Railroad watch visionaries visit Vineyard Haven

Rubin Cronig hosted the Vortic Day show at Vineyard Time.

Vineyard Time owner Rubin Cronig, left, with Tyler Wolfe, R.T. Custer, and Darren Squashic of Vortic. — Rich Saltzberg

Vortic Watch Co. displayed two of its watch lines at Rubin Cronig’s Vineyard Time in Vineyard Haven on Saturday. Vortic, a Colorado company founded by Penn State alums R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe, specializes in installing the works of vintage railroad watches into 3D-printed titanium cases.

According to Mr. Wolfe, Waltham Watch Co. watch innards are the most common type of watch works used by Vortic. Mr. Wolfe said that the elevated precision and workmanship of Waltham railroad watch movements are the result of a bygone industrial effort. It’s practically impossible to duplicate that effort, but very much worth salvaging what remains from it. He said the spikes in scrap metal values, particularly around the time of the great recession, resulted in large numbers of railroad pocket watches being shelled for their gold and silver cases. This left a national graveyard of mechanical works. From coast to coast, Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Custer sifted through this graveyard and bought up great quantities of watch works. Then, in a merger that echoes steampunk aesthetics, they set them in cutting-edge housings produced by an industrial 3D printer. According to Mr. Custer, printing the titanium housings involves a process called direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS. In the process, layers of titanium powder are melted by repeated passes of a laser until, slice by slice, a watch case emerges. The watches made through this process come in many variations, and are collectively called the American Artisan Series. Vortic also displayed watches from their new Journeyman Series on Saturday. Watches from this series are inspired by railroad watch design, but are built entirely — movements to case — by Vortic. The project is funded by an active Kickstarter campaign.

After a day of exploring Waltham, the Watch City, on Friday, Mr. Custer and Mr. Wolfe, along with their web designer, Darren Squashic, watched as two of their American Artisan Series timepieces — one built from a late 19th century Waltham watch and one built from an early 20th century Waltham — were inducted into the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.

“We had the induction in a new restaurant that just opened up in the old Waltham Watch factory,” Mr. Wolfe said. “The Waltham Watch factory has been converted into apartments and office spaces and a restaurant. The restaurant was the last piece of the entire restoration of the factory. It was cool, because we had the developers there putting a cap on this project they’d been working on since 2006. And we’re introducing our new product using the products this company used to make. So they’re taking the shell of this old factory and redoing the insides to make it functional again. We’re taking the insides of their old product and making a new casing.”

Vortic is currently on a national roadshow. The next stop is New York City.

For more information, visit vorticwatches.com.