School is out!

A Certified Watchmaker

It has been a long two years,

but somehow it also passed in a blink of an eye; as if time somehow dilated and distorted, aging me 100 years as the world around me moved at a normal pace. It's hard to describe, and still a little hard for me to believe. I remember two years ago, just starting school and having moved across the country, boxes and boxes of Orion: 1's arrived and I began shipping them from my AirBNB basement room. I was also nervous I had made a mistake, maybe I shouldn't have spent all that money on hundreds of watches with a non-traditional design.

I was wrong. All of you proved me wrong.

Going into watches and horology may have been one of the best choices I've made. Sure, my vision is a little worse and more of my hair may have fallen out over the countless 60, sometimes 70 hour weeks over the past 2 years, but I learned an incredible amount. We learned how to form hairsprings.

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We learned how to refinish cases and bracelets. We learned how to machine things on the lathe, often having fabricate replacement parts or make repairs ourselves, the lathes older than some of us. We became problem solvers.

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We learned the properties of metal, how to temper and quench it, understand it's properties when given different surface finishes. Some of us even learned to quench our tempers, as hours and hours of labor could often be undone in a single moment; a slip of the graver, too much play in a worn cross-slide or milling attachment. We all grew and learned together.


And it's just the beginning.


Many of us will go on to different parts of the country, or world, pursuing different paths, beginning careers. Feeling the top of our game only to be humbled again by the real world, problems that we've never witnessed in school. For me, I made a deal with my supporters, as Orion was blossoming (it was a tough germination!) I promised that the goal of Orion:1 was to support my tenure through watch school, as I write this, it has been a huge success, only 5 left in stock. I'm amazed, I'm humbled, and I'm so happy to have a wonderful group of people supporting me. I'm sorry if i was short in messages or missed your e-mail out right, I often found myself going well into my sleep budget these past 2 years. I digress. The Orion Project was a huge success, and I was scared at first, but now I'm confident.

So what's the next step? The Orion HQ. I'm looking to buy a place to setup as a shop and base of operations (I'm looking at you, Denver!). Here's the plan: I want to manufacture horology here in the USA, but if you don't strike with precision, that's something you could squander millions on and still not make any real progress. The Calamity and upcoming Orion II, not only are a promise to innovate and push boundaries on watch design, but will fund tools and machinery as well as the Orion HQ itself. Once the base is setup, the aim is to not only work on developing the skills and team to do everything in house, not yet, but to become an independent service center. With Orion II and Calamity's moving, watch repairs coming in, I'll be able to grow Orion and most importantly, hire Team Orion. From there, making use of global manufacturing and our servicing we'll begin manufacturing products and learning what it takes to do everything ourselves.

 See that channel worn into the pivot?

See that channel worn into the pivot?

Before I started this journey I was daunted, my goals seemed insurmountable-but I had to try. I know now, what lays before me will be an even greater challenge. And I couldn't be more excited to step up to the plate. Lets keep the momentum going, and I'll see you out in the world.


Calamity and the ETA 2892

The successor to the well known ETA 2824,

the ETA caliber 2892 is one of the smoothest winding, robust, stable timekeeping and thinnest mass produced movements on the market. It's no wonder that brands such as Omega, Rolex (via Tudor), Ball, Bell & Ross, Tag Heuer, and many more have used this movement (often under their own caliber designation) with great success. It's a stable timekeeper, and stable in all its positions. Watch movements are timed in different positions, as gravity and friction affects the isochronism of a watch, vertical positions will vary from horizontal as pivots will ride on their sides. The 2892 is very stable in all these positions, resulting in greater accuracy than its sister movement, the 2824.

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The 2892 clocks in at just about 3mm (!) making it very thin, thinner than movements other common movements such at Seiko NH35 (almost 5mm), Miyota 9015 (known for being thin-ish), and of course the 2824. Many brands use this movement in dress watches, so they capitalize on the thinness there. Not too many brands capitalize on that sexy 3mm in other models, one of the Omega Seamaster has an Omega branded 2892, though it remains a rather average thickness for a diver.


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The Calamity makes use of the 3mm thickness of the 2892 as well as some design tricks with the case to achieve the thinness that it has-in conjuncture with the water resistance (the real challenge is thinness AND water resistance, one without the other is easy). There was a period when the "Orion Dive Watch" was based on the NH35, it was thick and chunky, a bloated version of what we ended up on and I said, "I've had it with big chunky dive watches." and that design was scrapped and we started over. It's easy to make a thick dive watch, it's easy to fall into obscurity with a marine-themed name for your chunky dive watch; what's not easy is making a dive watch the most comfortable watch in your collection and come head to head in thickness with dress watches. And that's why the Calamity called for the ETA 2892.


 2892 is one third the thickness of the Orion crown.

2892 is one third the thickness of the Orion crown.

A couple questions I get asked a lot are, "Why didn't you use the 2824/NH35/9015?". The NH35, while being an affordable workhorse is too thick to achieve this design feat with, so it was off the table. The 9015, recently inflated due to demand from other microbrands now rivals the 2824 in price, in my mind, it's not demanding of its inflated price. Then the good old 2824, standing a little thinner than the NH35 and a little better in terms of timekeeping, but much more expensive, it doesn't really let me accomplish the goal either. The 2892 dominates each of these movements in every category, reliability, stability, timekeeping, SMOOTH WINDING (the 2892 is INCREDIBLY smooth to wind, an essential and added perk when combined with the large Orion crown), and of course, thickness. It's simply the best choice of the competitors in the pool (ha), the only downside is the cost. The result, however, is a watch that can knock around with some of the big boys in its price bracket. I can guarantee it already beats them in thickness/WR combo and comfort, EASILY.

