Becoming a watchmaker (the person who creates the watch and the brand, not the one who fabricates them) is a process both common and unique for each person who chooses that profession.
Every person starts with one watch and learns about horology from it, whether it be a $20 quartz watch or a $10,000 Swiss luxury brand. The unique elements are the background, professional experience, and personal preferences that give birth to a key, particular mindset that forms the outline of the first model in their imagination. Whether the watchmaker had a watch as a child or bought one when entering the workforce, the journey to watchmaking begins when a watch gets strapped on their hand years before founding the company and designing the first model.
In this article, we will look at how Todd Adams, founder of Seaholm, began his journey in horology and how some of his early encounters with watches, as well as his previous career working for an outdoor equipment company, impacted his personal tastes in horology and his particular approach to watchmaking.
A Late Start
Todd came late to the game of horology and Swiss luxury watches. He was wearing Timex and digital watches until his mid 30s for all of his outdoor and athletic activities. Although he didn’t give watches too much thought in the beginning, they were always part of his daily life, a necessary accessory to his activities. His perception of watches, however, changed in his late 30s when he got married and had his first child. He began to see watches as heirlooms he could pass on to the next generation, and he was no longer satisfied with watches that were cheaper than a replacement battery.
Todd’s watch purchasing budget consequently expanded in order to buy timepieces with a bit more flair and personality. He bought a vintage Seiko diver on eBay, the first watch he felt comfortable taking fly fishing, or playing with his kids outdoors. For the first time, he had a watch that he could bang up or get wet without worrying about it. This Seiko was also his first automatic watch, a new experience for him at the time. Todd quickly started educating himself about automatic watches, and particularly about Seiko, and his interest in horology became almost unstoppable from that point on.
Fifteen years ago, shortly after getting the Seiko, he started buying more watches and eventually started modding them. At a time when the watch modding scene was barely in its infancy, Todd taught himself about watchmaking by swapping hands and dials, and upgrading the crystal. He started becoming familiar with watch parts and the particular functions of each one, and he learned how to improve the legibility of the watch and make it more durable. The time he spent working on the Seikos would have a long-lasting impact on Todd and eventually result in the creation of Seaholm.
The Birth of an Ideology
Before launching the Seaholm company, Todd spent many years working for Yeti, the pioneering creators of a brand of durable and reliable outdoor coolers. The company and its clientele were heavily geared to outdoor life and to getting equipment that can withstand all climates and conditions. Over time, Todd began to see that the watches he was wearing everyday should not only be objects that tell time, they should be able to tell time regardless of what he was doing and where he was, as well as be as durable and reliable as quality outdoor gear.
When his knowledge of horology had taken him from disposable digital watches to quality automatic watches, he saw that brands such as Rolex and Tag (Heuer) offered products that could be passed on from generation to generation. They also produced tool watches with an intended purpose, whether it be commercial diving (Submariner), running scientific experiments (Milgauss), or keeping track of two time zones while flying internationally (GMT Master). All of these watches were well made with a specific purpose in mind.
Todd saw two problems with the Swiss luxury brands, though. First, they were expensive to buy and to service, putting them out of reach for most people. Second, they had become a collector’s watch, not an everyday watch. Todd had been looking for a high-quality everyday watch since he first laid his hands on the Seiko automatics because he actually used them to keep track of time each day. He has always had a watch with him, ready to fulfill its function with clarity and without technical faults.
His idea of the ideal watch soon became clear. It had to be useful and durable and reasonably priced. More importantly, it had to be worthy of being passed down as an heirloom that is at its best when it shows the signs of time and wear with elegance, adding emotional value to the watch rather than mere monetary value. He wanted a well-made tool watch that he could wear everyday without concern for scratches or the loss of value. Now that he knew what he was looking for, it was time to make it a reality.
Over the course of two years (2014–2015), Todd and his cofounders started the time-consuming process of raising funds to create the company that officially launched in 2018. His plan was ambitious. He wanted to have the watches built in Switzerland, a seal of haute horology and quality since the 1500s, and release an entire collection. Getting watches manufactured in Switzerland, however, required a certain amount of investment and planning.
First, he had to find a design studio that would have the kind outside-the-box attitude required to design the watches, and then he had to find a place to get his watches manufactured. What set Todd apart from other watchmakers I have spoken to is that he was first and foremost concerned about the functionality of the watch rather than its design. This means the functionality and purpose that the very first proper Swiss tool watches were made of: a rotating dive-time bezel such as that on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or a screw-down crown like the one that the Rolex Submariner has.
This selection process and the need to clearly state what the watch should be able to do enabled Todd to crystallize the brand’s philosophy into three core tenets: water resistance up to 200 meters (all of their watches are ISO 6425 certified), shock resistance, and resistance to magnetism. Meeting these three criteria meant that all Seaholm watches would be able to fulfill their intended function of telling time without mechanical failure, regardless of the environment they were put in. For years, after all, Todd had been looking for a watch that could withstand the wear and tear associated with both the daily lives of ordinary people and the beatings that adventurers, explorers, and sportsmen commonly incur in their activities.
Todd did not set out to create a watch that had particular dimensions, a particular style, or particular design cues using design aspects borrowed from previous iconic models. Instead, his approach was to create a solid watch with a design that would support the watch’s function. That’s what brought him to work with a Swiss design studio that could think outside the box and adapt their design ideas to the distinct functionalities of the watch. His different approach to the watch industry meant he needed to work with people who were different. Not coincidentally, the designers he began working with also have a passion for the outdoors.
