By Gary Girdvainis
Ten years ago, business partners RT Custer and Tyler Wolfe created something new out of something old and brought the Vortic watch brand to life. Housing refurbished vintage American pocket watch movements into wristwatch cases crafted in the United States was a novel idea that brought renewed interest in an America’s watchmaking heritage, while simultaneously creating watches that could legitimately be called Made In the USA.
Ten years later, a sister brand, Colorado Watch Company, joins the vintage-powered Vortic.
Successfully launched on Kickstarter, the Colorado Watch Company is following the founding duo’s desire to build watches in the USA – in this case with a modern movement and the ability to scale from hundreds of watches per year to thousands.
“For us, Colorado Watch Company represents our desire to continue to do big, exciting things,” says RT Custer. “We know how to make hundreds of watches in America, and have been doing it with Vortic for nearly a decade. But what about thousands? What if we could create dozens of jobs, not just a handful? Colorado Watch Company represents our American Dream, and we like to dream big!”
As part of this expansion, the partners have relocated to a new facility in Fort Collins Colorado, and invested substantially in a series of machines and equipment critical to making cases and components for watches right in their own facility. Swiss lathes, five-axis CNC milling machines, automated pad printers and more have allowed the partners to take the next steps in American watchmaking.
Initially, two case variations are offered; one is Tyler’s design (the 40mm Field Watch), and the other by RT (the 42mm GCT). Four variants of each are offered in total, each with two dial and two case options.
The Field Watch
At 40mm with 20mm between the lugs, the 316L stainless-steel Field Watch will comfortably fit on almost anyone’s wrist. It’s also slimmer than you might expect for an automatic watch at just 10.5mm due to the fact that the threaded case-back is recessed within the back and shaves off a couple of millimeters in height – a clever engineering solution for sure.
In the steel-case version, Colorado Watch decided to leave the subtle machining marks as a unique hallmark that adds an industrial effect while emphasizing that these cases were in fact made on-site.
Of course, these marks could be polished out and the makers could (and probably will) add different finishes in the future, but this clever bit of wabi-sabi adds an air of authenticity. DLC versions in black will not have the same effect and are polished before coating.
Inside the case beats an Americhron 7020 automatic-winding movement built by FTS USA in Arizona. Shock resistant, accurate, and beating at a frequency of 28,880 bph, the 7A20 movements have a power reserve of around 40 hours and were designed by a team of watchmakers, including FTS’ own Chief Technical Officer.
Above the movement, the stepped dials are available in a smooth white finish or machined steel. They are also crafted in-house at Fort Collins with integrated (not welded) dial feet adding strength and security to a notorious weak spot in almost any wristwatch. BGW9 lume graces the hands and pip at 12 o’clock, while a domestically sourced sapphire crystal sits atop the case.
Even the screws and crown/stem combinations are made on site. Water resistance has been confirmed to 5atm with the non-screw-down crown, but expect a 10atm rating by the time they are delivered. Retail price is $995.
Designed by RT, the GCT is slightly larger than the Field Watch at 42mm, but much more wearable than its 49mm inspiration – the original Military pocket-watch conversion that became a favorite among Vortic collectors.
In this modern homage to the original, the screw-down crown is relocated to the 12 o’clock position, while the stepped dial features Super-Luminova that recalls the colors of the aged radium look of the military original.
Like the Field watch, the GCT case is available in the raw steel version or the black DLC. Similarly, the stepped dials are available in a flat black or machined variation. The same Americhron 7A20 movement beats inside and is visible through the exhibition back in all versions.
Water resistant to 10atm when the crown is screwed down, the GCT also retains some water resistance even when the crown is in the unscrewed position thanks to a gasket system that acts as a backup for the absent-minded watch enthusiast. Retail price is $1,395.
Growing from Vortic to adding Colorado Watch Company while installing the machinery and expertise is no easy task. Neither is it easy to build an American watch manufacturer that can scale up to produce thousands of watches per year.
Nevertheless, Custer and Tyler have taken another massive step in bringing watchmaking back to life in the United States and I congratulate them on their success and look forward to following their watchmaking journey wherever it may lead them in the future. Learn more at the Vortic Watches site.