Microbrands, manufacturing, and money

The watch industry is small.

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Which means many things, especially when it comes to going places for manufacturing your watch components. The majority of watches have their hairsprings fabricated by a single company, Nivarox, that if disaster struck, the mechanical watch industry (save a few companies) would be devastated. In fact, many brands share manufacturers in some capacity, you may be surprised that Swiss Made does not incur the same 100% made like the branding Made in the USA, allowing them to have international manufacturers and still brand their product as such, though that's a discussion for another time.


The watch industry is small and the manufacturing equipment and skills are specialized and rare, not mention expensive. In recent history, there's been the advent of Microbrands. Generally, microbrands, as they've become to be called, market and sell watches under $1,000. The most successful of these brands ranging from $250-$750. Why is that? What are the confines of a microbrand that prevents them from moving beyond that?


MANUFACTURING

Many micros use Asian manufacturers for large portions or all of their fabrication. Many brand owners may lament the challenges of finding a trustworthy and quality manufacturer, some may go so far to dissect their supply chain. The thing with manufacturers and watch factories is that many of them will state that they have the capabilities to make all the components, while true, they may only specialize in a couple components. A factory that can produce excellent cases may produce very low quality hands, now you could compromise, or you could find the company that specializes in hands and have them made there. Searching for the best of each part can be time consuming and you very quickly find yourself dealing with lots of logistics, but if your goal is quality then this is important. Which is where the vendor steps in, there are folks whose jobs are to coordinate between factories to find the best of all worlds for you and your product. As you can imagine, they'll form relations with factories and they'll default to them, which can again leave you searching for a new factory capable of what you desire.

The people who've been in the micro world for a while have most likely been through a few different factories and vendors. Though the relationships one cultivates with their production chain can often be...interesting, at least until trust is developed. At any rate, many successful brands find themselves going through different factories or vendors until they find something good enough, and in a small industry it's not just chance that many of them stumble upon the same or overlapping supply chains. What does this mean for the consumer? Many microbrands will have a product that feels similar in finish and perceived value. Manufacturers know what they're capable of and they stick to it. Maybe you've owned watches from different brands but the texture of the steel felt similar, the brushing depth and grain appear to match, maybe even parts look similar. It may not be coincidence, they may be from the same factory, additionally, they could be catalog parts (parts which exist in a manufacturers catalog, the dies are already cut). Folks may choose catalog parts to circumvent mold costs and tooling fees, which can add up. The issue with catalog parts is that they don't inject new creative design into the industry and have the potential to leave designs feeling stale or derivative. 


Which gets to my next point. Sharing a manufacturer or vendor, with people in the same or proximate market as me, seems very risky. I've witnessed in other industries, larger companies bullying other smaller ones once they've learned of shared production sources. Imagine you're a small company but an industry giant shares a factory with you, they could very easily leverage the factory to make your product lower priority or otherwise delayed in favor of their own (since they're big time customers), as well as many other things to stifle business. With international design and manufacture, design theft becomes a different story, which also plays into the trust you have with your vendor/manufacturer and folks you may be sharing the house with. For Orion, it was very important for me to not share with folks that I know or brands that are in the same space as me, even though I'm on good terms with a good number of them. Avoiding sharing is largely a safety precaution, but it also gives my product a different feel from other brands that share manufacturers, especially case and hands manufacturers. The Orion: 1 case is often lauded for having exceptional finishing, seeing as it's not a catalog case (Orion does original design, no catalog parts here) and I don't use the same factory as many other brands plays into it as well.

You may see where this is going. As more and more microbrands crop up, talk and talk, do their research on where to go to have their watches made they'll find the same places and their product will inherently have a similar feel, whether it's from a catalog or just the quality that the factory is comfortable with producing. Which gets to the next point.


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PRICING

As I mentioned earlier, micros have a pretty good hold on the sub $1000 pricing bracket, and for the quality that most of them put out, that's find. And the consumer knows that too! They also know that quality doesn't really match up with the watches over $1000, so there's an inherent skepticism when they see one. This is because lots of micros are totally happy with defining a price range for their watch and holding that ground. Which is fine, but I'm not, I need to improve, I don't want to be limited by certain aesthetics, techniques, or movements. Though, with the small pool of factories microbrands have inadvertently placed walls around what they're capable of and have cultivated a consumer base that adheres to those confines with expectations that aren't consistently broken; until now.

Microbrands dominate the sub $1000 price range. Consumers expect this. Micros stagnate and don't push forward, unable to contend with larger brands with higher quality. Microbrands are scared and reluctant to depart from catalog parts. Reluctant to push their factories to develop new manufacturing techniques, because it's expensive and they are unsure of the results. In my mind, I see a bit of a feedback loop here. It's not the Orion way to stay in one place and stagnate, I'm aiming for US manufacturing, I'm aiming to innovate, to innovate.

The future of a good chunk of the industry depends on the two aforementioned behaviors, micros willing to take more time investing in innovation and new design and consumers being more receptive of what that looks like. Years ago I balked at watches over $1,000 and rolled my eyes at brands like Rolex or even more expensive haute horology. Having immersed myself in watchmaking school and horology based communities I've learned so much. I've learned about the challenges brands face, the challenges of certain techniques, and in turn, I've grown to respect them. I also respect the pricing of more and more brands as I grow to understand what they're doing and the work involved. Educating myself has also honed my BS detector, and looking back at myself when I knew less, I regret some of the views I had as they weren't based in complete understanding of what drove the forces at work. I want to invite people to be curious and not accusatory. I want to invite designers to strive to inject new design forged by the fires of their passion and not just grab at someone else's work for an easy sell. I want to team up with everyone to make an awesome future, beyond just watches.

