In Conversation with: Kenneth Kuan, founder of Delugs
Five years since their official launch, Delugs is on their way to going places. Kenneth Kuan, Founder of Delugs, talks to us about being a business owner, a watch collector, and tips on taking care of your strap game.
It’s a classic question to every business idea: ‘What If?’ Delugs Founder Kenneth Kuan (better known to friends and fans as Ken), wondered, “What if I used my leather crafting expertise to create watch straps?” If you’re looking down at your watch now and have begun to scrutinize the mild frays of your cracked leather band, maybe it’s time to shop for a whole new wrist wardrobe.
Last month, Ken launched Delugs’ YouTube channel, with a reintroduction of the homegrown brand. Since 2018, the leather atelier is on their way to becoming a watch accessories enterprise, from launching a wide range of ready-to-wear pieces to honing their bespoke program. Looking ahead to 2023, Delugs plans to expand its rubber strap collection, offering regular straps and integrated options for various sports models.
As we settled into our conversation at the Revolution Watch Bar, Ken whipped out various tools from a nondescript canvas bag that he used in his early leather crafting days – a skiving knife, picking iron, hole puncher, and a stitching pony, to name a few. With a sizable team that’s now under his employ and the use of more automated systems, the tools now serve as a humbling, and perhaps to an extent, sentimental, reminder as to how he started.
“My hope is that brands will see us more as partners,” said Ken. “My message to them is that I’m not your competitor.”
Among the workshop paraphernalia of old, he also pulled out a roll of custom dyed Himalayan alligator leather that stretched no longer than a meter in length. Taking several completed straps, he matched their grain to various areas of the alligator. The most favorable parts are the midsection, i.e. the belly and the flank. At least 10 straps can be extracted from this piece.
“Let’s be real, there’s a lot of parts of the leather that you can’t use,” said Ken, as we started to discuss sustainability practices at his workshop. “The parts are either scarred or come from an unfavorable section that produces no pattern. However, we are looking at making smaller items with those, such as keychains or keepers on the straps.”
He’s just Ken: The watch collector
Ken describes himself as a rookie to the watch world as he started his watch collecting journey about five years ago, at about the same time he started his leather crafting business. “My watch collection started out with dress watches. Even at this point, I only have a couple of Rolex watches; leather straps do not go well with Rolex watches at all.
“Call it an occupational hazard but with Delugs creating these great rubber straps, I find myself leaning towards sports watches. Admittedly, it’s an R&D thing for me sometimes, as I put them on just to test things out.”
Ken shared that his current affinity is with independent brands. And with the selections from his impressive personal collection, it’s a well curated one. It includes a Grönefeld, Romain Gauthier, MB&F, De Bethune, a Cartier Cintrée, a limited edition Seiko Presage with a blue “ice shard” dial (his first acquisition), and one of his more recent additions, a blue-dialed Pascal Coyon whose caseback houses a generously sized exhibition crystal.
“The spirit of independent watchmaking is something I can relate to in terms of how I run Delugs as an independent business owner myself,” said Ken. “You get to push the envelope a little bit more, and you treat every project like a new novelty.
“And what drives them is simply their passion. They have a certain idea on what they want to bring to the world – they get to cut out the bureaucratic practices, and I daresay even the financial logic to things. You get to contemplate if it’ll even make financial sense, unlike the bigger brands who have to answer for the expected revenue, market share, etc.
“Needless to say, it’s much easier to work with independent brands. Getting a meeting with them is comparatively more accessible, and you get to deal with the founders themselves.
“That’s exactly what happened with Sartory Billard. After I received my watch order for one of his watches, I took a photo of it with one of our curved straps. When he saw it, he invited me to a discussion to produce the rubber straps for his next sports watch. Just like that.”
The Future is Delugs
So now that we’ve established that Delugs makes good straps, what’s the challenge? “There’s a certain level of brand acceptance that we’re still working towards,” said Ken. “The day has yet to come where people would want to have a Delugs strap onto their Rolex watch, for example. It’s Frankenstein in a way, still.”
And metal bracelets are not off the table. “We’re definitely looking into it. The aim is to be the go-to business for all sorts of watch accessories, and producing metal bracelets would be a natural progression.
“It will be trickier, because bracelets are often designed together with the watch case it came with, so I foresee challenges in getting someone to switch their bracelet out for something that’s not. Metal bracelets also require fine details that will improve its quality of life, per se. Take for example, micro-adjustment features and quick-switch systems.”
Ken’s parting advice for a good strap game
“The two main things I’ve noticed that people do with their watch straps is, firstly, they’re wearing straps that are not at a right length for their wrists, especially for the ladies,” he said. “They settle with stock straps that don’t sit well, typically very loose, and in turn, both the strap and the watch could get ruined.”
“Watch straps have an “overhang” too. Fabric straps with a long tail are akin to wrongly-sized clothing: They just don’t fit.”
The Delugs expert: Ken dresses Omega, IWC, Hermès
How would you dress an Omega Seamaster Ploprof 75th Anniversary?
“Definitely our baby blue rubber strap.”
How would you dress an IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun?
“I would go with a gray alcantara strap with red stitching. And if I’m crazy enough, I’ll add a red keeper as well.”
How would you dress an Hermès H08 in yellow?
“Yellow is a tough one for us, we don’t have enough yellow straps. [laughs] I’ll go with a white rubber strap. The color is luxurious and represents confidence. It says: ‘I know it can get dirty but I know how to take care of it that it will not be.’”
|Movement||Self-winding caliber A-500; 60 hours power reserve|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph and date|
|Case||42.5mm; titanium; water resistant to 30m|
|Dial||Salmon (6N gold plated) with gené or frosted area; Super-LumiNova filled Arabic numerals|
|Strap||Ballistic gray rubber; titanium folding clasp|