Back in Time: An Evening with Vortic Watch Co.

When I first announced my transition from fine jewelry retail to 3D printing tech, the responses varied from a tentatively supportive “sounds… interesting” to something like “tech? But what about jewelry?!” and even “does that mean you’ll wear jeans and t-shirts and use words like ‘bandwidth’?” (yes, no, and yes, for the record).

The truth is, I’ve been even more involved with the jewelry industry since I took on this role, and it’s been the most amazing experience to have the privilege of meeting people like R.T. Custer, co-founder and CEO of Vortic Watch. He had the brilliant notion to take US-made, early-20th-century pocket watches that were sitting around unused and unloved, and convert them into chic, industrial wristwatches.

What does this have to do with me? Well, the original pieces he produced involved serious Solidworks CAD skills and some impressive wrangling of a little old 3D printer. R.T. and his business partner Tyler Wolfe (Vortic COO) have grown this original Kickstarter into a full-fledged business, producing custom casements and reviving an American watchmaking tradition many believed had died off in the post-industrial era.

Vortic Watch hosted a special event last weekend at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which houses an incredible collection of historic pieces from the American Industrial Revolution. They were kind enough to invite me as both a representative of the technology used to bring these magical devices to life, and as a jewelry and watch nerd who seriously can’t stop using their design tool to play with the custom watch builder options.

There are few things that appeal to me more than a seamless integration of old-world style and modern techniques, so this company truly hits it out of the park. From their tough-but-elegant styling to the significant history behind the movements, these timepieces absolutely belong both on the wrist and in the enthusiast’s collection.

Take a look at a few highlights from the event in the slideshow below!

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Wearable Tech Turns Back the Clock

I can see it now: twelve people, ranging in age and gender from the young male post-grad recently promoted to the 30-year female VP, sit around a long, sleek conference table in a downtown highrise. They sip seltzer waters — Pelligrino, natch — and whip out shiny Cross pens to take shorthand notes on legal pads bound in Italian leather. They are the Decision Makers, the Callers of the Shots, the Mucky-Mucks who run the biz.

Halfway through the meeting, it begins.

Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.

A collective pause.

Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzz.

Nobody moves, or takes their eyes off the VP presently holding forth on shareholder terms. Nobody wants to be accused of having a cell phone (because it must be a cell phone, right?) ringing or alerting or notifying during such an important meeting.

Glancing around the table, aware of the distraction everyone is refusing to acknowledge, that VP spots a plain plastic band poking out from underneath a starched white shirt with mother-of-pearl cufflinks. It’s wrapped around the wrist of a forty-something partner, and Ms. Veep recognizes it as one of the ubiquitous health-freak-fitness-tracker-band-thingies. Aha! The culprit must be that sad object alerting the man he’s been seated for longer than the recommended 25 minutes or something.

The VP stares at the offending partner. The whole table stares at him. He looks around, wondering what on earth everyone’s looking at, because his device’s battery is long dead from lack of use, and can’t everyone tell it’s coming from the kid behind him?

Indeed, seated just a chair away, that newly-promoted young gentleman is still feigning total engagement in the older, platinum-haired lady’s speech about people he doesn’t know. It’s his wrist that is vibrating, the pattern alerting him to yet another pre-noon wedding e-mail from his fiance. He knows it’s before 12 o’clock because he glanced at that wrist — and all it told him was the time.

How can this be?

In her recent article for JCK Online, Senior Editor Jennifer Heebner (one of my personal idols) gives a report on a budding partnership between the established Swiss watch industry — long reputed to set the highest standard in timekeeping and timepiece manufacturing — and the infant wearable technology moguls of Silicon Valley. Their new partnership appears to focus on bringing the new high-tech software of life trackers into the old-world wristwatch, giving consumers the option to connect their cellphones to their wrists while not appearing to do so. Or, put another way, you can have your classic analog watch and sleep tracker, too.

I have been keeping an eye on the development of wearable tech for some time, mainly for professional interest. I will say, however, that as a woman who treats her watch like another piece of jewelry, I have been uniformly disappointed in the styles offered by most companies — up through, and in particular, the new Apple Watch.

So this development speaks to my personal issue with the tech (namely, it’s just plain ugly) on top of addressing the broader industry complaints about a lack of cache and quality in the overall build. It appears as though form and function might make a better couple than previously thought, if the broader and perhaps older market can be tapped via their interest in upholding the quality wristwatch tradition.

Would you wear an analog-and-tech watch? Do you use a life tracker of any kind right now? Did you pull out your phone to make sure it’s silenced while you read this? Tell me more!

Swiss timepieces by 88 Rue du Rhone, a Raymond Weil affiliate
Swiss timepieces by 88 Rue du Rhone, a Raymond Weil affiliate

Featured Image from JCK Online: Helevetica No. 1 Smartwatch from Mondaine