On the Factory Floor With TRASKA Founder Jon Mack
Rather than working with our manufacturing partners remotely, we work with them directly throughout the entirety of the production process. This allows us to have complete control over how our watches are being made and enables us to meticulously inspect each and every individual watch multiple times before it’s packaged and delivered to your doorstep.
From 2D to 3D
The magic begins with a two-dimensional rendering. Once the renderings have been finalized, we sign off on them and begin the process of making technical drawings. These drawings show every component and their respective dimensions down to a hundredth of a millimeter. After the technical drawings are finalized, 3D CAD drawings are made (that means Computer-Aided Design, not that you have to ask). Once these 3D files have been completed, we use a 3D printer to print a tangible prototype. The prototype is scrutinized over and over again, with changes being made to the technical drawings and CAD files with every new iteration.
The design process is laborious to say the least—finalizing the two and three-dimensional renderings can take anywhere from three to six months. For our latest release, the Summiteer, it took six months of tweaking to get everything perfect.
While we review the technical drawings time and time again, it’s always smart to make sure that our producers have the same vision that we do. This is best achieved by discussing every little detail face to face. Doing this allows us to make sure that there are no misunderstandings or delays in production.
Now that the final design has been nailed down, the technical drawings are signed and the watch’s design is set in stone. Well in a mold at least— kind of like stone, right?
Molds Maketh the Watch
The 3D CAD files are then used to make molds for every component. Because every piece has been designed by us with the pursuit of perfection in mind, using existing molds with designs similar to ours isn’t an option. While we could save thousands of dollars in R&D costs by choosing parts from a catalog, doing so would force us to compromise many aspects of our ideal design. This is obviously out of the question.
The molds take nearly a month to make. Once finished, they’re used to make the blanks of the watch case. These blanks are the cases in their rawest form; the application of chamfers, threading, finishing, and hardening coatings won’t begin until the blanks have been finished and inspected. After the blanks have been approved, they’re loaded into CNC machines for further refinement. When they come out of the CNC machines, the cases will be brushed and polished by hand in order to achieve the finest level of finishing.
Before the blanks go into the CNC machine, the stem holes are made with a drill press.
The watch cases aren’t the only components that require their own tooling: the hands, dials, crowns, applied indices, and casebacks all require their own molds too.
Once the components come out of the mold, they are further refined to resemble the parts seen on the two and three-dimensional renderings.
Dialing it Up a Notch
Here we have some dial blanks. They are stamped out of sheets of brass and are then primed for painting. The dials are then placed on a tray, thirty at a time, and loaded into a spraying cabinet.
After the dials have been painted, the next step is to print the TRASKA logo and text on them. There are two methods for this: screen printing and pad printing. We found that pad printing gets the sharpest results, and have actually opted to have everything pad-printed two times over. This allows for the cleanest and brightest text; printing only once makes for less vibrant text, and printing three or more times causes the text to become slightly blurred. As you can see, we have tried everything to ensure the crispest possible results and found the process that works for us by extensive trial and error.
These are the dials after the pad printing process—now we need to add the minute and hour markers. We employ either one of two methods for this, depending on the design of the watch in question. For a more rugged, vintage look, we print the markers with Swiss Made BGW9 Super-LumiNova. For a more elegant design, we’ll use hand-applied indices. The dials pictured here will feature applied markers. The indices are placed into the little holes and then secured with glue from behind. The indice and lume application needs to be done with the utmost precision and attention to detail, so we spend a lot of time at our dial factory to ensure we’re attaining the level of quality expected from a TRASKA watch.
Jason, the owner of the dial factory, was nice enough to explain why it wasn’t physically possible to pack more BGW9 Super-LumiNova into the indices, and assured me that we’re already doing everything we can to make these things glow as bright as possible.
Give These Guys a Hand
There are only two factories in China capable of manufacturing high-quality hands; low-quality hand factories where the hands are stamped from sheet metal are a dime a dozen, but for whatever reason, the production of diamond-cut hands is limited to just a couple major players.