When Todd went to Switzerland to find a factory to make his watches, he was first presented with off-the-shelf solutions. The way he explained that to me—and the way I understand it based on other stories I’ve heard—is that there are many factories in Switzerland and elsewhere in the world that can make watches out of a catalogue of popular designs and parts and combine them together with a special twist at the client’s request. That explains why there are so many microbrand watches that have similar cases, hands, and bracelets, and even the exact same clasps and movements. That was not what Todd was looking for.
Creating the Collection
Seaholm is unlike other microbrands that release one model at a time and generally fund their first one on Kickstarter. Seaholm actually released three models at the same time in order to cover the entire range of iconic sports watches all at once: a field watch (the Rover), a dive watch (the Offshore), and a chronograph (the Flats), each one coming in multiple color options. I have never heard of a microbrand that started with such a bang in the watch industry, and it left me in awe of what Todd has accomplished, even more so after I first laid my eyes on the white dial Rover.
When Todd put together a visual representation of the elements that would constitute his watches in order to have something to show to the designers and watch manufacturers, his first drawings and mock-ups used cut-outs from magazines. Three long years went by, during which the designers would make a proposal, Todd would provide his feedback, and they would adjust the mock-ups and later prototypes, fine-tuning each detail of each model.
It was clear early on that there would be certain design elements that would not make the cut. For example, they did not give the sought-after diamond-cut hands much attention because they didn’t want the hands to be less legible if light would reflect off of them. They designed the Arabic numerals and hour markers “sans appliqué” because, once again, they wanted to remove unnecessary light reflection. As Todd put it, he didn’t want his watches to have the appearance of being high-quality: he wanted it to actually be high-quality.
Let’s pause briefly to emphasize that last point. I’m guilty of associating shiny, reflective surfaces with quality watchmaking. I’m often drawn to diamond-cut hands, surrounds on hour markers, and applied indices because all of these elements make a watch appear to be better-made and therefore of higher quality. Seaholm, on the other hand, makes quality watches without advertising it, and more importantly, by embedding the quality craftsmanship and sturdiness in the DNA of each timepiece. The quality is understated, and that’s commendable.
As mentioned above, Todd and the designers spent three years designing and prototyping the watches. They made six final drawings for the Rover, the very first watch, each variation showing the Arabic numerals a little thinner or a little thicker, a quest to perfect the size to make these elements work with the overall design of the dial while maintaining its functionality. Although, for instance, watch collectors prefer a 20mm lug width on their watches, Seaholm had a 21mm lug width because that’s what the case design called for, a similar tip of the hat to need for functionality over look.
One comment many Seaholm watch owners share with Todd is that they barely notice or feethe 41mm stainless steel watches due to its ergonomic case shape. This is important because Seaholm watches are by no measure small watches, but they wear well even on smaller wrists because they have a compact case design. I myself usually wear 36mm–39mm watches and feel comfortable wearing a Seaholm.
Todd and his team went one step further to make the watch shock-resistant. He wanted his watches to be able to withstand a drop of several feet without incurring any deviation. They knew that in order to meet this stringent requirement, they had to develop their own antishock system, so they teamed up with mechanical engineers to invent shock-absorbent mounts for the movements using Japanese materials to protect the calibers inside. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a testing facility in Switzerland that could put his watches through such a rough testing regimen, so he found a company back home in the United States to do it for him.
If you have an opportunity to hold a Seaholm watch in your hands, you will feel the quality without necessarily seeing it. All of the time and attention that Todd, the designers, and the engineers put into each aspect of the watch is palpable when using a Seaholm. You will quickly become comfortable doing any and all sorts of activities with it and not feel like you have to worry whether you will get water inside the movements or dust on the dial. Your watch will keep ticking accurately under water or after having been knocked against a door frame (a common occurrence for many watch collectors).
Whether you like the design of Seaholm watches or not, Todd has made the kind of watch that makes sense for both everyday life and hiking Mount Everest. He has made watches that suited his lifestyle and the lifestyle of those who need a reliable timekeeping device. If you look at Seaholm’s website and Instagram feed, you will quickly realize what I’m talking about. The people who wear Seaholm watches probably spend more time outdoors than most watch collectors. Just as professional and commercial divers were the first to wear Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms or Rolex Submariner before they became status symbols, those who wear Todd’s watches are like Todd: adventurers in need of good gear.
Seaholm’s approach to watchmaking is unconventional, as attested by the fact that they started the company with a collection of three models and not just one, worked with designers and mechanical engineers to create a watch that looks good and works well despite the fact that they had strict and nonnegotiable requirements, and developed their own shock resistance technology and testing processes.
There’s one more aspect, though, of Seaholm’s unconventional approach that we have not yet touched upon: its marketing approach.
Perhaps “lack of marketing” captures their approach better. Just like Rolex, Omega, and other prominent brands used to make watches with a purpose for professionals of a number of respective fields—diving, exploration, research—Seaholm doesn’t make watches for watch collectors but for those whose profession or hobbies call for legible and solid watches. Their goal, first and foremost, is to make watches that people need and use, not watches people collect. Seaholm’s reputation has been slowly building by word of mouth and not through intense marketing campaigns like we see happen all too often.
Each watchmaker has a unique way of transforming an idea into an actual watch, based on their personal and professional backgrounds, design acumen, business sense, and horological inclinations. What is fascinating to me is that the way the watches look and operate is entirely based on personality, both that of the founder of the company and the designers and engineers he works with. Just like each human brain and mind is unique, the watchmaker stories are unique.