For Old Time’s Sake

This Fort Collins business repurposes the innards of old timepieces into cool new wristwatches



“People have called it a beautiful clash of old and new,” says R.T. Custer of the Fort Collins-based Vortic Watch Company, which he founded with business partner Tyler Wolfe. The old: movements from 100-year-old watches that might otherwise end up in the trash heap. The new: the cutting-edge technology of the 3-D titanium watch case they designed, as well as other internal features that, for example, make the watches water-resistant. After starting their business in Custer’s basement, they now work out of a 2,000-square-foot facility, hand-crafting one-of-a-kind, half-historic watches. Their goal: to make 1,000 this year. They’re also opening a boutique store in the Dairy Block. We spoke with Custer about the brand.

How did you come up with the idea for Vortic?
“Tyler and I were on the golf course in 2013 at Penn State, where we were students, when we got the idea, and we officially launched on Kickstarter in November 2014. Tyler is a math major but also a watch guy—he’d been growing his collection of Timexes for a while and he still loves that brand—and I studied industrial engineering and really like manufacturing and thinking about how things are made.”

All of your watches are made in the United States. How do you do that?
“In the watch industry, it’s really hard because no one makes the movements—the time-keeping components—in the U.S. any more. Most watches are made in China, Japan and Switzerland. Through doing research, we discovered that there were these old pocket watch movements that people scrap for the gold and silver on their cases. And we became passionate about preserving these little pieces of American history.”

Where does the name Vortic come from?
“It’s a mixture of ‘vortex’ and ‘tick tock.’ Because it’s this new kind of cutting-edge vortex and then tick-tock, going back to the roots of telling time.”

Where do you get the old watch mechanisms?
“In the Northeast, there’s a huge number of antiques bought, sold and traded, and we have friends who serve as our ‘pickers’ at auctions, jewelry stores and pawnshops there. Ninety-five percent of the mechanisms are not running. It’s like a car: If you left a car sitting in a garage for 100 years, it’s probably not going to start and you’ll have to completely disassemble it, clean it, polish it and put it back together. So my watchmakers are like high-end mechanics working on a very small scale. They don’t alter any of the original components—that’s why you see the names of the original watchmakers, like Elgin or Waltham or Illinois, on the faces of our watches. We just love bringing these watches back to life.”

Your slogan is “America wasn’t assembled. It was built.” Explain that.
“One of our competitors got into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for advertising that their watches were ‘made in America.’ The FTC said, ‘You can’t say that—you can say assembled in America, but not made in America.’ And I thought, you know, we don’t assemble our watches. We build our watches one at a time for each customer. It’s not like we’re taking pieces and making a thousand of the same watches. Each watch is built, not assembled. I am a big fan of the series ‘The Men Who Built America,’ and I think that the country was built by these great men and women who came before us and built these companies.”

517 N. Link Lane, Fort Collins

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