A Week On The Wrist
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A few months ago, after Eric Peng Cheng's fashion label Bait collaborated with Seiko 5, Cole chatted with the Los Angeles-based streetwear impresario to see if he could determine what, exactly, the world of watchmaking could learn from Cheng's empire.
Cheng's commercial ventures are headlined by two flagship brands, Undefeated and Bait. Their presence is global, with retail locations in the United States, China, and Japan. Cheng's secret weapon is his ability to identify crossover opportunities with all sorts of unexpected partners. He's teamed up with practically every known sneaker brand on the planet, not to mention McLaren, Budweiser, UFC, and, as of this morning, high-horology manufacture H. Moser & Cie.
Together they've made a surprising new take on the distinctive Streamliner Flyback Chronograph. The steel case and integrated bracelet has received a comprehensive three-layer dark-grey DLC coating, which makes the new Streamliner Chronograph Undefeated the very first blacked-out DLC-coated Moser timepiece.
The dial has been laser-engraved to achieve a three-dimensional monochromatic grey-scale design that forms Undefeated's signature Black Tiger camouflage print, with a hint of Moser's trademark fumé decoration. The engraving technique is similar in practice to what you'd find on any previous Moser release with a Mosaic dial, but the final result has a dramatic flair that's unlike any Moser I've seen. In fact, despite the watch being a Moser in every aspect, down to the case dimensions and the high-tech Agenhor-developed manual-wind chronograph caliber HMC 902 inside, the dial of the new Streamliner is almost entirely enveloped in Undefeated branding.
Edouard Meylan, CEO and owner of H. Moser & Cie.
The company's five-strike "tally" logo is applied to the 12 o'clock position on the dial, and the Undefeated branding is situated on the right side of the dial's rehaut. When the light strikes the dial just right, the off-white, nearly hidden H. Moser & Cie. cursive wordmark reveals itself in the center of the dial.
The new Streamliner Chronograph Undefeated is limited to a run of 76 total pieces, each priced at $55,000; the watches will be available for sale starting next week on June 22, 2022. Last week, I was able to sit down with the new watch and the two executives who dreamed it up. The piece definitely left an impression; it's an absolute beast of a design. You could tell me that it's a forgotten Blade Runner prop and I'd be convinced. The Streamliner Chronograph Undefeated Limited Edition takes one of the boldest high-end chronograph debuts in recent memory and jacks up the audaciousness.
I think this is pretty clearly the most unexpected watch release of the year so far. It's as surprising as it is interesting as it is confusing. Maybe you have some questions. I sure did, and Meylan and Peng were kind enough to answer them for me.
Eric Peng Cheng, streetwear impresario and the CEO and Co-Owner of Undefeated, Bait, and Kokies
HODINKEE: How did you two first connect?
Eric Peng Cheng: During the pandemic, I started doing work late at night, because I was finally able to spend time with my family instead of traveling all the time. So I'm catching up on work, and I always put on either YouTube or a podcast while I work. I was listening to an episode of HODINKEE Radio with Edouard as a guest. He was saying that he's the person who reads all the emails that come through the email@example.com email, so that he can share the right emails with the right people and so that he can better understand his customers. Around that same time, I had just received my Streamliner Flyback Chronograph. And I loved it so much. So I heard Edouard say that, and I thought, "You know what? This is cool. I'll send an email over."
Edouard Meylan: You were testing me.
Were you familiar with Eric's work at Undefeated and Bait?
EM: Well, not as much as I am now, but I knew about Undefeated. I knew what they were doing, but I didn't know Eric personally, so when I received his email, I remember thinking it wasn't real – that it was spam. My brother, Bertrand, eventually convinced me to reply, so Eric and I then started chatting, and a few weeks later we did a Zoom. And then from there, it was more about just getting to know one another. We were not talking at that point about a collaboration.
Eric, have you always been interested in watches? It feels like you're everywhere these days. You did a Seiko and a G-Shock with your other company, Bait. Undefeated has previously worked with Unimatic and Tudor. The F.P. Journe Kokies miniatures just dropped a few weeks ago. Have you always wanted to do more watch collaborations?
EPC: Watches have always been around for me, but things kind of switched in my head once the pandemic started; there was just so much uncertainty. I've always been a very disciplined person, and the pandemic hit me really hard because I realized that everything could be gone – just like that. So that's when I started a couple of new companies, like Kokies, and got more into watches. We've always done collaborations, but I think the pandemic pushed it forward a little more for me.
You've both been very open to collaborations with outside partners over the years. How was this relationship different? Was there anything special that came out in the creative process?
EPC: This one is very special to me because it's a different level of collaboration. It's a new price point for us, and I never expected a response from Moser to begin with, either. We're a sportswear brand backed by street culture. We've always done things with our key partners, but this collaboration is definitely on a different level.
Typically, when we get offered to do collaborations, either with a watch brand or another manufacturer or brand, it's something they're trying to push. That's the type of collaboration we turn down. We are not here to help you promote something. We want to work on your best product, or what in our opinion is your most established product.
Edouard Meylan, of H. Moser, and Eric Peng Cheng, of Undefeated
Edouard, the last collaboration Moser released was with The Armoury, and now you're working with Undefeated. Am I sensing a trend here? Are you intentionally seeking to work with fashion labels to increase brand recognition?
