December 20, 2014
About 3 years ago, I decided that the time had come for me to design and manufacture my own watch. I’d been collecting for more decades than I can remember, and I’m somewhat of a person of notoriety in the watch world. I’m a fourth generation watchmaker, had several high profile watch stores in California, and founded TimeZone.com, the first website dedicated to watches. I had also worked with a few well-known watch companies that created a limited edition watch series for TimeZone.com. So, this wasn’t my “first rodeo” of watches.
I successfully designed, manufactured, and marketed my first watch under my new watch company, Rpaige Watch, in January of 2013, and I’m more than pleased with the success of my first official watch, The Rpaige Wrocket Watch. This watch utilizes an antique or vintage 12 size American pocket watch movement. I produced several dial variations of the watch, and then went full speed ahead with original antique dials using hunter case movements. The watches were made of steel or titanium, with exhibition see through backs.
As the watch became more popular, and my sales started to take off, I kept hearing a recurring sentiment… “The movement is so beautiful, too bad you can’t wear the watch movement side up!”
Never one to bypass a great challenge, I went about experimenting with different designs that enabled the watch to be ”reversible” so you can wear it either dial side up, or movement side up.
I went through several different iterations of the case design, but none really gave me what I was looking for: a case design that stayed true to my design principles, yet kept the simplicity of engineering.
I finally stumbled upon what I was looking for. In the 1980’s, I collected Gruen Drivers’ watches, and these watches were designed to fit the wrist on the side of the arm, so that when racecar drivers wanted to clock themselves from their watch, they didn’t have to take their hands off the steering wheel. These watch cases were very curved, and were even named “Curvex.” But not all the case curvatures would fit all wrists, so Gruen added another dimension by “articulating” (hinging) the lugs. This allowed the watch to fit most all wrists, since the lugs could easily rotate further and further back towards the case.
Since antique 12 size pocket watch movements are about 39mm, my case needed to be at least 44mm in diameter. The original drivers’ watches were all rectangular in shape and usually never exceeded 36 mm in length. But by utilizing the hinged “articulated” lugs, I could now realize my dream of being able to reverse the hinges either way the watch is facing.
Now came the fun part. All watches are curved to some degree for arm comfort. The lugs usually curve down towards the wrist to conform to our rounded arms. I needed the watch to be equally comfortable either face up or face down. By balancing the placement of the lugs towards the middle with no bias towards the back or front, I achieved the right weight balance for the watch. Then, by designing and creating articulating lugs that are “designed finish” on all sides – meaning, the lugs are fine polished and have a finished bevel on both sides – I was able to manufacture the watch that could be reversed!
The last necessary design point was that I needed to have the sapphire crystals flat on both face and back so that it would lay flat on the wrist either side up.
Keeping the philosophy of continuing to use original antique and vintage dials with the pocket watch movements was a challenge in this new design. The 12 size pocket watch movements were produced between 1895 and 1930, then, in the 1930’s, the wristwatch came into popularity, and most men stopped wearing the pocket watch – kind of like making the transition to a smart phone, it’s hard to ever go back to a regular mobile phone. However, in the beginning stages of the introduction of the 12 size movement, the hunter case design was very popular. The hunters Case watch had a cover, and by pressing the crown it hinged open the cover to read the time. Since these were worn in the vest pocket, the crown was always at 3 o’clock, making it easier to read when holding in the hand and looking down at the time.
After around 1912 or so, the “open face” watch became much more popular and the hunters case design was utilized for a woman’s fashion watch worn around the neck on a long chain. The open face pocket watch had the crown at 12 o’clock, and the watch companies “rotated” the plates to line up, so that the second hand stayed at the 6 o’clock position. Herein lies the problem – to utilize the original dials and keep the watch as a traditional design with the crown at the 3 o’clock position – I can only use the hunter case movements, with the crown at 3 o’clock and the seconds at 6 o’clock.
If I use the “open face” movements, then the watch has to be designed with the crown at the 12 o’clock position, and this ruins the classic design of the wristwatch, making the watch appear “cartoonish,” and bordering on amateurish-looking – or, conversely, I would have to create my own dial with the seconds hand at the 9 o’clock position, and wouldn’t be able to use the beautiful, artistic, and rare original dials. The other major problem is that for every 100 open face movements I was able to acquire, only 2 to 4 were “hunter case” movements, since they were only made for a relatively short period of time, and were much older. Because parts are no longer available for these magnificent machines, and since we need to meticulously restore the watches so that we can guaranty the watch for one year, I actually needed 2 to 3 hunter case movements to assure that I have enough parts for one single movement!! So the hunt for hunter case movements is an ongoing project if I want to continue using the original dials.
I first produced a prototype using a 3D printer out of plastic, and then we had a prototype done in steel, and lo and behold, it worked! I named it the Rpaige “DuoFace.”
The strap proved more challenging than I anticipated. I needed a strap that was reversible also. This was not reinventing the wheel, as many belts are reversible. But finding a strap manufacturer willing to produce this “Frankenstein” design for the watch proved to be difficult. I not only needed the strap to be reversible, but the buckle needed to be reversible as well. My original strap manufacturer was finally able to make me a sample that I liked out of Italian leather – finished on both sides – but, it limited me to leather and not any exotic skins. I like alligator, crocodile, python, snake, lizard etc…and these straps cannot be worn against the skin on the arm. We finally solved this problem by utilizing straps with “quick release” spring bars. This allows the wearer to quickly and easily “reverse” the strap so that we can fit the Rpaige DuoFace watches with exotic strap skins.
I am going to keep the Wrocket watch concept with this new Rpaige DuoFace; that is, I’ll mostly be using original antique enamel and painted metal pocket watch dials. There is just nothing made today that can match the quality of the original fire enameled pocket watch dials, nor the vast array of whimsical, and serious, Art Nouveau and Art Deco antique and vintage dials manufactured between 1870 and 1935.
Why I’m so proud of this Rpaige DuoFace watch is that I feel I succeeded in producing a watch that borders on “gimmicky,” yet is a serious timepiece that allows the owner to wear a “piece of american history” – and will be produced mostly in one-of-a-kind, or VERY limited editions of thoughtfully designed new dials that reflect a modern approach to an antique and vintage concept, while still staying within my original parameters of an important watch that will sell for a price of around $2,400.
You can learn more and see pictures of some of the current Rpaige DuoFace models for sale at my website rpaigewatch.com.