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Interview: Steve Laughlin, Founder of Raven Watches
Words by Windup Watch Shop

Today we're introducing a new series on the Windup Watch Shop Chronicle - a series of interviews with the people behind our partner brands. Through these interviews, we'll take a closer look at the brand and find what inspires the people behind them. 

We're kicking things off with Steve Laughlin,  Founder of Raven Watches. Steve is a stable of the micro-brand community, often considered one of the early pioneers of the small, independent watch brand movement. He's an avid traveler, an excellent photographer, and shares a deep passion for watches.

Windup: What first got you into watches and when was that?

Steve: As far back as I can remember I was into watches. I have a photo of me from around 4th grade wearing what looks like a yellow Swatch. In the photo, I’m lined up with my friends after a pinewood derby and I’m the only one wearing a watch. 

Steve as a Scout

I was active in Scouts until reaching Eagle Scout at age 17, and during my time in the Scouts I learned to SCUBA dive (I became certified in 1989). One summer, my friend invited me to go with his family to Hawaii for what was an intense dive trip. Both of his parents were certified and his dad was our Scout Master, so I knew the family very well. We went diving nearly every day, and it was on this trip that I purchased my first dive watch from the Maui Dive Shop - a black plastic Free Style watch with a teal blue dial. I still have the watch today and it still runs. I loved wearing that watch because it reminded me of the trip and the risks we took and the time we had. I think that is why I am so connected to watches because you wear them while you live your life, and you can look at the watch and think about the times you have had. 

I went on to wear Seikos, Casios, Timex all through college, I purchased a few of them at the local camping gear store in my college town. When I graduated college my parents got me a Tag Heuer Kirium chronograph, and I thought that would be the one watch I would wear for the rest of my life. I wore that watch for about 7 years straight before I discovered the world of Seiko modding, which then led me to the forums, which led me to Ralf Schreiner, my future business partner, who was working on his first Benarus Barracuda watch project. We didn’t call them micro brands back then, but Ralf and I became instant internet friends. 

If you’re interested in going deeper into how I got into designing and selling watches, check out Episode 107 of the Worn & Wound Podcast. It’s worth a listen for anyone who is interested in hearing more about my background.

WU: Raven Watches tend to be sporty and utilitarian. Why is that? What influences your designs? 

S: With Raven, I’m trying to design a perfect sports watch and my influences come from many places. Let me just name random things that come to mind: scuba, travel, world travel, backpacking, camping, airplanes, F1 cars, vintage 4x4s, cameras, fishing, overlanding, spy movies, movies with international travel, people watching, manual transmissions, survival... I could name more, and every word here has a deeper story that influences the way I think and design when it comes to Raven Watches. I design based on what excites me about life, and there are many influences outside of watches that influence the watch design.

WU: Raven has a very active Facebook group, The Raven Room. Can you talk about that community and how/why that community is so important to you?

S: Facebook private groups allow us to share our watch hobby without bothering the rest of our Facebook family and friends, and those of us who use these groups know there are countless watch groups out there that you can join. Some of these groups have surfaced to the top attracting tens of thousands of members. 

The Raven Room is great because it is mainly driven by the customers. They can post photos, ask questions, and interact with each other unlike how a Facebook business page works. The group is also a place where I post updates, photos, news, and get feedback from others. It is something I visit a few times a day to read, answer questions, or make a post. You can find the Raven Room here. 

W: You’re a very skilled photographer. Can you tell us a little more about your passion for photography?

S: I started using my parent’s cameras back in the 1980s and by the time I got to high school I was taking photography classes along with other art classes every semester. Digital cameras were not around at the time, neither was the internet, at least not for the general public. For class, I was using my dad’s Canon AE1 with a 28mm and a 50mm lens. We shot black and white and developed our own film and prints. For travel and everyday moments, I used any color film I could find with a more rugged water-resistant Olympus camera.  

I had that camera with me all the time in high school, I took pics of my friends on the weekends, camping trips, and family vacations, and then used it throughout my college days. I also continued taking photography classes while at the KSU art school. My first overseas trip was in 1994 when I signed up for a student trip to Australia and New Zealand. Having a camera and being able to capture those moments allows me to revisit that trip and spark memories of what was going on at the time. 

I took another student trip to Italy in 1996, and then backpacked the CDT trail through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in 1998. All of these trips were documented with my film cameras. I graduated college in 1999 and digital cameras were just starting to enter into the professional world, but they were very expensive and many professionals were not using them yet. It was during this transition time that I started to fall away from photography. I was busy with my job and new married life and no longer kept a camera in the car with me. In 2001 we moved to Arizona and the beauty of the land got me back into photography. The first Canon Digital Rebel came out around this time as well, which was an affordable 6mpx DSLR and perfect for me to capture what I was seeing and experiencing in the desert. 

I could go on talking about photography for a long time, but let’s just say that my pictures never got any better over the years until I started hanging out with a few friends who were much better than I was. I started to focus more on composition, lighting, and subject matter. I now spend more time thinking about the shot and what is the purpose before I take any pictures. With film, you were limited by how many exposures you had on one roll, and how many rolls you had with you. With digital, you can shoot as much as you want, but that just makes for more work sorting and editing. Typically if I spend a day shooting, even on an international trip, I may only take 100 to 200 photos during the day, and out of that I typically only post one or two pictures, so you could say that I take 100 photos to find one picture that I like. I have a personal Instagram account where I post photos from my everyday life, that account is @stevelaughlin76

WU: Does your passion for travel and photography influence your watch design?

S: For me, there is a feeling I have when I am traveling and out taking photos. It is a similar feeling of excitement I have when I see a new watch that I really like. 

It is hard to put my finger on it, but the other aspect of it is “people watching”. At airports and in big cities I am always looking around at the people and what they are wearing on the wrist. When I am at home I appreciate my town for what it is, but it is quite different than a trip to Hong Kong where every minute is a new sight, smell, or experience. 

Travel and photography does influence my watch design, but it may be that it just energizes me to put more creative thought into what I am currently doing in life and puts more passion into the Raven designs.

WU: Can you share any information about what’s next for Raven Watches?

S: We have a bronze version of the Trekker which will be ready sometime in August and is limited to 30 pieces. After the Trekker I am working on a new field/pilot style which will be around 40mm and have some of the style of the Raven Defender, mixed with a new case and size. 

With the COVID pandemic of 2020, we are now about 3-4 months behind schedule with our new Raven Trekker 39mm. Since there is nothing I can do about this I have had more time this summer to be fishing with my son, which has been great. The good news is that the prototypes are actually arriving at my office this week. I will be going over them and making any changes as quickly as possible, so that we can start production and try to get this project finished before December. I will be photographing and sharing these prototype images on our website and on social media as soon as possible - Be sure to follow Raven Watches on Instagram here