Timepiece Chronicle

In-depth, passionate and entertaining articles that explore the stories behind great watches

Vortic Watches: Believe you can and you're halfway there

Vortic Watches: Believe you can and you're halfway there

If you had to guess what the world would look like in hundred years what would you say? Holograms? Personal robots? Hover-boards?! Who knows? For as long as society has existed there have been futurists looking forward trying to predict far flung futures. At the beginning on the 20th century, some of these people tried to predict what the 2000 would look like. A few of their predictions were quite accurate, communication via video-telegraph and audiobooks (minus the hand crank, child labour and nifty headsets), however some (like the fireman putting out roof fires whilst wearing mechanical wings) have yet to come true. What all these predictions have in common is that they took the current technology and simply "advanced" its capabilities hoping that some bright spark would be able to adapt their future tech into practical use. This is exactly what Vortic watches have ended up doing.

I first came across Vortic Watches late last December after they launched their very successful Kickstarter campaign.  I like pocket watches, however I don't wear one as in modern society they seem to make a certain cultural statement (similar to wearing a fedora or a floor-length leather trench coat). There are some who can wear them in a contemporary manner, but I am not one of those people. So when Vortic Watches had the idea of taking antique pocket watch movements and placing them inside modern cases, I was intrigued. The idea itself is nothing new, companies like Longines and Omega have retrofitted pocket watch movements into new cases in the past, however the process was always done in house and with existing cases. I spoke with Vortic Watches' CEO R.T. Custer a few weeks ago to find out what makes Vortic watches so special. 

R.T. wanted to emphasize that Vortic are in the business of preservation of movements, not the cannibalization of fully functioning pocket watches. This was a misconception that some people had when Vortic first launched and had many watch fans up in arms at what they perceived as horological tomb raiding. R.T said to me that the last thing they would want to do is to destroy a perfectly functioning pocket watch. Rather they search out movements in various states of repair from sources like Ebay, Etsy and estate sales and refurbish them. It soon became apparent that the Vortic team were encountering the same sellers and pretty soon they developed relationships with collectors and dealers, allowing them to not only have a supply of movements that was steady but, more importantly, sustainable.

Similar to the Kent Wang Art Deco watch I wore a few weeks ago, there is very little branding on the watches with the exception of the Vortic logo on the crown and case back. R.T. said that with their American Artisan Collection the focus was to be on the movements themselves and the history that they could bring to new wrists. It would have been easy to brand over the existing manufacturers' names and make Vortic the center of attention. However I agree with R.T. that this whitewashing of history would be a mistake. "We want to be like our idols," R.T. said, referencing the three great American watch manufacturers that make up the Vortic American Artisan collection: Waltham, Elgin and Hamilton. Their goal is to become a true American watch manufacturer with everything produced in the United States.

As the name implies, pocket watch movements used to be fitted in pocket watches that were worn...in pockets. That means that the current selection of watches are big with the smallest on offer being 42mm and the largest a massive 51mm. Those purists who prefer a svelte 39mm dress watch are not being catered for here, but frankly it's refreshing to see a company doing something so different. At the time of writing Vortic are the only watch company in the world to 3D print steel cases for their watches, a process I didn't even realize was possible. The steel alloy used contains 15% bronze, which means over time each watch will oxidize and create an appearance and patina that is as unique to the owner as the watch movement inside of it.

On all the cases you can clearly see the joining of the two separate halves which allows the movement to be fitted inside. I must be honest and say that this is probably the aspect of the design I like the least, even though I can understand its necessity to the construction. Perhaps in future case designs, it will be possible to hide or mask this join? The crown position will vary depending on the pocket watch movement base and will be either at 12 o'clock or the traditional 3 o'clock. The gorilla glass on the top and bottom of the pieces is produced in America and has almost the same scratch resistant properties of sapphire crystal. The boxes are made from reclaimed timber by a craftsmen in Colorado and the leather straps are made by an artisan in Florida. You have to admire Vortic's dedication to their dream of 100% America made, as having some production outsourced to China would have certainly have lowered their bottom line. Eventually, R.T says, their ultimate goal would be to design, develop and produce a completely in-house American made movement, however he does realize that this is a long way off.

An initial concern amongst watch fans was that Vortic Watches were not offering a warranty on their pieces, however after developing a relationship with a local watch maker all pieces now come with a one year warranty. Vortic recommend a service interval of eighteen to twenty four months. This is obviously shorter than the five year average of modern manufacturers, however you have to consider the providence of each piece as an equal comparison would be unfair. Some may not be able to get over the shorter service interval, but consider that the original manufacturers stated that the service interval should be 12 months. Consider that these pieces are going to be almost hundred years old and now being worn in a completely different manner than originally anticipated. I think it's a gamble well worth taking.

The first batch of Vortic watches are on their way out of the doors now and it seems you'll have to get in line to get one any time soon. For more information please visit http://www.vorticwatches.com/. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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