Mr. Fleming, who was raised in Alexandria, Va., is the first watch collector in his family. (His father is a partner in a venture capital firm; his mother, an accountant, is retired; and he has two younger brothers.) And initially, his own array was pretty limited: As he became interested in watches, he bought a steel Victorinox and an Orient divers’ watch, and in 2015 he received the Omega Speedmaster that he had asked for as a high school graduation present.
But while he was studying at Stanford University, he began to collect watches — he now has about 75 — from a wide range of brands, from Casio to Patek Philippe. He also immersed himself in watch websites and forums, and started an Instagram account to post photos of timepieces he liked. Through the app, he gradually began to meet other collectors, like James Kong, a watch photographer who became Fleming’s chief operating officer in January. The company’s other two full-time employees are Grace Rood, the chief financial officer, who is Mr. Fleming’s girlfriend; and John Fleming, a younger brother, who is working on several areas of the business.
In his senior year of college, Thomas Fleming started to develop a line of natural soft drinks called Atmos, but even while working on that project, he thought that starting a watch brand would make sense, in part inspired by the popularity of watch microbrands in recent years. He graduated in 2019 with a degree in management science and engineering and established Fleming, which will sell directly through its website and associated social media accounts, in 2020.
Watch industry experts say collectors continue to find small brands appealing. “There’s a lot of interest and demand for microbrands, whether they’re affordable or on the high end,” Mr. Broer from Fratello Watches said, noting that they allow collectors “to be more individual rather than to follow the herd and buy your 10th Rolex or 20th Breitling.”
Mr. Fleming, who is now based in Washington, D.C., said he initially didn’t intend to use his family name for the company. But while checking copyright clearances on potential names for the brand, which is wholly owned by Mr. Fleming with investments from his family, his last name was available and several other choices were not.
“I’d hope if we’re successful, people don’t associate the name with just me but the brand in general,” he said. “They might not know there’s a person named Fleming behind it, which would be great.”