A Moment in Time - Ramon Kingsley creates sought-after watches inspired by World War II–era materialsOct 27, 2020 09:58PM ● By BETH LUBERECKI
Ramon Kingsley works on the complicated process of assembling one of his limited-edition watches.
Lots of kids grow up playing with Matchbox cars or G.I. Joe figures. Ramon Kingsley wasn’t like lots of kids.
Kingsley was born in the Dominican Republic, and his father was a former military officer who’d been a teenager when the Dominican Republic was under the rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo. At a young age, Kingsley developed a fascination with the military and would use his father’s vintage airplane parts and military ammunition casings to make playthings.
“I was kind of the weird kid,” he says, laughing. “Instead of playing with regular toys, I would be making my own toys. I attribute a lot of my creativity to that.”
That early ingenuity led him to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied industrial design, the practice of designing products and devices used in everyday life. After years designing for various companies, Kingsley ventured out on his own, hearkening back to his childhood tinkering and appreciation of military history.
Inspired by World War II–era aircraft parts and other vintage materials, he began making watches with a unique military look. “I wanted to make timepieces that were more meaningful than just an instrument or product that told time,” he explains. “In today’s world you’ve got an iPhone; you can see time wherever and you don’t really need a watch. But people still love watches, and that’s where I wanted to tap into, the special part of having a piece you can talk about.”
It’s been about a decade since he made his first prototypes and now his company, Kingsley No. 1945, has developed a serious following, with an enthusiastic client base that’s vocal about what they love and what they’d love to see next. “A very high percentage of people who own a Kingsley watch come back and want another one,” says Kingsley. “It’s a very cool thing that’s taken on a life of its own. People just really love the look and feel of these watches.”
Building a Brand
It almost seems like destiny that Kingsley would end up involved in an endeavor like this. He not only made his own toys as a child but also was part of a family of collectors, where he learned the ins and outs of antiquing.
At RISD, he fine-tuned his design skills, learning how to take ideas from sketch to actual physical products. After graduation he did a stint in Texas designing small furniture and home goods for companies such as Target, Walmart, and the Container Store.
He then returned to Rhode Island to design for A.T. Cross Co., one of the oldest pen manufacturers in the world that also makes things such as leather goods. It was during his time there that Kingsley started thinking about his longtime interest in jewelry and how he might transition that into making watches.
“That was where the dots started to connect,” he recalls. “From my childhood to today, where I collect all this antique stuff. I said how cool would it be if I could connect that passion for vintage aircraft parts and gauges and the aesthetic I had for jewelry and watches?”
He began to play around, using actual World War II–era gauges and other aircraft parts to create one-of-kind watches. He found vintage movement parts and shopped secondhand stores for authentic bomber jackets that he cut into leather straps for the watches. “It was really purely from scratch. At the beginning it was reclaiming. That was how I kicked off the brand.”
Kingsley learned how to piece together watch parts and developed a list of component manufacturers and suppliers. “It was lots of trial and error,” he says. “I was a one-man show to start. And with how watches are designed, it’s not an all in-house thing where one person does it all. You have to have a designer who’s like an architect, and then you have all these parts.”
But he knew he was starting something special. “Having such a wide experience in consumer design, everything from luxury goods to practical consumer goods, this really derived from a longing for doing things that were inherently unique and meaningful,” he notes. “When you tie a product back to something historical, it just feels more important or special, or like something that you just want to keep as a keepsake.”
As the company grew, Kingsley began designing and sourcing components with the look and feel of some of the authentic vintage materials he first used. That might mean cases designed to look like old cockpit gauges and crown guards made to resemble a hand grenade lever. He uses different metal and color combinations for the dials, and the watches are all packaged inside vintage-style, hand-finished cigar boxes. “It’s almost like a Lego shop,” he jokes about his Providence design studio where everything is assembled.
Kingsley now has five employees who help him fill custom orders and make the limited-edition watches he sells mainly through his website (kingsley1945.com), with current prices ranging from $800 to $1,400. “The website is very user friendly,” he says. “It’s like eye candy, and people really resonate with that. So a lot of activity happens online. People sometimes go on my Instagram (@kingsley_1945) and start a conversation through there.”
Creating a Following
When customers buy a Kingsley watch, they automatically become a Kingsley Club member, receiving first access to new products and sometimes special promotions. But it doesn’t even take that for Kingsley and his customers to form a strong bond. “The consumer for a Kingsley watch is a very passionate person who’s very inspired by creativity,” he says. “I have all sorts of customers who have met each other through the watches themselves.”
Rhode Island restaurant owner Dino Passaretta, who owns several Kingsleys, says, “It seems like when I wear a Kingsley watch, people are like, ‘Oh my God, what’s that?’ Ramon is a very quality-driven person. He’s very detailed with certain little aspects of the design.”
Kingsley customers range from police officers and lawyers to chefs and watch enthusiasts who also own Rolexes and other pricier timepieces. “When you see a Kingsley watch, it looks very different,” says Kingsley. “People tend to comment on it; it’s a way to start a conversation.”
“When you’re sitting with someone who’s never seen one or heard of it, their eyes go to it,” says wealth manager Anthony Marcello, an owner of several Kingsley watches who splits his time between Rhode Island and South Florida. “I love the way they look, and I get a lot of compliments wearing them. … And I like having unique stuff; I like to have a little something that everyone doesn’t have.”
Passaretta has known Kingsley since before he started the company and owns some of his earliest watches. He states, “The way Kingsley represents the brand, I think, is very important. … He makes you a Kingsley Club member. I know with local people [in Rhode Island], he would always have a Kingsley ceremony to get your Kingsley, maybe at one of my restaurants or somewhere else. Other members would be there with their watches on, and the new member was becoming part of something.”
Those Kingsley Club members also help influence the new watches Kingsley creates. “I’m very consumer centric,” he says. “I might get overwhelming responses from members saying, ‘We love that compass face; can you do it in green?’ So I take a lot of that feedback and it really narrows the passage of what products we want to release.”
“Ramon does a really good job with the whole aspect of exclusivity and customization,” adds Marcello. “Once someone buys one Kingsley, it always seems like they end up with a second or third. I’ve turned a lot of people on to him.”
For Kingsley, that devoted clientele is exactly what he wants for his company, and he likes the intimacy of the whole customer experience: “This is a product of passion. I didn’t get into this aspiring to start a brand and become rich and sell it. I still to this day am the full owner of company. I keep it very boutique.”
Beth Luberecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media. Learn more about her work at bethluberecki.com.