Recently, I had a chance to tour the assembly facility for Berkbinder & Brown, and sit down with the man behind the Tool Watch, Mr. Ted Brown.  For those not familiar with the Tool Watch, it’s one of the newest American-designed and -made watches that got it’s start via Kickstarter.  Read on, and see what we talked about.

Let’s start where your watch started – Kickstarter.  How did that experience go for you?  

The short answer is that I was very surprised with how it went.  I made a couple watches by hand, and I thought it would nice to make more.  Adding to that, friends were asking me for a watch – but I was thinking that if I did make it, they couldn’t afford it even if I charged a minimal amount for labor – it just took so much time.  I felt if I could make 10 or 20, then it would be worthwhile to have a tool company to run some cases.  So, the Kickstarter project began, and things took off.  I ended up selling about 84 watches, which way exceeded my expectations.

As you mentioned, you built the very first watch on your own.  Have you always been a “watch guy”?

You know, I’ve always loved watches.  This process really started about three years ago, when I was looking for a watch.  From what I found, I couldn’t bring myself to pay the prices being asked for what I wanted.  At the same time I was searching, I had a friend that would go to China and bring me back watches.  One day he asked why I didn’t wear what he brought me, and I told him it was because they didn’t work!

The bands would fall off, it would stop running, parts would fall off.  So I decided to open one up and see what made it work.  When I saw the internals, I thought “There’s really not that much in these cases – I bet I could make one.”  I’ll admit, it was more difficult than I first thought it would be.  To get just one case made, that is was really expensive.

I’ve always been pretty creative, and had done a lot of jewelry and metal casting.  So, for the prototype case, I had a wax model made, and then had that investment casted in bronze.  There was a lot of expansion and contraction, so tolerances were way off.
I then machined it to tolerance, and that was my first watch case.

What came next?

I’ve always been pretty resourceful – the joke is that “my mind is a shop that’s always open” –  so I just kind of figured out how to do the other items.  There’s a watchmaker uptown, so I’d go in and talk to him and work through things as well.  In the end, it was getting the drawings for the ETA movement, and then figuring out what needed to be done to get it to fit into the case.

How did you decide on the ETA 2824, rather than, say, a Miyota or even a quartz movement?

The ETA movement is a very strong movement, and many people know what it is.  Additionally, it’s in a lot of watches – and quite a few watches that are more expensive than the Tool Watch.  I thought it would be a nice feature to have in the watch – having a known, quality, workhorse movement that is available and widely serviceable.

Following that up, how does the Swatch Group decision to keep the movements “in brand” affect you?

It’s a bit up in the air, as to what’s going to happen with supply and pricing.  I’ll be headed to BaselWorld, to establish some connections and see what options are out there for movements and crowns, that sort of thing.  I may change to, say, Ronda, but I’d really like to stay with ETA movements – perhaps even the 6497.  One benefit of investigating other movements is that it could also help establish a lower price point for the Tool Watch.  (As a point of reference, the ETA movements have doubled in price over the last two years).

That concludes part one of the interview.  In the next installment, we’ll talk with Ted about the case design.

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Last Update: January 27, 2012