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Hello watch enthusiasts!

Welcome to the WatchUSeek Ask Me Anything with Ian Schon! A one-man watch manufacturer, and former senior product designer at IDEO, Ian designs and creates his own watches (and pens) and is a font of information. If you'd like to inquire how he goes about crafting his watches, the work that goes into his cases, dials, indicators, hands, etc. or how he got into watch making, then now is your chance! And of course, he'll also be happy to answer questions on his pens, as well.

If you haven't heard of Ian and would like to familiarize yourself a bit with his work, feel free to get a bite-sized introduction at Schon Horology- Watches by Ian Schon as well as Modern Everyday Carry Pens. Machined from solid barstock in the USA!.

This thread is now open! This thread will remain open for questions until Thursday, February 25th, so make sure you get your questions in before then. We can't guarantee that every question will be answered, but even if not, you'll still be seeing some interesting responses.

See you all soon!

- Dan
 

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Welcome to WatchUSeek Ian!

We all have an origin story of how we got into WISdom, could you share your story with us as an introduction?

Thank you!

Brad
 

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Thanks for having me! Like Dan mentioned I am a machinist, designer and engineer. I work out of Philadelphia PA and make everything in my shop that is listed here on my watch site
^ this link talks about the movement, each part I make, etc. Its a good primer before asking questions
I have a watchmaker who services my movements for me as I am not classically trained in it. The rest I do solo.


One common question I get asked is- How much do you watches cost? I took the prices off the site since I would rather handle those conversations 1 on 1, but for this discussion, starting price is $5400 USD + tax/shipping etc

Current lead time is 8 months for new work.

@Brey17 - The dot seconds was a really interesting exploration... it requires a visual so ill shoot a video about it and will post the link here so you can see me describe it in detail.

@CMSgt Bo Whats WISdom? thanks!
 

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Some would say WIS stands for 'Wife Is Screaming', but it actually stands for 'Watch Idiot Savant'...we have a few around here.

Speaking of wives, congrats on your recent nuptials!
Aw thanks!
I dont know that im an idiot savant, but ill take it as a complement!
 

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ok, just did a quick youtube intro in the shop, showed off a pen, some machinery (not all of it) and talked about @Brey17 's question on the running seconds indicator

if you are asking what that is , its my seconds feature. quick video of it here in real time. nice and slow.

The short version is that I had an idea of what I wanted to make my watch face look like and where seconds would be, but of course that is driven by the movement. You cannot reposition seconds without making a movement or a module or finding another movement. anyways, the movement i chose was 10.5 lignes and because of that was designed for a smaller case, but l liked this movement so i came up with a way to move the visuals of how seconds were shown... which was by making a disc, below the dial and opening up an aperture exactly where i wanted it.
this is no easy feat as the weight of the disk, height, "true-ness", material etc, has to be carefully considered. I made it out of titanium for strength to weight and keeping it thin, also non magnetic.
it has a .0078" hole drilled in it, which i have one lathe setup to do at all times, since it has to be DEAD on. or it wobbles and hits the dial or the movement.
I check each of the discs by running them on a movement with the balance and escapements removed.
This allows me to turn the crown and the disc spins freely, really fast. alloying we to see if the hole is dead on and if there is any wobble or out of roundness that would influence timekeeping in different positions OR rub the dial or movement and kill amplitude and accuracy that way.

hope that explains that one!
 

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Here's one, what sort of equipment is involved in the manufacturing process for you? Are you using older machines, more modern machines, and where do you source them from?
 

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How did you determine $5400 was an appropriate sell price for your watches?
Mostly labor and materials/consumables and overhead. Pretty simple pricing model just like many of my other products I make. Very practical. I did decide to amortize investments in fixture development, prototyping, tooling etc over the whole batch of 100 watches for this run. Zero marketing and not paying myself a salary or anything. Think of it as a side business (though i tried hard full time the first two years before I pivoted 70% of my time over to pens so I could keep the lights on)

There are lots of watches you can get at that price, but the goal was not to design a watch and have someone else make it, it was for ME to make it and do all machining and finishing as I wanted. So the cost is in that work. Which some people wont want to pay for, and thats totally cool! Plenty of watches out there with all different approaches to making things.
 

