Featured Image Courtesy of Vero Watches
Vero Watches was started in 2015 in Portland, Oregon by Danny Recordon and Chris Boudreaux. While out one night getting drinks, Danny and Chris started discussing a new business venture in the world of manufacturing. They mulled over a few different product ideas and found that they were most passionate about designing and manufacturing high quality, American-made watches.
Since then they haven’t stopped learning and growing as both machinists and businessmen.
We were able to take some time out of Danny’s busy schedule to discuss how they got started, their experiences with High Efficiency Milling Techniques, super tight tolerances, and their unique products.
How did Vero Watches get started?
Vero Watches started out of the desire to manufacture our own products and keep things completely in house. I have always been interested in the manufacturing world and tinkered with, and read about manufacturing methods in my free time. When Chris wanted to talk about his idea for a company that produced a product, I jumped on the opportunity to teach myself everything that I could. We talked about and designed a few products, then one day over a beer he mentioned that he really wanted to make a watch. I said, “Let’s do it, I’ll figure out how”, and we started down the path towards producing our own products. That was the day that Vero Watches was born!
We started with a Hurco VM10i and zero machining experience, but we had a strong passion for learning new processes. Over the first year I spent a lot of time learning. I was reading about and researching cutting tools, work holding methods and experimenting while we began prototyping our first watch. We have since grown to a small production staff of 4, with a full-time watchmaker, a dial maker , and an employee solely focused on case finish. They have been key in bringing our watches from concept to reality. Vero Watches now produces all of our case components in house; our largest part being 40mm x 48mm and our smallest being a 2.5mm diameter tube, 3mm long. Dials are milled from brass sheet, nickel-plated painted and printed in house. We also handle movement finishing and assembly testing and service of our mechanical watches in the same shop.
What materials do you work with the most?
We primarily work in 316L stainless steel, though we are currently producing a watch out of grade 5 titanium. We were looking for better tool life and faster cycle times with those materials, which was my reason for switching to Helical tools for my larger diameter tools.
What materials do you enjoy working with? Are there some that you do not enjoy machining?
I really enjoy machining titanium. The feeds and speeds make no sense, running to0 fast and too slow at the same time! But there is a satisfying low hum during roughing Titanium that just can’t be beat. I love that sound.
I really have a hard time running nickel parts. We make the washers for our crowns out of 0.008” nickel sheet and somehow nickel manages to be both gummy and abrasive at the same time. Tool life is terrible (no fault of the tooling!) and the bur gets worse down the sheet due to the excessive tool wear. Nickel just eats end mills up.
What machines and software do you have in the shop?
We have a 3 axis and a 5 axis mill, both from the Hurco VM10 series. We also have plenty of hand tools for finishing and a small Levin jewelers lathe.
For software, we currently use Autodesk HSMworks for Solidworks. Something about using Autodesk and Solidworks products together puts a smile on my face. I personally can’t stand the instability of cloud-based software, so I have stayed away from other cloud-based platforms and prefer having my HSMworks integrated directly within Solidworks.
Why is high-quality tool performance important to you?
High-quality tool performance is important for a few reasons. First being surface finishing, we are making watches, and tooling marks while beautiful are a pain to remove. We often sacrifice speed for finish, though with the right tools we can cut efficiently while leaving beautiful finishes that help speed up post-machining finishing operations.
Secondly, though maybe more importantly (to us) is tolerance. While a beautiful part is great and it allows us to do less hand finishing, a part that is in tolerance is very important to building a functioning and watertight watch. The right cutting tools means the difference between a watch that you can surf in and a watch that would be ruined in light rain. The overall tolerances for our parts rarely exceed +-.001”. With our press-fit features (caseback and front sapphire openings) we shoot for +0.0000” – 0.0004” while using a machine that experiences about 0.002” of thermal growth in Z and repeats to 0.0002′. It’s not always easy but with the right tools and knowledge of the machines we are using we have worked out a process that allows us to achieve these very tight tolerances where needed.
Are you applying High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques in your shop?
In short YES! It wasn’t until moving to Helical tools for my 5/16 and 1/8 end mills (these are the only end mills over 1 mm I use regularly) that I began trying to dial in my cycle times. HEM techniques coupled with the Helical end mills took cycle times on one of our watch cases from over an hour to just over 30 minutes per operation. That ended up saving us about an hour per part, all while maintaining surface finish and tolerance.
What advice do you have for other who want to try HEM techniques?
Follow Machining Advisor Pro recommendations! I start there as it has consistently been a good starting point of almost any tool I have tried. I have since sped up my roughing tools and slowed down my finisher from the 50% recommendation that the application is set to. I have found that to be the most successful for my particular parts, but everyone’s results could vary. Definitely play around with the different settings in MAP to find what works for you.
I would also suggest finding tools with a flute length similar to your finished wall height and use as much of the tool as you can. I’d much rather wear out my whole tool than just the first 1/4in of the flutes. This is the basic premise of what HEM is all about, but so many people still miss that key point.
What specific types of Harvey and Helical Tools do you use?
There isn’t a time that our machines aren’t running Harvey and Helical tools. As speak, we are machining crowns and case backs from grade 5 titanium using 5/16 Helical roughers and finishers (HSF-S-70312 & HEV-C-S-50312-R.020). For Harvey Tool products, we use the Harvey 1mm and 0.02” 4 flute end mills, and the 15° 0.005” tipped off engraver. We simply would not be able to make the products we do without Harvey Tool’s selection, and Helical has given us better cycle times and a great finish.
What sets Vero Watch apart from the rest of the competition?
Vero’s ability to be nimble during the manufacturing process sets us apart. Most small watch companies, especially others in the US, rely on foreign partners to produce their vision. With delays, miscommunication and no hands-on control of the process, you lose the ability to make a change on the fly. If we see an issue during production, finishing, or assembly, we can change it on the spot. This allows us to iterate a product quickly and provide customers with high-quality unique watches.
What advice do you have for a new machinist ready to take on the manufacturing world?
Find someone willing to let you learn or just dive in. There is so much support out there to help when you are stuck on something. This industry is amazing and there is so much to learn. The social media community has been a great outlet for information, especially on Instagram. I haven’t found a problem yet that I couldn’t solve with input from great companies like Harvey or input from fellow machinists online.