A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

by William Stoneham
A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

The Classic Motor Hub has recently partnered with Omologato, founded by Shami Kalra. We are proud to be one of only two official retailers in the UK and so in lieu of the ability to have a face-to-face chat we recently sat down for a telephone conversation to get to know the brand and the founder.

Over our hour-long conversation it became clear that Shami is hands on with every aspect of the business and knows his clientele well. Having grown Omologato from a simple idea to having international partnerships with some of motor racing’s most iconic names, Shami knows every aspect of his business intimately, right down to the nitty-gritty of social media/website content to approving orders and managing the stockroom. With his guidance Omologato has become the premier watch brand for those who love motorsport.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

What is your design background?

There was no grand plan to be a watch designer. I went to the London College of Fashion to study design for 3 years learning design principles, learning how to sketch and put ideas together. My first job was then at House of Fraser in the Menswear buying department but in 1993 I decided to start my own business in fashion merchandise, designing clothes for large companies.

Around 10% of my business back then was designing watches for companies but this soon became the largest side of the business. For example, Audi was a customer at one point where they would win on Sunday at Le Mans (for example) and then call us on Monday with an order for 100 bespoke watches to celebrate the win. This side of the business grew and grew until about 2014 when corporate budgets were no longer as generous. Soon after that I thought about starting my own brand.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

We’ve read that you started Omologato after locking yourself away for a weekend – is that how the story goes?

It was 5th June 2015. I was bored with corporate life and with people telling me how to do things so I went into the office at 6pm and put some ideas together. After sketching for two days I thought, “bloody hell, I’d buy those”. I’m not very good with Photoshop so I asked one of my freelancers to mock my sketches up on Monday morning. They came back to me on Monday evening and I fell in love with them. By Tuesday evening I had built a website to sell them and two days later I had my first sale for £500 which at the time was a huge reward after struggling for a while. Within a week I had sold a month’s worth of production and after six months we had sold a year’s worth of production and we had a 2/3 month lead time with people prepared to wait for their watch.

My design process hasn’t changed since then. If I know that I would own something myself, we put it in to production and we will only produce a limited number.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

How did you get in to motorsport and what did you watch most?

It was always F1. I haven’t missed a race since 1994 and I loved go-karting. I did my back in eventually and had to stop but I did club racing until I was in my 40s. I still love track driving and am taking driver coaching lessons. I don’t aim to be a warrior on the track but I want to understand and enjoy what my car is doing on the circuit.

Do you have any classic/COLLECTABLE cars yourself?

I’ve always loved Porsches because they are quite democratic, it doesn’t matter if you spend £3,000 on a 924 or £1m on a 918, you are still part of something and still get to enjoy a quality sports car.

I had three at one point: an ’82 X-reg manual 944 in Guards Red with Pasha checkerboard interior; it was the old Porsche GB Earls Court car running black cookie-cutters and it just looked right. Then I had an ’82 X-reg 911 SE which needed a lot of work so I decided to paint it powder blue with orange Fuchs alloys. Aficionados would have said everything was wrong but I didn’t care, it just looked good. After that followed a Slate Grey Cayman S which I put Martini stripes livery on before it was cool – some asked me how I did it because it looked standard. Recently I’ve got the 4.0 GT3 in Clubsport spec which I’m doing my driver training in. The engine is amazing and the manual ‘box gives you full engagement.

Before my Porsche fascination I also had a S1 Elise in Azure Blue with Magnolia but had to sell it to fund the business. Six months after that though I bought a light blue S2 111S which I put orange stripes over to homage Gulf colours. Recently though I’ve bought a Fiat Panda 100hp (which we both agree are outstanding cars).

I’ve also recently bought a VW Up GTi with a Milltek straight-through exhaust, it’s louder than the GT3! The torque in that car is hilarious – pulling away from the German Audi and BMW rep-mobiles on the motorway makes me chuckle every time.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra
A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

Can you explain the connection between cars and watches?

Someone asked me that the other day and I think generally speaking a lot of men buy the products I sell – as much as 90%. Men don’t wear much else that expresses their passion or personality. A watch for me, and generally for watch people, tells a lot about who you are, more than any other piece of clothing. On top of that everyone who likes cars loves engines and mechanical engineering and a watch is like having a little engine on your wrist. Most watches people have tell a story, whether it be the history of a race track or racing driver in the context of my watches or something else entirely.

One of the most endearing stories I go back to is a chap I met who was wearing this £10 watch which meant nothing to anyone else but to him it was his granddad’s watch which he wore during the war so to him it was worth everything. Exactly the same can be said for classic cars which have a personal connection.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

What is your process to design something distinct on a relatively restricted canvas?

The first thing you have to do is come up with a story and a good example is the Maranello watch. This was quite an interesting one that took about 18 months to develop. I knew I had to celebrate Ferrari and racing but in my mind there is nothing more naff than a Ferrari shirt or cap, the people who wear it probably also have the bag and the coat as well and what bugs me most is that Ferrari don’t celebrate their history in their products, they just put a logo on it and wait for people to buy it.

For the Maranello we went back to 1961 which was Ferrari’s first F1 World Championship win. If you look at the outside bezel you have all the tracks in the season that year and each one Ferrari won are in red and the ones they didn’t win are in white. Monza is the last one in red which Phil Hill won to give Ferrari the 1961 Ferrari Constructors Championship but Watkins Glen is in white because Enzo Ferrari decided there was no need to race in America since he had already won the championship and so denied Phil Hill the chance to win in front of his adoring home crowd. Instead Phil Hill led the parade lap in an open-topped Plymouth and later fell out with Enzo about that race.

Another one to look at is the British Racing Green which gives the owner a lot to study. It can’t be obvious because then it becomes too much like merchandise but people love to discover subtle details. The BRG dial is inspired by a watch Jim Clarke wore every time he raced – it was the watch he looked at when he raced at Indy and Monaco. The face is then in classic D-Type dark green with the bright orange needle from the BRM grills. Those 3 iconic elements together tell you the story of British Racing Green.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

Do you have a favourite motorsport livery?

There are so many obvious ones. I used to love Martini but now it’s a little overused on things which don’t look right. On a period correct car and used subtly it still works but now you can buy Porsche Martini stickers which doesn’t feel right when you have to tell people what you are representing. Now though I am thinking about what livery to put on my GT3 and I’m looking at mid-80s, perhaps the orange Jägermeister livery.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

What is your most popular watch design?

The British Racing Green and the Le Mans black have been incredibly popular, one sells almost every day but also the Monza which is my favourite. The Monza means a lot to me because it was the first big deal we ever had and to have your name above the door at Monza, the temple of speed is very special. We even saved the Monza clock outside the official’s office before you enter the paddock. It was due to be knocked down but we recommissioned it to an Omologato dial when we became the official time keeper.

A Conversation with Omologato Founder Shami Kalra

The Classic Motor Hub would like to thank Shami for his time and our very enjoyable chat. We look forward to welcoming customers at our shop to browse a collection of Omologato pieces as soon as we are able to do so, but in the meantime you can purchase a variety of their watches in our Online Shop.

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