Jake Bourdeau, better known as Jake B on the watch forums, has become the biggest name in the international Seiko watch modding community. After the company founder and Jake’s mentor Noah Fuller (the creator of the Tsunami watch) died in 2011, Jake has made it his mission to build on Noah’s legacy.
Right now his company Dagaz Watch Ltd. based in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong is in the middle of preparing the release of the Typhoon, a modern take on one of the most iconic dive watches ever, the Seiko 6105-8110. Fans have been patiently waiting to get their hands on a custom or Classic version of the Typhoon since it was announced in fall of 2012. The watch ($650 on bracelet and $570 on rubber) uses a Seiko Instruments NE15 movement, a non-branded 6R15 with hand-winding and hacking capabilities.
Besides selling thousands of mod parts a month, Jake has built a family business (his wife and brother-in-law are his staff) that is now poised to become one of the most respected micro-brands. In this interview with worn&wound, Jake B dishes on his retail location plans and what the Classic Typhoon dial will look like.
worn&wound: Thanks for making time for worn&wound. Are you familiar with the site?
JB: Sure. Great site by the way.
w&w: Did you ever think that your business would be as big as it is in terms of making your own branded watches?
JB: It’s been the goal since before we lost Noah. Only it was supposed to play out differently where Noah would have been in charge of the full production watches, and myself in charge of the parts webstore. Now, I just do it all myself with the help of family. It’s a family business now. I’m really happy to be realizing the goal though.
w&w: Do you have a separate workshop away from your home?
JB: I have a workshop in my home, as well as an office space at an industrial building nearby. The area where both are located have been known for a little bit as a center for the watch industry for decades. There are a lot of watch-related offices around here. Back when this was Hong Kong UK. The Timex factory was very close to here.
w&w: Tell us about your retail location plans.
JB: The idea for the store is an integrated display area, ordering terminal, stockroom, and workshop. Right now I’m looking for the right space. Ultimately it should include a glassed-off corner space in a mall. Display area in the front with a computer terminal in front for ordering. In the back behind a wall a workshop, stock and shipping and packing area. People could come in and order what parts they want at the terminal, and then we pick the stock from the back and package it for them on the spot. More and more I have people inside Hong Kong asking to meet me. I want to stop meeting people at Starbucks.
w&w: That sounds incredible. Watch modding has come a long way. Can you give our readers some insight on the early days of watch modding? How did everyone choose the SKX007 to build the most parts for?
JB: First, the SKX. The SKX is in a unique situation in the watch market. It’s
high-quality, affordable, plentiful, very easy to work on for beginners, uncomplicated – all this lays the ultimate platform for making custom parts that are useable in a range of watches. Then you can make them look pretty much any way you dream. Seiko is excellent for modding. Standard dial size. Standard hand size.
w&w: How did watch modding catch on?
JB: Well, I think that it’s a combination of reasons. I think that there are types of people who mod their SKX. Some admire an expensive watch that they have accepted they will not be able to afford, but the thought of wearing a fake makes them sick. So, they can instead customize a Seiko to look similar to the more expensive piece and have the same feel, for only a few hundred bucks. Some people are just addicted to modding, and enjoy the creative side. They love trying out new combos all the time. Some want something specific colors to commemorate their school or company and can’t find what they want for a reasonable price, so they go the route of creating it or asking me to. I think it appeals to a man’s natural tendency to want to tinker and to have something unique.
w&w: So can you give me any figures that might indicate how big the Seiko modding community has gotten?
JB: We deal with several hundred watch enthusiasts every month. But it’s taken years to get to this point.
w&w: How did you and Noah turn modding into an actual business?
JB: Just as regular forum members to start. We were Seiko fans more than anything else. Both of us were on the old SCWF (Seiko & Citizen Watch Forum) since around 2004 or so. Noah came (to Hong Kong from Canada) and started the whole thing as a hobby in 2005 while he was teaching English. It just grew. At the same time, I was working a few jobs in Canada, and also modding as a hobby on the side. By 2009 Noah asked me to come stay with him to try and grow a real business out of it, and hopefully expand to a watch company producing our own line of watches. The Tsunami was the feeler project. Noah’s baby.
w&w: How did you two meet? What’s your professional background?
JB: We met on the SCWF. I was starting to mod watches, and he was already here (in Hong Kong). It started by me asking him advice on modding and led to us talking every day on Skype. My background? Before I came here, I was working at the post office, at Lee Valley Tools warehouse, running a very small business called Dawn Of Time, and I went to college for arc welding and was taking jobs where I could. As far as watches, I’m completely self-taught. Well, a product of the community would be more accurate. I’ve just been around a long time. [laughs] All of my jobs though, were leading to this. Post office equals shipping and customer service. Lee Valley Tools equals online order processing and stock organization as well as shipping. Welding equals delicate handwork.
w&w: Now you have your own line of watches and right now you are working on releasing one of the most anticipated watches among dive watch enthusiasts, the Typhoon. How have you been dealing with such pressure to deliver a watch that people have already paid deposits on sight unseen?
JB: The production’s been quite a challenging process. I could have done it differently, and taken easier routes, but I’m treating the Typhoon as Noah’s legacy, and I want it done a certain way. After the Tsunami, I expected some there might be a bit of a buzz, but really the response is much greater than I’d anticipated.
w&w: What’s the business roadmap for Dagaz Watch Ltd.?
JB: The way I plan on running the watch company side includes a Professional line of watches. These are not limited edition, and are either homages based on historical pieces, or my own design, housing a Miyota 9015. Then, the other side is watches following in the Tsunami series: tributes to the classic Seiko pieces built to modern specs, using Seiko movements. These are not made as repros or copies of the original pieces. They’re modern interpretations, offered in Classic configuration closely resembling the classic Seiko piece, as well as custom pieces using parts chosen by the customer.
w&w: OK. I have a personal question about the Typhoon. Will there be a no-date dial available like the prototype?
JB: Yes, certainly. I am a no-date guy. That’s what I’ll be wearing, a no-date Classic
The dial looks like a cross between a Marinemaster dial and a 6105 dial, with no date, if you can imagine that.
w&w: Sweet. Anything you want to tell our readers I didn’t ask you about?
by Li Wang
images courtesy of Jake B. / Dagaz Watches