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An Interview with CuleM Watches Founder Matthew Cule

By Paul Joseph

In an industry monopolised by brands that are sometimes centuries-old, it can be a tough business for young upstarts such as CuleM to make a name for themselves in the watch industry.

But that was the challenge for Matthew Cule, Founder and Creative Director of CuleM, when he launched his eponymous watch brand in 2018. We caught up with Matthew to find out about his journey.

SY: Can you start by giving us some brief background to CuleM and your personal history within the watch industry?

MC: “CuleM Watches is a Swiss made travel watch brand for watch collectors and 21st century world travellers. CuleM is all about the journey; your journeys, your discoveries and memories. In a way, a CuleM watch keeps your memories forever as you travel the world.

“CuleM, pronounced Q-Lem, means the 11 very small or Cule parts that make up the watch, and M is the automatic Swiss made movement that drives the watch. The Cule + M coexist in every watch, and come together to form CuleM.

“Before working in the watch industry, I was a collector of watches since childhood and worked in technology before exiting my company. When I created CuleM, I wanted to create unique, Swiss made travel watches – different to anything I had seen before. Also, I wanted to create a brand with vision; a vision of nine collections based on the world and its continents – where collectors are anticipating the release of the next watch, and the next.

“The current collection is called The World GMT collection, which showcases stunning and contemporary world map dials, and the next collection will be based on Europe. After that, we will design the Asia collection, so that the collector’s journey continues over time around the world.”

What can you tell us about the style and appearance of your watches?

“All 12 watches in The World GMT Collection are elegant dress watches that also have a casual edge - so can be worn on any occasion. All of the watches have a round 40mm case size and a unique crown inspired by the waves of the sea. They all come with two quick change straps. Each watch is presented in a travel trunk style watch box inspired by long journeys from the past and a watch passport (watch book) to record all the places you have been with your CuleM watch.

“All of the watches are GMT, dual time travel watches that display both your home time and destination time. They are Swiss-made with an automatic movement and water resistant to 50 metres. The watches are made in either stainless steel, polished black pvd, or gold plated.

“There are three unique 21st century dial designs to suit all tastes: The Frame; The Portal; and The Lights. The concept of The Frame GMT watch is based on ‘framing your world’ as you travel it. The world map dial is an exquisite navy blue, black, or icy grey guilloché dial with geometrically defined edges around the continents.

“The Portal GMT watch showcases a stunning and contemporary three-dimensional world map on either a sea blue, black/bronze, silvery grey or gold sunray moire dial. This unique 3D impression, with changing reflections, perfectly reveals the continents rising above the sea.

“Finally, The Lights GMT watch has tiny luminescent dots scattered around the world map dial, and illuminates major cities by night. By day, the white dial is minimalist with a blue, black or gold edged sunray world map dial.”

They are also the world’s first watches to display 24 world time zones in both GMT and BST on an open case back – what was the inspiration behind this and what makes it such a unique feature?

“When I lived in Australia, I was travelling a lot and wanted a watch that displayed more than one timezone. So, I started to investigate Swiss made world timer watches. However, I could not find one watch that showed the correct time in Sydney. I was totally surprised by this, and still am to this day.  As a result, I didn’t buy one. 

“Years later, my Dad bought me a special watch because I wanted a travel watch and loved the look of the Master Compressor Geographic (essentially a world timer) by Jaeger LeCoultre. However, yet again the time was wrong in Sydney. This frustrated me immensely, so when I decided to make my own collection of travel watches, I wanted to make sure the world time would always be right.”

Could you describe the design process at CuleM and what role you personally play?

“CuleM’s mission is to create the ultimate travel watch brand. To me, ‘ultimate’ means the best imaginable – timepieces that are exquisite and meaningful to the owner, as they combine beautiful design with the highest quality materials, and the incredible memories that come with travelling.

“My idea was to create two elegantly designed GMT watches with a contemporary edge, showcasing a beautiful image of the world, and a second watch with a world almost invisible based on a concept of seen/unseen. I wanted the watches to be the first to display the correct time zones in both GMT and BST either on the dial or on the caseback. Finally, I wanted the design to embody the concept that there is no experience more amazing than travel and no object more beautiful than a watch. 

“I am the Founder and Creative Director of CuleM Watches, and I created the design concept and direction of the brand. After developing the design brief and building a great relationship with watch designer, Damien Ummel, he managed to transform my ideas into The World GMT collection. Originally, I wanted to select two of the six design concepts, but eventually I decided on the Frame, Portal and Lights. When put together, they are distinctly different models, but they seem complementary - like a family.”

What are the challenges of operating in a sector that is dominated by historical brands, often with hundreds of years of heritage behind them?

“The challenge is being seen – as you say, the market is crowded and dominated by historical brands. However, I also see this as an opportunity.  Many brands operate on an historical legacy often recreating designs from the past rather than creating 21st century watches with a powerful design and vision for the future. If we think about cars, the majority of us want to own the latest model rather than a classic car of the past.  Maybe as a second or third car, a classic could be an option. For me, I want to bring relevance by creating a 21st century brand in a world where our travels know no limits and our memories are encapsulated in every CuleM watch.”

You recently announced that your watches would be available through Goldsmiths – how big a moment is that for your brand and will it have any impact beyond sales?

“As a child peering through the windows at Watches of Switzerland dreaming of owning some beautiful watches one day, I am personally delighted to be working with such a large retailer like Goldsmiths. And Goldsmiths is owned by Watches of Switzerland Group. It is early days in our commercial relationship and we have already had sales, and I believe that working with Goldsmiths will have a positive impact on our sales in 2020.”

Finally, since we are not long into 2020, what do you have planned for the coming year?

“I have just recruited a very experienced Financial and Commercial Director to work on driving investment into the business. We will continue to grow our team and build CuleM into the business we believe it has the potential to become. We also plan to expand our network of physical and online watch retailers around the world, and continue to work with more luxury hotels that carry exclusive watches like CuleM.

“Aside from this, we will have a stand at Baselworld from 30 April to 5 May 2020. As it is the largest watch show in the world, we believe that it will be a great opportunity to showcase The CuleM World GMT collection to a global audience of buyers, collectors, distributors and retailers.

“As I have been saying to everyone close to me, the numbers 2020 just sound so good, positive and purposeful. So, we believe that it is going to be a great year.”

By Paul Joseph