TickTalk with Haven Watch Co.

Weston Cutter is the man behind Haven watches. I first became aware of Haven on Instagram when they launched their debut piece, the Chilton, about 6 months back. I was immediately taken by the design and fantastic dial colors. However, at the time, I somewhat wrote off the brand as another start-up using the ubiquitous Meca-Quartz or Chinese Seagull-based mechanical calibers. Fast-forward to last month when I was interested in a vintage chronograph on one of the watch forums. I struck up a conversation with the seller and it became clear to me that I was speaking with Weston from Haven. While I did end up buying the chrono from him, I also got to learn more about the Chilton and realized this was more than just a run-of-the-mill Kickstarter piece. This was a passion project from a guy who comes from a watchmaking family and is on a quest to make the perfect modern chronograph using an innovative hand-wound Swiss chrono caliber that hadn’t even hit the market yet. Weston offered to send me a Chilton to check out and give him my thoughts. Suffice it to say, I have been smitten ever since. I think his story is a compelling one, and I hope you enjoy it.

RWG: Why did you start a watch company? What has been the biggest challenge getting things up and going?

HWC: I started this because I think it's bananas that vintage watches were rising in price at the rate they were. You and I both started buying/selling at close to the same time, I think; it's crazy that a Valjoux 7734-powered 2-register chronograph went from $300-$400 to far more than that in just 3-4 years. Ultimately, and without sounding like some lunatic, I wanted to start a watch company that would sell kick-ass watches at the prices *they should historically sell for.* Adjusted only for inflation, an Autavia, a Speedmaster, and a Sub should all be $2k watches presently. I'm not saying TAG, Omega, and Rolex haven't done amazing R&D to make their watches better, but I don't think watches should be more than $2k. I really don't. And I think if watches are gonna be a thing for younger folks to get into, there's gotta be watches under $2k *other* than janky-looking old chronos that are listed as "just-serviced" on e-bay, and there's sure as hell gotta be something other than Seagull-powered stuff.

Biggest challenges? Everything, I suppose: money, getting the word out, solving small but expensive problems as they come up. That said: like raising kids or making art, the challenges end up being so fun that you don't feel them as challenges.

RWG: I personally think the rise in vintage chronograph prices was a realization by budding watch enthusiasts that you could buy something with character, better proportions, and a more exotic movement, yet still be paying WAY less than a modern bloated chronograph. That’s actually what appeals to me about the Chilton; it wears like a vintage chronograph with its 37.5mm case and interesting use of a chrono caliber that’s new to the market. What watches inspired the Chilton design?

HWC: Some feel obvious, or at least sort of classic and recognizable: 1960s Carreras a little bit, some aspect of the Wittnauer 236. There's an Eberhard Contograf with an integrated bracelet that was a real touchstone. But then there was goofier stuff: I really like Memosails, so part of the design had to resonate with that idea. I'm not sure any of these watches are actually recognizable when you look at the Chilton, same as when you ask an author about the writers they like, you're not necessarily super-likely to see evidence of those other authors in the text, but regardless. Those were some of the ideas we were trying to steal from.

RWG: Speaking of authors, you’re a writer and a professor of writing. How does designing and engineering a watch compare to crafting a story or essay?

HWC: Great question. I'm not sure, other than: writing is fundamentally R+D without any obvious end point. Engineering is really fun because, often, you're aiming for a target: make a thing that does X, that solves Y problem. Designing the specs of the watch – making sure it tested to at least 5ATM water resistance, making sure it had the profile we wanted – was fairly simple. Aesthetically, writing a story/poem/novel and designing a dial is equally tough: there's no obvious *end.* You just go until it feels essentially 'correct.'

RWG: Well, in my opinion, the Chilton is spot-on and it’s obvious that you poured over this design. From the indication of “Midwest” on the bottom of the Chilton’s dial to the copy on your website, your appreciation of the Midwest is clear. What is it about this region of the US that inspires you?

