Building a Watch Company - Vintage Watch Restoration with Watchmakers and a New Clean Room

Building a Watch Company - Vintage Watch Restoration with Watchmakers and a New Clean Room


When you think of creating a watch, what comes to mind? Do you picture a bustling assembly line or maybe a singular artisan working in a home shop? 

Manufacturing a watch requires a great deal of hard work, experience, and the right tools and workspace to craft an intricate product. There are many misconceptions about the qualifications of a watchmaker and the tools they need to get the job done.

Watchmaker building a Vortic watch at bench

We believe there's nothing better than an expertly crafted, American-made product. That's why the Vortic Watch Company focuses on creating American-made watches, and we work with certified watchmakers to make our vision a reality. 

Although we've come a long way in our journey to create high-quality, American-made watches, we're still expanding and optimizing our manufacturing process. And we're excited to share our continuing journey with you. 

We, R.T. Custer & Tyler Wolfe, have some great company updates as well as insider knowledge regarding the watch creation process. Join us on our journey with you in our Custer and Wolfe: Building a Watch Company YouTube channel and article series. 

In this article, we discuss what it means to be a watchmaker, and we share updates regarding our building and equipment, including our new machine room and clean room.

What It Means To Be a Watchmaker

Recently, we've been looking for watchmakers to streamline the process of restoring and crafting historic pocket watches, but many are unaware of what it means to be a watchmaker. We've received many applications from people with assembly experience, and although that's a valuable skill, it differs from watchmaking.

"When we say 'watchmaker,' we're not just taking all the components that we make plus the antique movement and assembling it. We're talking [about working with] the antique pocket watch mechanism that we use. … [There are] 100+ components in there that [have] to be completely disassembled, restored, polished, cleaned, adjusted, and rebuilt, and you need a lot of experience and/or a certification to be a true watchmaker." - R.T. Custer

Unfortunately, it's challenging to find watchmakers with experience, and there are only a few watchmaker schools worldwide. In order to gain the skill sets required for restoring and handcrafting antique watches, our applicants need an official watchmaker certification. 

Watchmaker building watches in our cleanroom

Although we now hope to have certified watchmakers handle the entire restoration and construction process, we used to have people without watchmaking certifications building our watches. They did a great job and really grew from the experience, but we now recognize that too much can go wrong during the process for us to allow non-certified watchmakers to build the watches. 

Even Tyler had a challenging time working with antique watch movements recently and recognized the importance of utilizing certified watchmakers:

"If you're starting with a serviced pocket watch movement, there's just a million different things that can go wrong. … I've been working with movements again for the first time in a while, and it just kind of opened my eyes to just how difficult it is working with these old pocket watches. There's some screws [that] can be stripped. … If we're doing an heirloom conversion, we need to make that watch work. … I made so many little adjustments. ... You really have to know what you're doing." - Tyler Wolfe 

We're primarily looking for skilled, certified watchmakers, but we'll also eventually have positions for those who don't hold watchmaker certifications. Once our machine room is up and running, we will likely have assembly-type positions available as well, so we encourage you to apply if you have assembly experience. Visit our careers page here

Our Vision for the Future

If you're familiar with our brand, you know that we want to deliver American-made artisan-crafted watches. With our focus on hiring certified watchmakers, we want to emphasize expert craftsmanship. Eventually, we would love to have a single person handling the entire restoration and assembly process for each watch in our American Artisan Series:

"The dream for the Vortic brand as it stands now in the pocket watch conversion product — or what we call the 'American Artisan Series' — [is to] have one human take the antique pocket watch from unrestored status … all the way to full assembly." - R.T. Custer

This idea of having a single person handle every part of the restoration and assembly process will streamline watchmaking procedures. Previously, we've had two people involved in the process, which created challenges: 

"A lot of times, we get a watch that was restored by a separate watchmaker and somebody starts building it and sees a problem, and then it has to go back to [the separate watchmaker]. And there's this feedback loop that really stinks. So, if one person takes it all the way through, we should get better results." - Tyler Wolfe

Watchmaker installing a strap on an American Artisan Series watch

We also want single watchmakers to handle the entire watch process in order to celebrate American craftsmanship, and we want to recognize their efforts with every watch release: 

"It would be awesome to have people with that depth of knowledge to be able to build something from start to finish. … We could [also] include, like, a little card with each watch to say this particular human … built your watch from start to finish. … That's the dream, but we need certified watchmakers to get there." - R.T. Custer

If you're a certified watchmaker or you know a certified watchmaker looking for a new career opportunity, please reach out to us on our careers page. We're hoping to add a new watchmaker to our team every year. 