 

 

Something for nothing.

Discounts in the watch world.

I wanted to talk about getting discounts, deals or special prices in the watch world and how that's changing, especially with the advent of microbrands. Many brands tout "cutting out the middle man" or on the flip side, they may create an inflated retail so they can trick consumers into getting good deals on sales or with easily attainable discount codes. This can all be a little confusing and requires folks to do their homework on what's a good deal and what isn't


Haggling and negotiating price. I'm sure many of us have had to endure the terrible back and forth of negotiating a car price. I'm sure a few people have also gotten some small percentages off at jewelry stores too. Needless to say, in at least American consumer culture, many brands in different industries have created an opening for price negotiation to exist. So it makes sense that it happens frequently, though I think it's time to start becoming wise to when it's a shrewd tactic to get the best price or when it may be insulting to the purveyor of goods.

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The internet has changed the landscape of retail goods, on one side this allows for more competitive pricing, but it may be harder to gauge how it handles in reality, as retail locations may be non existent. Traditionally, the brand will produce goods, adjust the price so that they can pay manufacturing costs, employees, and to keep the lights on. They'll also add a percentage to allow retailers to get a fair cut. This is where negotiating happens. Generally, the retailer will buy the product at a fixed price, they're supposed to sell it at a fixed price as well, but as we know, sometimes that doesn't always happen. This is to prevent undercutting and devaluing the product. So negotiating with retailers, the discount generally comes out of their cut. In some cases the producer may not care, but in other cases it could damaging to the brand value and perception, it could be undercutting other retailers, and in all cases, it's unfair to the folks that paid full price.

There are pros and cons to every scenario, most of them coming down to ethics. It's not hard to imagine that creating a model for retailers is good because it creates more jobs, but what happens when a retailer is terrible to deal with or has shady practices? What happens when a brand markets themselves as having competitive pricing by cutting out retailers, but just cuts costs elsewhere and keeps a large margin for themselves? Yeah, business, but in the long term greedy practices can damage the industry and make it even more confusing for consumers to navigate it honestly.

So what's the price for me?

What's your job? Can you imagine people coming and asking you for price considerations for what you do on a daily basis? Maybe you're a gourmet chef and you have a diner bypass the waitstaff and come into the kitchen, "Yeah, I know how much raw beef costs, maybe you could charge me $18 instead of $30 for that filet." This chef trained to be able to make steak in a beautiful delicious way (if he didn't, well go somewhere else) and by going and saying his dedication to learning a craft, the time he has invested in his skills, tools, and career isn't worth much more than cost, is demeaning and disrespectful. 

You should be proud to pay.

Your friend is a bartender. She gives you free drinks every now and then, that's awesome, but what do you do? Say thanks and pay your $5 tab? No, you give her a huge tip, because you respect her time, skill, and want to compensate her for that. That tip should be extra big because you got some free drinks. Just because you're close to a person that's a purveyor of goods or services doesn't entitle you to get them for free, that's sending the message that your friendship is worth more than their skills and professional life. Respect their life and personal investments, pay them fairly. Some of the people closest to me don't hesitate to buy my watches, they don't ask for special compensation just for being close to me, and I think that's because they've seen, firsthand, the work that I've devoted to this. And this is where I hope we can change the industry and world, recognizing hard work and compensating it fairly, which gets to my next point.

Know your brand.

Does the brand run sales? Does the brand offer discounts? If they do, then by all means take advantage of it. Some brands don't do it, and yes, haggling can be exhilarating and so can finding that deal. With Orion, discounts isn't something I really do. For Orion, it's multifaceted.

  • Respect for the customers; Knowing that the person across from you paid the same price for the same model is how I can show respect to my customers. If you spent $500 on your watch, but the guy next to you spent $250 on the same thing, how would you feel? Surely you may resent me for obvious reasons. When you ask me for a discount and I say no, I'm not disrespecting you, but I'm letting you know the value of my product and the light that I hold my supporters in.
  • Self respect; I have to be able to make a living. I'm not out to drink Dom Perignon every night and zoom around in an Aston Martin. I want to be able to support myself, those I care about, and invest in Orion. I've made a promise to myself to not stagnate with my brand, but to always climb and improve.
  • Brand value; Giving out lots of discounts, free or promotional product will devalue the brand and product. You'll get people that just poach sales or begin to associate it as lower quality since you know, or can tell, lots of people received a product for free. Most importantly, the message the brand sends when they do this, is that they may not think their product is worth as much as they're selling it for. 

The takeaway

In this day and age, the ability to research a brand is readily available. Look at how they conduct business and match them in kind as an informed consumer. It's totally reasonable to negotiate with a car dealer, they expect to do so. Does a watch brand run discounts and sales? Then maybe yeah, it's okay to ask. Do you ask your bartender friend for free drinks? No, you let them offer. How do we navigate and cultivate a consumer culture in a healthy and fair way? I believe it has to do with educating, learn about who's running the company and what their business model is. With microbrands, you have the opportunity to communicate with the minds that are running it, which I see, as something extremely valuable.

Orion Educational Videos

In between all my regularly scheduled madness I'm hoping to boot up a YouTube channel with some short, educational videos. From hobbyist tinkering to horology. So far there are two; a tutorial on proper sizing and care for your Orion bracelet and a pressure testing video.

