Lauren & Lorenzo Ortega
Lauren and Lorenzo Ortega took a big financial risk to create the Lorier watch company, investing every single penny that they had saved to accomplish something with which they had no prior experience. It’s as if they managed to make a plane take off and land safely on the tarmac while teaching themselves how to fly in mid-air. They didn’t know anyone in the watch industry (often a prerequisite to success), nor did they know someone who knew someone (an alternative prerequisite to success). It was purely their entrepreneurial mindset and creative acumen that put them on the fast track to success. Within a record-breaking period of nine months, they were selling their first model, the Neptune.
First Horological Encounters
Now in their 30s, Lauren and Lorenzo’s first encounters with horology took place more than three decades before they created Lorier. Lauren was given a pink and purple Minnie Mouse watch as a gift by her godmother at age six (see photo below). These watches were specifically designed to help children learn to read time using the words “hour” written on the hour hand and “minutes” written on the minute hand. It was a cool watch, and she wore it with pride.
Lorenzo was given a Swatch Flik Flak at age seven. He felt the watch didn’t suit a child his age, and he wanted something better suited for older children. Consequently, he got himself a watch that had a dial enclosed within a small space shuttle that you flipped open to read the time. I couldn’t find a photo of this watch, but it sounded like a very special one. Unfortunately, Lauren and Lorenzo no longer have these watches.
In the past year, I had the pleasure of speaking with them a few times, which has been an absolute treat. Through our conversations about the creation of Lorier and their personal tastes in watches, it was evident that they had a clear idea about what type of watch they wanted to create. As children, they each had watches with a clear purpose and rich history in their own right, which not coincidentally influenced how they came to feel about watches.
What does wearing a watch mean to them? Asking this question helps understand the personal connections watchmakers have with these marvels of technical engineering and design, the passions that drove them to create a watch company, and the process they undertook in creating their first models. Both Lauren and Lorenzo see watches as everyday companions that encapsulate the sum of their experiences and as objects through which they express their own personality.
Both the Minnie Mouse and space shuttle watches had a lot of personality, and both were present on their wrists throughout their early life experiences. If you know Lorier, you will immediately notice the adventurous spirit and vintage-inspired personality its watches evoke. All throughout their life, then, Lauren and Lorenzo have had watches that have been purposeful and full of charm and personality, characteristics that are present in the entire Lorier catalogue.
This is not to say a Neptune is like a Flik Flak, quite the contrary. The way a Neptune looks, operates, and feels is miles if not lightyears away from a Flik Flak. Just as they wore their childhood watches with pride and through various early adventures, Lauren and Lorenzo have been drawn to and designed watches that have an identity of their own and a clear purpose in mind.
Fine-Tuning their Horological Tastes
When Lauren and Lorenzo got married several years later, they did not follow the traditional path. Instead of getting wedding rings to celebrate their union, they each bought vintage Omega Seamasters. These watches were elegant and versatile, but they couldn’t use them for all aspects of their daily lives. They were certainly no longer water-resistant, and their resistance to shock was more or less gone.
Before getting the Omegas, Lorenzo got his hands on a Seiko 5, which inspired his own interest in watchmaking, although he didn’t see himself as a watch collector back then and doesn’t now. Having a Seiko 5 became another piece of the puzzle that led him and Lauren to create Lorier and to design the types of watches for which they became known. Lauren’s experience with watches, by the way, continued in college when she bought a Skagen with a mother-of-pearl dial, which she felt was a watch appropriate for her age and the phase of life she was in at the time.
The closest they had gotten to their ideal watch (specifications of which would drive them to create the Neptune) was the Seiko SKX013. They each own one, and it is the watch they were wearing every day at the time they created the Neptune model. The Seiko SKX013 is known for its solidly built, reliable movement, its reasonable cost (even after they got discontinued), and its ease of service. The SKX013 was not, however, a truly versatile watch that could be used while dressed up as much as while dressed down.
Creating Lorier and the Neptune
Before creating Lorier, Lauren and Lorenzo were teachers. They started working on the idea of founding a watch company on their time off, making a list of the specifications that their ideal watch would have: reasonable proportions, sturdiness, and more importantly, versatility. They wanted a watch that could be worn daily and hold up with daily use while still looking both elegant and sporty. They couldn’t find a modern watch with these requirements for under $500, though.
