Navy veteran Tom Anstead is the bravest kind of entrepreneur: he launched a new watch company in a manufacturing field where many of the established players are hundreds of years old and some of the most beloved brands inspire intense loyalty in their customers. Anstead wanted to build a high quality dive watch and deliver it at a reasonable price. The second iteration of his Anstead Oceanis dive watch is now available for $499 for a limited time via Tom's website.
The Oceanis is made from 316L stainless steel and comes with a Miyota 9015 movement. Anstead advertises water-resistance to 300 meters and 40 hours of power reserve, so you don't have to wear the watch every day to keep it wound. The hands and dial use a Super LumiNova coating for easy visibility and the 120-click unidirectional bezel offers more precise marker settings.
It's a statement to wear one of these. It's not small (44 x 49 mm with a 14.3 mm thickness) and it's got a massive bracelet. You won't forget you're wearing one.
We talked to Tom Anstead about his military career, how he started his company and the Oceanis watch.
Describe your service. What made you decide to join the Navy? What did you do during your career? How did you decide it was time to get out?
I had wanted to join the Navy since I was five years old. It always struck me as an adventurous way to see the world. Plus I had a great love of country and really felt the responsibility to serve. I went to college at Villanova University on an NROTC scholarship. I served on the aircraft carrier USS Independence out of Yokoska, Japan. Like most people’s military experience, it gave me the chance to see much of the world I would have otherwise never gotten to see, especially at a young age. Once I filled my service commitment I decided to move on to pursue other interests.
What’s been your post-military career?
After the Navy, I went on to get two master’s degrees in Film and Business. That education has paid dividends in understanding how to run a business. I worked as a product manager in medical devices, which was a great way to experience developing, launching, and marketing products.
Talk about your interest in watches in general and dive watches in particular. What was your first watch?
My interest in watches probably started 10 years ago. Like so many guys, I liked the automatic mechanical watches. The idea of a micro machine you could wear appealed to me. There is so much craftsmanship in a watch. I like the watches that were highly designed to look amazing, but engineered to be useful tools in the real world. I find the history of dive and flight watches with their roots as military devices fascinating. The development of accurate time pieces in general came from the need for ships to navigate long distances. I suppose watches represent so many of my interests.
My first watch…ha! It was probably a Swatch when I was kid. It seemed everyone had at least one Swatch back then. In college, I remember wearing a Timex Ironman much of the time. It was cheap and indestructible.
What’s the idea behind the Anstead Oceanis? Why should our readers pay attention to your watch?
The idea behind the Oceanis is that it’s based on life in the military. When I was in the Navy I found myself doing a wide variety of things. It was everything from standing watch on the bridge, to flying in helicopters and planes. I would wear work uniforms, dress uniforms, and be in civilian clothes after hours. I had occasion to go scuba diving when on a port call in Hawaii and had swim call off a submarine. The Oceanis would have been the watch I wanted to wear. It’s a dive watch with great features, but it’s also a great looking design that goes with anything. It’s heavy stainless steel and it’s on the larger size at 44mm – it’s a man’s watch and has that feel. Yet it looks fantastic no matter what the situation.
Starting a company that makes such a complicated product in a field with so many well-established competitors is an incredibly daunting idea. What led you to believe it was worth taking on the established players?
I’ve known a lot of people who have wanted to start their own business over the years, and the most common excuse for not doing it is, “Someone is already doing it.” Competition is something to be embraced. It creates categories and defines products. There are always reasons not to go into any particular business, but having competition isn’t one of them.
The most important thing you can do is follow your passion. I started my watch business because I didn’t see the kind of watch I wanted to wear for the price I wanted to pay. I designed a watch that I wanted to enjoy that had the features I would have liked when I was in the military.
There are many competitors out there but the watch market is highly segmented. First, there are automatics and quartz movements. That is a big division to start. There are very expensive luxury brands from Switzerland. There are many low cost quartz watches. When you look at all the price ranges of all watches, from $10 to $100,000, you see every style, feature, and price combination. As a buyer, you don’t look at every watch on the market, you look at the features and styles that interest you in the price range that works. With those things in mind, the Oceanis fits into a specific segment that I feel appeals to men who really love watches. It’s a price conscious watch, as compared to the famous Swiss brand, but it’s an automatic so it appeals to guys who really love watches. It’s also a dive watch, loaded with features, and it’s designed is influence by military service. It’s also a U.S. company and that’s important to a lot of people. That starts to narrow the category.
The watch market gets confusing when you see some quartz watches overpriced at $900 and some mechanical automatics priced lower. It can make a person question all prices and values. There is a lot to take into consideration as a buyer. I’m comfortable that the Oceanis is priced right and people are getting what they pay for.
The Oceanis has a great automatic movement, the Miyota 9015. This allows the watch to be made at an affordable price but provides the wearer with an automatic with classic styling that rival more expensive brands.
What are the watches we should compare to your watch?
I think when of comparing the Oceanis, it’s best to compare it to other boutique brands. And of course we are talking about affordable automatic mechanical watches for guys who really love watches. Comparing it to Swiss made brands that cost many thousands, or quartz watches, doesn’t make much sense. This category of affordable men’s automatics is unique.
Halios out of Canada and Tempest make sport and dive watches that are similar in features and price.
For much more expensive brands, watches with military backgrounds like Glycine and IWC have given me a lot of inspiration. I think the Oceanis fits with those watches.
Where are you manufacturing the watch? How did you set that up?
I was able to find a manufacturer who makes watches in Switzerland and China. They have a lot of expertise. I have worked with multiple manufacturers and have found a wide range of quality. I found the right one with outstanding quality but who is still able to keep costs low enough to be affordable because of the Chinese manufacturing. Someday, I would like to manufacture in the US, but that will more than double the price so I’ll have really change a lot about the brand.
In todays connected world, I have been able to send up manufacturing by working with suppliers online. I’ve used website designers and programmers in the US, several states away from me. Creating a company, and not just a product, can be a complex endeavor, but the Internet has made those kinds of connections possible.
Where can people buy one?