HWC: I lived in NYC from 2005-06 and loathed it (partly because there was a subway strike for the first time in 25 years, which truly did a number on the ability of a poor transplant to get by). One night at the fancy small restaurant I worked at, on Smith St. in Brooklyn, I realized that the four or five of us servers were all from within a 30-minute drive of each other in Minnesota. It stuck hard: what BS story had we been fed or led to believe that we needed to flee the Midwest and bring our cultural capital elsewhere? Until that point (I was 27 then), I'd believed I should ‘Go Elsewhere!’ and seek my fortune or whatever. That day it changed.

There are all sorts of bad aspects here - it's hard to be a weirdo in remote Midwest towns, and culture seeps in slower than it should. But the Midwest is, to me, as beautiful as anywhere else in the country (have you seen the Boundary Waters? I've been going there since I was 10; show me someplace more breathtaking.); its people are as resourceful and community-minded as anywhere, and we make the best of what this country makes. Prince, Bob Dylan, Husker Du, the Replacements, Miles Davis, Jeanne Gang, Justin Vernon/Bon Iver... that's an off-the-top-of-my-head recent list of geniuses from three states. I was driving in MN one winter maybe a dozen years back. A sedan driven by a grandpa in a Santa Claus get-up was stuck in snow; a mid-20s female jogger came down the road, went to his bumper, pushed him out without asking, and kept going. As he drove off, he opened the window and shouted, "Ho Ho Ho!" That stuff happens *all the time*here. The Midwest always has this corny and gorgeous and moving stuff. Show me anywhere else that comes close.

RWG: That’s awesome and indeed fits with my idea of a wholesome Midwest moment. I know what you mean about trying to run towards where the perceived action is. I was also in NYC around 2005-2006 trying to figure stuff out, and then reality and practicality spit me back out and I’ve never looked back. Let’s get back to your chronograph. The Chilton is named after Alex Chilton of 70’s rock band Big Star fame. For those who may not know about him, tell us why you named this piece after him.

HWC: So here's how we name watches: we find locations/bodies of water in the Midwest that have names that mean lots to us. There's a city called Chilton, in Wisconsin, that happens coincidentally to be where lots of great malt comes from for home brewing, and is also the name of one of the all-time greatest rock + rollers. Maybe it's a silly game to try to not make the watch about Alex Chilton; who knows.

I fell hard for Paul Westerberg, who I continue to believe is among the all-time best singer/songwriters/rock + roll guys, ever. He does raw, angry stuff as well as anyone, he does sweet stuff better than most, and he pursues his own strange pursuits and desires almost pathologically. He also—unless I'm mistaken—really, truly Does Not Much Care about the trappings of success or whatever. Chilton is of-the-same-cloth in lots of ways: Alex Chilton had a perfect voice and famously at 17 years-old sang "The Letter" for the Box-Tops. He got burned out, returned to Memphis, formed Big Star and made 2-3 perfect albums, depending on the fan you ask. Should they have been bigger? Absolutely. Does that matter? No. They made perfect music casually: no hype, no wild bragging a la Zeppelin (who I like a lot) or whoever else. Something about that feels perfect and ideal to me. I love Springsteen, and I love that "Born to Run" was his attempt to make The Perfect Song, and we all need that song and the world's better for it, but I love guys who just want to make something good and who, in the process, make something pretty close to perfect. The phrase in my own skull for such stuff is: casual genius.

I don't know if it's Midwest to feel like the best stuff gets overlooked, but that aspect is certainly something that resonates. Big Star was making *the best* music of the early 1970s; the Replacements were making *the best* music of the early 1980s. Both never got the audience they deserved. I hope our Chilton gets the recognition (I think) it deserves, but the point is to make excellent, lasting stuff, regardless of who notices.

RWG: It’s so crazy to me that Alex Chilton was only 16-17 years old when he sang The Letter - his voice is so gravelly and mature. I gotta say, the Joe Cocker cover of that song is one of my top 10 favorite covers of all time. We could talk music for hours, I’m sure, but for now let’s get back to watches. What kind of time-piece is the Chilton? Obviously it’s a chronograph, but what is its functional purpose? Is it a dress watch? Is it a sports watch?

