The history of the wristwatch is a storied one. Even before the creation of sundials in ancient civilizations across the globe—Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Greek, and Islamic—when time was told through shadow-lengths, there has been gravitation toward associating time with memory, place, and people. The watch, as a tool, has played a vital role in the human experience, whether in organizing political and social assemblies, military campaigns, and in marking great creative and scientific achievements by the men—and women—of science, philosophy, astronomy, architecture, and exploration.
For Chase Fancher, founder, and John Hatherly, creative director, at Oak & Oscar LLC in Chicago, Illinois, a well-designed watch speaks to more than solely its functional purpose, but rather becomes a subjective piece of someone’s history. Behind their portfolio of watches inspired by influential figures in history and informed by guiding principles of making no little plans, that food people make great products, and the details always make the design; is a compelling dialogue intended to spark the wonder and adventure within the discerning watch collector.
“It becomes part of you. It becomes an extension of who you are and as a way to show your preference of aesthetics, design, accessories, and who you are as a person,” Fancher said. “For me, designing watches is about wanting to create items for people who can associate their value with more than just telling time, but a part of them and the stories they create with it.”
Founded in 2015 by Fancher—and later joined full-time by Hatherly in 2017—Oak & Oscar is an independent watch company born out of a passion for timepieces and inspired by the experience others have with them. More than a design-and-build endeavor, Oak & Oscar has created a community within its network of limited edition, permanent, and secret batch collection owners, where a single timepiece becomes a conversation and a connection.
In the few, short four years since the creation of the limited 300-piece-run Burnham, Oak & Oscar has released four additional watches: the Sandford GMT, named for the Scottish-born, Canadian inventor and engineer Sandford Fleming; the Jackson Chronograph, inspired by the 54-mile Chicago Times-Herald race between Jackson Park and Evanston; and the Humboldt, named for the 18th century explorer Alexander von Humboldt; and Batch No. 1, the secret speakeasy of watches.
Though Oak & Oscar—a name derived from an affinity for bourbon and its aging process in oak barrels, and Fancher’s dog—began with a single watch, it has quickly become more; hosting annual events for watch collectors and a web-based series in conversation with owners about their collection and passion.
“We don’t want everyone to love our watches. If we make a watch every single person is in love with, then it is probably boring. It is probably something that doesn’t drive emotion. The same emotion that causes someone to fall in love with something, is the same emotion that can cause someone to dislike it,” Fancher said. “We’re not trying to be a huge conglomerate; we just want to make really great watches for really good people.”
For Hatherly, whose passion for design is an inherent part of him, said it is not a nine-to-five job for him.
“Design is my lens. It is how I view the world. It is that simple for me,” Hatherly said. “It is uniquely human and when you really get down to it, it’s a language just like math, English, or French. It’s how we communicate with one another.”
Text: R. J. Weick | GLBD Editor
Full text originally published in Great Lakes By Design: In Scene, 2019