Written by Contributing writer, Furry Wrist Abroad
Navigating the landscape of microbrands and smaller independent offerings can be a daunting one for watch enthusiasts. It is nearly impossible for general consumers. Outside of running into a display at a trade show, there is almost no way to learn about some of these brands outside of Instagram.
That is why today we are looking at a small brand based in Toronto called Wilk Watchworks. Founded and operated by Scott Wilk, this brand offers people something unique. A lot of microbrands today are operated by people who are either watchmakers or enthusiasts with no watchmaking background. Wilk Watchworks timepieces are made not only by an enthusiast, but by someone with a formal background in jewellery. The end result is watches that are very charming, distinctive, and eccentric.
In this interview we shall go over the background as to how Wilk Watchworks came to be, and then later we shall go into the watches and how they are made. We shall also go over the model lineup offered.
The people behind these microbrands that I have encountered are fascinating individuals. On social media, and even in industry circles, it is easy for people to judge with very little information about the brands and the people behind them. Here you will meet Scott, a dedicated family man, a connoisseur of many things (not just watchmaking) and get a glimpse into what makes someone start and operate a watch brand for ten years.
So without any further delay, sit back, pour yourself your favourite cocktail, and enjoy meeting Scott Wilk and learning about what makes Wilk Watchworks a beautiful company.
History & Background:
Q: What is the earliest memory that you can recall of when you first got fascinated by watches?
A: I really didn’t have any interest in watches or anything like that when I was a child. A lot of people find that surprising. I was into reading, video games, and painting miniature models of orcs and dragons. I always enjoyed small things like miniature sculptures, but I did not at that point put my interests of miniature things and mechanical objects into watches. I had a watch once that my parents gave me when I was in high school. One day, being a kid and all, I got tackled at a bus stop by a friend when we were playing around, and it came off and fell into the snow. It disappeared. Miraculously when the snow melted in the spring, I found it! I still have it downstairs, and it was totally ruined, but after that I never really wore a watch for a quite a while.
Q: How did you come upon watches?
A: From studying fine arts and jewellery-making in university, I was lead down a path where I was in the luxury and jewellery field. I made jewellery for a number of years. When my wife and I moved to Toronto from Nova Scotia where we both went to school, I got a job in the basement of the Eaton Centre, at a place that did both jewellery and watch repair. That was my first introduction to watches. After a while working there and gaining some experience, I just got hooked.
I asked myself, “How did I not discover this yet?”
Then I started reading and tinkering a lot, and I started asking them to teach me everything that they possibly could.
That was about fifteen years ago.
Q: Was anyone in your household while growing up particularly handy or do work in the arts?
Does craftsmanship possibly run in the family?
A: Sort of, actually. My mother when I was growing made stained glass. She was always a maker of things and made stained glass for a long time, and she changed to ceramics when she retired.
My dad is pretty handy, and I do a lot of home repair. It sort of runs in the family but they were not in the jewellery or watchmaking fields.
My sister is very much a maker, and makes bags and purses, and makes these crazy robot pouches.
Q: You studied at the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design. What from your studies directly influenced you to go into watchmaking, and do you still draw from your days of your studies?
A: I rely heavily on my education. I spent half of my time in the jewellery studio there, and the other half in the print-making workshop. I found that the graphic design work that I did in print -making has definitely leant itself to the design work that I do in the dials of the watches. The jewellery aspect is useful in the dial-making process as well. There are so many skills that are transferable from jewellery-making into the watchmaking that I do, such as sawing, filing and sanding, and all fine work such as stone-setting.
I found it a fairly easy transition between the two worlds when it came to the delicate work and attention of detail needed.
I wouldn’t trade anything for that education for it has had a lasting impact.
Q: Staff tangent and Anthony and his history.
A: Anthony is a full-time employee where he does all the administrative work. It was weird how he came to work with me. Before we met, I was working about six hours on admin and another six hours on the bench trying to keep up with everything. That summer a gentleman came up to me in one of the shows and inquired about getting his watch fixed. After speaking for a while, I mentioned that I was looking for someone to pick up on the administrative duties and he mentioned that he would be interested. One thing led to another and he started working here full time.
He does all the emails, so if you email us, you will reach him, and he handles all the shipping, and a lot of the website-updating and copy and text.
Q: Becoming an independent watchmaker can be a very precarious decision to follow through and not many people have the courage to go ahead and accomplish what you have over the last decade.
What made you decide to start Wilk Watchworks, and as we all know, the first year of any startup is very hard. How were the early days of your workshop?
A: I have a funny story about that. So I worked at a small shop in the Eaton Centre, and that place unfortunately closed down. I started working at another jewellery store, and during that entire time when the first store closed, my wife was pregnant. About five months after I had started working at this second jewellery store, my first son was born.
I probably shouldn’t have done it this way. But, a week after my son was born, he was premature, it was over the Christmas holidays, I had this bright and stupid idea. I asked my wife if I could quit my job, and stay home and take care of him, and progress with the business. I had already started prototyping and making plans. By then I was extremely enamoured with watchmaking and making this happen.
