Avantist Launches A Watch Containing A Piece Of String From Martina Navratilova’s Wimbledon-Winning 1987 Racquet

by Elizabeth Doerr
 When I received a recent press release touting yet another “new” luxury brand, it nearly went straight into trash. I receive up to 40 press releases a day, and if I opened and read each email I wouldn’t have time to write a word for Quill & Pad.

But I’m a big tennis fan and was intrigued by the subject line “Avantist Luxury Watch to Debut During The Championships 2017 At Wimbledon.” So I opened the e-mail, but then digging through the agency speak was the next hurdle as I was thinking, “Stop the press, another rich tech guy has suddenly found a passion for luxury watches.”

And then there was the fact that I haven’t handled these watches myself so I couldn’t confirm the quality, but Avantist founder Keeran Janin’s agency had no problem (though with an NDA) sending me a list of the brand’s Swiss suppliers to prove that we are talking quality here.

Having now come this far, I still debated on whether this watch was possibly too gimmicky to present on Quill & Pad — which is why I’ve bored you with this lengthy preamble.

What finally sold me was my e-mail exchange with Janin himself. His answers to my questions exuded serious enthusiasm and I could feel his passion for the watches jump at me off the screen.

I was sold.

Martina Navratilova wearing Avantitst Navratilova watch

Martina Navratilova wearing Avantitst Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

The watch’s inspiration: Martina Navratilova

The Avantitst Martina Navratilova, which belongs to the Legend Series of the new brand, has one really unique element that no other watch has: it contains a piece of string from the tennis racquet that Martina Navratilova used during the finals of 1987’s Wimbledon championships. She won that final — her eighth win at Wimbledon to that point — by defeating perpetual rival Stefanie Graf (who is involved with Longines, by the way) in straight sets, 7–5, 6–3 after routing her other rival — Chrissie Evert — in the semi-finals in three sets.

Navratilova and Graf played each other 18 times in what was one of the biggest (friendly) rivalries of women’s tennis. They finished up with an equal number of wins each (9–9). This rivalry played out from 1985 to 1994 and was based in my opinion on pure athleticism.

Navratilova, who held the number 1 ranking for a total of 332 weeks in singles and 237 weeks in doubles (this is virtually unheard of — most champion singles players don’t play doubles at this level), is the only player in the history of the game to have held this ranking in both disciplines for 200 weeks simultaneously. She was a year-end number 1 seven times in her career and a year-end doubles number 1 five times.

Navratilova, who was born in 1956 in Prague, won Wimbledon nine out of 12 times that she reached the final; she is the women’s record holder there. Navratilova also holds the record for the most consecutive victories at Wimbledon, which is six (1982–1987).

She still holds the record for most singles (167) and most doubles championship titles (177) in the open era altogether despite the fact that she retired from the sport in 2006.

It would be far too much to list all of Navratilova’s accomplishments on and off the court in this space. Suffice it to say she is one of the greatest players the game of tennis has ever seen on court and one of the most conscientiously active the game has seen off the court.

Martina Navratilova is a champion in the truest sense of the word.

Avantist founder Keeran Janin holding an Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Avantist founder Keeran Janin holding an Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Why did Martina Navratilova become part of this watch?

Keeran Janin is a 34-year-old successful tech entrepreneur based out of Brunei and Singapore.

The first question, obviously, that sprang to mind was how did he get from tech to Navratilova to watches?

“I’m a tennis fan and am very fortunate to know people in the professional tennis circuit who at times invited me to the players’ areas of the Grand Slams. I’ve met some of the greatest athletes in the world,” the enthusiastic Janin explained. Still, how did he get this specific idea?

“I was at the Australian Open waiting in the locker rooms with a friend of mine who was playing a match that day. His racquets were delivered to him from the stringing room. Players may use the same set of five to ten racquets for an entire tournament (even for multiple tournaments), but they get restrung before every match, and the old strings are tossed in the trash.

“That’s when the ‘aha’ moment struck for the tennis watches. For players they are just strings, but for the right kind of fan (like myself) they’re just as valuable as diamonds and very much rarer. The string from a racquet used to win a Grand Slam final, now that would the perfect object to put into a watch that would inspire like no other.

Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

“This was a perfect starting point for our brand,” he said.

“I see the watch as being worn when you need empowerment,” Janin continued, selling the inspirational side of the object he has created. “Imagine yourself about to go on stage to deliver a speech to a room of thousands or about to give a presentation that could make or break your career. You might be glancing at your watch nervously every minute as the time approaches.

“With the Avantist Martina watch, every time you look down to your wrist, you will see those strings and be reminded, ‘If Martina could achieve all of that, you CAN do this.’ It’s like her being there right next to saying, ‘You got this’.”

Why watches?

It turns out that Janin is multitalented. While he earned a degree in software engineering in 2004, he has also been trained in gemology and jewelry design. “For part-time work I took a job with a jewelry designer and watch dealer friend. Jewelry design, particularly bespoke pieces with fancy colored diamonds, has been a passion that I’ve continued ever since.

Navratilova Bancroft racquet and dials for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

That’s a sight I can really get behind: Navratilova’s original Bancroft racquet and some dials for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

“I’ve always had an ambition of making a watch, even while a startup founder in tech,” the well-spoken Janin explained.

