I actually first met Chase Fancher, founder of Oak & Oscar at Salon QP 2013, back in the good old days of that good old exhibition. On my way to grab a glass of champagne – the first of many – he showed me the initial designs for Oak & Oscar which, at the time, I didn’t read much into. It’s hard to get excited about any new watch brand before handling the pieces. It turns out I maybe should have been.
At the time the idea was just a germ but has since transformed into a passion project that’s quickly becoming one of the definitive stateside watch brands. Their non-nonsense, well-built watches are certainly some of the finest I’ve seen from anywhere not on the West Coast.
The name Oak & Oscar, incidentally, comes from Chase’s greatest loves (other than his family, obviously). Oak from the barrels used to age bourbon – and following that, Scotch, so I can identify – and Oscar from his best pal, a Portuguese water dog.
In more ways than one, Oak & Oscar is the unofficial watch of Chicago. When their first timepiece, the Burnham was brought out, named after the architect behind many a famous building (including our own Selfridges), it got plenty of attention from collectors. It also got the attention – and endorsement – of the Burnham family, who are now very much part of the Oak & Oscar fan club. As is the US curling team, so keep an eye out next Winter Games.
The appeal of the watches is pretty obvious. All of their pieces, from the original, stripped-back Burnham to the dual time zone Sandford to the incredibly cool, Explorer-esque Humboldt, use sandwich dials. They combine that depth of field with solid cases and the kind of touches most collectors can appreciate for solid, everyday timepieces that skew sportier than elegant, but without venturing into field watch territory.
What hits home most about Oak & Oscar though is that, despite the success, it’s still a journey very personal to Chase, who describes himself as ‘a little guy in Chicago making a few hundred watches a year.’ The fact that his pieces are being bought not just as fun, solid timepieces, but as heirlooms, isn’t lost on him.
Just don’t expect things to stay this low-key. Oak & Oscar has recently welcomed their first in-house watchmaker, Nathan Bobinchak, a huge step for any horologically-inclined brand. And with that has come the first timepiece fully assembled in-house, the Olmsted Matte Series.
Falling in line with what we’d consider more traditional military stylings, the matte black version of the Olmsted compliments the everyday ruggedness typical of Oak & Oscar with more serious hardwearing touches like a ceramic coating. The date’s been removed to strip things down even more (and yes, that includes the crown position) and each is built in small batches.
On the one hand that means there’s limited production; on the other, it means that each batch will see subtle improvements and changes over time. It’s a bold new way of working and should, by rights, give even more collectors a reason to take note of this “little guy in Chicago”.
More details at Oak & Oscar.