This Filipino Watchmaker Only Makes Timepieces With Soul


In 2016, when Danilo Villanueva took a year off from his 15-year stint in advertising to build Makina Watches, he knew nothing about making timepieces. Fortunately, his experience as a seasoned creative director gave him the rigor, discipline, and foresight needed to learn the tools and tricks of the trade in a brief amount of time. He learned everything, from research and planning, designing prototypes to manufacturing, building networks to branding, and so within a year, Makina Watches was up and running.  

“I always had a thing for watches when I was young,” he says. “Since my early 20s, I toyed with the idea of building my own timepiece. The problem was time—I had none. This is usually the case when you have a career in advertising. It's quite amazing what people can do and discover about themselves if they just set aside a little bit of time to pursue something they like and create something different in their lives.”  


Now, he makes watches designed, engineered, and assembled right here in the Philippines, with parts, including a Japanese Miyota movement, sourced from suppliers all over Asia. Villanueva shares how each Makina model undergoes an intensive, sometimes laborious process of creation: The first phase involves several rounds of sketches before an engineer is brought in to configure the mechanism. The initial blueprint is then brought to life via a 2-D and 3-D AutoCAD rendering and a prototype is then manufactured on CNC machines. This is tweaked and refined until Villanueva and his team are happy with it. Finally, the models are assembled in Makina's workshop in Quezon City.  

Makina released two models in its first year, Mephisto and Uriel, both elegant watches influenced by Art Deco and Populuxe. Three years later, Makina introduces its newest model, the Cassiel. The entry-level chronograph carries the same fastidious attention to detail that has built the Filipino company a following. The minimalist watch features an ivory-colored dial, a 41-millimeter stainless steel case that is waterproof up to 30 meters, a Japanese quartz movement, and a calf leather band in jet black.  

watch now

Esquire talks more with the founder and designer of the Filipino watch company about what makes Makina Watches tick. 

Makina Watches introduces the Cassiel, an elegant version of the sporty chronograph.

Photo by MAKINA.
Photo by MAKINA.

Can you tell us more about the Cassiel chronograph?

For Cassiel, it started with a simple question: “What would Makina’s take on a chronograph look like?” Whereas most chronographs are sporty, we went with a dressier direction. Most chronographs are busy with lots of numbers and markers. They are essential but that isn’t really what we would do as a brand, as it is too cold and calculated for Makina. We want something functional but much more [simple]; we even took out the seconds hand. Aesthetically, we gave the dial a slight nod to the 1950s Populuxe movement.   

Are there any materials you favor more in making your watches?

People have asked us if we are ever going to make watches with stainless steel straps, but I’ve always favored leather straps. To me, it’s this natural material that adds a lot of human touch to watches. Without it, most watches like the Uriel would be made up of nothing but machine-manufactured materials like stainless steel, brass, and a sapphire crystal, and that’s just too cold for my taste. We are very picky about everything, including leather. Uriel would not be the same if we had not opted for Italian calf leather. 


Makina favors leather bands over stainless steel straps because they add a human dimension to its watches.

Photo by MAKINA.

Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?

I don't really have a go-to place for inspiration, not physically and definitely not online. But to get a general direction, I find that the best way to start is by simply banging out multiple sketches on one blank sheet after another.  


Once I see a general direction I am happy with, we refine it and add flavor to it either by using what we know from art history, design movements, and/or cues from other well-designed objects that we love such as cars, planes, cameras, furniture.  

It's hard, but I think the first place you should look for inspiration should always be your own brain and the things you have seen, learned, and experienced. This way, the outcome will always be more personal, and therefore more unique. 

Why do you feel it was important to release a local line of watches? 

Makina exists based on a mission to uplift what it means to be a Filipino brand in the international market. However, the number one reason is more of a personal one. When I created and designed the first model, I considered it an extension of myself. The brand is an extension of the people, my family, who work behind it. So I figured that, if we were to create a brand, it is best if it had a name that is deeply rooted to who we are and where we come from. 


I wanted a name that is strong and robust—a workhorse made for stylish men who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Makina, which means “machine" or “engine,” words that are associated with the industrial age when invention heavily relied on human hands, sweat, and passion, is a word that best conveys the soul of this brand. 

The family-run watchmakers are run by a team of creatives who prefer to make things that feel alive.

Photo by MAKINA.

What sets Makina Watches apart from other brands, whether big names or independent labels? 

First, we are a company led and run by creatives. The people here are experienced and enjoy the idea of creating things, including film, photography, interior design, fashion, and motorcycles. Creatives work with brain, heart, and guts. We check each phase of the work, from the idea to the drawing board and technical drawings, prototyping to production, photography to branding and then packaging. I think this is one of the reasons why Makina has a distinct flavor in its products and image. 

Second, we are a company led and run by family, and it will always remain so. It is because of this and more that Makina will always have the feel of an independent company. We will always produce only in small numbers.

One of the brands we aspire to be like is Grado, a family company based in Brooklyn that has been hand-building quality headphones since 1953. Its headphones are beautiful and sound great. It is all these and more that contribute to our timepieces being beyond just another mass-produced product. 


How does Makina's aesthetic play into your personal style? 

As far as my personal style goes, I like to dress appropriately for the occasion or season, never wanting to be over- or under-dressed. I do prefer a more understated look. I only wear my beat-up Makina prototypes, even if they're not as accurate as our launched versions. I wear the Uriel whenever an occasion calls for a suit and tie—it is almost always with me during presentations and business trips. It definitely pairs well with a blazer.  

Mephisto is sportier, so I take that out a lot during more leisure trips for when we have to do outdoor activities. Cassiel works well with both formal and casual wear, and is really the most versatile when it comes down to pairing with straps—croc leather looks good with suits, while NATO straps look good dressed down. 

How would you describe Makina’s philosophy? 

I have been a creative director for quite some time now. If there is one principle that the creative industry teaches that I think people and companies should follow religiously, it is this: Whatever it is that you want to make, make it human. Meaning, you can't just make it look pretty; the goal should always be to make something that connects to people emotionally. It is a principle that brings out the best outcomes when applied well to many things such as film, writing, music, design, photography, architecture, et cetera.  


Here at Makina, we believe that building timepieces is no exception. It is difficult but it is always good to have this as the goal, as the direction, because we don't want to be just another brand that simply builds objects; we want to create living things.

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Sam Beltran
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