It was a lot to take in, but it seemed like it was the right time and it was.
The very first One of a Kind Show was tough for I remember selling no watches. When I had started it was heavily based on jewellery-making. I was casting sterling silver cases and making the dials, and using quartz movements in ladies’ watches.
It was a total flop, and I never had a show like that. I went out on a limb with them, it was a big risk, and at that point I was already signed up for the next show and realised that I needed to make a change.
I then started looking at other watches on the market, and I realised that I needed to start to make watches for men. They were stainless steel cases, which brought the price point way down, and that next show was pretty good.
By the time we had our second son which was two and half years later, this became my full time job.
Q: How have you seen your watches evolve and where do you see them going? You offer many models for instance. Do you see the possibility of adding any others soon?
A: We are actually going to be taking away some. We are finding that there are too many options and some people have a hard time choosing when they are presented with as much variety as we offer.
The product line will be shrinking but there are other models in the pipeline such as a lower-priced watch for retail. We don’t have any watches in retail stores and I think it is time that we started expanding. We also will introduce more ladies’ watches and quartz watches at lower price points. For these watches, I will be receiving all the parts from our partners and I will be doing the assembly and testing myself.
Q: Watchmakers tend to collect tools that might not necessarily be useful to them today, but likely in the future. How often do you keep a lookout for various tools that may or may not be of immediate use, but are simply too irresistible to pass up on?
A: I definitely am one of those people who loves looking through tool catalogues, and I am always on the lookout for interesting kinds of tools. It usually works out in the opposite way to your question. I won’t buy a tool just to have for the future, I’ll think of something that I want to do and I will go and find the tool that I need to complete that work.
Q: What is a typical day like in the workshop for you and your staff?
A: Usually it depends on the day. Usually I do a review of the jobs, and I make sure that I have all the parts and that we don’t fall behind schedule. It’s not possible to work on every project every day so it is important to prioritise. I sit at the bench every day, but as of late, taking photos and editing them and working on the website has taken up a good proportion of the time.
Balancing it all and having a family is a challenge and we do our best to hit every deadline that we can.
Q: You do a lot of trade shows, as do other independent brands out of necessity. What are your favourite aspects of doing local and abroad trade shows, and what is your least favourite?
A: The least favourite thing about trade shows is lugging all of the stuff to and from. A lot of time is spent on loading and unloading vans, setting up tables and walls. It’s long ten-to-twelve-hour days with some late nights, which turn into fourteen-hour days. It’s great talking to people though, for I do not get to see people that often since I work from home.
The social interaction is really great.
Q: Your parents often attend the local shows and in fact your mother did such a charming and effective job that I actually bought a watch that day. I had no intention of doing so, but she is a master salesperson.
Walk us through how amazing it is to have such a supportive and great family who not only believes in your work, but genuinely loves your work as well.
A: She’s pretty amazing! Both my parents are extremely supportive of me doing this. At the beginning it was a huge risk, and my wife has been the best supporter for this and everything. She’s really amazing and I am very lucky to share my life with her.
My parents live in London, Ontario and they come up every show. I took my mom to New York the first time I did the Worn and Wound show. It was great! The second year I did that show everyone was asking me where my mom was (laughs).
My sister used to do the One of a Kind Show when she made bags and purses, and my mom helped her back then as well.
The Watches and the Process that Goes into Making Them a Reality
Q: Unlike many other independent brands, as mentioned before, you offer many different models. What were the design inspirations behind each?
Some of my models were originally commissioned works. This one was for a client whose two daughters are named Carly and Lea, and so we melded the two names and he was the one who came up with the name of the watch.
He really wanted a one-handed watch, and I had not made one before. I had difficulty in finding a hand long enough, so that was one of the first production pieces that has a hand that I make every single time from scratch.
The Damask came from a hole in my product line for ladies’ watches. I really enjoy this pattern and more organic types of design. Some of the antique wallpapers that came up in the reading that I was doing really interested me. I did not have that much in my work that was organic. When I did jewellery work, there were more organic lines but not in the watches, which tend to be more geometric.
The Gnomon is the piece in the sundial that sticks up and creates the shadow. It’s been a few years since that one was designed. The Lydian and the Gnomon were there from the very beginning.
It was sort of void-filler and I did not have a very classical watch. The two variants developed at the same time, where one had regular Arabic numerals and one had Roman numerals. I wanted something really clean for the Roman numerals. Sometimes the design changes a little bit. I had a customer once who wanted them much thicker, for instance. It’s always a challenge when a customer wants something, for I always have to keep the aesthetics aligned with my standards.
This is one of the most popular designs that I make. It was sort of a void-filler in that I wanted something a little more sporty. The design is extremely versatile as well, so if you change the colours, you can make it into a much more casual watch. I have done an inverse design of this as well where all those markings are cut away, which is called the Mixo-Daedalian. Anthony occasionally plays a part in naming some of the pieces, the “mixo’ part was his idea, as an inverse scale in music sometimes has a prefix of “Mixo”
That was inspired by police tape, and a lot of my work focuses on the positive and negative space. Skeletonization, for instance, has always been a theme in my work and even at school. The negative space is just as important as the positive.