“Luxury watches and fine jewelry go hand in hand, and most of my clients over the years, as you pointed out, are from a different generation [than mine]. But the reasons behind desiring fine jewelry, watches, and things of beauty are very much the same for all ages. Understanding these aspirations is something I’ve developed a talent for.

“Fine jewelry is more than a shiny rock, it’s a piece of art that when worn makes you feel a certain way. It inspires you, it evokes emotion. Similarly a watch is far more than something to tell the time, it tells a story about you.

“When we embarked on this venture the shape, the design, movement, was unknown — nothing was defined. What we did know was that the watch had to tell its story differently, so inspirational that it could literally empower you to believe you could achieve anything. And so we started from there.”

Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Janin’s Avantist is making its official launch during the 2017 Wimbledon fortnight. Only 30 pieces will be available with Navratilova’s 1987 string, and each will cost ₤8,000.

Tennis raquet stringcan be seen in the slot in the dial of the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

The original tennis racquet string can be seen through slots in the dial of the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Another really special thing about these watches is that once purchased, the new owner will have the opportunity to meet Navratilova in person as Avantist is organizing private sessions with her during the fortnights of the major Grand Slams in Melbourne (Australian Open), Paris (Roland Garros), London (Wimbledon), and New York City (U.S. Open).

“Martina Navratilova has an extraordinary legacy that is both aspirational and inspirational for generations of people, which is why she is our choice as Avantist’s first ambassador,” Janin explained why he started with the U.S.-Czech champion.

The automatic movement is a reliable off-the-rack ETA, but the case and dial design are obviously customized. The rounded rectangular case is crafted in titanium by a premium Swiss case maker. Its stainless steel bezel is held to the case band with four screws; the design is unusual and interesting.

Dials for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Dials for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

The dial has multiple levels and applied elements evoking an impression of speed. The innermost opaline grey round dial — shaped like a tennis ball and sporting the markings to match — features the brand’s name and Navratilova’s signature in tennis-ball yellow. The rhodium-plated hands sport luminous tips.

But the most striking element is of course the string, which is visible through the slots between each hour marker as a ring encircling the round dial. Janin explained that if one looks closely enough, it is even possible to see the wear marks and specks of spray paint from the large “B” (for “Bancroft”) originally stenciled onto the strings.

Measuring string from Navratilova's Bancroft racquet for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Measuring string from Navratilova’s Bancroft racquet for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

The solid case back is green in color representing the “holy” Wimbledon grass and designed to look like a tennis court. The engravings and etchings proudly tout the string coming from Navratilova’s racquet, which was a wooden Bancroft Player’s Special. I assume she used genuine gut strings in that racquet as was the style at that time. Bancroft was an American producer of wooden tennis racquets; this company was just about 100 years old before it went under.

The “watch family”: tough as nails, but a blessing

I was really curious how Janin managed to find his way around the Swiss watch industry and get a watch out within two and a half years as it can be a pretty closed place.

Dialmaker adding a string from Navratilova's 1987 Bancroft racquet to an Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova

A dial maker adding a string from Martina Navratilova’s 1987 Bancroft racquet to an Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

“It was a challenge, especially being a non-Swiss, non-watchmaking family newcomer from Brunei,” he candidly answered my question. “One very important skill you pick up from the tech world is the art of the pitch; as a founder you start with little more than an elevator pitch, a slide deck, and thick skin. And then have to convince investors of your dream.

“It was a matter of researching the industry, learning the ins and outs of watch design, mechanics, and manufacturing, then identifying and reaching out to the best people in the business. [There were] a lot of cold calls, e-mails, and Instagram DMs, visiting Baselworld and getting a few minutes of time to share my vision, and convincing the right people to help me on this journey.

Case back for the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Case back of the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

“At first there were very few replies, a lot of nos, and frustration. The story of a Bruneian newcomer in Swiss watchmaking, working with a legend like Martina on a very novel concept, and the idea behind our unique pieces was compelling enough to get a meeting.

“When you’re finally face-to-face and pitching the idea, it’s so important to be authentic and [convey] that the brand’s values are values you truly believe in. Once you’ve gained the trust and acceptance of your first friends in the industry, the close-knittedness of the industry is actually a blessing: people are very happy to make introductions, mentor, and guide each other openly. Getting past that first hurdle was the hardest part.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met (in any industry).”

Avantist’s future

Janin has revealed that he plans to continue the series and release watches using other racquets from both Navratilova and other players’ Grand Slam winners.

Adding the string from Navratilova's 1987 Bancroft racquet to a Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova

Adding the string from Navratilova’s wooden Bancroft racquet to a Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987

Aside from tennis — and sports in general — Janin and his team are also working on other watches, all of which will be limited productions of less than 100 pieces following the Avantist theme of containing an actual piece of history that transports the wearer back to that inspirational moment.

“With this theme we’re not limited to just sport, and in fact right now we’re putting the finishing touches to a unique piece that I cannot reveal just yet.”

Quick Facts Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987
Case: 39.5 x 50.5 mm, titanium with stainless steel bezel, containing a length of string from the racquet Martina Navratilova used to win Wimbledon 1987
 Movement: automatic ETA Caliber 2892
 Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; date
 Limitation: 30 pieces
 Price: ₤8,000
 Remark: buying the watch also allows the owner to meet Navratilova in person

Originally published at Quill & Pad.