HWC: Another great question and one I don't know the answer to. I increasingly wonder if the idea of purpose in watches – the whole #toolwatch notion – is a canard. Backfilled rationalizing. The Chilton's purpose, for me, is to be my grab + go watch. I want something that looks decent at church on Sunday, something that I don't have to sweat about when I take one of my daughters to swim practice, something that I can trust enough to use day-in-day-out. I don't know if there's a category it slots neatly into. In my head, I think of it as a Rock + Roll chrono, though I presume and hope that's just me.

RWG: I’m not sure I can even answer that question myself. Its size, proportions, and dial layout remind me of an Omega Speedy Reduced, which is a quintessential sports/racing watch. However, I’ve worn the Chilton with a suit and it dresses up nicely with its mix of polished and brushed surfaces. I have yet to get it wet, but the 5ATM rating makes me feel confident I could take this one camping and spend some time in the river with it. I’d love to know how being the son of a watchmaker informs your relationship with watches.

HWC: It has meant that I care much more about quality, accurate timekeeping, and ruggedness than anything like making a cool or popular watch. My dad doesn't care much about collectible watches. He's been into a wide enough variety of pursuits to know that tastes change, and, like the best Midwesterner, he's never been one to let others dictate his own notions of what's cool or not. As a result, I've come at this wanting almost exclusively to make watches that are highly accurate (which the Chilton is) and able to withstand a ton of abuse (again, absolutely). I want my engineer father and the watchmakers I'm close with to look closely at the Chilton and say it passes their test: it's well-made, it'll handle whatever's thrown its way, and it'll keep great time.

RWG: Well, if I’m any judge of build quality, I’d say the Chilton would pass the toughest QC inspection. I think it’s brilliant that the watch-making tradition is being passed on from generation to generation in your family. Do you work alone on your designs or do you collaborate with a partner?

HWC: In 7th grade a guy walked by my locker and complimented me on the CD long box taped inside (this would've been 1990). I just asked and that very guy, Steve, confirmed it was Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, but also possibly Metallica. It's one of my life's greatest bits of luck that he's been one of my best friends and collaborators ever since. His name is Steve Ridell, and he's a touring musician (is also half of Hood Internet, does Air Credits, and plenty of other stuff), was the art director for Metro in Chicago, still designs band posters, etc. We've done I guess 3 watches together now; in each case, we talk about dorky stuff—bands-as-general-aesthetic, specific fonts, tiny details. It's supreme fun.

RWG: It’s cool to still have a close friend from middle school, not to mention one that you’ve grown into such a creative and collaborative friendship with. Let’s discuss the guts of your chronograph. The Chilton uses a newly developed Swiss Sellita hand-wound chronograph movement. Tell me how you ended up using this caliber versus some of the more commonly seen Seagull-based ones or the Seiko Meca-Quartz?

HWC: In early 2018, Donovan Paradise (best watchmaker that I know of and the guy who puts all Chiltons together) and I were talking about finding a movement that would be like the classics we love: extremely robust, reliable, manual-wound, integrated rather than modular. There were surprisingly few options, and the one chrono movement that was then picking up attention was the Seagull ST-19, which has just phenomenally bad tolerances and wasn't, for us, a serious contender. Donovan looked at the SW510 specs, which has the classic 3/6/9 layout automatic chrono from Sellita, and thought he'd figured how to convert it to a manual. We wrote Sellita an email, asking if they'd be okay with us doing that, and they got in touch with us within a day or two to tell us they were about to introduce that exact movement—a 3/6/9 manual-wind integrated chrono—at Baselworld in a few weeks. It felt destined. We put in our order a couple weeks after Baselworld.

RWG: It’s an attractive movement too, and I really like the chrono action on it. Even though you can’t see the inner workings, because it’s all sealed up with a solid titanium case-back, it’s cool to know that there’s a state-of the art motor under the hood. What does your personal watch collection look like? What kind of watches do you seek out?