Crafting Watches With Our New Machine Room

We filmed this episode of Custer & Wolfe: Building a Watch Company in our new machine room, which is currently an active construction zone. Right now, we're prioritizing the construction of our machine room because we have already purchased multiple machines that are in storage.

"We're building a compressor closet. … We polished all these floors a while ago. … We upgraded the service in this building to a thousand amps, and we're gonna need at least 600 of them just for this room to power machines and compressors." - Tyler Wolfe 

In addition to the compressor closet and electrical upgrades, we acquired HVAC units to ensure optimal climate control for the new machine room and the clean room. We're also adding a sink and plumbing system to the machine room to expedite filling the machines with coolant. 

With our new machine room, we bought a used DMU 50 and a DMG Gildemeister Swiss Lathe, which we have in storage because they can't fit in our current shop. We're excited to get the machines up and running, but it's going to be a great deal of work to get them ready.

"The list is kind of endless [with] stuff that we need to do to get those ready. The goal is to spend a month or two with those machines on this floor getting [the machines] ready to go, so they're ready to cut chips and make prototypes when we move the rest of the machines over here." - Tyler Wolfe

Unfortunately, when it comes to making big plans, you often face big setbacks. We originally hoped to deliver the machines to our new machine room two weeks after recording this episode, but we discovered that our Gildemeister has a defective axis motor. We now have to wait an additional two weeks to replace the motor. 

Hanging the American flag in our machine shop

In addition to our exciting new machine room and equipment, we're also adding personal touches to the room that emphasize Vortic's mission. 

We plan on putting up a giant antique American flag in the back of the room. We pride ourselves in being the only 100% American-made watch brand, and we want to champion US manufacturing and US-made products whenever possible.

The Intricacies of Building a Clean Room

As you step out of our machining room, you travel down the hall to our brand new clean room. 

We made significant changes to the overall structure of the room because it once served as an office space. There were many sectioned-off areas to accommodate different workstations, so we had to knock out walls to create an optimum space for our workstations. 

The room will feature many windows that will enable our customers to see into the clean room, but it is pressurized and dustproof, so we won't allow our customers to walk through the space itself. Although the room doesn't have access to many exterior windows, we’ve added skylights throughout the area to provide natural light. 

Watchmaker working in cleanroom

We also constructed an airlock and a separate room for the air-scrubbing unit. We're still waiting to receive our custom-ordered air-scrubbing unit because of material shortages. 

We'll use our air-scrubbing unit by running the machine duct along the edge of the room all the way to the back of the room, where the workstations reside. The ducting will feature registers that softly push climate-controlled, clean air over the workstations. This soft blowing of air prevents dust from collecting:

"The problem from dust is when the air is not moving. When the air is stagnant, then the dust settles on the desks and the watches and the workspaces and all that stuff. If those vents are kind of just pushing air very slowly across the workspace, then the dust shouldn't … settle in the workspace." - R.T. Custer 

Creating the best work environment for restoring and manufacturing watches is not simple, but creating premium American-made products takes work and diligence. There are many components and factors that you need to take into consideration when building a business, and you need to learn about the intricacies of your craft to build the best products. 

Watch Episode Six to Learn More About Our Workspace

We've come a long way in our journey to crafting historic watches. In the past, working with a certified watchmaker was out of the question, and Tyler assembled every watch to the best of his ability. We also didn’t yet have the resources to acquire machines for the building process. 

We're so thrilled to share these updates with you, but we also want you to see these new rooms for yourself. Check out the sixth episode of our Building a Watch Company series to get a sneak peek of our new rooms. 

Additionally, you can subscribe to Custer & Wolfe YouTube channel, follow us on Instagram, and subscribe to our Vortic email newsletter. We'll keep you informed about the growth of our company, including our new equipment, manufacturing process, and new antique watches. 

We currently have our American Artisan Series available and be on the lookout for more Military Edition and Railroad Edition watches coming soon. 

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