Craft Culture: Handmade timepieces from Padron Watch Company

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien05

Padron Watch Company // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

Such success allowed Padron to quit his job as a web development and software designer for and start producing his first watch, the Vuelta—a sleek, black timepiece with a vaguely hexagonal cutout, hooded lugs, crown guards, and simple black band. It manages a modern and minimal appearance while still looking—and feeling—durable.

Since the launch of the Vuelta, Padron has made over a thousand watches in four styles—the Vuelta, Hennepin, Tessera, and Selby—each funded via support from Kickstarter, the community, and watch enthusiasts. On a busy day, he’ll make four or five. While each watch is made with the same high standards and quality materials, the different models boast unique characteristics that make them stand out. The Hennepin model, for example, debuted in June 2014 and features a caseback stamped with the snow emergency logo, an homage to the elements for which the watch is made to withstand. The Tessera, a diver’s-style watch with solid-link, stainless-steel bands and adjustable clasps, comes in three different styles; the most expensive has an automatic, Swiss-made movement (meaning it’s powered by the wearer’s motion).

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien98

Padron Watch Company // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

In a former life, before Target and before watches, Padron was a cartoonist. It shows as soon as he jots out a so-called “chicken scratch,” which, although rough, displays an obvious understanding of dimension, line, and shape. “Conception might begin in a notebook,” he says, nodding to the sketch, “but rarely.”

More frequently, Padron skips the sketches and dives into 3D design using a program called SolidWorks. This is his creative playground—a place where he could spend all day experimenting with cutouts or indices, he says. But he’s a one-man show, and at the end of the day, he has orders to fulfill.

Padron Watch Company by Barbara O'Brien00

Leo Padron in his workshop // Photo by Barbara O’Brien

Designing a watch from start to finish is a detail-dependent task. First comes the initial brainstorming, followed by the process of actually designing the piece, which takes about two hours on the computer.

From there, Padron sends the design along with dimension and shape specifications to a manufacturing plant, kicking off a back-and-forth conversation regarding techniques, materials, key features, and any necessary adjustments. There’s no telling how long these conversations will last—especially because Padron often opts for dual-tracking: contracting two manufacturers to make the same design in order to be able to pick the better of the two prototypes. Padron is a stickler for perfection, and this process, however tedious, ensures that he gets exactly what he wants. “It’s expensive,” he says, “but worth it. I want something to be up to my snuff. But more importantly, I want my customers to have something that lasts a long time.”

He ensures that longevity by using surgical-grade stainless steel, anti-reflective sapphire crystal—second only to diamond for hardest element—and a 25-jewel count. Jewels are used in the pivot points of a watch’s gear train and reduce friction in the areas that get the most movement. Twenty-five is highest number of jewels you can get in a high-end watch.

“Design powers a lot of success of what I’ve done,” Padron says. “I didn’t get into this business wanting to be Captain of Industry.” First and foremost, he says, he considers himself an artist. And holding one his watches, it shows. The tiniest details—protrusions, cutouts, clear casebacks that allow the wearer to see the watch’s inner workings—feel subtle and seamless, even as each one is engineered for 500-foot water resistance.

While he still does the occasional vintage repair, Padron’s main focus is making new watches. When asked about the future, Padron maintains a simple vision: make better products. “I want to be known for iconic, strongly designed, elegant, practical watches that last for a long time and that my friends can afford,” he says. “That’s my guiding philosophy.”

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