HWC: I don't have much of a collection. For a while, I really wanted to have super rad and rare stuff to impress other collectors, but I don't much care. I have maybe 10 watches, but the common thread is that they're all odd. I got a 1969 Speedmaster for $500 off Craigslist four years ago, and a 1978 Tudor Ranger a year before that for not much more. A family friend gave me his Wittnauer 7004A, and then let me buy his Tudor Sub off him (he's also a watchmaker, and loves and lives by his quartz Seamaster). I have, at the moment, an almost debilitating weakness for silver-dialed dress Seamasters, so I have I guess 6 of those, but that fever's gotta break sometime soon. As far as what I seek out: overlooked stuff, weirder stuff. Watches you have to look twice at. Complications that aren't currently loved as much as they should be (ETA 1100 moon phases really wet my whistle), designs that are under-loved (Montgomery dials, a la old pocketwatches): stuff that is, as Westerberg sings, left of the dial—that's where my heart is.

RWG: Don’t be surprised if you get an onslaught of emails from readers wanting to know how to find a ’69 Speedmaster for $500!! What is it about watches that unites people?

HWC: You'd be able to answer this better than I, I suspect. I don't know. I think watches, like precious few things, are total equalizers: wealth perhaps buys more or better time, but our lives are all made of big casino chip-like stacks of minutes we spend as we wish. I also think—at least in the case of mechanical watches—that there's a profound romance there. That abstraction can be built from small physical objects (corollary: bikes are just metal tubes and some rubber, but they combine to offer big notions of Freedom and Movement; guitars are just wood and wire and combine to bring grown men just whimperingly to their knees in appreciation of their beauty or whatever). That's all just me guessing though; I have no idea.

RWG: You answered that well with a nice poetic spin. I think a watch is a conversation starter and a piece of art. One doesn’t collect art to hold in isolation but to share with others and spark debate and exchange. Speaking of art, you seem to be a big champion of local music in the Midwest region. What bands should everyone check out after reading this?

HWC: White Reaper is currently the best band in America, and they're from Lousiville (decidedly Midwest in my estimation). If you don't know the Replacements or Big Star, get on board. If somehow you've missed Bon Iver/Justin Vernon, please stop missing that. Andrew Bird, whoever's behind the band Sault, Vulfpeck: all excellent Midwest-ish outfits. Past that there's HAIM who get better by the minute, and Damien Jurado who's just devastatingly good, and D'Angelo who is still The Best, plus there's rap...I guess the answer is: however much music you're listening to, listen to more.

RWG: You might be the only person I’ve ever met who has heard of Damien Jurado -one of my absolute favorites based out of Seattle. If y’all haven’t heard of him, check out Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son...that’s some trippy shit. I have to say, I had never heard of White Reaper, but thanks for turning me onto them. That’s some no-nonsense rock and roll, which the world is severely lacking.

It’s been mighty fine getting a behind-the-curtain look into Weston, the Chilton, the Midwest, and music. My personal experience with both renditions of Haven’s debut chrono have been very positive. I find myself reaching for them as much as my vintage watches due to their vintage-esque balance and flair. It’s clear that the Chilton is as much a piece of contemporary art as a tool for timekeeping. Between the packaging, the website content, and the use of artisans in the region for all aspects of the production, the Chilton is an ode to the great American Midwest.

Due to the strong Midwest theme of this interview, Weston and I wanted to bring attention to a worthy environmental cause relevant to this region: The Boundary Waters. Carved by glaciers and sculpted by water, there are countless reasons why the BWCA is the most popular wilderness area in the United States. At over 1.1 million acres, it contains more than 1,100 lakes, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, and a dozen rugged hiking trails. It is also, at the moment, at risk: there are massive deposits of iron and copper in northern Minnesota, and whether or not one of the most pristine and gorgeous stretches of water and land in America will be open to mining is not yet settled. We both encourage everyone to join us in making a small donation to keep this vital resource clean and well maintained. Click here to get involved.  



1 comment

  • The Midwest rocks. So does this watch. Here’s another cool guy in the watch biz. Fun read, awesome watch, and all-American to the core.


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