How an obsession built a world-class Filipino watch brand 2
Makina founder Danilo Villanueva Jr. and Makina's Uriel III gun metal watch. Photos courtesy of Villanueva

His obsession with watches led to making a world-class Filipino watch brand

This advertising big shot left his job to follow a dream—make a damn good Filipino watch with global appeal
RHIA GRANA | Aug 25 2021

Make time. It’s a pretty simple life credo. And it’s what the founder of Filipino watch brand, Makina, subscribed to when he made one of the biggest career decisions of his life. In 2016, Danilo Villanueva Jr. put a successful advertising career on hold for a year to fulfill his other dream—create his own brand of watches.

Dan’s obsession for timepieces was born in his teenage years. His introduction to the world of horology came via an all-silver Bulova that his father, Danilo Sr., gave him as a gift. Dan liked the watch very much he wore it almost every day.

Danilo Villanueva Jr.
Dan in Florence, Italy

Living with a watch collector for a dad, the affinity for timepieces naturally rubbed off on Dan Jr. His fascination grew even more as he got exposed to a wide array of watch brands through the years—from Panerai and IWC to Jaeger-LeCoultre.

But it was only in his late 20s and early 30s, when Dan had already established his career and was making his own money, that he started to become obsessed with watches. “I’m a fan of a lot of watches. Some of the pieces that I do buy, I think they are perfect,” he tells ANCX. “But there are some pieces that are missing something.” 

Makina Uriel I
Makina Uriel I

That thought took his obsession to the next level. Dan decided to take a sabbatical from work—he was then a creative director at BBDO in Beijing, China—came home to the Philippines in 2016, and made time to build a watch company. He launched his first few watch models in 2017 before going back to his advertising job. For two years now, Dan has been managing Makina full time.

Dan picked the name Makina because it sounds masculine, which makes it perfect for a men’s watch brand. It also connotes strength. The Makina analog timepieces are very classy, professional looking, and elegant. It was how Dan envisioned the designs to be. “But what people don’t see right away is that there’s a little bit of grit behind it,” he says.

Makina Uriel III in deep teal
Makina Uriel III in deep teal

The brand very much reflects Dan’s taste, personality, and sense of style. “I like things that are elegant. I like things that are tasteful,” he tells ANCX. “I appreciate fine things but not to the point where you’re showing off. I like simplicity. Makina tries to achieve elegance without being blingy.”

He says he’s a big fan of dressing for the occasion. “If it’s casual, you dress casual, not smart casual, not dressy just so you could stand out. I fancy people who stand out while following the rules—dressing appropriately but well.”

Makina Raum watch
Makina Raum watch

Dan, with his inclination for the visual arts, is very much involved in the aesthetic side of Makina’s watch design. He works closely with two engineers—both Filipinos who are based in Hong Kong—from conceptualizing to overseeing the engineering and manufacturing.

Since it launched in 2017, Makina has released a total of 10 different models. Their latest is the Makina Raum, which is so far Dan’s top favorite. “I have a fascination for bigger watches. Makina Raum is big but still understated,” he says. It’s versatile in that it can be worn as a tool watch, but also it looks appropriate for dressier events.

Danilo VIllanueva Jr. with wife
Dan with wife Maetel in Maldives

The versatility and adaptability of his watches somehow reflects the kind of life he’s lived over the past 40 years. “I grew up everywhere,” he tells ANCX. And by that he means moving from one city to another, in different parts of the world, since he was six. His dad used to work at Philip Morris, which required the older Villanueva to be based in different countries.

Dan was born in Quezon City, studied grade school in Hong Kong, high school in Australia, and finished college in the United States. He was also once based in China, Dubai, and now he lives with his wife Maetel in Los Angeles. He says he ended up liking the experience of living—not merely visiting—different places.

Makina Uriel IIII in white
Makina Uriel IIII in white

If you still haven’t seen the watches Makina makes, trust that it’s a lot like its maker. It’s built to flourish anywhere in the world. From its looks alone, it can certainly hold its own among the big global timepieces. “I thought back then, if I create a watch that looks so Filipino, it would pigeonhole us, and that won’t bring us a lot of options in the future,” he says. “I want to sell it globally as well. I want to take the Philippines wherever we go.”


Photos courtesy of Danilo Villanueva Jr.