KATHMANDU: Michael Kobold is no ordinary entrepreneur. His Kobold Watch Company turns out high-end handmade watches at its own pace and time because he deliberately limits production to less than 2,500 a year. “We don’t produce too many because you lose the niche player panache. There is already Rolex which makes great watches but then everybody has one,” he says, stressing the fact that they are a small family run company with family value and dedication to perfection.
Kobold’s watches are for the well-known and celebrities, including Actors Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and James Gandolfini, star of ‘The Sopranos’. Kobold produces limited models, with most of them priced between USD 2,500 to USD 5,000; while others can reach as high as USD 42,000. Each watch is built to perform under the most extreme conditions — freezing temperatures during mountain climbing, water pressures of deep-sea diving and breakage from combat fighting. An adventurer himself, Kobold designs all his watches for daredevils and the bold at heart and those that embrace adventure. He climbed Mt Everest twice to raise money for the Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEALs) Warrior Fund, a non-profit group that offers support to wounded SEALs and their families.
And it was adventure that brought him to Nepal and here, he met his life partner Anita in 2009 while climbing Everest. She is the first Hungarian woman to climb Everest. They tied the knot in Nepal with the celebration spilling over a whole week in true Nepali style, with family and friends flying in from abroad. And now he is all set to embark on a new entrepreneurial adventure that will put Nepal on the proud list of countries that produce limited edition handmade watches. “Nepal is the centre of adventure and so we follow the creed to embrace adventure and this company in Nepal is our way of starting something small in Nepal and taking it and making it something big. We will have three employees in the country, which is not a big deal, but the prestige that comes with mechanical watches is unparalleled. There are now already two trained watchmakers — Namgel and Thandu Sherpa — who will make watches here,” he informs.
The duo accompanied him to Everest in 2009 and Michael arranged visas and training for them in his company. They will be
running the operations at his outlet in Baber Mahal which is scheduled to be inaugurated on March 26. Kobold watches will be assembled, manufactured, displayed and sold here.
While the financial investment may not run into millions of dollars, the goodwill and publicity will put Nepal on the global map and grab the attention of investors. “We don’t intend to sell a lot of watches in Nepal because frankly they are expensive. But for collectors all over the world, the ‘Made in Nepal’ tag will bring dear memories of their trip to Nepal. Climbers who spend USD 50,000 to USD 100,000 to climb Everest and other peaks can certainly afford one,” he says, realistically. He sees great potential to manufacture and market watches in Nepal for a company with a small turnout that specialises in adventure watches and enjoys a huge reputation. He believes that Nepal is a destination for thousands of Western mountaineers each year, and a watch handmade by Sherpas could just be the perfect memento to commemorate a successful summit bid.
A first of its kind — even for Kobold Watches — are the 25 limited edition watches Michael has planned with Everest rock dials suitably called ‘The Himalaya Collection’. “In 2009, I carried back these rocks I found just 20 metres from the summit and I wanted to make a dial with Everest rock and nobody has done that ever. So this is a first in the history of watch-making,” he says.
Kobold is passionate about Nepal and plans to start training and certifying Nepalis as watchmakers. “That can make a big difference because as a watchmaker, you can earn USD 30,000 to USD 50,000 per year and work anywhere in the world,” he says. He feels that since there is a huge demand for watchmakers, training 50 to 100 people is certainly possible.
Michael was also appointed as an ambassador by Nepal Tourism Board and while he modestly says, he could not do much officially, perhaps his new venture will more than make up for everything by co-branding and placing the spotlight on Nepal as the adventure paradise.