Do you know what it takes to produce an American-made watch?
Watchmaking is hard work, and here at the Vortic Watch Company, we convert antique pocket watches into wearable wristwatches. Because we use historic pocket watches' original parts as well as our own hardware, the process can be tedious and requires intricate procedures.
Today, we'll share with you some of our recent challenges with our products, and we also have some incredibly exciting company announcements.
Usually on our YouTube show Custer and Wolfe: Building a Watch Company, both R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe present company news, but in this episode, Tyler primarily took the reins to explain some of the complexities that go into our watch-building process.
In this article, we share new watch designs, some of the intricacies of the watch-building process, and additional company news.
Company Updates and New Watch Designs
We have a lot of exciting news to share with you today, including machinery updates and our new watch designs. We’ve been hard at work creating new modern watches, and we’re getting our five-axis DMU 50 up and running to prototype the product.
“That has been kind of a battle just to get all of the correct parts in stock. But as we sit here right now, … we've got all the parts here, and we've got some technicians in the shop hopefully finishing up installation on those.” - Tyler Wolfe
Although we saved a great deal of money by investing in used machines, we’ve found that setting them up has been challenging, to say the least.
When you buy these machines new, they come with a warranty and you work with the machine's distributor to get it set up. Because we bought used machines, we’re having to go through a service company, and the company insists on charging for the time they spend just driving to our facilities, which is proving costly. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a new third-party service company with more reasonable rates.
In addition to getting our machines up and running, we are now using software from CAMplete to simulate our DMU machine. This creates a visual representation of our machine’s movement before we press the “on” button so that we don’t make a mistake that could damage the machine.
“This essentially ... simulates exactly what's gonna happen inside the machine. We had an exact 3D model of the machine made, [and] this software uses that model and actually reads code.” - Tyler Wolfe
Funny enough, we made the mistake of assuming that this software would be compatible with Apple products. All of the computers that we use at Vortic Watches are Macs, so we were less-than-thrilled when Tyler brought in his MacBook for a software training session only to discover that it’s only available for Windows. He’s now using a PC laptop exclusively to run the software.
We’ve certainly had our share of challenges recently, but we’re thrilled to announce that we’re making great progress on our modern watch designs. Currently, we’re using a 42 mm diameter on the case, but Tyler is considering using a 40 mm, which is a common diameter in the watch industry.
Unlike our American Artisan series, Military edition, and Railroad edition watches, we’re equipping these modern watches with standard-sized movements, as opposed to the larger pocket watch movements that you’ve come to expect from our existing product lines.
We’re thrilled to take on this new venture, but we also have exciting news about some of our current product lines!
Upcoming Military Edition Watches
Every year, we sell breathtaking Military Edition watches, and $500 of every watch sale goes toward the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative in Delaware. This important program trains U.S. military veterans to become professional watchmakers — a highly lucrative and often-overlooked profession.
To make these Military Edition watches, we use genuine AN5740-1 pocket watches, which American watch companies originally produced for the Army Air Corps during World War II. If you’re interested in purchasing one of these robust and stylish watches made for a good cause, we recommend you sign up on our waiting list. They’ll become available on November 11 at 12 PM MDT. It's important to get on our waiting list because these watches usually sell out within days and sometimes, minutes. Signing up doesn’t guarantee the purchase of a watch, but you do get first access!
This year, we’re excited to feature a brand new design, which includes new watch crowns:
“The Military [Edition watch] is fully redesigned this year. … This crown is especially a departure from anything that we've made before.” - Tyler Wolfe
The new crown variations come with World War II stylings, and we crafted them to resemble either a canteen or a cap. These crowns come with knurling on the outside, distinct shaping on top, and they include large, rounded flutes. One especially cool part of these new crown designs is their grips, which are both stylish and useful for winding the watch.
In addition to the new crowns, we’re also considering using our new laser engraver to etch the Vortic logo as well as stars and stripes on the Military Edition watches. We’re excited about this new laser because it’s a lot more precise than our existing equipment.