The Lydian was the very first design that I ever made. It has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Every type of watch in terms of size and movement has a Lydian made for them.
The very first one was a commission piece that was commissioned by Mr. Maki. It has nothing to do with sushi (laughs). Mr. Maki wanted something with really funky numbers and he found the font. The first one was very custom, where I made the case out of solid sterling silver. It had a black PVD coated Swiss movement.
He was a little surprised when I asked him if I could name the watch after him. A lot of the custom works are one-off and I do not make them again, and there have only been a couple that have made their way into the product line.
The Trammel is one of the very popular designs. It is the most open watch design that I make. I am always getting requests for watches that do not have a dial. I really can not do that. I do not feel that there is enough design work involved. Then it’s not my watch, it’s just a movement and hands.
I designed the Trammel for the people that want such a watch.
Q: Besides the minimalist and attractive logo, a Wilk watch is instantly recognisable as one to those who are watch enthusiasts.
What design elements were you able to implement to offer such a synergy across many different models, and how did you land on them?
A: The case design is as minimal as possible. The other thing is that the watches are as modular as possible so I can move movements from one to another. I definitely got lucky that the ETA 6497 and the 2824 can go into the same case, and that mostly has to do with where the stem comes out, that being the stem heights in relation to the dial are the same.
When I did the tourbillon, I wanted to keep the cases simple because the skeleton dials are so busy that you don’t need a visual distraction on the exterior. So I just try to keep it as toned down as possible.
Q: As far as the watch itself, it is well known that you do a fair amount of work on the dials yourself. Are there any other aspects of the watchmaking which are heavily accomplished in your workshop which people may not be aware of?
A: The one guy, Vatche, that helps me out by doing the initial laser-cutting of the dials, I definitely would not be able to do this without him. He’s a fantastic gentleman and willing to experiment with me. His understanding of working with the laser-cutting process has developed alongside my watchmaking process, and I owe him a big thanks.
I have someone locally who does the stone-setting of the gems on the bezels as well. I’ve worked with him for many years.
Q: Some of the skeletonisation work which you accomplish on the movements and the dials is quite stunning and intricate.
How long does it take to do such work to a movement, and dial, and what process do you use for doing so?
A: I don’t do any of that myself. All those movements are that way when I receive them from the supplier. Those designs are what are readily available. That being said, there are hardly any movements out there that are available for purchase by small independent brands such as myself. I’ve searched and searched, and the companies that I work with now, they’re some of the only ones that I have found that I can just purchase a few movements. I could commission a company to do skeletonisation, but from the research that I have done, it requires a large quantity of movements to be purchased. As a smaller brand, I cannot afford to have hundreds of movements sitting around.
Q: A lot is made from the watch enthusiast community about the origins of parts used by brands.
Where do you source your cases, dials and hands? Also, do you make them in the workshop instead in some cases? And how much customisation work do you do to these as they enter your workshop (such as polishing)?
A: The case and the straps are made in China as are some of the movements, while some of the movements are Swiss. The dials are made here. Occasionally I will make a custom case. In that case, the gentleman who does the laser cutting also does the jewellery-casting. One of my long term goals is to make all the watch cases here in Canada.
Q: What’s the next big thing for Wilk Watchworks? Would that be different models, different case size options, or the possibility of complications being offered such as chronographs? +10th year anniversary LE?
A: There are a lot of things which are in the works. I am trying to create some lower-end models and a lower price point. I am also working on movement decoration on my own. The next stage after that is doing my own skeletonisation by hand. As I learn new techniques, I am trying to apply them to the watches and definitely movement decoration is something that I wanted to do for a long time, but, I wanted to get my skills with the regular watchmaking to a certain level first. I didn’t go to watchmaking school; it’s always about trying to figure out what I don’t know and then do my best to learn how to do those things, and making sure that I am doing everything as properly as I can, and making sure that my watches will last my customers forever. That’s lead me into doing a fully decorated movement myself which is definitely an undertaking.
I would love to make a 10-year anniversary limited edition. I am not sure as to what that would be, for there is not anything concrete on paper yet.
As someone who owns a Wilk Watchworks watch, I can definitely say that it offers a unique experience. My particular example is a little rough around the edges, such as the laser cutting on the dial is not as precise as I would have liked when examined under a loupe, and the hands are not set on a level plane, but that does not matter to me. All of the watches that I saw on the day of the interview did not have any of the issues of my example, and they offer something which is next to impossible to find at this price point. One can easily walk into a department store and buy a watch that looks and feels like a machine-made product, but not a work of art.
What makes a painting or a drawing stand out are the imperfections in the work, and that is what differentiates it from a piece of graphic design. Wilk’s timepieces have an aura and a soul which are intangible and very alluring. This is fitting given Scott’s background and his lifelong influences. His Damask, for example, is a watch that comes to life in your hands. Its dial treatment is something that I have not seen anywhere close to in this price range. The future for this small Canadian watch brand looks bright and I cannot wait to see what Scott has in store for us as his company enters its second decade.
Check out the Wilk Watchworks website