As with all new social media avenues, likes, shares and subscribes help them take off and reach their maximum utility as an educational tool. So if this is something you enjoy or think people should see, you know what to do! It makes a difference!

If there's a certain tutorial or technique you'd like to see done, please leave a comment and give us some ideas!!
 

Yes, I went to Baselworld this year, and here's why I'll be returning.

BASELWORLD

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It was my first time at BASELWORLD and my first time in Switzerland; in fact, as I write this I'm sitting in my AirBnb in Neuchâtel. I'm exhausted, and I have been since I arrived. My travel was long, from Seattle to London/Heathrow then onto Zurich. Delays, train rides, car rides, waits and rendezvous' kept me awake for somewhere between 30 to 40 hours, but honestly, I lost all concept of time (not that I have on to start with).

I had a preconception of the Swiss people being rather strict and stern, but when I arrived I was met by a very calm, kind and patient people (except when it comes to being on time). My first interaction was at customs, a sleep deprived and rather frustrated Nick finally made it to the customs officer after a painfully slow line, "What are you here for?" "I'm visiting Basel." "Ah, for the convention or work?" "Both, I'm a watchmaker." His eyes lit up and the routine questions stopped. He lifted up his wrist to show me his vintage watch, "What do you think of THIS?!" he proudly exclaimed. "It's nice.." I struggled to find things to say, I'm a little like the USS Enterprise after being attacked by a Borg Cube when I'm sleep deprived, all power routed to life support, engines on impulse. "It's a nice vintage watch!" I mustered, "IT'S OLDER THAN YOU, YOU KNOW!"

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The questions stopped and he went on to tell me how much fun I would have in Switzerland and how great the show would be. The next couple hours would be me comically navigating stations and trains with my oversized roller suitcase and the Swiss politely helping me and not being bothered by how in their way I was at all times, I would've received no shortage of swears and shoves had I been on the NYC subway. I eventually arrived in Therwil, a suburb outside of Basel, and met up with my friends and classmates with whom I was sharing an AirBnb. I said hi to the host and promptly passed out, tomorrow would be my first day at Baselworld.

I got to Baselworld relatively easily, got my ticket and got right into the thick of it. Dazzling lights, shining booths are everywhere. The larger brands try to outdo each other with different displays and interactions, well, some of them. Others are kind of cold, leaving their new models behind glass for the general public to smash their faces against and stroke with their hands, leaving greasy, oily marks behind. The result? Very low photo diversity on social media, unless you're part of the exclusive few (generally distributors/jewelers/media) that get hands on. I thought this was kind of a bummer, as you couldn't actually get a feel for these new watches if you're general admission. Undeterred I met up with some classmates and friends (first timers) and my great uncle, who owns a jewelry store and is a Baselworld veteran.

 

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"BASELWORLD IS ABOUT THE MEETINGS"

Baselworld is a watch and jewelry convention. We're talking about big brands with tons of money. We're talking about expensive products that attract wealthy clients. If you aren't ready for this, it can be a bit of a lifestyle change or shocker, but there are two sides of the Baselworld coin, the consumer's experience and the companies who are there as an investment. Figuring out what you want to get out of it and how you'll fit in will help you get the most of it. As a brand, the ability to network and make connections is phenomenal, people you would never run into are all jam packed in a small area. Your fans and clients are there. Your idols and inspiration is there. Do you know that? Do they know that? How are you going to find them?

I had a few scheduled meetings, and a bunch of last minute and impromptu meetings. I only participated for two days, my first day mostly exploration and figuring out what I could, my second day was meetings and meetings that turned into meetings. It was lots of running around, shaking hands, and introductions, but it was INCREDIBLE. Did I mention the people-watching?

 Swarovski's interactive demo was this sequin couch. Totally irresistable.

Swarovski's interactive demo was this sequin couch. Totally irresistable.

After introducing myself as Orion and/or a watchmaker I was met with so much respect and camaraderie, I felt quite at home, it's a big difference from being in an isolated online world where negativity seems loudest, coming to a world where people admire and commend your hard work, where you meet kindred spirits and share stories of struggles and accomplishments, make plans for the future. I left each meeting feeling more confident and more empowered. Going to Baselworld to see the latest collection of diamonds and Pepsi bezels would be boring, in my opinion. Going to Baselworld to meet the people who make the gears turn, large and small, is the real gold. 
 

 Breguet offered the chance to do some guilloche cuts on a dial blank. We had some great conversation with their watchmakers as well.

Breguet offered the chance to do some guilloche cuts on a dial blank. We had some great conversation with their watchmakers as well.

Are you going for the watches? Don't want to have your nose pressed against some Rolex glass with a thousand other people? Tucked away in the back of the convention center are the "Ateliers". These are independent watchmakers and microbrands, often the owners and the watchmakers behind the brand are there and if you catch them at the right time, you can handle their watches and speak to the mind behind the brand. Additionally, next door, is the hotel Hyperion, which has a floor dedicated to more brands, with another lobby that is host to lots of meetings (hint, it's a good place to hang out).

 Was able to get some up close and hands time with a couple Akrivia watches, a brand I admire.

Was able to get some up close and hands time with a couple Akrivia watches, a brand I admire.


THE WATCHMAKER'S TECHNICAL SHOW

A few years ago, almost all of the tool and parts suppliers pulled out of Baselword en masse. The event, more catered to the watch brands with their meetings and to general admission, were less and less of a place for companies that address the needs of the watchmaker. Which is a bummer, because those brands may even be more exciting to me than most of the watches. Since I only attended Baselworld two days, I travelled to Neuchâtel and from there, La Chaux-de-Fonds, where the nearby companies partaking in the show (such as Roxer, AF Switzerland, Horotec, Bergeon, and a few more) all have shuttles take folks to have meetings and tours at their respective facilities. This is more for the companies to make connections than for enthusiasts to ogle over the latest caseback opening tool (there are some cool ones).

