Pulkit Sangal, in his late 20s, is a senior financial services executive based in Dubai. He deals in structured investment products which involves designing bespoke investment instruments for investors based upon their outlook, risk appetite, and desired yield. No doubt it’s a high-flying job that befits one to be attired in the very best that luxury has to offer. And sure enough, he owns a slew of luxury watches— TAG Heuer, Omega, Rolex, Corum—a collection that has been built over generations within his family.
But Sangal recently chose to break away from the set norms of high fashion, at least when it comes to his choice in watches. He chose to invest in two funky Kinstrukto watches— the krater and arkitekt. Kinstrukto (phonetically it resonates with the word construct) watches are designed using LEGO like miniature bricks. The brick design allows people to create their own watch style, depending on their attire or mood.
It’s something that Sangal swears by. To match his attire and the occasion, he changes the look of his Kinstrukto watch a few times a week and has even done so a couple of times within a day. “It’s quick and straightforward, [and] takes no longer than a few minutes,” he says. To be sure, Kinstrukto is not a Swiss watch brand. It’s a seven-month-old Indian watch brand founded by Malek Shipchandler, 28, and his mother Rashida.
For Shipchandler, who was born in Surat, in Gujarat and raised in Dubai, the idea of owning a watch that can be made to look new every day has an interesting back story. When he was eight, his mother used to work with a Swiss watch manufacturing company. Due to the strict internal quality control tests that her company undertook, she had access to plenty of discarded watches and straps at discounted prices. “On occasions my mother would bring home employee-discounted watch straps and fix them on to my wristwatch. She tricked me into the feeling of wearing a new wristwatch,” recalls Shipchandler, who quit his job as a corporate lawyer to set up the Mumbai-based MS Ventures in November 2018. The company owns the brand Kinstrukto.
“The idea behind Kinstrukto, is literally, the joy of wearing a new watch everyday ‘kinstrukted’ by yourself or a loved one. And the best way to achieve that was using bricks—it’s the easiest way to customise things and transcends all ages,” says Shipchandler, who worked at the law firms Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Khaitan & Co between 2014 and 2018. While he is a self-proclaimed watch enthusiast, his collection doesn’t boast expensive luxury watches. “I haven’t bought any watch that costs over ₹1 lakh,” he says. Barring, of course, a Favre-Leuba given to him by his Dubai-based businessman father.
Kinstrukto watches are powered by the Japanese quartz movements of Seiko-Epson and MiyotaCitizen, feature a hardened glass face, diamond-cut hands, and a high-grade stainless-steel pull-out crown. The miniature LEGO-like bricks are made from impact resistant acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), the same material used in LEGO. Kinstrukto has a collection of 29 watches (only sold online as of now) that are priced between ₹4,500 and ₹15,000. That’s nowhere near the starting price of a Hublot or Ulysse Nardin.
Interestingly, the Kinstrukto brand story has a Japanese angle to it. Shipchandler, who is also the chief strategist of Kinstrukto, explains that the fashion statement the brand represents gets inspiration from the Harajuku district of Tokyo, the capital of Japan. “It’s [Harajuku] a district, but now it’s come to stand for some thing more than that—a movement that defies the ‘normal’; it’s really symbolic of breaking stereotypes and pressures to fit strict societal norms,” he says. The Harajuku style, so to speak, is all about self-expression and about being different every time.
“Malek is trying to leverage the fact that there are customers who want to create their own fashion and believe they know what’s best for them. He is providing a watch which they can fashion on their wrist,” says Bijou Kurien, strategy board member at L Catterton Asia, a panAsian consumer-focussed private equity firm. Kurien, who is mentoring Shipchandler, adds, “Unless you do something different, you can’t cut through the clutter in a crowded and competitive category like fashion watches.”
The fashion watch category is typically leveraged around various international fashion brands, which price their products between ₹5,000 and ₹15,000. That said, watches as a category have lost their sheen. Their utilitarian purpose of keeping time has now been replaced by several other multifunctional devices. “On the other hand, watches have become fashion statements and status symbols,” says Kurien.
Clearly, Shipchandler is taking the former approach “I hate how watches generally act as a status symbol,” says 33-year-old Kinshuk Jhunjhunwala, who is self-employed. “The Kinstrukto watch was refreshing in that—while it still is reflective of one’s personality with its unique design—it doesn’t seem to be about all those features which make it expensive.” At the back end, Kinstrukto watches are fully assembled in Hong Kong and then shipped to India.
The Harajuku style, named after a district in Tokyo, is all about self-expression and about being different every time.
The final packaging is done in Mumbai. Shipchandler keeps an inventory of his watches so that the products can be shipped out on the same day an order is placed online. But he is also exploring the offline retail channel. While Shipchandler looks at the creative, marketing and branding aspects of the business, his mother focusses on the supply chain side. “My mom coming in was natural because of her expertise—she spent about seven years with a Swiss watch company,” he says. Even as work on a new watch model is underway, Shipchandler is looking at the larger fashion apparel and accessories space for his LEGO-inspired brick designs. “We are looking at anything wearable [with] which we could do a brick infusion. Currently, we are prototyping an Apple Watch compatible strap and polarised sunglasses,” he says.
While his entire venture is bootstrapped, he reveals that an Indian fashion personality has expressed interest to come on board as a strategic investor. It is, however, still early days. Sangal admits that the two Kinstrukto watches he purchased were done purely on an experimental basis “due to their innovative nature”.
Now, he says, “I am happy to report that it has proven to be a success and I’m evaluating a few— for gifting purposes and to add to my collection.” Maybe he could pick up a pair of funky polarised sunglasses as well?