Cameron Weiss, the founder of the Weiss Watch Company, was only five years old when he first began to take off his watch. Of course, he did not have the opportunity to bring them back together. Instead, they would be turned into a pile of rubble, so when family or friends had a piece that went through their course, they would give it to him, not expecting to get it back.
“I would just sit there and make out any thing I could put my hands on,” says Weiss from headquarters. These pieces were not exactly of the highest caliber, but they helped spark a craze for tiny mechanisms. “I didn’t know that there are people who really need to bring them together as work.”
Since then, Weiss has come a long way, down to Switzerland and back, where he honed his craft in prestigious homes such as Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. This experience associated with the student-style training under the Swiss watchmakers gave Weiss all the tools he needed to open his own watch company from California.
Men's magazine talked with Weiss about becoming a watchmaker, being a trader in the digital age, a podcast run by Crown & Caliber Watch and listenand the creation of an American brand.
How did you first learn about watchmakers?
My parents asked me to help them buy a watch for my brother as a gift. They didn't know too much, and they knew how crazy I was with them. I stumbled upon this collector while I went shopping, and eventually spoke quite a bit to him. It was he who told me about the sentries in Switzerland, he was there and visited some of the factories. I was amazed at the stories of people who are really engaged in the manufacture and polishing of parts.
How did you start training to become one of them?
I learned from a family friend that there are watchmaking schools, and a certain program called WOSTEP [Watchmakers Of Switzerland Training And Education Program]They work with the Swiss curriculum, and although most of them are in Europe, there are three very small ones in the United States. They close it to eight students for two years full time. There was almost no book reading. Everything was OK. Two Swiss watchmakers and a program manager will fly out to evaluate your final tests. Getting the call I was on was one of the best phone calls I have ever received.
What came next for you?
One of our instructors worked for Audemars Piguet, and I received a job offer from them immediately after the test. They flew me to Switzerland, in Le Brass in Valle de Ju, north of Geneva. This is the watch capital of the world. I have never been to Switzerland at that time; I just saw the photos and read about it. They drove me through the mountains, through this small village where Audemars occupied almost all the buildings. Each of these beautiful farm-style buildings is working on some part of their watches or is built around workers. I had to go through the factories and see all the people who assemble or carry out complex repairs. There is one special restoration workshop in which these very experienced hands can work with almost any part that Audemars has ever done. Many antique tools that they don’t even do, some of the machines are still manual. It was a change of life. I had a chance to return when I started working at Vacheron Constantin and stayed there for a couple of months. I had to train in difficult hours with them, which meant that I had to learn some more.
Have you ever planned to live there?
The idea of starting my own watch line was always in the back of my head, and I thought that I would have to live in Switzerland to do this. It was the way it was always done. I waited until my Frenchman was good enough to get enough contact, but while I was working at Vacheron boutique when Rodeo was doing repairs on old pieces, I realized that I could do it right here in California.
How did this awareness come to you?
I have already started making watches for myself, and I will wear them whenever I am not in the boutique. People stopped, praised them or asked where I got them. I would attend these pop-up events for American denim lines, which were full of people who cared about craftsmanship and were not a crowd of electronic watches. But they were not going to spend thousands on Swiss watches, so they needed a product that had all the mechanics, while maintaining a reasonable cost.
How did you start building?
I bought the whole workshop from the widow of a watchmaker. It was an amazing collection, and I was honored to receive it. I still have his workbench and a lot of tools that I got from him. There are so many tiny hand tools that are designed for just one specific purpose. Line flaws, screwdrivers and simply exciting parts while you work on it. The tools must be in perfect condition, because you can damage the piece if it did not take care of the experience.
What problems have you encountered?
The biggest problem was finding local manufacturers and machine shops that would help make raw materials. For my own hours, I did everything on my own, with my own hands, but in order to work properly, I needed to find people who could help in this part of the process. There have been many months when meeting with stores in the Los Angeles area. There were a lot of companies that just wrote me down, but there were some that were delighted with this idea. Many of these companies never worked for hours – they made a mechanism for cars and airplanes, and therefore it was a completely new business for them. Some of them we are still working.
How did you feel about the design of your watch?
I wanted to create a brand that was clearly American. I was a diver who grew up and spent a lot of time in the ocean. I worked for a company that built enclosures for underwater cameras before I started making watches. This job not only gave me access to CNC machines, but also to this beautiful and sophisticated diving equipment. During this experience, I discovered this love of old diving equipment and antique gauges. This, along with the passion for aviation tools, influenced my design for my first field watch.
How has the watch industry changed since you were in it?
I think the watch industry has become much more fun than was said five years ago when we first started. Everything was done in a certain way, and there were not many younger brands that exist now, not only outside Switzerland, but also within the country. People are starting to realize that you can buy watches that are not Rolex and that can have their own cool factor. They are much more open to having a diverse collection with new names that can be found in new markets such as Crown & Caliber.
What are the advantages of sites like Crown & Caliber?
One of the coolest advantages is a great way to find an old watch outside of the standards we usually see. There is a truly unique choice from brands that have been lost in history. They can be your favorite new play that turns heads, and before Crown & Caliber you may never have known that it exists. I remember when did our episode Watch and listen podcast, they sent us white gold Blankein, where the case opened to open a sapphire. No one else produces anything like that.
Now you also podcast with them. Why do you want to create Watch and listen?
I like getting a podcast, because for so long I was only focused on what I was doing and on the hours I was doing. The show gives me the opportunity to really look at what others in the industry are doing, and this makes me an even better watchmaker. For most episodes, Crown & Caliber will send us a bunch of pieces with which I will play, and because we are also shooting a video, I can show people what's going on inside them. Some of the parts that I really worried to get my hands on. They sent us the JLC Duometer Chronograph, which is just an incredible and magnificent hour. One of the most beautiful things that I saw in person.
Have you found many young people interested in becoming watchmakers?
I accept students who were a great experience to help me in production. I don't get as much as I would have hoped. I think it’s tough in Los Angeles, because the cost of living is so high. People are interested in this, but they don’t have time to really invest in creating a skill set. However, there have been some successes, although one of the guys I worked with for me started my own company. I can only hope that more and more creators will start in the United States. This is one of the main goals that I have: to create the infrastructure in order to have more hours made here.
Now that you have your own workshop outside your apartment, what day is it for you?
I have a Sprinter van that we have created for camping, which I am going to the workshop. I love to walk on the back, in the morning I roll the doors in the morning, seeing that all the finished materials are ready for the machine shop. I have to be very diligent, not sitting at the computer to look at emails or check my phone when it is buzzing. So instead, I'll write a note to get organized and stay away from the laptop. I like it when I do this quiet time in the workshop, and it is time on the bench.
I always have coffee to sip at construction; there are so many big roasters. Over the years I have made many friends in the coffee industry. I will lay out all the pieces of the figure in front of me, ready to assemble and play music while I work. Completion may take several days, but I like it.
What is the best part of your job?
The most useful part is the clock that you built in the wild, either at a car dealership or on the street. Usually I will try to say hello or ask them where they got it. One morning, I pulled up next to a guy at a traffic light, and I saw one of my figures on my wrist. I have to say it made me smile.