So on behalf of Orion I went and saw these brands and spoke to the people. The puzzle of my world of horology is so much more full after visiting Switzerland and partaking in both Baselworld and the Watchmaker's Technical Show. I feel confident and prepared, I'm rich with plans and new connections, I'm even more excited to step into the future.

THE TAKEAWAY

Bottom line for both brand owners and enthusiasts would be to engage and talk, otherwise Baselworld is just a glorified window shopping experience.

For the enthusiast; Go to the Atelier section, engagement and a hands on experience is more likely there, though many big brands will have reps, artisans, or watchmakers that are ready and willing to share their knowledge and experience with you.

For the brand; Be prepared! Plan meetings in advance. Have goals set before you step in. Don't be afraid to meet people on the fly or alter plans. It's a small world and industry, taking some time with one person, in my experience, almost always lead you to another valuable contact.

Though if the occasional Instagram celebrity or someone wearing a suit and watch 10X more expensive than yours makes you feel insecure, then you definitely won't enjoy the Swarovski Sparkle Bench. 

The schnitzel is great too.

 

Calamity and the future of Orion

Calamity and Orion



Four years ago I discovered my passion for horology on a whim, thinking I could simply repair an heirloom Omega Constellation. A year and a half ago I began formal schooling at Watch Technology Institute in Seattle - this August I'll graduate with 9 other people, then, it's on to the next phase of Orion.



What is the next phase? I've mentioned that I want to bring more horological manufacturing back to America. My end goal is to be able to completely manufacture all components of the watch here in the USA. Made in America, 100%. That's easier said than done.

Upon graduating I want to jump right in. I want to find a barn (or maybe I'd settle for a church) and convert it into a watchmaking facility. I'd also begin assembling my team. With the new Orion 'Barn' we'd start modifying and manufacturing individuals parts or parts for movements. This would impart the technical skills and knowledge needed to move forward. Piece by piece, we'd add more manufacturing equipment. As our skills and assortment of tools grow, so will our production capabilities.



So the Calamity. It's a heavy hitter and a serious watch in terms of design and components. Just as the Orion:1 and Field Standard have and continue to fund my tenure and life at the Watch Tech Institute, the Calamity will be the first step into life beyond school. Profits will go towards funding the Orion: Barn, horological equipment, and the salaries of my team.

Whether or not you believe in my goals or visions, you have my word that I will continue to push forward, find those boundaries, and break them. It is with the continued support of all of you, that this is possible. Here's to the Calamity, the future, and you, my support.


Prototype Revisions

CALAMITY PROTOTYPES HAVE ARRIVED

And they're gorgeous! 

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The Calamity is more than just a dive watch. It's a watch design that's ambitious and wont cut corners. In a bit of an unorthodox turn, the prototypes are being redone. While this will add some time to the release and pre-orders, it's being done to ensure that these watches are the highest quality. Rushing a watch through production and taking gambles on quality and small issues being rectified is not a risk the Orion, or I, will take.

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The goal of the Calamity is perfection

or close to it. This watch will be a contender with some of the more well known big hitters out there, not just in terms of quality, but in terms of innovation and new design. A dive watch so ergonomic, light, and slim that you forget you have a watch on? Yes please.

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With the Orion 1

I had not much money in my bank account, no clue as to how well my oddball design would be received and only my Seiko modding background to vouch for me. As you know, things like the bracelet had to be delayed from the original release and small design concessions were made so that I could realistically turn an idea into a real watch.

This will not be the case with the Calamity.

The Calamity will come out, and from day one, will be a force to be reckoned with.

Prototypes soon.

Calamity prototypes should arrive in a couple weeks!

 Most likely a darker shade of blue will be selected.

Most likely a darker shade of blue will be selected.

This month the prototypes for the Calamity should arrive. While they will be largely the same as renders there will be a couple small changes, like to the indice design and drilled lugs (drilled lugs make the thin case too weak!).

Lets review some specs though as manufacturing draws closer.

  • 39.5mm case diameter (not including crown)
  • 20mm lug width
  • 48mm lug to lug
  • Case thickness 10mm to 11mm, remember the curved caseback. This included the crystal thickness.
  • ETA2892
  • Ceramic bezel insert.
  • Stock bracelet.
  • Limited quantity (300-500 pieces)

Once the prototypes are in hand I'll be able to make more informed decisions on final revisions and pre-order date. With any luck we'll be able to begin pre-order this fall and have them on your wrists in the spring or early summer. Current estimates place retail around $1,500 with pre-order backers receiving a discount.

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I'm excited to develop and release a slim profile, reasonably sized, and unique dive watch. The Orion aesthetic and technical specs, I believe, really sets it apart from the much more commonly designed chunky and large divers.

CALAMITY BLUE

Working on the CALAMITY in its blue form, just need some input from all of you on which shade of blue you prefer! Is is the lighter blue or the darker blue??

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The first two images depict a lighter shade of blue while the second two are a darker shade. Of course they both evoke different feelings and create a completely different watch, both of which are nice on their own merits, but lets get down to it, WHICH ONE DO YOU LIKE BETTER?!


Or maybe you prefer a drab, olive green version.....

Which CALAMITY shade?
 

CALAMITY

Design phase is nearly complete!

Then it's onto prototypes. The Calamity, if you don't know by now, is a dive watch. The design is very much a fusion of modern and vintage styling, but is still easily recognized as an Orion watch.

