For Nick Harris, a Timely Move Into A New Profession

What makes him tick? Swarthmorean Nick Harris, a tinkerer since childhood, will soon begin a rigorous 2-year watchmaking course of study in Seattle. Meantime, he’s taking orders for a handmade watch of his own creation. Photo by Chris Wright

What makes him tick? Swarthmorean Nick Harris, a tinkerer since childhood, will soon begin a rigorous 2-year watchmaking course of study in Seattle. Meantime, he’s taking orders for a handmade watch of his own creation. Photo by Chris Wright

Time flies, and when September comes, so will Nick Harris, as he relocates from his native Swarthmore to Washington state, where he will begin studies at the Watch Technology Institute at North Seattle College.

Nick aspires to become one of only a handful of watchmakers and technologists trained each year in America, through an intensive curriculum developed to the standards of the Swiss American Watch Technology Association. As if that’s not enough, he will be gearing up to produce the initial run of the Orion Watch, which he designed, engineered, and will assemble.

His workshop is now in the Swarthmore home where he grew up. Nick attended Swarthmore-Rutledge School, then Westtown School, from which he graduated in 2008. “I always liked working with my hands — playing with Legos, taking computers apart, doing pottery, woodworking, and all kinds of tinkering around. And I studied science all those years,” said Nick, who took a B.S. in biology at Evergreen State in Olympia, Wash.

Nick Harris. Photo by Andy Shelter

Nick Harris. Photo by Andy Shelter

But his incipient career path seemed to be set in motion during his youth, when he inherited an Omega “Constellation” watch, in need of repairs, from his grandfather.

“An insurmountable challenge presented itself, and I couldn’t resist,” Nick said. He took the watch apart, bought watchmaking tools and parts online, and dived into the works … but ultimately wound up taking the Omega to Philadelphia watchmaker Sam Kalter to be fixed. “I was a huge novice,” Nick recalled, “and the job was beyond me. But I found out what makes me tick.”

Over the years since then, Nick did plenty more tinkering with watches, refining his skills to a level that emboldened him to design and build prototypes of a watch of his own. The Orion 1 Watch is available for pre-order through a crowdfunding effort at watchesbynick.com/orion. “I need about 30 more orders before going into production,” Nick said; he hopes to begin this September. Pending the success of this first production offering, the watches may then be offered in stores.

The Orion 1 is classically designed, with bold proportions that distinguish them from predecessors like Nick’s beloved Omega. The stainless steel case and large but covert crown (winding stem) testify to its ruggedness — indeed, it is waterproof to 100 meters — while the understated faces (which come in deep red or blue) give the watch a handsome, dressy aspect. The watch is powered by a durable automatic movement from Seiko in Japan.

There is a great deal of creativity in the enterprise, Nick said. “In design, aesthetics, engineering — the innovations in watches come from creative people. I prefer to create, and to be entrepreneurial, but I have to have a fallback.”

He is confident that his pending watchmaking training will not only develop his skills and ingenuity, but also secure a career path. The small cohort graduating from the two-year, full-time program of the Watch Technology Institute are highly sought as repair technicians by school sponsor Rolex and other time-honored names in watch manufacturing. By then, the Orion Watch and its creator may be among the stars of the timepiece world.

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