Olympic medalist and two-time world champion Mark de Jonge has an important relationship with time. At the 2012 London Olympics, he won his bronze medal by .031 seconds. For an Olympic athlete, time is everything. They train relentlessly to shave even fractions of a second off their race times. And, apart from being one of the best paddlers in the world, de Jonge also designs luxury watches.
As a professional athlete, he was travelling a lot, and paddling a lot. But they don’t paddle all day. Many athletes choose to use their downtime to relax and watch Netflix. But de Jonge wanted to learn a new skill—computer aided design, a software used to prototype designs. “When I was away at training camps or competitions, in my spare time, I would just be getting better at drawing watches on my computer.”
With a background as a civil engineer, it wasn’t a huge leap to start making his own watches. But, as de Jonge says, “it’s one thing to design the watch, you can do that lying down on a couch between training sessions. But when it comes to making them, you get a little bit more involved.”
He prototypes the watches, designs every element, and orders the parts from professional machining shops. In his basement workshop, he assembles the custom designed parts, tests the watch for waterproofness, and does quality control on the finished product.
For de Jonge, the agelessness of watchmaking was enticing. Timepieces are classic and are often passed down through generations. He makes mechanical watches, which don’t have batteries–it’s powered by a bunch of springs that turn gears and make the hands tick. An old school approach in the time of smartwatches.
“It kind of went against the grain of what you see in the world today, where a lot of the technology only lasts a few years before it becomes obsolete, or, in a lot of cases doesn't even work anymore.”
Though he has to go a more high-tech route while training, using a Garmin watch with GPS and heart monitor, de Jonge likes making analog watches. “It's a recognition of purposely trying to live a little bit slower in an age where people are just flooded with information,” he says.
He takes pride in engineering high quality watches, a process which requires precision, time, and mastery. “It's similar to what I do in sport, where you're looking at shaving down tiny little fractions of a second every day,” he says. Watchmaking is a nod to his approach to sport, you get out what you put in. “If you have that really high quality approach in your life, then you tend to turn out high quality work.”
That approach has certainly served him well during his paddling career. He sprints through races, which are the culmination of countless hours of preparation and hard work, and usually last less than one minute. In the lead up to Tokyo, he continues to train toward refining his mastery of the sport. His watch business has taken the backseat for now. He continues to take orders here and there, and he hopes to have more time for his hobby when he’s finished kayaking at the end of August.