So far the plan is for two different versions, a red/black and a blue/orange. One being more low key, while the blue and orange will be high contrast and more of a stand out. 

The case diameter will be a reasonable 39mm, with a lug width of 20mm. The bezel will be a matte ceramic which will match the matte dial. Case finishing will be a straight grain brush finish along the tops and sides of the case but with a polished tapering bevel along the dorsal and ventral sides.

Hard to see in the above photo, but the caseback will curved, to hug your wrist even more comfortable and to maintain the slim curvature of the watch. It will be powered by the Swiss ETA2892, a thin and smooth winding and setting watch. The smooth winding obviously suits the large Orion crown and the thin movement allows us to achieve a case thickness not commonly seen in dive watches. The 2892 is a tough and high quality movement, regarded as higher quality when compared to the well known ETA2824.

The Calamity will ship on a stainless steel bracelet, with plans to produce a fitted silicone strap after production is finalized.

I'm excited to announce the Calamity, a dive watch that definitely stands apart from the norm. 

Burnishing Pivots


THE JACOT TOOL 

Is the weapon of choice for fine sizing, burnishing, and polishing pivots. It's hand-powered via the small bow, and invites imagery and sensation of watchmakers from generations past using a similar tool. It's crude yet elegant in design.

Using a 'dog' and lantern a collet

You mount your gear with a pivot in need of burnishing, or in the example here; some raw cut pivots. We made small brass carriers for the 'ears' of the dog to lock onto. You can see the bow twisted around it. As you operate the bow, it spins the dog, which the ears engage the spokes of the gear or in our case, the long screw of the carrier.

In motions opposite of your bow, you place your burnisher atop the pivot which rests in a lantern collet slightly smaller than the target you plan to size your pivot to. For example, you want to cut your pivot to .25mm, you'd use a groove in the collet sized to .22mm or .20mm. That way the burnisher doesn't bottom out and some material of the pivot sticks up, able to be cut.

 R.I.Pieces.

R.I.Pieces.

A DELICATE TOUCH

Is needed to not break, deform, or taper (and any other number of things) your pivot. You must be focused, relaxed, and patient when cutting and burnishing pivots. Rough cutting is done on the watchmakers lathe, expect a couple pivots to break, so make extras. Frustration will only impair your ability to do good work, stay centered and remember that breaking pivots is normal.

 Still a rough cut pivot

Still a rough cut pivot

NO TOLERANCE

It is here that numbers need to be exact. A piece of dust or oil on the pivot or your measuring device can obscure an accurate reading. If your pivot isn't sized perfectly it wont function. Generally pivots are .25mm and under, even handling them takes a bit of learning.

 A piece of dust or a microscopic metal shaving can obscure your reading

A piece of dust or a microscopic metal shaving can obscure your reading

WHY IS A BURNISHED PIVOT GOOD?

A properly burnished and polished pivot not only has less friction but it wears less over time. The act of burnishing actually compresses the metal, making it denser and harder to corrode. Many brands and movement manufacturers have acid washed and tumbled pivots, this technique is cheaper and creates a hard outer surface, but once that hardened surface wears through, the softer insides degrade quickly. This is where burnishing shines, it's a rare practice, a good repair technique and an extreme challenge to master.

Bracelets!

When the Orion Watch Project was started, it was done so on a very very small budget and capitulated on funding from early supporters through the pre-order. Certain concessions were made in order to make that goal more attainable; one of them was the inclusion of the bracelet.
I wanted a high quality bracelet with solid links, screw links, and well, just solid everything. They aren't cheap to manufacture. 

 

Now though, they are becoming a reality. I just received prototypes for the 3 bracelet variations that certainly complete the look of the Orion case and provide the additional function of "knuckle duster". These things are heavy and completely transform the look of the watch.

There will be a polished center link model, all brushed, and a DLC black version. These will be offered independently as well as a standard inclusion with a new watch purchase. 

 

At any rate, a pre-order is incoming, so be sure to sign up for the e-mail list and watch social media for updates/photos/news on the bracelets

Project: Calamity

THE DIVE WATCH

The easily distinguished Orion crown known for pleasurable operation will be appearing

A curved caseback will contour this slim profiled watch to your wrist.

SOME SPECS:

  • 666ft WR
  • Sapphire double dome crystal and display caseback
  • Swiss ETA2892 movement
  • Drilled lugs
  • Brushed case surfaces with polished bevels

Making stems!

My schematic for the stem I'll be making.

The stem. Attached to the crown of the watch, it's the connection from you to the movement within your watch. Composed of cylinders, flats, notches, and a threaded section; most stems have multiple points of interaction. This means the shapes and sizes must be right, this is a high torque part that receives frequent use. A misshapen stem will grind pieces or get ground away, introducing dust into your movement-and that's a bad thing.

My stem secured in a lathe.

There are lots of little details and an order of operation to follow when making a stem. If you look closely at the squared section you'll see that the ends and the corners are round and not coming to a sharp edge. This is so your stem can easily find its way through the sliding and winding pinions, as well as the other holes it needs to maneuver. Additionally, sharp corners in this situation would wear over time and eventually give way to metal shavings and dust (please no).

Cutting the slots and steps necessitate right angles. If, for example, the slot is not cut nice and perpendicularly then the set lever will slowly grind the angled edges until they are...

MONSTER STEM!

Before making the stem for the 6497 we made some stems out of brass that we scaled up multiple times. While large pieces have challenges independent of small pieces (and vice versa) this was to help us establish a good order of operation and visualize the different features of the stem-which to a novice, some of the smaller edges and steps may go overlooked.

