I got into watches really by accident. When my wife and I moved from Canada’s east coast back to Toronto after we finished our educations, I got a job at a small jewelry store that did repair work on both jewelry and watches. This was my introduction to the world of watchmaking. I already had a good grounding in jewelry making, and many of the skills transferred quite well to watch repair. After I finished my employment there(after learning a lot about watch repair), I decided to start making some prototypes with the thought of starting my own business making watches and jewelry.
What was the biggest lesson you learned as an aspiring watchmaker?
I’ve found that getting good information about watchmaking can be very difficult, especially in Canada where it seems that there aren’t any educational institutions that offer courses in watchmaking, except for the one in Quebec. Also, I’ve found that watchmaking is a vast field of study. It’s honestly overwhelming sometimes. So the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is to persevere whenever I run into a problem. There are answers out there, they are just sometimes very difficult to find.
We spoke a bit about your training in fine arts and jewelry. Most other micro brand owners I have met come from technical fields. How did a background in the arts shape your approach to watches?
I think my background in the fine arts has really helped me look at watch design in a very different way from most other brands. I really start by looking at what I want to do with a design, and then get hamstrung either by technical problems in regards to what the movement will allow me to do, or by what my dial making processes will allow me to do. I really do love using jewelry techniques because it allows me to have freedom in making either one-offs or small runs of watches, but the techniques do have their own unique limitations that I have to work within, which are very different from the standard dial making processes in the watch industry.
Who is the typical Wilk Watch buyer?
I don’t think there is a typical customer for my watches. They come from all walks of life, but I think one thing that most of my customers have is an appreciation for handcrafted, bespoke items.
Please explain the process of building a Wilk watch. I know the dial alone is a remarkably involved affair.
Depending on the order, the process may be different than a typical watch I make. For stock designs, I wouldn’t be going through the design process every time, but here is an outline of a typical customized watch build. First step is to speak with the customer about all the choices they would like to make for every component of the watch. This includes, but is not limited to, the case, crystals, movement, strap, clasp, and dial. The choices for the dial itself can be quite involved. After all the choices are made and a deposit or full payment is given, I would start on the design process, if necessary as not all orders require design work. The design work is all done in a 3D design program. After the client approves the design work, the physical work on the watch begins. The dial is the most involved part of my watchmaking processes as I am not currently making the case or movement myself. The dial process begins with laser cutting and engraving the dial from sheet metal. Then I solder dial feet on the back of the dial. Next is checking the fit to the movement and making adjustments as necessary. The an initial sanding of the dial surface occurs followed by the application of luminous pigments into the engraved recesses on the dial. The pigments then require time to cure. After curing is complete, the final finish to the dial surface is applied. Usually this is a brushed finish that is hand applied. If there is an additional coloring step such as an oxidized finish or anodizing, it happens at this stage. The final dial creation step is a light coating of museum quality wax to seal the surface. After the dial is complete, the watch goes through assembly and testing. There are sometimes additional steps in the process for other components that need occasional customization such as hands, movement rings, personalized engraving, electroplating, etc…, so the process outlined above is really just the basic watchmaking process that I do with every watch build.
How much labor goes into a typical build?
It can really vary a lot depending on each specific build. I typically tell people that it takes me about 4-6 weeks to build a watch, but right now my turnaround time is approximately 4-5 months for turnaround of regular orders and it can be longer if it is extremely customized.
I know your movements are from China and Switzerland, and the dials are manufactured locally. Where do you get your cases? Are they your own design?
I get all of my cases made for me by a company in Hong Kong. When I first started out prototyping, I purchased ‘off the shelf’ cases to help facilitate my understanding of the case architecture and how all the parts interact with one another. Once I gained that understanding, I tweaked the design of those off the shelf cases to suit my tastes and for technical improvements. My tourbillon cases are entirely my design. One of my goals over the next couple years is to redesign those tweaked cases so they are entirely my design. I also do make my own cases for custom jobs if the case material can be cast using the lost wax jewelry casting method. I usually cast either gold, silver, or bronze into cases.
Have you encountered any problems getting ETA movements?
I am starting to see less ETA movements available from my regular suppliers of movements.
What other movements are you exploring?
I’ve been looking at a variety of other movement manufacturers including Eterna, Technotime, STP, and Miyota, but I’m always exploring to see what movements are out there. Unfortunately movements aren’t made to standard dimensions, so it’s difficult to get more than one movement type to fit into one case design, otherwise I’d offer lots of different movements.
What is the split between full custom and in stock watches? Have you noticed any change?
I just launched the in-stock section of my website less than a year ago now, so I don’t have a lot of data to pull from, but it’s about 60% customized / 40% in-stock. I’ve found that some people just don’t want to wait the 4-5 months for me to build a watch for them, and that’s ok, it’s just that they are limited in their ability to choose customization options, and if they really like the way I’ve decided to put the watch together, then that’s fantastic!
What watches are in your personal collection?
I don’t have a large collection as I’ve used most of my spare money to do more in the business. I do have a 1952 Rolex that was given to me by a complete stranger that I got back to working order, a Swatch Sistem 51(also a gift), a Seiko Kinetic, a couple non-functional inherited watches from the 60’s and 70’s, a couple pocket watches including an interesting Canadian made one from Westclox, and of course, a few watches I have made for myself.
What watches you are looking to purchase next?
I don’t have any plans currently for another watch, other than maybe getting those non-functional watches up and working.
What watch do you aspire to own?
There are so many I wouldn’t know where to begin, and unfortunately most of them are at a price point that I probably will never own them. I really do like some of the Van Cleef and Arpel watches from an artistic point of view, Roger Smith because he’s awesome, and the minimalism of Nomos is great.
What do you do when you are not doing watches? What are your other passions?
I used to be an avid 10-pin bowler when I was much younger, unfortunately don’t have time for that now, but maybe someday I’ll get back to it. I enjoy video gaming with my friends; we have a Wednesday game night tradition that has been going for over 10 years. Spending family time with my wife and two young sons fills my days and makes me happy. I also dabble in brewing espresso, mixing cocktails, and sampling whiskeys, spirits, and other fermented effervescent beverages.
What is next for Wilk Watches?
There are lots of new things I have planned that are far off down the road. It’s difficult to decide what to pursue next, but the next main task is to re-design my cases to work with more movements that are non-ETA. I’m always trying to work on new things and do new releases each year, so please stay tuned to my social media for all the latest work to come off my bench.
Find Scott at /WilkWatchworks on Facebook, @WilkWatchworks on Instagram, @wilkdesigns on Twitter, and of course, WilkWatchWorks.com.