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Richard Benc – The Underd0g

Breaking all the rules

After witnessing the long queues to the Studio Underd0g stand snaking around the London venue for British Watchmakers’ Day back in March, our Editor-in-Chief Julia Pasarón couldn’t resist finding out more about the man causing the disruption: Richard Benc. 

Richard ended up in watchmaking more out of chance than passion. With a degree in product design, he landed his first job helping to create character watches (Mickey Mouse, Minions… that type of thing), and from there he moved on to the Bauhaus-inspired company, Braun. Along the way, he fell in love with mechanical things and how to make them smaller and better. “It should have been clearer to me that I was destined to design watches,” he says candidly. “I always enjoyed details. I like how a tiny design decision can have a very large impact on the overall aesthetic of a watch.”  

As the idea of creating his brand started to germinate, it was clear to him that he wanted to explore colour and vibrancy, in opposite contrast to the Bauhaus style. In general, he was disappointed by the lack of creativity in the watch industry. So, he set himself a design brief “to create a serious watch that didn’t take itself too seriously”. Lockdown helped him concentrate on this task. “All my favourite pubs were closed, what else could I do?” he jokes. By the early summer 2020, he posted his first design on an enthusiast’s Facebook page and got incredible feedback.

Left to right: Studio Underd0g 01 Series Mint Ch0c Chip and 01 Series Watermel0n – Perpétuel edition with Arabic numerals.

In March 2021, Richard officially launched Studio Underd0g. “I spent months searching for the perfect brand name, following all the rules, but in the end, I decided to disregard all guidelines and opted for something truly unique, something I identified with,” he says. The addition of the “0” was a playful nod to today’s insistence on including a number in passwords. 

The company debuted with the 01 Series Chronograph collection. It was inspired by the chronographs from the 1960s, nods that can be observed in the case, materials and the tapered strap. But he also infused the watches with a lot of colour… and references to food, an unlikely subject for a watch brand. Richard laughs. “I wanted to connect with something people could relate to in their daily lives. Food seemed like the natural match.” 

Early on in Underd0g’s story, Richard reached out to a watch entrepreneur from Dubai, Hamdan Al Hudaidi, founder and owner of Perpétuel Gallery. “Hamdan was working with great brands and had created a very strong community of people genuinely interested in watches, so he was the kind of person I wanted to work with.” They soon started to produce special editions together. One of these, the Watermel0n with Arabic numerals, catapulted Underd0g to global attention when HRH the Crown Prince of Ajman acquired one and posted about it on Instagram. Suddenly orders poured in. “I was as shocked as anyone else,” admits Richard modestly. The HRH the Crown Prince of Dubai is rumoured to own one of these watches too. 

Studio Underd0g 02 Series Pink Lemonade

Studio Underd0g 02 Series Pink Lem0nade, with its modern vibrant dial and references to classic field watch from the 1940s.

The Middle East has turned out to be a pivotal market for Underd0g. “It made me realise that there is a lot of true passion and deep understanding about horology in this part of the world,” says Richard.

The 02 Series followed in a similar creative process. This time, Benc sought inspiration in the field watches from the 1940s, the so-called “Dirty Dozen”. The 02 Series is actually notable for its colourful and “yummy” dials, but the vintage reference is palpable in many of the design elements. The modern twist comes from the materials used. “We have incorporated Super-LumiNova and an actual piece of sapphire that makes up the majority of the dial. The numerals printed on top seem to float, which gives it a dynamic aesthetic, unique and quite playful.” 

The success of the 02 Series is testimony to the enthusiasm the watch community feels for Underd0g. For British Watchmakers’ Day, he turned to his 02 Series, as it has such clear British design roots. “I wanted the watch to look like a vintage reissue with a modern twist. The orange hands are undeniably modern yet are inspired by the lume patina often seen on 1940s field watches.” The watch was limited to just 25 pieces and sold out quickly during the event.  

From the left, Studio Underd0g 02 Series British Watchmakers’ Day edition and 02 Series Pizza-Party.

But it wasn’t just the watch created for the occasion that had the crowd flocking to the Studio Underd0g stand. Most visitors seemed to be interested in its pizza watches. They are “hand-delivered” only, meaning they are only available at shows such as British Watchmakers’ Day. They may be inspired by pizzas, but they sold like hot cakes, with many attendees leaving disappointed after not being able to take a slice of Underd0g with them. 

Richard sees mechanical watches as vehicles for storytelling. He wants his customers to feel an emotional connection with them. “For both 01 and 02 Series, I chose manual winding movements because I wanted to force the user to spend a few seconds every morning winding the watch, looking at it, spotting new details on it.” He is referring to touches such as the hour markers on the Watermel0n, which resemble seeds. Making his pizza watches hand-delivered only was conceived with the same idea in mind. “Every single person who owns one of those pizza watches has their own story, different to all the others,” he says.

Right now, the orders book is so full Studio Underd0g’s focus is on fulfilment. “We have nearly 6,000 watches to deliver. That is going to take us up until September or October,” Richard calculates. “Our customers are our top priority.”  

Two things come across clearly when I speak to Richard Benc: one, he is having a lot of fun; and two: he has no self-doubt. “Our core collections, the 01 Series, is what makes us strong. We don’t want to play the game of tiny variations to make quick money and saturate the market. When we introduce something new, it’s something that pushes the boundaries.” 

Read the full version of this interview with many more interesting details about Richard Benc and Underd0g in our summer issue. Get your copy HERE.

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