Stem with some polishing compound on the threads

For the 6497 stem you want to cut as much of it as possible before hardening and tempering it. Working hardened steel is much more challenging and necessitates different tooling than raw steel. Since the stem is such a small and detailed component it's very easy to break, especially when cutting the slot out. The quenching after heating for hardening is one of the more challenging aspects, if your quench technique is off or something happens and you don't quench your stem straight up and down, it'll warp - and your stem will be rendered useless.

Bringing the stem to a polished finish is also essential, polished surfaces that are interacting with other parts will wear less, have less friction and as a result, last longer. Above you can see my stem with polishing compound on the end of the threads, I'm about to thread it into a piece of wood with a tight hole to try and polish all surfaces of the threads. At this step I will make any final cuts necessary, make sure my surfaces are flat, edges are 90º and everything is polished.

A fun exercise with skill training that transcend the fabrication of stems, though, for a days work I'd probably end up paying $6 for a replacement stem ;) .

If you enjoy these posts please be sure to let me know! There's a comment section below. Is there a certain horological technique you want to see covered here (within reason)?

Cathedral hands and field watches

With the impending completion of the Field Standard, I thought I'd do a little write up on the field watch style and its history. I've had a surprising number of people remark along the lines of, "oh, those Alpinist hands.." referencing the Seiko Alpinist (a great watch) as a design influence for the Field Standard. These aren't Alpinist hands, these are Cathedral hands. And they date back quite far.

 An early field watch. Photo by  Nathan Bress

An early field watch. Photo by Nathan Bress

In World War I, watches, by style, were largely pocket watches for males and tiny wristwatches for females. The wristwatch style was seen as "feminine" until the war broke out. The pocket watch became cumbersome, simply relinquishing a hand to operate your watch while in the gnarly trenches was costly and time consuming. Pocket watches soon became retrofitted with straps and thrown on the wrists of soldiers and officers, timing was essential for effective attacks. It was around this time, the wristwatch was seen as a legitimate style for males. Converted pocket watches became more common, as the war raged on more reasonably sized wristwatches were produced for combat.

 A 1917 trench watch with a shrapnel guard. 

A 1917 trench watch with a shrapnel guard. 

One of the hallmarks of this watch style are the large, legible numerals, the addition of 24hr time being added a bit later. While there were many hand styles at the time, Cathedral hands were one of the innocuous choices for these watches, the large hour hand and slender minutes hand are easy to pick out and provide ample space for the addition of luminous material.

Looking back at Cathedral hands now, they could be described as classical, especially for the field watch style.

The Seiko Alpinist (engraved).

The hands on the Seiko Alpinist (Sarb017) could very easily be categorized as Cathedral hands, though I would make the argument that stylistically they have a bit of Seiko's re-imagination imbued within, a more modern and stylized take on the hand style. 

The Field Standard

The Field Standard has a very classically designed version of Cathedral hands, though with modern manufacturing they are able to have much more crisp and defined edges and a sharper overall look. Comparing with the Alpinist, you can see they are actually quite different, the Field Standard's hands actually sharing more in common with the early trench watches, from which the Field Standard draws from (as does the Alpinist).

Cathedral hands have seen themselves on many watches and watch styles over the decades, not just field watches. To me, the Cathedral hand is a hallmark of early field watches and is ultimately why it was chosen for the Field Standard.

Field Standard production has begun!

The funding goal has been reached and the Field Standard is being produced! The target for mid spring is still on!

Stainless Field Standard with black strap

Now some things you may not know; the Field Standard will be an extremely limited batch, 75 stainless cases and 25 DLC black ones which isn't many....

Diamond Like Carbon coated Field Standard

Of course, I have a few really exciting special editions planned, but with a total of around 100 pieces, there wont be many of these in circulation.

I wanted to take this time to thank the backers of this project for helping to make the greatest field watch become a reality. The pre-order pricing will be around until production is complete, but they may sell out before then....

Blue Screws

The blued screws of my personal Orion

If you heat steel up the right temperature, you can get some cool colors. I've been on a bit of a bluing kick, that is, heating up screws and wheels and getting them to turn a magnificent color-for no other reason than it looks INCREDIBLE.

There are a few different methods to turning your steel blue, each with their own sets of pros and cons. Being an amateur at this, I've been giving them all a try to see which I prefer and so that I can further understand the process. 

The kiln

Here's the kiln at my disposal, initially I perceived this as the best method as you can precisely control the temperature (ha!) and therefore control which shade you want. It does have the added benefit of doing large batches simultaneously.

ETA 6497 with blue screws and purple crown and ratchet wheels

I used the kiln for the ETA 6497 pictured above. Looking closely you can see variation in the colors on the screws and wheels. On the crown wheel you can see a yellow area, this is where a piece of dust landed caused non uniform heat dispersion. One of the reasons there's variation in the colors is that there are currents in the heat flow within the kiln, even over small surfaces.

I tried to remedy this by building little houses out of brass to insulate the parts, but even that wasn't super effective. Time to try some other techniques.

This screw was blued over an alcohol lamp in a small brass jig.

You can get a container and fill it with brass shavings (pretty common) and slowly heat it with your piece inside. The reason I don't really like this method is because you can't directly see your work piece and lifting up the lid and poking around in the brass will disrupt the heat-and that's no good. Right now, for screws, I'm into waving them over an alcohol lamp while in a brass jig.

My space grade screw holding jig with screw secure

And by jig I mean a piece of brass with a small hole in it. I experimented with different thickness of brass and hole placement. If the brass is too thin or the screw holding hole is too close to the edge you'll get non-uniform bluing as heat distribution wont be even. This jig has served me pretty well so far.

