*This piece is part of John Collins’ ongoing article series called, “It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)” where he focuses on the lighter sides of sports business while tying it back into the topics driving the conversation in the industry.
Tune in to a New York Yankees or Chicago Cubs baseball game this year, and you’ll be sure to see something rather unique. As Yankee announcer John Sterling says in the recurring Original Grain commercial, “It’s not just a timepiece; it’s a piece of time.”
Original Grain is an innovative company dedicated to creating watches and accessories out of steel and wood that are not only crafted at the highest possible level, but also offer customers something unique. Company co-founder Andrew Beltran encapsulated it perfectly: “Watches tell stories.” Well, in this case, these speak sports.
The incredibly cool timepieces I’m talking about are what Original Grain calls it’s “MLB Collection.” They’ve taken wood reclaimed from seats at the old Yankee Stadium- the classics from 1923- and used it to create a line of limited edition 42MM New York Yankees Swiss Watches that feature the historic material. After nearly salivating at the idea of someday owning one of these Bronx Bomber beauties, I had to know more. How in the world did such an interesting partnership develop, synergizing wristwatches and sports memorabilia into something so distinct and unique?
We had a chance to catch up with Andrew Beltran, who co-founded Original Grain with his brother, Ryan, in 2013 and got to hear their “trailblazing” story. It was while returning from military deployment (he had been serving overseas) that Andrew decided to stop in Hong Kong and meet up with his brother, who was teaching in the region.
During the visit, Andrew noticed a wooden watch his brother and a few others were wearing, and instantly felt a surge of nostalgia and flood of positive memories. The rustic timepieces reminded Andrew of his youth; camping and bootstrapping in the Oregon woods, as adventurous children are apt to do. When he mentioned this to Ryan, the entrepreneurial brother liked the idea, realized that he could probably find sourcing, and a company was born.
The brothers started producing unique wooden watches and accessories with the goal to provide fashionable, high-quality timepieces that exuded personality and signified a certain “brand lifestyle” celebrating individuality. Every piece was different; carefully crafted with wood, all of which “has its own story.” The company grew, attracted funding, and started developing different versions like the “Brewmaster” made with reclaimed beer barrels, and the “Barrel,” featuring wood from barrels used in the making of Jim Beam bourbon (their first corporate partner).
Original Grain’s products sold well; the Beltran brothers’ brainchild was largely successful. Taking stock of the situation, Andrew and Ryan were moved to do something to express their gratitude to one of their primary investors- James Brennan- on his upcoming birthday.
Brennan is a New York guy the brothers frequently saw wearing beautiful Rolexes and other luxury watches. They also knew that Brennan grew up as a passionate Yankee fan, so they decided to create a gift melding the two hobbies or interests together. The Beltrans had one of their watches made using seats from the old Yankee Stadium, and gave it to the investor on his birthday.
The savvy investor was elated; not only astounded at the incredible gesture, but also recognizing instantly that this was something they had to share with others and could bring to market. Original Grain secured licensing with Major League Baseball and started producing the limited edition New York Yankees Watches. “That’s where the idea started, and the Yankees are known for their passionate fanbase, so it was only natural…” Beltran said of the decision to feature that particular team at the beginning.
Taking seats from the old Yankee Stadium, which had been torn down after hosting its final game in the 2008 season, Original Grain produced 2008 gorgeous Swiss Watches, capping it at that number to honor the stadium’s legacy (not to mention the seats’ scarcity). With only around 400 remaining, the Yankees watches were obviously a hit.
That popularity inspired Original Grain to expand the MLB Collection. Coincidentally, this decision corresponded with the incredible story of the lovable-loser underdog Cubs finally coming through and winning the world series in 2016. “It just fit with the OG branding and ethos,” Beltran mentioned.
In this case, Original Grain actually became the first watch company to partner with the Chicago Cubbies, and was even the “Official Timekeeper” at Wrigley Field for a year. While they no longer hold that position, Original Grain has maintained partnerships with the Cubs, Yankees, and MLB; and continue seeking new ways to expand into what they’ve found to be a rabid fanbase.
“People love watches, people love sports; the partnership has really elevated the product. They’re no longer ‘just watches;’ this sports memorabilia crossover has brought the brand to a whole new level…” is how Beltran described it. These limited edition versions are collector’s items, perfectly positioned to target sports fans and watch connoisseurs alike; creating family heirlooms to be treasured and passed along for generations.
Specifics weren’t covered, but Beltran did provide a bit of a sneak peak and offered a tease of a few of the sports-themed watches and products Original Grain will be coming out with. We’ll be sure to keep an eye out!
**(Oh, and bonus points to any loyal readers that launch a Kickstarter campaign of GoFundMe page to get a certain writer one of those Yankees watches before the supply runs out!)**