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Howdy Ian, do you still offer the crystallized Titanium case and dial as an option? I don’t see it on the website. Also if you care to share anything about this process/idea, thanks.

Dan
 

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Here's one, what sort of equipment is involved in the manufacturing process for you? Are you using older machines, more modern machines, and where do you source them from?
Fantastic question!
I started off with a small benchtop 3 axis CNC Mill in my apartment, a small hardinge Cateract lathe from the 1940s and a sherline manual mill. All machines you could pick up and move with your hands because this was 10 feet from my bedroom in brookline

I bought the 3 axis new and the lathe and mill on craigslist.
heres some shots of those early watches.
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I turned the blank on the hardinge lathe by hand, and bolted it to the table. then milled it out.
No fixtures. but I quickly learned I needed them.
15728736


The 3 axis didnt have a tool changer. couldnt afford it. so it changed each tool by hand. there was like 10-12 tools or so. I wrote the progams in Mastercam.

then the angles, lug holes, stem were done on the manual machine with a rudimentary plastic and brass jig.
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I would then destroy each prototype one by one on the streets of boston.

Using these 3 machines I tried several different approaches of machining.
again these are not super fancy or expensive. this was in a 80 sqft workshop

Next approach was in titanium out of a plate.
MILL then turn on the lathe, then fixture. It went... poorly but i learned a lot. I never finished this one and moved onto the next process.
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After that I got in to waterjet blanks to save machining time cutting it out. theres a lot there but i wont nerd too much .

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This process was mill backside, turn, mill again, and then used these cool 3d printed fixtures to hold the parts for the blind lug holes and crown machining.

Keep in mind this should be done super efficiently on a multiaxis machine... but those are like real money and I didnt have it. so i had to get creative.

i started to play with textures here and learned a bit about harmony between machine marks and aesthetics. it was a fun exploration.
15728754


I then hit a wall... i didnt have the money for my own shop and i needed to get serious. I found a shop i had worked with in my design job and went there and machined the next batch of cases on a DMG MORI serious twin spindle machine with some crazy complexity. This allowed me to move faster and within a 3 month span working full time I had finished my first batch in steel and titanium after extensive redesign of machined features to fit that machine. on thing i gained here was sharp lug corners which i really wanted. I cant find process shots right now but can dig them up.

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but they needed finishing and now i finish them one by one as I sell them. Finishing is the bulk of the work now as I am EXTREMELY particular about it. I have built a lot of custom fixtures to do so.

The machine I use for pens were bought from 5 different shops with stories. would love to afford new, but im not there yet. so i fix them as I go. I made some mistakes with some purchases there and suffered, but for the most part I love my Citizens, especially my newer L20 machines. I got those from a local medical device company who had 20 of them they were selling. (i got 2). these are critical for some new products im working on in the pen space.

Shopping for machines is personal stuff. How much machine and what machine you buy depends on your space, your budget, you ability to fix them on your own, how many different types of parts you want to make on your own, your sanity, so many things. I own the machines I needed to get started. I do not own the DMG as I only needed it for cases, couldnt make pens or dials or hands etc on there. I could have bought it and sold it but that would have been dumb. There isnt much of a business model to support this kind of work so its best to get creative. making cases is insane work which is why most brands do not do it. Dials and hands on the other hand. wayyyy easier and you can do it with small machines.

My 3 axis and hardinge take care of most of my current needs for watches.

hope that answers your question and more justin!
 

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Howdy Ian, do you still offer the crystallized Titanium case and dial as an option? I don’t see it on the website. Also if you care to share anything about this process/idea, thanks.

Dan
Hey Dan!
I'm working on 4 of these right now. One will be for sale, the rest are spoken for. I am not doing it as a custom watch but it will be "makers choice" meaning ill do someting rad and be like hey here it is if you want it :) . They are very difficult so I am sticking to word of mouth until I finish this batch and improve the process, then I might put them online, or maybe not. who knows! They are an option but yeah, most people who want one just show up and I sell it to them so its easier that way.

