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September 26, 2019

New Adelaide watch brand Rota launches the ‘Tasman Chronograph’

Two Adelaide watch nerds designed and prototyped a unique wristwatch with hybrid movement, Japanese components, and an aesthetic based on the 1960s Adelaide Tasman Series of car races.

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  • Words: Joshua Fanning
  • Pictures: Josh Geelen

“They’re always so bizarre,” says James Raphael co-founder of Adelaide watch brand, Rota.

We’re talking – of course – about crowdfunding campaigns. James is a veteran on Kickstarter, but this is his business partner Josh Geelen’s first go on the digital platform that allows creators to pitch products and prototypes to potential customers around the world for micro financing.


Pre-order the Rota watch on Kickstarter which recently met its funding target for the ‘Tasman Chronograph’

The Rota ‘Tasman Chronograph’ is 21% funded with 26 days to go.

“The first crowdfunding campaign I launched had a $4K goal and did $30K,” says James. “Another campaign I ran had a $10K goal and reached $11K. It’s a really interesting thing.”

Normally CityMag wouldn’t report on a crowdfunding campaign, but we had to admit it’s not every day Adelaide launches a watch brand to the world.

Together the pair have designed and prototyped a hybrid chronograph watch that features mechanical movements with battery power, a sapphire crystal face and shell cordovan (Italian) leather band. The movement is Japanese – from the Seiko factory – and the case and manufacture will take place in China, while final inspection and assembly will be done in Adelaide.

Rota will ship worldwide from Adelaide and it’s Josh and James’ sincere hope this business grows off the back of this first design.

All up, Josh and James estimate the Rota project represents a $60,000 investment to-date.

“Every time you produce a watch prototype, it costs a few thousand dollars,” says James. “The theoretical science behind the process is that you’re spending 10 times what you’re hoping to sell the final watch for.

“We both wanted to create something we couldn’t do on our own and together we’ve been able to offer four colorways. That’s something really cool the partnership has brought to the table.”

Josh Geelen and James Raphael


James and Josh have known each other for some 15-20 years. They’re high school friends who also worked together at Wokinabox when they were 14. The pair drifted apart through early adult years; James moved to Canada and launched his business Raphael Quality Goods (thanks to Kickstarter), and Josh began his career as a professional photographer after travelling the world.

The pair reconnected in January this year and, James says, watches quickly became a hot topic in their shared space.

“Both of us have spent silly amounts of money on watches, but the nice thing about the watches we’ve bought is they’ve all risen in value as the popularity of quality vintage watches increases,” says James.

“When Josh moved into the studio in January, that’s when the brand really started to take shape.”

Once the pair had decided to invest and create a watch brand in Adelaide, they then dove deep into what that meant and how this city and our state and place in the world could connect with the global following and culture watches have developed since evolving from timing tool to fashion and status statement.

The resulting brand and aesthetic is built on the founder’s experience growing up in Adelaide, a Formula One city.

“It’s pretty unique we live in a street circuit city – there’s not many in the world,” says James.

From there James and Josh researched and found the Tasman Racing Series, a 1960s racing program designed to entertain European drivers in the off season. This was the golden era of Jack Brabham, where professionals were racing, but they were also working on each other’s cars and fixing them up together.

“It was doing it for the joy of doing it,” is James’ take on the Tasman Series, “and that resonated with us and our motivation with Rota – we are doing this because we love watches.”

And that love is reflected in the price point. If you read the comments section on the Rota Kickstarter you’ll see some pretty pointed commentary around the price point being significantly cheaper than other watches in production and questions around how it’s possible for Rota to deliver.

“We’re super transparent about everything,” says James. “This watch is possible because we aren’t building it for the wholesale / retail market. This watch will only ever be available online and direct from us.

“Where we could choose different components that are cheaper and would make a difference to a manufacturer producing 100,000 units we can add the benefit of that feature without adding profit on top. If the best sapphire crystal face – the same you’ll find on a $50,000 Rolex – costs $11 more per unit then we will add that on at cost price.

This approach gives Josh and James utter confidence in their product.

“We’re not worried that the curtain will get pulled down and they’ll discover we’ve got no clothes,” James says laughing.

“This watch has a screw down back plate that allows you to replace the battery after 10 years – and we know you won’t find any gremlins when you open that case. This is absolutely the best watch we could make at this price point.”

At just $250 you can pre-order one of the first-ever ‘Tasman Chronograph’ watches by Adelaide watch brand, Rota. We have the feeling this is one of those moments in time – the start of something big.

Back the Kickstarter

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