Passion, know-how and insights serve as the building blocks to any business. For Dubai-based Omar Chaoui, his experience as a watch collector and watch industry veteran resulted in the creation of his very own watch brand. Magana may well be the new kid on the block as a micro-brand but it has also made immense strides by releasing its first timepiece this month.
According to Omar, the creation of Magana is rooted in the belief of creating and nurturing a community of like-minded individuals. “Magana, we believe that life is all about moments,” he explains. “The quality of each moment is related to how we decide to spend time and with whom. We all know that time is precious, and as we age, its value increases exponentially.”
Those elements form the basis of Magana, which means ‘watch’ in the Darija dialect in Morocco, the birthplace of Omar. Fresh off revealing its first timepiece – a limited edition time and date watch, inspired by the city of Fes, Magana has also pledged its commitment towards sustainability. The brand intends to launch only four products per year, each as a limited edition drop of 212 units and available exclusively on its website.
Every timepiece sold will allow the brand to finance the planting of 212 trees in Sub-Sahara Africa through the amazing NGO Trees for the future. According to Omar, his personal ambition is to plant one complete forest of 180,000 trees every year. In this exclusive interview with AugustMan, we find out more about Magana and what its slated to bring to the watchmaking industry.
What motivated you to roll out Magana this year?
I have been an entrepreneur since the summer of 2018. With a friend of mine, we started an app dedicated to the luxury retail sector. 2019 was a fantastic year, but in 2020, the Global Pandemic hit us real hard. Throughout that year, we could not figure out how to get back on top. Towards the end of the year, an opportunity rose for me to be active again in the watch industry, helping some retailers and brands reduce their inventories. While in Paris on vacation that July, someone tried to steal my Rolex off my wrist.
As I was avoiding him and trying to run away, I crossed the street without looking and was nearly hit by a vehicle. Minutes later, as I sat down, I was hiding my watch in my pocket and I had come to realize two things: First, one can’t wear a nice luxurious watch in cities like Paris, London, or Barcelona. The Second: Had I died right there and then, I would have left my children with some money and some assets, but no legacy.
So I told myself that since I was an entrepreneur, I owed it to my family and myself to try and build something that could survive me and take a life of its own. The only thing I really do know in terms of business is the watch industry, as I have spent 15 years working for different brands. Moreover, I am genuinely passionate about mechanical timekeeping. I am lucky to be a member of the GPHG Academy, a certified trainer for the Fondation de Haute Horlogerie and I have been collecting watches for the good part of 15 years. So, I figured that I could try and build a watch brand from the ground up. After all, how hard could it be? Quite hard, as it turned out! But fun and super interesting.
From concept to realisation, how long did it take for you to birth Magana?
So, the idea really came up after that incident in July. As luck would have it, a few days later, as I was having dinner with some friends, one of my best mates introduced me to his Swiss father in-law. As I was chatting with this gentleman – Daniel – I came to realize that he was a supplier to many brands in the watch industry, sourcing and manufacturing all kinds of products. Mind you, this was only 3-4 days after the incident. I took it as a sign, and I expressed this crazy Idea of creating my own brand. His answer was immediate and unequivocal: “Sure, I could help you with that”. This was 21 months ago.
What sort of challenges or obstacles did you face in developing the brand and also the first timepiece?
There definitely was a learning curve. Although I worked for a long time in the industry, I was never really involved in the manufacturing side of things. The biggest challenges I would say were the judgement calls: What do we name the brand? What commercial approach should we take? Should we use Swiss movements or go for Japanese movements? What price positioning? How to design the watch, the logo, the brand identity, etc…
Throughout the last 20 months or so, I spent a lot of time doing the research, talking with watch lovers in my network and beyond and trying to find the right people to help me put all of this together. I had designed myself the first watch and I was quite pleased with it. It looked quite classic and was really the kind of watch that I could see myself buying and wearing. Once I showed the design to my wife, my family and some of my friends who are from the industry, their response was – at best – lukewarm.
A good friend of mine and mentor, Max Busser, challenged me on it saying “All of this work to do what everyone else is doing? Is that really what you want to do?”. And he was right. So, I put my ego aside and started looking for a designer. But I thought to myself that it might be interesting to ask an Artistic Director who’s never designed a watch before to take a swing at it. I went online and found the top 50 design schools in the world: in Rhodes Island, Paris, London, Seoul, and so on. I emailed the schools offering a 500 EUR prize for the student who’d be able to design a logo for the brand, according to a specific set of guidelines.
I received almost 50 submissions, and the winner was a Senior student from the Paris school of design, Louis Ferdinand. As luck would have it, he was a friend of my brother’s who lives in Paris. I then hired Fefe (his nickname) for a six-month gig during which he designed the watch for me. I did give him some guidelines in terms of dos and don’ts and that’s how we came up with this first design.
You’re very specific on releasing 212 units per model and only four models per year. Is there any significance to that number?
Absolutely! I was born, raised, and educated in Morocco where I am originally from, but I have moved to the UAE in 1999. While the UAE is now my home, Morocco is and will always remain my source and cradle. If you want to call Morocco, you’ll need to dial the international calling code 212. It is – like the name of the brand is – a tribute to my origins.
