Craft Culture: Handmade timepieces from Padron Watch Company

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien97

Leo Padron is the one-man workforce behind Padron Watch Company // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

January and February can be the dreariest of months for retailers. The Christmas bustle turns a sharp corner, and long days spent trying to keep up with an influx of customers turn into long days wishing for just a few customers. This can be particularly true for small businesses, especially in the age of online shopping and big-box retailers. Not for Leo Padron, though.

Padron is the one-man workforce behind Padron Watch Company. Designer, assembler, customer service rep, distribution manager: he does it all, crafting one-of-a-kind watches from his 500-square-foot office in the basement of a repurposed school building near Saint Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

Fresh off his fourth successful Kickstarter campaign—this time for a new mechanical watch model called the Selby—Padron says a typical workday starts around 11am. How late he stays depends on the workload. “It ebbs and flows,” he says. “I had a big holiday rush, and as soon as I get some parts from manufacturers for the Selby, I’ll be making watches like a madman.”

Every space in Padron’s studio reflects his vocation. Long tables line two of the walls, each one covered in watch parts—bands, chapter rings, hands, dials, and movements (the moving parts of the mechanism). It’s from here that Padron stocks and assembles his watches; design work takes place at his computer. In addition to the tables is a bench reserved for occasional part-time assemblers. Most of the time, though, it’s just Padron.

Watchmaking tools, as one can imagine, are tiny. Padron holds up an oiler, which resembles a thumbtack and is used to transfer oils into ruby pivots. Even under a bright desk light, the tip is invisible to the naked eye. Working with such tools necessarily occurs under a microscope. But unlike the pristine counters that one might find in a laboratory, things are a bit looser at Padron’s workshop.

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien04

Padron Watch Company // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien01

Padron Watch Company // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

“Marvel at the disorder,” he says, gesturing to the hundreds of little tools and screws splayed out on the tables like miniature explosions. Judging from the rest of the space, though—a couch, mini fridge, and clean desk topped with a dual monitor computer—it’s obvious that Padron is tidy. The disarray to which he’s referencing is merely a product of his busyness.

Padron Watch Company began with an impulse. When Padron was in his early twenties, he inherited his grandfather’s vintage mechanical watch. It no longer functioned, and he wanted to see if he could get it ticking again. Padron has been a tinkerer since childhood, and fills his free time building bicycles and restoring old tube amplifiers. But casual tinkering didn’t cut it in the case of his grandfather’s watch—the intricacies of watchmaking were too deep for his limited knowledge.

That first failed attempt at watch repair didn’t deter Padron from trying again, however, and he soon began fiddling with other watches to learn more. And the more he worked, the more his hobby grew. Eventually, Padron was seeking out any and all information on watch repair, going so far as to buy old watches, fix them, and sell them on eBay. Finally, in 2008, he had acquired the tools and knowledge necessary to get his grandfather’s watch ticking again.

In 2011, Padron became the second watchmaker in the world to launch a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising enough money to pursue watchmaking full-time. In his pitch, Padron lamented that the excellence of a good mechanical watch had largely become forgotten in an age of quartz models. He wanted to make something that challenged that trend and build watches with the strongest materials possible for the lowest price point. His original goal: $20,000. He pulled in a whopping $98,000.

Next page: Padron’s conceptualization and design process

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