The discovery came through experimentation and a crazy inspiring finish i saw on a pocket knife from Boker that used the material. when i saw it first I didnt understand it and as someone who is very technical my heart was racing and I needed to figure it out. Its all about grain structure and manipulating grain size in the titanium so you can see them :)
Heres the best photo I have which was the night before the Windup show in NYC.
15728797
15728798
 

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The watch looks cool, but is out of my price range.
----
Weird to say on a watch forum, but...
this rollerball pen you make looks amazing:


The "regular one" looks good too:


Do you have any pictures of HOW these 2 pens look AFTER some time?
The color probably dramatically changes
and it would be good to see how they both look.

Also, maybe show a sample of how smoothly it writes (rollerball .5mm)

Thanks!
 

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The watch looks cool, but is out of my price range.
----
Weird to say on a watch forum, but...
this rollerball pen you make looks amazing:


The "regular one" looks good too:


Do you have any pictures of HOW these 2 pens look AFTER some time?
The color probably dramatically changes
and it would be good to see how they both look.

Also, maybe show a sample of how smoothly it writes (rollerball .5mm)

Thanks!
Been wanting the brass one(s) for a while, but I can say confidently that his other pens are fantastic. I own two fountain and two rollerball.... :)
 

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The watch looks cool, but is out of my price range.
----
Weird to say on a watch forum, but...
this rollerball pen you make looks amazing:


The "regular one" looks good too:


Do you have any pictures of HOW these 2 pens look AFTER some time?
The color probably dramatically changes
and it would be good to see how they both look.

Also, maybe show a sample of how smoothly it writes (rollerball .5mm)

Thanks!
Thanks!
Yeah the machining on that one is some of my best work. the facets were really fun to design and come up with.
The pens write as good as any other roller or jowo fountain pen, a video or pic wont help determine if its is best for you though, since the experience is actually dictated by your writing style (angle, Left H vs Right H, how you hold the pen) so its a super personal thing. Most pen addicts, like watch addicts, figure out what they do and dont like over time. These are quite standard ink roller and fountain pens nibs (jowo #6) so they are easy to customize, swap out etc. Many of my customers have their nibs ground to their style. some i really love what they did to it, others i cant stand! all preference.

here is my personal one that has been in my pocket all day every day since i launched these however many months ago.
Notice the high spots are polished from my pocket and wallet and the low spots in the facets are dark patina. this contrast is STUNNING. I love brass and copper for this reason.

15730037
 

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Thanks!
Yeah the machining on that one is some of my best work. the facets were really fun to design and come up with.
The pens write as good as any other roller or jowo fountain pen, a video or pic wont help determine if its is best for you though, since the experience is actually dictated by your writing style (angle, Left H vs Right H, how you hold the pen) so its a super personal thing. Most pen addicts, like watch addicts, figure out what they do and dont like over time. These are quite standard ink roller and fountain pens nibs (jowo #6) so they are easy to customize, swap out etc. Many of my customers have their nibs ground to their style. some i really love what they did to it, others i cant stand! all preference.

here is my personal one that has been in my pocket all day every day since i launched these however many months ago.
Notice the high spots are polished from my pocket and wallet and the low spots in the facets are dark patina. this contrast is STUNNING. I love brass and copper for this reason.

View attachment 15730037
this looks awesome!
Looking at your shop, I see that you have your own ink cartridges, but can you use other branded ones?
I really like Japanese ink brands since their quality is one of my favourites and they have a ton of variety.

And as a one-man watch manufacturer, would you ever make a watch with a high accuracy quartz movement, or do you think you'll stick to the mechanical watches exclusively?
 

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this looks awesome!
Looking at your shop, I see that you have your own ink cartridges, but can you use other branded ones?
I really like Japanese ink brands since their quality is one of my favourites and they have a ton of variety.

And as a one-man watch manufacturer, would you ever make a watch with a high accuracy quartz movement, or do you think you'll stick to the mechanical watches exclusively?
You can use any ink you like!
its a cartridge pen so there are limitations there but you can syringe fill an old cartridge with anything you want.
no issues :)

No time for any new projects sticking to my current workload and some big R+D on the pen side of things right now. Cool suggestion though! You should do it!
 
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