Tic… Toc… Tic… Toc…
RT Custer and Tyler Wolfe had lost count of the tics and the tocs a long time ago. Three years and about 25 iterations later, the partners had created a fully adjustable assembly that allowed them to transform antique pocket watches into a unique wrist watches, bristling with authenticity and character. This was the genesis of Vortic Watch Company, the only company that manufactures watches, 100% made in the U.S.A.
Vortic’s technology is ingenious. By altering the actuator, the setting and winding system of the watch, Vortic has the ability to provide custom watch manufacturing and vintage watch restoration to those seeking a timeless style. Using this new technology, RT and Tyler conceived Vortic’s first line of rustic watches: the American Artisan Series.
As a sucker for branding, Vortic struck me while researching RVC Portfolio Companies during my first couple days as an RVC intern. I thought about the saturation in luxury watches with big players like the Swatch Group, Tudor, and Rolex. With this market dominated by Swiss manufacturers, these companies have established an international reputation for quality. The handcrafted designs are so immaculate that they can be seen on the wrists of professional athletes, cinematic idols, and world leaders alike.
So how can these guys, based in Colorado, compete with the foreign goliaths?
In an interview, I asked cofounder and CEO of Vortic, RT Custer, how the company plans to break into an industry already saturated with brands that are synonymous with luxury and success. Without missing a tic, RT explained, “The biggest thing that you see working for all watch companies right now is limited editions, which creates urgency for the customer and scarcity for the product,” which Vortic specializes in because every watch is different. The vintage look of each watch encompasses America’s rich history in manufacturing, when we built this country from the ground up. Each watch tells a different story because Vortic creates every one of their pieces as a “limited edition of one.”
It was this brand’s scarcity that attracted investors in the first place. The guys from Vortic originally were referred to Rockies Venture Club through an RVC member attending a 1 Million Cups pitch event. At the time, Vortic had what they called a “Version 1” of the product, and they were not quite ready for venture capital. Nonetheless, an introduction was made with RVC’s Director of Operations, Dave Harris. Later, RT attended an RVC “Mastermind” strategy group and the group unanimously recommended that RT put his venture capital funding ambitions on hold and pursue an SBA loan with RVC partner, Colorado Lending Source. After 2½ years’ worth of tics and tocs funded by the SBA, Vortic was ready to get venture capital funding. They applied through RVC and ended up receiving necessary capital a few months later.
It is not out of the question that the luxury watch industry could be in danger with the rise of smart watches, but RT does not worry about that either. In fact, he believes that Apple may have just done them a huge favor by releasing the Series 3 model that costs up to $1,399. With these increasing prices for smart watches, Apple, in a way, is conditioning millennials to understand the cost of quality wrist wear. As these smartwatches become more and more like cell phones, they begin to compete against technology, rather than these luxury watches. RT actually sees a trend of smart watches becoming more and more like cell phones. In the near future, wearable cell phones could replace current cellular devices entirely, similar to 80 years ago, when wrist watches overtook pocket watches, but only time will tell.