For those not familiar; an homage piece is one that gives the wearer the look of a well known high end watch [i.e. the Rolex Submariner, among others] usually with some other minor changes so as not to infringe on the logo trademarks of the original manufacturer. The up side is that they generally cost considerably less than its counterpart, the down side being that many feel is dilutes the originals design, and is bad for the market. Understand Alpha is certainly not the first to make such pieces, companies like Timex and Casio have been making watches influenced by popular designs for years. That's how it goes in business, if it makes an impact it gets copied in some form or another. One of the concerns is that homage watches coming from some Chinese manufacturers are potentially aiding the production of counterfeit watches...But that's a discussion for another day.
Back to Alpha; doing a search on most watch forums of Alpha will usually bring up several discussions. Most of the reaction regarding watches purchased through their Hong Kong online store has been generally positive with, of course, some negative comments regarding occasional quality control issues. The sometimes spotty quality control can be pretty common among Chinese watch manufacturers. The one thing people can't deny is that a lot of watch collectors certainly like to talk about, and buy up Alpha watches.
In mid 2009 a announcement was posted on the Watchuseek forum's Chinese Mechanical Watch area that Alpha Watch USA was to be established, and that many of the wishes, and some complaints discussed by forum members across the web about Alpha Hong Kong [HK] would be addressed. After a short delay the official US website opened with an initial offering that included products and services buyers have been asking about for years, that Alpha HK wasn't really open to doing on a small production run basis.
This announcement was made by Mark Lewis of Illinois; the founder and owner of Alpha Watch USA. Mark was last employed in the telecommunications field where he has had many successes and actually holds U.S. and International patents related to VoIP [Voice Over IP]. Among Mark's many hobbies [including amateur astronomy and drag racing] is, you guessed it, collecting watches. After seeing how popular Alpha HK was, and his desire of fulfilling the customer's wants and needs he decided to see if opening Alpha Watch US was possible. Stating after countless hours research and finding the right partner he was ready to take the plunge. He found that partner in Chris Youra a Project Manager of a marketing firm in California, who will be acting on behalf of Alpha USA as their design, marketing, and web development departments.
Starting out Alpha US has more or less been acting as an official distributor of Alpha HK's product line in North America creating it's own online store and offering many of Alpha HK's most popular designs. Though it doesn't end there, from the very beginning Mark and Chris have been speaking with fans of the brand and asking them questions about where they wanted Alpha US to go...and they actually started to implement the answers. Immediately on Alpha US's website, buyers now had the option to purchase things like display case backs to retrofit their favorite Alpha HK watches [which was a long time customer request], along with a timegrapher service option on new watch purchases [for a small fee], to see just how accurate their latest Alpha watch purchase is. I asked Mark what about Alpha Watch HK made him want to become the US distributor, he stated: "Alpha Watch has a pretty good reputation in the marketplace and have been around for a long time. That coupled with the fact that they have good manufacturing capacity and are willing to do just about anything from a design standpoint makes them a very suitable partner. Their quality control is actually pretty good for what they deliver on a daily basis which makes our job here in the United States easier."
One of the biggest questions was how Alpha Watch US would differ from the Hong Kong based operations, Mark replied: "Well, for one, we are offering a more service based approach. From fielding questions to interacting on various forums to keep in touch with our customers takes us in a totally different direction from Alpha HK. In addition, offering testing services such as with our Timegrapher substantially differentiates us not only from Alpha HK but most all other manufacturer/distributor/retailers at the price point we are selling." continuing "The only aspect of business we share is the fact that we both sell strictly on the Internet. They are a manufacturer and retailer of their own product. We, on the other hand are a distribution arm for them. That said, I'd like them to focus more on the manufacturing end and less of the retail end but that will take time." It's obvious from Mark's statements that he and Chris are looking to expand Alpha's market and product line beyond what is available from Alpha HK. The new relationship had me curious about how the brothers Chan in Hong Kong would react to Mark and Chris taking their labor of love and reshaping it for an American market. I asked Mark about that as well; "Alpha HK is very supportive of our efforts here at Alpha Watch USA. They take our ideas from a concept sometimes as simple as a rough drawing to a production ready blueprint."
With such an ambitious start and the support many collectors, Mark seems confident that his first foray into the watch industry will be a rewarding one. What can we expect from Alpha US in the future? Most certainly the US side of the business will, for now, continue to sell the pieces that made Alpha HK so popular including:
"The Carbon" [New model only available at Alpha USA]
Three out of the four of those probably look pretty familiar to most readers who know watches. Aside from the physical likeness to their more high end cousins, all of these use Chinese made 'Seagull' and 'Shanghai' movements which, in their own right, have a track record for reliability and robustness. Though the above pieces are very popular and will continue to be sold for some time Mark and Chris aren't content with keeping Alpha US at the status quo, there has been talk of several new models coming out including some that fans have coveted for a while; "We intend on introducing more models that are unique to Alpha Watch USA as time goes on. I'd like to get completely away from the homage pieces but I suspect that would take a lot longer than I'd like. So, we will continue to offer these [homage] pieces but with the Alpha USA "touch" if you will."
Alpha US really seems to want to be tied together with its customer base, and along side its website has started to keep everyone updated by creating official Alpha US pages on Facebook and Twitter. Mark has even started to perform webcasts via an Alpha US YouTube page where he plans to discuss where things are going, unveil new models, and show what Alpha US is all about. Claiming: "Ultimately, it's the customer who buys our product so, I don't intend to stop listening."
Mark Lewis introducing the heavily requested MilSub watch:
To veiw their current product line visit their official website at: www.alphawatchusa.com
You can contact Mark directly with any comments or suggestions via their email; email@example.com or via their official Facebook & Twitter pages.
I would like to thank Mark for taking the time to answer my questions about Alpha Watch USA, its operations and their plans for the future.
Ed Note: The author owns 3 Alpha watches purchased through their Hong Kong facilities.