I also wanted to do a limited edition for every watch to spend more time in telling the story and engaging with customers rather than chasing the next customers. The drop approach is also a way to keep a limitation on how many watches we’d make. The purpose is really to build a brand for the long term and not the ever-going pursuit of revenue with objectives to increase sales every year.
Magana will make no more than 848 watches per year, split into four drops. No more, but maybe less. Indeed, since we will manufacture the products only after receiving the orders, we won’t manufacture more than what is actually ordered. The hope is that all 212 pieces get sold.
Your collaboration with Trees For The Future is commendable. Can you explain how this came about?
As mentioned before, my goal is really to build a lasting legacy for my family, something that my children can look back to and feel proud of what their dad has put together. With that in mind, the business side of things moves to a secondary priority. The primary priority becomes “What do I want Magana to stand for”.
I know that climate change is real. I also know that Africa – my continent of origin – does not get as much attention as it deserves from NGO’s worldwide. When you hear or read about climate change and actions to do something about it, you’ll hardly find anything being done there. As I was doing my research on the topic, I stumbled onto Trees for the Future.
This Washington-based NGO has been steadily ranked amongst the best worldwide in terms of governance. They have the crazy objective of planting 1.5 billion trees between Senegal and Somalia to stop the Sahara desert from expanding south. What’s amazing is that the trees are a way to go and help farmers and landowners. Indeed, they offer a 4-year training program to all farmers and landowners to help them improve their technique, the quality of the land and many other things, and the only thing they ask these farmers to do is to abide by three commitments:
- No one below age of 15 can work on the land: Children must go to school – Encouraging education.
- At least a third of the work force of the land must me made up of women – Helping women gain financial independence.
- Depending on the size of t heir land, they must dedicate 2.5 up to 10% to growing fruits and vegetables. That means 5-6 crops per year to feed themselves and surrounding villages – Fighting famine.
So while the trees planted will do their job of absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, putting nutrients in the land, etc… the NGO goes further and beyond with these great initiatives. What’s not to like?
As I was falling in love with the project, I immediately donated in the name of Magana to plant 5,000 Trees. I then committed the brand to this by pledging that every single watch sold will finance 212 trees. Assuming we sell all 848 watches every year, that would mean that Magana will be financing almost 180,000 trees per year!
With your first drop now out, how was the response been for the first Magana timepiece?
Both humbling and overwhelming. In the days leading up to the first drop, doubt settled in. A lot of “What ifs” started popping in my head, but Alea Jacta Est – The die is cast! As it turned out, the response was quite positive and we sold quite a lot of our pieces. We still have some pieces available for purchase, but overall, the response was quite positive. I think people have understood what we’re trying to do, and our fair pricing, along with our story and commitment to help communities is really making a difference.
Cities: Tribute to Fes utilises a Miyota movement. Will this be the standard for other Magana timepieces?
The decision to go for Miyota movements was an easy one to make. While looking at the various options, one of the key criteria was the reliability of the movements. Out of 100 movements sourced, how many will need to be repaired under warranty? Indeed, we wish to deliver a highly qualitative product that is also very robust.
Miyota was – by far – the most expensive option outside of Switzerland, but it was also – by far – the most reliable movement in terms of quality. And so I am tempted to say yes, Miyota will be our partner of choice unless of course, something better comes along, but it’s doubtful.
What was your design process/approach like in creating this Tribute To Fes?
Let me take a step back if I may. Through Magana, I wish to promote three values that I call the “UAE Values”. These are Culture, Togetherness and Mindfulness. Indeed, in the UAE most people come from somewhere else. Yet, we are all free to be who we are and we are all curious of everyone else’s culture.
As for togetherness, it stems from the fact that the UAE has over 200 nationalities making up a population of over 10 million. With the fantastic leadership we have in this country, look at what coming together has allowed this country to achieve in such a short span of time! Lastly, the mindfulness stems from the fact that everyone living here is mindful of their impact on everyone else. This mindfulness allows all of us to live peacefully and in harmony.
This first year is therefore dedicated to the value of culture. I have picked the theme of Millenary cities. By that I mean cities where you still have areas where one can see, hear, and smell what one’s ancestor would have a thousand years ago. Fes, Morocco, is such a city. It’s where my family comes from originally. The tribute to Fes will be felt more on the story and the packaging than in the watch itself as we still needed to respect several design codes of the watch industry.
As a watch industry veteran and collector, is there a market for well-made, quality and fair priced timepieces?
Absolutely. Not everyone can afford to acquire a Rolex, a Cartier or an Omega, let alone a Patek Philippe or an Audemars Piguet. Yet, there are tons of people around the world who are getting into the hobby of watch collecting and who want to own and wear a well-built, rare mechanical timepiece with a complication.
Over the last decade, several brands have appeared on the market offering just that. The only issue is that – except for one or two – they are all vintage inspired and all have focused their product offering on Chronographs. It is a fantastic complication that looks great, but very few people use that complication on a daily basis.
With Magana now officially here, what are your hopes for the brand and where do you see it progressing to in the near future?
Personally, I simply hope that what I’m trying to build here will make my family proud. On a larger scope though, the hope is that people respond positively to what we’re trying to achieve as a brand that stands for something noble and just. Our commitments and our values are – I think – well thought and deserving of attention.