New Machinist and Watchmaker Jobs in Fort Collins
If you’ve watched our show or read our articles, you may recall that we’re typically searching for new machinists and watchmakers. We recently underwent the interview process with many skilled machinists, and, fortunately, it looks like we've narrowed it down to a single new hire.
A short while ago, we also had the fortune of hiring a new watchmaker named Kent. He’s been an exceptional addition to our team. In fact, he was already hard at work creating new watches on his second day.
Although we recently hired Kent, we’re always on the lookout for new watchmakers. Watchmakers and other skilled-trade jobs are in high demand right now:
“We are always hiring watchmakers. We, the world, and especially America need more watchmakers. If you're a watchmaker or you want to go to school to be a watchmaker, hit us up because we need more people like you. The world also needs more machinists, [and] all the skilled trades that we need in manufacturing.” - R.T. Custer
When moving forward with new hires, we’ll likely pursue a qualified watchmaker who can also help with logistics and administrative work.
“We may be interested in having somebody more focused on logistics that can still build watches in that room. Right now, Derek and Kent are the only guys that build watches, and they're both really good at it, Derek especially. We'd like to give him the freedom to just focus on that because right now he's packaging movements for watchmaker inspect[tions]. … [They're doing] the boring task of putting them in cases and taking them out and all that type of stuff.” - Tyler Wolfe
If you are aware of a qualified watchmaker or CNC machinist willing to work in Fort Collins, Colorado, please forward them our careers page.
The Intricacies of Watch Building
There are many components and processes that go into producing our watches that you may not be aware of, like our coolant system.
Before our new coolant system, we were merely filling 5-gallon buckets with coolant, but now we can auto-mix our coolant into the machine. We’re also looking to make our coolant system even more efficient:
“We also just found this cool thing online for like 200 bucks that'll actually [stop the machine]. … Because right now, you have to babysit the machine, and the machines have gauges. [With the new addition], we can say, ‘We just want 10 gallons,’ and it'll run until 10 gallons [have] been poured in there. … [It’s] a very cool addition to the system because [currently], it can take 10 minutes and you’re just standing there doing nothing” - Tyler Wolfe
Tyler also got new collets for our V3 work-holding system. Our previous collets tightened from the top, but our new ones tighten from the side. Unfortunately, we’ve had issues maintaining pressure with the side collets:
“We had a couple of those collets wear out because those side collets just have a cam. Once you tighten it too far, the pressure comes off. Whereas [with] those top-fastening collets, you can keep tightening them down, and with the tolerances that we're working in, having that collet wear in just a little bit makes it stop working.” - Tyler Wolfe
Rather than return to the top-fastening collets, Tyler is considering using a system that utilizes pre-ground hardened steel collets:
“We're also thinking about switching to a whole new system now. We think we've just about maximized this version of what we're doing. … Because right now you have to buy soft collets because we have to modify them and cut them, and as you can imagine, they will wear out. We've found more expensive but a lot more accurate pre-ground [hardened steel collets].” - Tyler Wolfe
Finding more accurate hardened collets will likely be very beneficial for our case-building process because perhaps the most challenging part of machining is holding everything in place properly:
“The number one hardest thing in machining is, 'How the heck do I hold onto this thing?' … In the example of a watch case, … you do a first operation when you're holding the raw piece of material, but then you need to do a final operation where you're holding the machined part, and you get rid of the rest of the material. It's when you flip it over and have to do the opposite side that you need to get technical with your work holding, and if anything's off, it's gonna warp the material.” - Tyler Wolfe
Our watchmaking process involves a lot of hard work and complex processes, but it’s all worth it to produce American-made watches.
Learn More About Watches By Subscribing to Custer & Wolfe
If you’re ready to learn more about the watch-building process and what it takes to build an American watch company, watch our full episode on YouTube! And be sure to also subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram.
You can also learn even more company news by subscribing to our email newsletter by visiting our website.Additionally, don’t forget to be on the lookout for our Military Edition watches that will become available on November 11, 2022. And, of course, you can always stay up to date with our inventory on Instagram with our Vortic Watch of the Day.