You can see how the screw starts out, it's pretty important to polish the screw head before bluing. Having a polished and uniform surfaces will help the oxidation layer (color) take hold at an even rate. Many screws that I pull out of movements are also plated, so polishing that plated surface away is necessary.

Before it turns purple

Steel will go through a different colors before getting to blue (which is the final color and easy to go past). It begins at a pale yellow and darkens to brownish then turns purple/violet before quickly and finally becoming blue.

Blue creeping in

Once you get to purple it's a good time to slow it down and move back from the flame a little. The blue creeps in from the edge then it goes pretty quickly, plus you want the color to be uniform. It's easy to get splotches or different colored edges. It's best to not mess up, the more times you try to get something to blue the more you weaken the metal, and with screws which are meant to be cranked down tight, you don't want to do this process too much to a single screw.

 Throw it in some water

Throw it in some water

Once you get it to the color you want, quench that sucker. The heat within the screw and held in the jig will cause the color to keep changing. 

Left is kiln heated on the right each screw is done individually over an alcohol lamp

Many people suggest doing screws in batches so that they're affected by the same amount of heat and come out the same color. This hasn't been my experience at all in my short amount of time bluing screws. Perhaps with a higher end kiln this would ring true, but above you can see the results. The ETA on the left had all the screws done in a single batch in the kiln and the wheels were done in a separate batch. I built smaller houses within the kiln to minimize any draft or current and still the variation is very noticeable. 

On the right, the Seiko NH35 has all screws that I blued individually over an alcohol lamp. Each screw is very uniform, at least in comparison to the kiln screws. There's a little variation in the shade of blue, but again, eyeballing the color on each one is still more accurate than trusting the kiln to distribute heat evenly.

 

Next step is to make some display casebacks to show it all off. 

The Tudor is up and running!

The quarter ended, time has literally flown by. I heard about how time passes quickly at watchmaking school from students in the past, but now that I'm experiencing it, I understand. 

The hours are long and the work isn't necessarily easy, but it's a lot of fun, every time you put your head down to work on something and look up-hours have passed.

The gear train

Assembly goes relatively quickly, granted everything fits properly and you know where it goes. Slowdowns occur when you discover an issue, create an issue, or go to oiling. Above is the gear train of the watch, each of those pivots on the end rest in tiny holes inside a ruby. When you oil the jewels it's ensuring these interacting parts run with little friction.

Remember in the earlier blog post when I had to burnish a pivot? This is when I get to see if I failed or succeeded. If I did a poor job, it wont fit or run properly and I'd need to order a new wheel.

The gear train bridge

Many components in watches have what is called a bridge. Above is the gear train bridge. The bridges cover and seat your pivoting parts in many cases. When your gear train is installed, you ensure each pivot is properly seated in its jewel, then when you install the bridge you again ensure that the pivots on the other end are seated properly in the bridge jewels. 
Failure to align these parts will obviously stop your watch from running, you can also damage or break the pivots/wheels if you tighten down a bridge with misaligned pivots.

Bridge installed

I install the bridge, but something isn't right. The gear train doesn't quite spin freely. Had I not aligned the pivots? I was certain I had. I began to get nervous that maybe my burnishing job earlier had destroyed the pivot of the wheel....

So I did it again...And again. Same thing, the wheels just wouldn't spin right. I solicited the help of a second year student to help troubleshoot the situation. Confounded for a second, he defaulted to "well I guess you bent a pivot..." but the pivots were all fine, we inspected them each multiple times. Then, recalling an earlier exam, he looked at all the jewels, one of the jewels in the bridge wasn't properly seated.

Kris uses his Horia tool to adjust the misaligned jewel

After quickly straightening it out, I was back on my way with assembly. The movement in question is the ETA 2784, which is a pretty old movement which in all analogous models has been replaced by the well known ETA 2824. The 2784 is kind of like the evolutionary ancestor of the 2824, which is what the second year students have been working on (I can just ask them for help!). Armed with an ETA 2824 tech sheet, I was on my way. I soon discovered that an assortment of parts in the 2784 were a bit different than the 2824. The latter, having combined some parts to create more robust pieces and a slightly simpler assembly. 

Getting close!

Hand alignment

When aligning the hands it's essential to make sure they're perfectly straight (I use 12:00 as a reference), if they aren't they wont advance properly and will be slightly off, most noticeably when it hits the hour evenly.

Four the hour hand the goal is to get it to align perfectly with the date change, so that as soon as the hand hits midnight, you get that satisfying click over to the next day. For the minute hand, it's important that it's evenly aligned with the hour hand so that they advance properly.

The seconds hand, at least on this movement, you can just throw on there willy nilly. 

 Setting the hands

Setting the hands

Once hand alignment is determined, you press the hands on. For me, this is really enjoyable, perhaps hearkening back to a task I did a lot while modifying Seiko's. When setting the hands you have to make sure they're properly seated on the corresponding pinion or post, perpendicular to the case, and parallel to the other hands. Sometimes this isn't noticeable until you advance the hands. It's good to take your time here and make sure the hands are done properly; nothing is more deflating than getting your watch cased up and on your wrist to see the hands catch on each other.

Getting there!

That's more like it!

The next step is refinishing the case. I need a couple parts like new (proper) gaskets, a new crown  tube, and crystal.  After becoming proficient at refinishing cases, I'll give it a shot on the Tudor, at that time I'll replace the case parts that need replacing. As for now, it's been keeping amazing time!