As if at complete odds with the joyful spirit of this time of year, we must update you today with bad news. We will not be shipping out any watches before Christmas. It is quite possibly the most difficult and complex decision we’ve had to make. Over the following paragraphs we will explain how we arrived at this point and how we have made the decision we have. It goes without saying that we are here to field any further questions and will reply where possible with an answer.
This post is long and detailed, covers ground we’ve already covered and new ground all the same, as we feel you deserve the full picture; what we’ve been faced with and how we’ve handled each decision that’s been made. By doing this we hope you appreciate how difficult this has been for us and how unbearably disappointing it is, for all of us here to see our dream within a hair’s breadth away from our grasp. It’s not an admission of defeat, and please do not read it as such; we are so far away from defeat it pains us to even write it. It is perhaps an admission of putting too much trust in the reassurances and misplaced confidence of manufacturing partners, and too little tolerance for anything other than perfection.
Team Optik began this project in 2016 with an idea to create a watch with no hands; an unobstructed, pure form of time. Smart watches were kicking off and we could have easily adapted a “skin” and moved along. But we wanted to create something analogue, that was physical. The original concept, when presented to our manufacturing partners, was exciting and interesting, but ultimately unrealistic, as the design demanded a disc of such magnitude that no conventional movement could power it around. From this position we began figuring out how we could take that concept and make it a realistic manufacturing proposition.
Over the course of a year, from mid-2016 to mid-2017 we worked closely with our Swiss manufacturer to test the limits of the movement we had chosen – the Ronda 515.24H. We wanted to see if we could attach a disc to the movement and make it work, not just in physical movement, but in accuracy, deviation and battery life. We spent 6 months and a lot of money on prototypes and test rigs to reach the point that we had a table of results showing, in all orientations and positions, that the 515.24H was capable, and indeed more than capable of powering our disc. From this point, this little table of results confirming that the disc concept was possible, we began working towards project HORIZON.
Working Prototype Phase
Over the course of another 5 months we refined the other areas; case, crown, disc design, crystal form, case-back, straps and the inner construction to the point that everyone on Team Optik and our Manufacturer agreed; this is the blueprint for production, save any little tweaks. We commissioned 4 prototypes, again at vast cost, and set our timeline for our campaign, production and completion.
At this point it’s important to note that we still didn’t know if the HORIZON would be of interest to anyone. Some early feedback believed we may face complete rejection from the watch community as it was so different, so unconventional. We carried on regardless because we knew if we could make everything work in harmony, we would have something no-one had ever seen before.
We planning our launch schedule we included 10-12 weeks contingency, or “breathing space” if you will, so that we would not face the unimaginable scenario of delaying shipping. We had a rough schedule in place with our manufacturers and had in depth discussions with them, in Bienne, to make sure that we would run on schedule. We also established if there was any expected potential for delay, and if so, what form it may take, and how long would It likely take to resolve. 10-12 weeks was ample time for these possibly delays, we surmised. Once we placed the “secure order” which is Swiss speak for money transferred, work would begin post-haste and a more accurate schedule would be confirmed.
As many of you already know, that schedule has shifted a number of times. We thought we had planned for enough contingency, but we were wrong. With that being said we want to make it clear that our ability to complete this project is not in question. There are no hidden payments. No unannounced bills. No suspicious bank managers. Project HORIZON is safe. It is sound. We are here, with the finances to complete on our promise.
We placed our secure order and production commenced in April 2018; more importantly our production schedule was confirmed. The watches, straps and additional straps would be ready in September and we set about focusing on delivering that schedule.
The first issue arrived in the form of disc construction. Originally the disc was to be completely injection molded and in practice this turned out to be very complex, with mold cooling, viscosity of the material, strength and rigidity of material and mold filling becoming big factors in the success of the disc, using this method. We discussed the issue at length, changed the tooling to increase flow paths and tried to reinforce weaker areas of this unibody disc design, but ultimately it failed to give us the expected quality and properties. We had one last crack at it by increasing quite drastically the thickness of the disc and it was successful; the mold filled, the disc was sound, and we had a proper unibody disc part. However, the downside with adding more thickness to the disc presented what is called “sink.” This is a phenomenon where, directly adjacent to a boss (the part of the disc that attached to the movement) the plastic is thicker and as such cools slower than the other cross sections. This causes the plastic to contract more above the “hole” in the boss, more than the other areas and creates a little dimple on the surface. This meant we would have to introduce another post-production process to even out these sink holes, which had an impact on weight, as well as an impact on quality and precision with such a hands-on process. As such we had to abandon that line of manufacture completely and work out a way to retain the light and repeatable construction of a plastic disc, whilst strengthening the connection to the movement, keeping things balanced and uniform and most of all, retaining the quality.