EM: When we did previous collaborations, before this year, they were always with artists, artisans, or other watch brands, like MB&F. I think we raised the bar at that time, and everybody was like, "Okay, what's next? What's the next brand you'll team up with?" I felt that we needed to do something completely different. I think the purpose of these collaborations is not only to expand our reach but also to learn from others. At Moser, we always want to be a very traditional watch brand that's anchored in history, but at the same time, we want to be in sync with today. And it's not easy. We're multifaceted, but we're still a very small brand that not so many people know.
So when a brand like Undefeated – with a huge community, with lots of energy, and a younger crowd – comes to you, it has to be a yes. If we do it well, we'll not only reach a huge number of people that are probably not familiar with our industry or our brand, but also we'll learn from their ways of working. I think we're quite advanced at Moser, in the way we launch products, in the way we promote, and how we try to activate, but Undefeated is the master of collaborations in their industry; they have a very different way of communicating.
Moser is a brand with a very interesting spectrum. We started with very classic, elegant round watches, in white gold cases, and with silver dials. And then we moved slowly to become more sporty with the Streamliner and the Pioneer collections. And I think with the two recent collaborations, with The Armoury and Undefeated, we're kind of framing what Moser stands for today. On one side, there's this very elegant, classic, and pure design with the Endeavor Total Eclipse that we launched in January. And then with the Streamliner we're presenting here, it's the opposite.
I hear all the time – "This is Moser; this is not Moser" – and as the CEO and guardian of the brand, it can even be difficult for me to know what is and what is not Moser. Our brand is constantly evolving and changing and that's what keeps it alive. You have to push boundaries.
What would you say to a more traditional or conservative watch collector who might feel apprehensive about how Moser is embracing the intersection of watch culture with that of sneakers and streetwear?
EM: If we stand still, we'll die. As an independent brand, we need to be in constant evolution and to be always moving. If we look at the most successful traditional brands, they've done amazing collaborations. I mean, look at Patek and Tiffany. It's incredible how long their collaboration has been going. And I told Eric, I hope you will be our Tiffany, where it becomes a tradition for us to do something together.
EPC: That sounds great; that sounds amazing.
EM: There are always going to be people who talk, but if you look at the product, it remains very Moser, while also being very Undefeated. We didn't completely change everything. I always say that a collaboration is where we provide a canvas and [our partners] express themselves. So Eric expressed himself. If you start looking at the details of the finishing, the movement, et cetera, people would say, "Oh yeah, it's haute horlogerie." It's just meeting street culture.
Calibre HMC 902 developed with Agenhor. Image, H. Moser
Can you tell me about the design process? How did things progress after your initial Zoom call?
EPC: On our side, we went back and looked at the watch, and we did a lot of research as a reference, and we came up with a couple of options centered around our logo. We're known for the number five, the logo is the tally mark. So there's a lot of focus on it. And then there's also the colors; we use a lot of black and are also a very military-inspired brand. It was a collaborative process. Moser's team came back with some edits and recommendations. And I think it all came out for the best.
EM: We've had a lot of requests for Streamliner limited-edition collaborations; we refused all of them. But this is the exception. It's something special that I hope will attract a large audience and bring them to our world. What's also interesting about the watch is that from Eric's point of view he wanted to create something where there could be some kind of patina. So we really wanted a blackened dark case and bracelet in all aspects where there will eventually be a few small marks that develop – even though the coating is very resistant – but that's part of the life of a product. We had a lot of discussions about that, as well.
EPC: We know that even if the color came off a little bit, it has a military, battle-damaged feel to it, which makes the watch unique.
The new watch is delivered with a barch of exclusive co-branded merchandise. Image, H. Moser
Eric, I want to go back to a conversation you had with Cole. You mentioned that one of the dream watches that you'd like to work on is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The Streamliner is clearly a very different product, but it riffs on similar ideals – steel construction, integrated bracelet, '70s charm. I think it would be fair to say they share a similar area of origin. So how was it to finally play around in the integrated-bracelet arena?
EPC: I'm a huge fan of '70s integrated bracelet watches.
EM: Yeah, you do have a lot of Royal Oaks.
And now you have a lot of Streamliners.
EPC: This is a very exciting project for me because integrated bracelet watches are very different from the usual. You have to look at the product overall instead of just focusing on the dial. I don't think I've seen too many collaborations on integrated-bracelet types of watches, as well. It was a very interesting challenge for us.
EM: Is it your background in design that attracts you to it? These are the most complex designs; the integrated bracelet is the design.
EPC: Yes, I love design. I design all my stores. I design all my fixtures. I went to school originally to be an architect. I'm always very curious about how everything works, especially anything with design. But to me, watches are a totally different level. They're incredible.
From my perspective, Moser is quite a bit more nimble than many other Swiss watch companies. What do you think your colleagues across Switzerland can learn from sneaker or streetwear culture?
EM: We have no choice but to learn. If you look at the next generations – millennials and gen Z – they think differently. We're seeing now how they collect. They look at the brand, they look at the product very differently from, I think, previous generations.
I see my kids spending money on Fortnite skins; I'm like, "What is this?" I think we need to be open. We need to learn, otherwise we'll all be outdated extremely fast. And I think this collaboration helps us get to know these people, these generations. They want products that talk to them. And I think that's where a collaboration like this helps us also to study it and go in another direction. I love to say that we don't want to follow trends at Moser, but at the same time, we want to experiment. I love to have young people on my team because I realize that I cannot keep up alone and having external feedback and input, it helps us stay relevant in today's world that is moving so fast.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. All images by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet, unless specified.
You can learn more about H. Moser & Cie. and Undefeated on their respective websites.
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