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Q&A with Angus MacFadyen, Owner of Alsta Watches

Q&A with Angus MacFadyen, Owner of Alsta Watches

Have you always been interested in watches?

Yes, I have been interested since I was a child, but never to the level of it being a passion. 

My first watch was a Timex, which I got when I was around 7 or 8 years old. Around that time, I was fascinated by some old pocket watches my aunt kept in a drawer. I used to ask to see them whenever I visited. 

My serious interest in watches started around 2000/2001, and I bought my first serious watch in 2002. It was a Rolex Submariner, bought brand new when you could walk into a shop and buy a steel sports Rolex! 

When I get interested in something, I usually go deep, so I started to research the history of the model and the brand and started to buy vintage Submariner models. This expanded into other vintage Rolex models and I soon had a small collection of Submariners, GMT Masters and Explorers, as well as sports watches by other brands such as Jaeger Le Coultre, Omega and Heuer. I was fascinated by dive watches and would pick up interesting vintage dive watches for next-to-nothing by unusual, obscure or long-forgotten manufacturers such as Alsta! 

What’s your story? What led you to resurrect Alsta?

In my watch buying and collecting journey, I was getting much more excited and fascinated by independent makers as opposed to the major houses. I was much more interested in discovering and knowing more about a rare piece by an independent or a vintage piece with a great back story than chasing yet another Submariner with some minute difference that made it collectible. I was also fascinated by watches with powerful and romantic stories, such as the early dive watches and space watches. 

I started to get excited by finding an old Bulova, Doxa or 50 Fathoms and anxious about buying Rolex or Omega, which were becoming minefields due to counterfeiting and non-originality. Vintage Rolex was becoming more about the ‘correctness’ than the pleasure of owning and wearing, and that just wasn’t for me. 

In my collection, I had an obscure dive watch from the early 1970s called an Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic. I knew little about it and had bought it as I liked the solid cushion case, which wore larger than it was. It was in my regular rotation and became my golf watch. It wasn’t too big and therefore didn’t get in the way. It wasn’t too expensive (those were the days!), so no big deal if the shock killed it and it was waterproof. 

Around 2013, I started to think that I would love to found my own watch brand. I was seeing little in the way of excitement or romance coming from the watch world in general. Each month, I would read the watch magazines and my interest was starting to wane a little because it was the same old same old every month. 

The new release from Rolex, the new release from Omega, the current ‘in’ watch from a major brand… I mean no disrespect to these brands as the quality of their timepieces are among the best. However, the market was becoming tedious and uninspiring, at least to me. I wasn’t seeing watches that made me visualize them as part of my lifestyle. 

I heard someone say that people don’t buy watches, they buy stories, but I wasn’t seeing this in the market—I was seeing plenty of brand ambassadors saying, “I wear this watch, you should too,” but that cut no ice at all. I wanted to wear the watch that Cousteau wore and inspired a generation of divers to wear, not the watch that some supermodel is being paid to advertise! 

I considered starting a brand, however, the problem with that was the lack of romance and back story, which were the things I couldn’t find in the market. I would have to somehow create a backstory if I didn’t have a fascinating backstory. For example, the English brothers at Bremont. 

I started to do research into defunct brands that were possible candidates for resurrection. One day while strapping on my Alsta to play golf I thought, “Hold on a minute…” The rest is history, as they say.

What was the first watch you owned?

My first watch was a three-handed Timex when I was 7 or 8. First serious watch was a Rolex Submariner. 

Was there a particular watch that ‘started it all’ for you?

One of the first watches I bought after becoming serious was a Breitling Montbrillant 103, which was released in 2003 to commemorate the centenary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. I am not knowledgeable on Breitling, therefore I have no idea if it is rare or collectible. However, I bought it because I was mesmerised by the romance of the story, and I guess this was the first watch that made me feel that the story was more important than the metal. 

I didn’t buy it because I was a big Breitling fan. I bought it because I loved the connection to the history of flight. I sold that watch a long time ago, and I wish I hadn’t. But watch enthusiasts all have stories of watches we shouldn’t have sold and watches we should have bought. Although that wasn’t my first serious watch, it was the first where the story was the thing I bought into.   

When would you say you become a watch romantic?

I guess I have been a watch romantic from near the beginning of my love affair with watches. Some collectors are methodical about their collecting and want to own every single reference or sub-reference of a particular model or brand. I have never been that way inclined which is, I guess, why I was frustrated at what I was seeing in the watch magazines and store windows and what led me to resurrect Alsta. 

Alsta was never a big name, but it had a solid back catalog across all ranges including ladies’ dress watches, men’s travel watches, and the thing it was best known for—sports watches. In its heyday, Alsta watches were worn by business travelers as well as sailing, diving, and skiing enthusiasts. I felt that Alsta had a real heritage to explore in addition to having the magical Jaws connection and for me, bringing Alsta back to life made much more sense than founding a new brand.  

What are some other watch brands or styles that you are fond of?

For vintage, I go for brands that ooze romance, such as Cartier and early dive and travel watches. I also like design-led watches from the 1970s like LED drivers’ watches.

For modern, I go for the independents pushing design and technical boundaries such as Ressence, Sarpaneva, Horage, MB & F and Rexhep Rexhepi

Any future projects we should know about?

I do have future projects in the pipeline, but it is probably too early to speak about them. 

The Nautoscaph Superautomatic was limited to just under 2000 pieces. Are there plans to produce more of these Jaws watches if/once you sell out?

We have made 1975 pieces—the movie came out in 1975—and won’t make any more of this model. There were loads of different Nautoscaph versions in the 1960s and 70s, many of which we will bring back. However, we want to develop our range beyond the ‘Jaws watch’ and once they are gone, they are gone. 

It is an important part of our story, for sure. However, it is not the only thing we did, therefore we will not overdo the connection.