Unicorns, Stars, & Steampunk
Homegrown Watchmaker Kesse Humphreys Kickstarts His Career
by Julia Scheib
“I drank coffee this morning,” said Kesse Humphreys, handing me the black shell of a submarine-like
watch dial that he had digitally designed and fabricated using a 3D-printer. “I normally don't.” You probably don’t even need it, I thought. On this rainy Thursday Humphreys sparkled with energy as he laid out plans for timepieces he will design and sell in his shop, Lawrence Watts, on North Queen Street in downtown Lancaster, PA, and spoke of his enthusiasm for recycled materials.
The first time Humphreys came face-to-face with the back end of a mechanical watch (his father’s pocket watch), he was mesmerized by the intricacies of the movement. As a child he loved to play with his sisters dollhouse mainly the awesome furniture. This love of miniatures, coupled with a penchant for fixing things and a creative spirit, made him a natural watchmaker, although he didn’t find that out until high school was almost over. “I didn’t even know there were watchmakers still alive,” he says of his surprise at seeing a newspaper ad for the Lititz Watch Technicum. “It was an amazing world I found myself in.”
After graduating from the Watch Technicum, Humphreys got his BFA in sculpture at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where his studio classes pushed him to think outside of conventional parameters for making objects of adornment. At Tyler, he focused on kinetic sculpture and mechanical jewelry that interacts with the wearer and the environment ,unsurprising, both seem like ways to describe watches! “The camera would rotate and these little fingers would kind of undulate,” he said of one speech-activated piece he made at Tyler.
Art school helped Humphreys become a better object maker, his 3-D modeling skills have been a great asset in realizing his designs, but left him high and dry in the fundraising-skills department. To finance the production of his own timepieces, he will have to go the way of other indie watchmakers before him: get on the Internet and improvise. Currently, Humphreys has three watch-design projects in process, in addition to his watch-repair business and many future plans. Hopefully, Kickstarter will help him secure funds.
Eventually Humphreys would like to make and sell more chronographs like the one he wears. This piece, which he began crafting in the first year at the Technicum, is based on an ETA 6497 movement. It’s a single-button chronograph with a triple-function column wheel: start, stop, and reset functions are activated in sequence as the crown is pushed. It also has an instantaneous minute counter. The gears in the chronograph mechanism were cut with a fly-cutter and finished by hand. This piece took Humphreys three years to make, and he reworked some components three times or more.
For now, he wants his watches to be accessible to as many people as possible. Humphreys has seen some beautiful higher-grade movements from Swiss companies, but he wants to be prudent and will keep his customers’ budgets in mind. “A mid-grade Swiss or Japanese movement will give the watches a much better-looking price,” he says.
Design-wise, Humphreys is focusing his gaze far out and down into the depths, where darkness is so pervasive that things glow: “I want to do some dials with galaxies, like star designs, that light up at night and have luminescent hands?” he said. “It’ll be like a deep-sea kind of underwater watch.” This was the idea behind a steel prototype in his shop. The dial of one of his three planned watches will be made of recycled plastic; he is already working with the Pennsylvania Recycling Center to secure his materials.
Humphreys made all of the steampunk-inspired furnishings in his shop: the table, bench, lamps, the watch-winder, the rolling door, the unicorn-studded stand-alone sign, and even the safe. “I’m a bad consumer,” he said, laughing. “ I don’t like buying things, I like to make everything.”;
Humphreys wants his shop to be a place where fellow craftsmen can meet each other, connect with the community, and celebrate their work. “I’m working on getting together a watch week in Lancaster this fall,” he said, adding that the kickoff will probably be the First Friday in September, when the city’s galleries and shops will open their doors to locals and tourists. “I’m putting out a call to craftsmen who have made watches and clocks. I want to focus on American-made watches and hopefully have timepieces [from the Lititz Watch Technicum] that students have worked on.” For interested parties, there is an application on Humphreys’ website: www.lawrence-watts.com.