Although its heyday ended a century ago, the passion for watchmaking never really left American soil. Today, entrepreneurial and passionate young watchmakers are finding ways to bring horology home with new designs, new manufacturing techniques, and a thorough allegiance to U.S. industrial history. One such company is Vortic Watches, which first appeared last year. Vortic puts a fascinating spin on American watchmaking, mixing new and old to create a distinctive line of watches. Here’s the story of Vortic and its first collection, the American Artisan Series.
Vortic is the brainchild of three young Penn State graduates. In 2013, R.T. Custer, Tyler Wolfe and Frank Barber started to think about other applications for the 3D-printing technology they studied as Industrial Engineering majors. While 3D printing allows you to build from a variety of materials, the three engineers had been focusing on additive manufacturing that used metal. Printing in stainless steel allowed for a distinctive texture, look, and feel.
Custer, Wolfe and Barber were watch enthusiasts, and going to school in Pennsylvania also meant that they weren’t too far away from one of the centers of classic American watchmaking: Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When they came across some antique American pocketwatches, they got to thinking. Often the large movements of these vintage timepieces had been discarded when their owners were more interested in the gold cases than the mechanisms inside. The three students realized that they could adapt their engineering skills to craft new steel cases for the watches, using modeling software like SolidWorks. And, like some other brands have done, they saw an opportunity in the large diameters of pocketwatches to build sizable wristwatches that would appeal to today’s consumers.
The key feature of Vortic watches is that they all use classic American movements, from the likes of Waltham, Elgin, and Hamilton. The dials are also taken from these originals, so you immediately see the name of the classic manufacturer. The case designs are inarguably modern, though, and quite distinctive, with tiered bezels and architectural lugs. Some of the watches place the crown at 12 o’clock, another hat-tip to pocketwatch design.
Maybe the most stand-out design feature is the segmented case: The steel cases are jigsawed out of two semicircular pieces, separately printed, that screw together on the underside. The cases have a rough, brushed appearance that suggests hand craftsmanship even though they’re printed. All Vortic watches have see-through casebacks; both the front and back of the watch are made of Gorilla Glass, a tough, American-made innovation by Corning, which you’ve probably seen on the displays of smart devices and laptops by Samsung, LG, Dell, and others. They also have leather straps made of American cowhide, sourced from the Florida-based LEATHERworks company.
Currently there are three models in the American Artisan Series. The Boston, the Chicago, and the Lancaster. All the cases are in a stainless steel-and-bronze composite, made in Pennsylvania and assembled and finished in Colorado, where the brand is based.
The Boston comes in 42-mm and 51-mm editions, known respectively as the 021 and 024. Both use Waltham movements from the first decade of the 20th century. (It’s named Boston for the city’s proximity to the town of Waltham.) The squared brass crown is placed at 12 o’clock. The 024 has a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. The cases have a “medieval pewter” finishing. It costs $1,795.
The Chicago is 47 mm in diameter and comes in polished and nickel-plated versions. It has an onion-shaped crown, placed at either 3 o’clock or 12 o’clock. The watch uses an Elgin movement with small seconds, running in 17 jewels. Price: $1,995.
The Lancaster is a newer development, named for the city where Hamilton was based. The 51-mm watch uses railroad-era watch movements from that same company, and a number of case arrangements in different finishes and styles. Price: $2,495.
Because of the sourcing of the movements, no two Vortics are exactly alike. The early demand for Vortic watches has been high, so the company is currently producing all watches to order. You can customize the size, case, and movement (or even have the watch built around a vintage movement of your own if you so desire). All watches come with a one-year warranty. More information is available at vorticwatches.com.