This led us to the solution of having a separate flat profile disc, which is very easy to make, and support that with a metal framework underneath. Not only would this allow us to retain a similar weight to the completely injection molded solution, but it meant that the connection to the movement would now be incredibly strong, as we would not be using the plastic boss “tube” to connect the two parts, but now we’d be using a traditional, conventional brass tube. This is important as it would give us that extra rigidity and connection for that weighty disc.
The disc as we saw it was no longer a problem, and our manufacturing partners were similarly happy with the design moving forward.
A few weeks later we had an update from Switzerland to say that the straps had arrived from their manufacturing partner, and they were sub-par quality. In fact, they were of a quality so poor that they did not resemble the strap we had designed. Back in mid-April we had commissioned 3D printed straps as a way for us to sign off on the design, but also for the supplier of bespoke silicone straps to use as a reference point. These were not used by the supplier and as such they had gone off on a tangent. Our manufacturing partner had visited their factory and through long discussions decided to re-tool once more. This caused a big delay to our production timeline, but we had built in 10-12 weeks contingency and were satisfied we could take this hit. The strap manufacturer then told our manufacturing partner that the job was too big for them to complete and backed out. This meant we suddenly faced having no strap supplier for our silicone straps and a fast-approaching deadline, but through no small effort and an impressive turnaround from our manufacturing partner, we quickly had a new strap supplier making their own tool molds and we had a new production target set.
We then received final production samples of our cases and were delighted with the quality, fit and finish. By now it was early October and we’d been promised our production would complete in the coming weeks and we’d have our full set of watches and straps to send out by the end of the month. We reached the end of the month and were told that due to yet more delays from the strap supplier, we would have a further delay, but we now had a solid set of dates for production - taking delivery of watches late November and shipping early December. We knew we would have a further week of final QC here in the UK before shipping them out, but we had secure dates.
Our disc woes were not fully over however, as when the final production parts arrived at our manufacturer, they discovered that a rather lax attitude to attaching the plastic disc to the metal framework had caused an off-axis shift in the disc position and as a result it was fouling the inner bezel. There were some discs that were completely fine but many were failures. The ones that passed QC were put through the manufacturers 7-day testing period as mentioned in our last update. Once completed these watches were shipped to our office and as of today that is now where we stand.
We accepted delivery of the first wave of production units and we began our final process of quality control. This is more of a sanity check than a full quality control in reality; a way for us to check that we are sending out watches that meet our expectations of quality and operation. We have discovered that in operation there are many watches that are as expected; the discs look beautiful, turning effortlessly around and keep incredibly accurate time. There is however a large amount (60%+) that are presenting an interesting, unexpected issue; a consistent, repeatable delay when the time is set. Basically, when the crown is pulled out, the time set and the crown pushed back in, the disc remains stationary for 5-15 minutes before rotating. When it does begin to rotate, the disc does so with the same accuracy and deviation as the perfect examples.
Currently we do not know why this is happening. We have some theories but do not want to speculate at this stage. The other 40% of watches are working fully and doing so with such ease and grace that it cannot be an inherent issue with the construction or weight of the disc. We spoke with our manufacturer earlier today and we agree – this unexpected issue demands proper attention.
It is for this that we have taken the unbearably difficult decision to cancel our plans to ship out watches before Christmas. It’s so painfully sore for all of us here that we quite honestly feel deflated. Our mission here is to offer watches of impeccable quality and workmanship, with true attention to detail and design. We could send out the perfect examples that are now sitting in our lovely bespoke shipping boxes and hope that everything is ok with those watches. But we know in our heart of hearts that it’s just too risky. We can’t do it; what’s to say in a week or a month these issues will present themselves on those watches too?
We know it will cause a lot of you to lose faith in us and that’s ok. We know it will ask questions of us, like how we could let things get to this desperate position, and that’s ok too. It’s ok because we know how hard we have worked to get to this point. We know how much effort we have expended to weave this demanding path of absolute quality. We know how good the HORIZON will be when these issues are fully resolved and have no doubt; they will be soon. For right now we must call a temporary interval in proceedings whilst we address these final niggles and ask once more, for what we hope will be the last time, for your understanding, acceptance and support through this situation. We thought we could make it work and in a last blaze of effort get these to you in time for the big day. Quality assurance wins the day once more, and we are thus writing this update instead.
The world is a difficult place right now and we are doing all we can to take the edge off it with the HORIZON project and surprising you with our vision of how great a watch can be when approached with quality at heart and design appreciation in mind. That we have fallen short at the very last hurdle and are still willing to take the understandable heat because of it, is a testament to our resolve and beliefs.
As always, we are here to answer any questions you may have. We will do our very best to rectify this whole thing as soon as humanly possible. We will continue to keep you updated as frequently as we can, but in the meantime we thank you for your understanding and wish everyone a joyful festive season.