WHITEFISH – In this electronic age, the ability to tell time is everywhere. Time is on our cell phones, at our work computers and beeping at us from our digital alarm clocks. But Chris Wardle still wants his time to tick. No batteries, no electronics – just the mechanical passing of time, as our grandfathers experienced it.
Wardle is CEO of the Bozeman Watch Company, which opened its second Montana showroom in Whitefish in July. The company makes high-end and durable mechanical watches that meet the certification standards of Switzerland’s Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres. Only a small percentage of the world’s watch companies meet all of the stringent standards, Wardle said.
And while the testing takes place in Switzerland, and the final assembly is in Germany, the watches’ conceptual designs are born right here in Montana. Wardle, who founded the company in Bozeman, said there’s an easy explanation for starting a world-class watch company in a rural state.
“My theory behind it was pretty simple: I love Montana,” Wardle said. “If you’re going to open a business, why not do it in the best place you know? I consider Montana the best place in the country, bar none.”
The Bozeman Watch Company’s timepieces generally require between 22 and 26 months of design planning and engineering. This includes designing the original concept with graphite pencils, an imagery process, designing the prototype parts and machining the parts through CNC technology.
And the certification testing before final assembly for the “movements” is lengthy, ensuring that each timepiece has optimal calibration and functionality. Movements are internal mechanisms containing the watches’ inner parts, which keep the timepieces wound.
The end result is a limited product line of high-end watches appropriate for both everyday use and to be cherished as collectors’ items. There are many avid watch collectors, including Wardle, who love a quality American-made watch, particularly one crafted in Montana, Wardle said.
“Our client base in general seems to be people who are collectors and have an interest in watches or in American watches or have an affinity with Montana,” Wardle said. “A lot of people have an adoration for Montana.”
The new showroom at 148 Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish is the company’s second store. Wardle said it is likely the last Montana store to open. In the future, he plans to have stores open in Jackson Hole, Dallas, Southern California, New York City and, possibly, the Washington D.C. area.
Willem Ossorio, store manager for the Whitefish showroom, said foot traffic has been busy since opening in early July. Some people are simply curious and others want to know if the store sells watch batteries, to which Ossorio has to explain the mechanical nature of his company’s timepieces.
Other customers are watch enthusiasts, including some who are familiar with the Bozeman Watch Company, Ossorio said. In the first month, in the heart of tourism season, the employees at the showroom handed out more than 1,000 brochures. As of last week, the Whitefish store had made $36,000 in sales, Ossorio said.
Each line of the company’s watches is limited, often offering only 50 of each. And each line has its own design, attributes and character, typically relating to a Montana theme.
There is the Cutthroat series, named in tribute to Montana’s native trout species. The SmokeJumper GMT Worldtime is the official timepiece of the National Smokejumper Association. And the SnowMaster Telemetric has five different functions that provide time and distance measurements. It will be available to the public this winter.
Ossorio said the watches are waterproof for up to 330 feet. They are made from surgical stainless steel with crystal sapphire glass lenses on the front that don’t scratch. The watches cost roughly $4,000 to $8,000.
“The idea is that you could hand it down to your kids and make it a timeless piece,” Ossorio said.
Wardle said Whitefish is proving to be an ideal location for his business.
“It’s been a joy, it really has,” Wardle said. “The town of Whitefish, for us, has a small population and it’s closer together geographically. It’s been a really pleasant move for us. We could not have a made a better decision.”
The Bozeman Watch Company’s Whitefish showroom is located at 148 Central Avenue. For more information, call (406) 862-0062.
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