Once they had decided to start a watch company, they took all the money they had saved up to make a down payment on a house to pay for the first batch of Neptunes. True, this might sound simple, but it truly wasn’t. They moved very fast from saying, “Let’s create our ideal watch” to “We’re ready to sell our first watch.” Their path is nothing like I’ve heard before, and it is quite fascinating. As far as I know from talking to other watchmakers, it takes about two years to go from an idea to a sellable product, but Lauren and Lorenzo did it in nine months.
Knowing what their ideal watch should be, they “simply” went on Google and began a long, frustrating, and surprisingly fulfilling process of figuring out everything they would need to know about watch manufacturing. They taught themselves to use Illustrator to create mock-ups; they instructed themselves about design and proportions; they searched for factories that could make their watch; and they looked for engineers who could help them. It took them one month to settle on a factory to produce the first prototype from the first day they started searching things online.
One thing that came across in all the conversations I’ve had with them is that they both know a lot about watches, from materials to proportions to historical watch models and the inspiration and people behind them. Hearing them talk about the choices they made—putting a plexiglass crystal instead of a sapphire one, for example—and the ways that they learned about how important one millimeter is in the overall dimensions of a watch is mind-blowing. Just like they knew they wanted to create a watch company and put all of their savings into it—an incredibly ballsy move—they were also extremely determined to create watches that embodied their horological philosophy, regardless of what people might think about them.
By July 2017, they had completed the drawings of the Neptune, sent the drawings to the factory, and paid for the first prototype, which they received in December 2017. Unfortunately, the factory couldn’t produce a diver with 200 meters of water resistance and a plexiglass crystal, so they had to look for another factory. They later realized that this was a blessing in disguise because they absolutely wanted to have a plexiglass crystal to get the rich vintage vibes of watches from 60 to 80 years ago. They continued to look until they found the right factory, with which they are still working to this day.
They got the second prototype in February 2018, which was much better and led them to place an order with the factory for the production models. They created a website, an Instagram account, and started taking pre-orders in March of the same year. Lorier is one of the few microbrands I know of that didn’t launch with a Kickstarter campaign. They were so sure of themselves that they invested every single penny of their savings to fund the first batch of Neptunes. In April 2018, they flew to Hong Kong to supervise quality control for the first mass order and put them up for sale on their website the next month.
By all measures, this is an incredible success story, and more importantly, a story of hard work, dedication, and patience equal to those of first underwater explorers and climbers of Mount Everest.
The Inspiration Behind the Collection
Their design philosophy is pretty straightforward. Lauren and Lorenzo create watches for themselves, or more specifically, for a different version of themselves. In their detailed blog posts, they explain which historical models or time period inspired them, helping us understand which version of themselves they design the watches for.
The Neptune, for example, was inspired by the first James Bond movies and Sean Connery’s Rolex Submariner reference 6538 (see picture below), as well as Robert Maloubier’s Fifthy Fathoms. The inspiration behind the Hydra model was Jacques Cousteau, the renowned French underwater explorer and diving pioneer. Their Falcon model was inspired by the exploits of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first people to climb to the top of Mount Everest.
These are some incredible people whose exploits were equally bold and whose success was uncertain, just like Lauren and Lorenzo’s gamble to put all of their savings to create a watch company without knowing all the things a watchmaker should know to get a good foot in the door. They made a bold move and put all of their inspiration and creativity into it. In other words, their watches are the direct result of who they are and who they have aspired to be.
Lauren and Lorenzo would still be teaching if they hadn’t started Lorier. Having modest budgets, they would also still be wearing their Seiko SKX013. How lucky we are, we watch enthusiasts and collectors, that they took such a dramatic leap of faith and created what has now become a staple in the microbrand watch world. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be affordable and well-built watches that embody the spirit of the greatest adventurers and explorers of times past, which may seem to be gone but lives on in each one of us.
The most remarkable thing about Lauren and Lorenzo’s inspiring success story is that they went about creating a watch company in a way that made sense to them. Having full-time jobs as teachers, they worked in the evenings and weekends to do the initial research and create the first drawings; they used all of their saved money to pay for the first production run of the Neptune; they flew to the factory in Hong Kong to supervise the quality control for the watches even before they had announced to their family that they had started a watch company. They trusted each other and themselves to get it done and do it well.
And now, three years after releasing the Neptune, Lauren and Lorenzo have released three more models, which leads me to believe that they have something special coming in 2022.