In their quest to make a true American-made wristwatch, twenty-somethings R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe came up with an ingenious shortcut. The duo sourced vintage pocket watch movements from bygone American producers such as Waltham, Elgin and Hamilton then refurbished and repurposed the parts in 3D-printed cases fitted with leather straps by American leather goods companies Hadley Roma and Horween.
Vortic, a play on the words vortex and ticktock, grew out of a conversation while the Penn State students were playing golf in 2013. Wolfe was discussing his passion for watches and his dismay that you could not find a modern American-made watch. Custer, an industrial engineering student, had been toying with metal 3D printers at school. They came up with a stainless-steel prototype powered by an old Hamilton movement and put in on Kickstarter, where they raised about $40,000 to get Vortic off the ground.
The first six months was invested in standardizing a setting and winding system for the various antique movements. Last year, they produced about 200 watches with bronze and steel cases. This year, Vortic, which is based in Fort Collins, Colorado, is on track to manufacture about 400 pieces for its American Artisan Series, which will be upgraded to titanium cases with either raw or blackened finishes for a more refined aesthetic. The watches are available in three sizes: 36 mm, 46 mm, and 50 mm. In addition to in-stock watches, the site also features a customization tool that allows you to create a made-to-measure timepiece. Prices start at $800.
Vortic's quest to produce American-made watches is only just beginning. Last summer, the company announced a new model called the Journeyman, which they intend to outfit with new American-made movements. Originally, they initiated another Kickstarter to launch the watch with a Swiss-made engine until an American one could be found, but customer feedback led to a change of plans. Now, Journeyman is waiting for its American movement.
Currently, Vortic is in a testing phase with Pinion Precision technology, a California company that produces mechanical movements that meet stringent Made in America labeling standards. If all goes well, the new all-American Journeyman will be on the market next year.