Gio de Guzman remembers his huge fascination for big pilot watches even as a kid. He fancied Breitlings so much he nagged his parents to buy him one. At that time, of course, he knew nothing about luxury watches. He had no idea the model he pined for came with a lofty price tag. His folks got him a Swatch watch instead. You’d think he’d be majorly disappointed but it was something the young Gio was more than happy to get.
As he got older, the fascination for watches grew. He started diving into the world of horology, devouring watch magazines and online tutorials the way boys his age dove into the latest video games. “I started learning about the different watch brands. Like, for starters, how to pronounce the brand names properly,” the 27-year-old Bulakeño recalls laughing.
It was in college when he started collecting watches seriously. His gateway brand was the Japanese Seiko. It was affordable and of good quality. “Super sulit,” he says. The first one he bought was a Seiko SKX007, and there was no stopping him after. “Every time I travel, I see to it na bibili ako ng watch,” Gio recalls. “And whatever brand I’m buying, I make sure na sulit siya for the price.”
There was a time when he had over 40 watches in his stash, a mix of luxury and under-the-radar names—his “hidden gems,” as he refers to them. The collection includes an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak he got from a garage sale and a vintage Rolex, but majority were still Seiko.
In 2017, however, the young collector noticed his favorite watch brand had racked up its prices. When before he can already snag a beauty that’s priced between P13,000 to P30,000, the new rates proved a little too prohibitive for his willingness to spend. “Naging masyado na siyang mahal for me ngayon—parang hindi na sulit,” he says.
So he thought, why can’t he just have something premium custom-made for him? Once he got the idea, he didn’t waste any time getting it done. He flew to Hong Kong to do his research and look for a possible supplier and manufacturer. And then he realized it would cost a lot to build a single custom timepiece. Manufacturers would require minimum orders. That’s when he started entertaining the thought of putting up his own watch brand to fill the market gap left by Seiko.
With the help of a few investors, Gio, then a third year Medical student in Ateneo, built De Guzman & Co., a sort of tribute to his family of jewelers from Bulacan. He ended up with a very Filipino brand, not only in name but in design and sensibility—value for money being a major consideration in its making.
At first, his plan was to create homage watches. The first model his brand created in 2020 was inspired by the Tudor Submariner, the DG005. “The feedback that we got was, maganda ang quality, pero walang originality,” Gio recalls. “That’s when we realized that the market was actually looking for a uniquely Filipino brand.”
Responding to this new market demand, he decided to make the company’s own signature watches starting in 2021. The initial release was the DG008, which adapted the Baybayin, the ancient Philippine writing system, as the watch’s numeral scripts. Used as markers are the first syllables of the numbers.
The timepiece is made from solid milled 316L stainless steel, which is extremely resistant to corrosion, and domed sapphire crystal. Gio says it features a Seiko NH35 Automatic Movement, which is quite comparable to Swiss quality in terms of accuracy and precision.
This February, the watch brand is releasing a reinterpreted version of their very first model, the DG005, but this time in “sunburst forest green.” They also substituted the Arabic markers with Baybayin script.
Last December, they released 21 pieces of the limited-edition DG008 watch in pink but it’s already sold out. (Sorry, interested Kakampinks.)
But the brand promises to continue offering value-packed, design-forward watches. They’re also keeping their timepieces at affordable price points—between P12,000 to P13,000. “Value proposition ang habol namin,” offers Gio. “Hindi naman talaga watch-making country ang Philippines. But we want to prove na kaya din natin mag-create ng high-quality watches.”
[Photos courtesy of Gio de Guzman]