing that there was really demand there for the kind of watch we wanted to make; finding SE as partners and convincing them that the crazy stuff we wanted could be done, and would work aesthetically, technically and commercially; being nominated for the GPHG finals in every year of our existence, and winning one of the special awards last year with our entry level watch. There’s hitting break even early on, and reaching a sustainable commercial state. There are the industry firsts like gradient sapphire dials, the sapphire mosaic and other things too early to share. And there’s more we’re on track to hit by the end of the year that are perhaps a bit too early to share for now…
MING 17.06 – Copper
38 mm Steel | ETA 2824-2 Modified | 38 Hours Power Reserve
Composite, multi-layer, three-part sapphire dial in metallic copper
Which is your main inspiration when you think about creating a new watch?
This is easy: what do I want to wear tomorrow? What doesn’t exist yet? What can be done with materials and techniques that has not yet been done?
You definitely entered the market of diver’s watches with the 18.01 and you won the challenge: which are your next projects you are working on?
At any given time there are 30-40 things in various stages of development. Obviously, not all of them make it for various reasons. Giving a design sitting time is very important to make sure you don’t regret it the morning after; the relative size and commitment levels of one project might be enough to sink a company of our size, so we are very careful. That said, by the end of this year we’ll have produced 33 different watches (including prototypes not shown yet and private watches), which is not too bad at all for a 3.5 year old brand in the wrong part of the world! Next on the immediate horizon is the final 19-series, and the next 17; there will be a couple of all-new things next year that don’t sit in existing model lines, but which push the envelope in different ways. That takes us through the end of 2021, and beyond that things remain fluid.
MING 19.02 Worldtimer
39 mm Titanium Grade 5 | Schwarz-Etienne ASE220.1 | 70 Hours Power Reserve
Sapphire dial, radial gradient from opaque black to transparent
What does it mean, today, being an independent watchmaking brand in a market largely dominated by the big luxury groups?
It means offering the choice of something different that’s not dictated by a marketing team, bunch of consultants and risk averse managers – none of which have any real passion for the product. It means that we have the freedom to say no and to design what *we* like; if we’re not excited about our own product and find ourselves thinking we should make things to satisfy a perceived need in others – we stop. That is one of the reasons the diver took so long; we had to satisfy ourselves *and* make sure it wasn’t so left field we sold only six of them. Lastly, it means having to take a number and wait: your order for any components goes right to the back of the queue because almost all suppliers prioritize the big groups first. It’s the reason we have to discontinue or cancel some models – we can’t get components with reasonable cost or lead time.
38 mm Steel | ETA 7001 Modified | 42 Hours Power Reserve
Mix of polished, brushed and blasted surfaces with ‘flying blade’ lugs
Who is the typical MING’s enthusiast and customer? What does he search when he buys one of our watches?
There isn’t one. We don’t make watches for a profile; we make watches for people who like watches. We literally have the widest spread of customers you can imagine; we’ve even sent watches to Reunion Island! The *only* thing I think they have in common is the desire for something different. Beyond that – whether our particular design language appeals or not is very personal.
Is there a brand you particularly admire? Why?
All brands have strengths and weaknesses. If there was any one brand that did it all, we wouldn’t have started MING.
By Davide Passoni