By Shawn Chitnis

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Vortic Watch Company presented a check for $50,000 to the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative in support of their work helping members of the military pursue careers with a trade skill in demand. The Colorado company created a military edition watch to raise money for veterans and give customers a way to support service members.

(credit: Vortic Watch Company)

“We like to say we preserve American history one watch at a time,” said R.T. Custer, the co-founder and CEO of Vortic Watch Company. “There aren’t very many people in the skilled trades, there’s that skilled trade gap that everyone talks about.”

Custer started the company in 2014 with a Kickstarter campaign. He came up with the idea while at Penn State with his business partner to turn old pocket watches into wristwatches. While he has a degree in engineering, he does not make watches himself. The company manufactures them in Fort Collins, the only company to do so in the U.S.

“You learn a lot of those skills in the military so it makes a lot of sense that they would enjoy this type of work,” he told CBS4 on a video conference call.

R.T. Custer

R.T. Custer (credit: CBS)

He spent Veterans Day in Odessa, Delaware at the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative, presenting a check to support their mission. In addition to the $50,000 donated from watch sales and customer contributions this year, the company previously gave $25,000 last year when it launched the military edition watch. The pocket watches used in that series include timepieces that were flown on World War II aircraft.

“I took a part my grandfather’s pocket watch,” said Kevin Knaus, a student who moved from Colorado to Delaware to join the VWI. “I started taking his pocket watch apart and putting it back together.”

Custer says patience is needed to work with the tiny parts that are meticulously designed in these antique watches. Diligence and attention to detail are also required, skills Knaus says he picked up in the Navy working with Aviation Structural Mechanics – Safety Equipment.

“My attention to detail was instilled from the Navy,” Knaus told CBS4 on a video conference call. “There’s just not a lot of jobs that take care of that kind of detail other than this, perfection is what we strive for.”

(credit: Vortic Watch Company)

Knaus also shared that he enjoys working on watches at all hours and VWI is a place he can turn to when he is trying to move forward from his time in the military.

“It allows us to have a place to go late at night, if you wake up, you have still have something to do,” he said. “And not deal with your demons.”

He is a year into the program and grateful to see this school is expanding as others around the world shut down. Knaus hopes to see more students in a larger classroom when VWI receives the funding to grow.

“Maybe one day I’ll take everything I took from the Navy like I was an instructor,” Knaus said. “This could be a career.”

While speaking to CBS4 on Veterans Day, he showed off some of the work he has done on watches from his workstation. He marvels at the craftsmanship of these timepieces that remain intact almost a century later.

“This thing was made in 1924, I have a phone that just died, I’ve had it for four years,” he said while holding one pocket watch. “You can hand a mechanical watch down to your children, their children can have it, their children after that can have it.”

VWI has limited space in their current building but the land they need has already been donated to construct a larger facility with 50 students able to learn at once. The money donated by Vortic Watch Company will help to build the new school. A small gesture by Custer who had two grandfathers serve in World War II and continues to honor the service of veterans with his watches.

“We make things that are luxury that you don’t need, and we have a lot of fun doing it,” Custer said. “The only reason I get to be an entrepreneur is because we have a safe country protected by the U.S. military.”

LINKS: T-shirts with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting VWI | DONATE to Veterans Watchmaker Initiative | Vortic Watch Company Military Edition

Shawn Chitnis

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