Once the components have been completed, we can finally move on to assembly. The dials are mounted to the movements, and the hands meticulously affixed.
Keep Trying Until it “Clicks”
For our debut model, the Freediver, we tested six different bezel springs before deciding on the perfect one. In total, we tried three different gauges of springs. In addition to the thickness of the spring, the length also played a large role in how the rotating bezel performed. Because of this, we tested each gauge at two different lengths in order to find the optimal spring. This was no easy task, as one spring would allow for zero back play (nailed it!), but would be too difficult to turn (boo!). The next spring would be easy enough to turn (success!), but wouldn't have the satisfying clicking sound we were looking for (unacceptable!). Finally, we found the perfect spring, 0.7 gauge long. It rotates firmly, but isn't too difficult to turn. It has the most satisfying clicking sound, and has VERY minimal back play.
The cases are then fitted with rubber gaskets and sapphire crystals—all by hand. The movements, dials, and hands, are then put inside the finished cases. For our dive watches, we wait until the watches are assembled before fitting them with their bezel inserts. This is done by hand to ensure precise alignment. Many manufacturers (looking at you Seiko) attach the bezel insert to the bezel retainer before affixing them to the case in an effort to save time— this results in misaligned bezels, as it’s impossible to tell if the bezel pip will line up with one of the 60-120 bezel clicks when doing it this way.
Once the watches are all cased up, we begin pressure testing to ensure the integrity of the advertised depth rating.
Inspection, Inspection, Inspection!
Next, we wind each watch up to test for any timekeeping irregularities over the next forty hours. While we're doing this, we'll begin rigorous quality control for each piece that is wound. What we're really looking for here are bits of micro-dust that have found their way under the dial. All the components have already undergone three rounds of inspection, so there shouldn't be any imperfections. Every once in a while, something slips through the cracks and it’s our mission to make sure a customer never gets ahold of a piece like this.
The great thing about being on the factory floor for quality control is that it allows us to be beyond stringent with the process. If we were to have these finished watches shipped to us in the United States, we’d be inspecting each watch upon receipt with bated breath, praying that it was good enough to end up on a customer's wrist. But because we’re in the factory, we’re able to take the opposite approach. Every watch that is handled is treated as if it were defective, and it’s our duty to prove how. Rather than examining a watch and hoping it’s good to go, we make it a game to try and find flaws, however minute they may be. Most of the watches inspected are handed back for minor issues—and this isn’t a bad thing! It’s because of this hyper-vigilance that we’re able to set ourselves apart from our competitors. A speck of dust under the dial, a shoddily finished chamfer, a dial with printing that’s just a little faint in one area… wait a minute, is it even faint? Should I just let this one slide? Nah, I’ll just hand it back to be fitted with a new dial, because that’s why I’m here in the first place!
Once the watches have passed quality control, they are regulated in four positions. For those unfamiliar with regulation, allow me to explain. This process involves manually adjusting the watch’s mechanical movement, fine-tuning it to keep even better time than what the manufacturer suggests it's capable of. The manufacturer regulates these movements to run between -20 and +40 seconds a day. After we have regulated them in four positions, they now run between -10 and + 20 seconds a day—with the vast majority of them running closer to -5 to + 10 seconds. Because a mechanical movement relies on springs and cogs to function, its timing accuracy is affected by gravity. Regulation is done in four different positions to make sure that the timekeeping variance is roughly the same in all positions.
After the watches have been regulated, we'll repeat the process of winding and scrutinizing each and every individual piece a second time—just to make extra sure everything is up to our standards. Only after this final inspection will your watch be packaged up and boxed for delivery.
So that’s that! The entire process from design to your door takes about a year. We take our time because we’d rather wait and deliver something that we can stand behind and be proud of than rush something that’s just 99% perfect to completion. After all, I’m a passionate watch guy myself and as a discerning wearer, I know exactly what kinds of things to look out for. This is why I insist that every little piece is painstakingly checked down to the tiniest detail, and, unlike most brands, we’re more than happy to open the lid and let you see exactly how it’s done.