Manual Drive: Andrew and Astor & Banks
Watch junkies get their fix in all sorts of ways. For some, the aesthetics of a fine timepiece compel them to master the art of photography. To others, the history and collectibility of a brand or model serve as inspiration to write about watches. But what can a horophile do if he or she is really into the mechanics of wristwatches? Taking apart your Rolex - and putting it back together - isn't quite as easy as snapping a picture. The art of watchmaking demands technical prowess and dexterity, typically honed in a formal training program. And therein lies the issue for most watch enthusiasts… Even if they have the passion and innate abilities to become a watchmaker, in all likelihood they don't have the time or the lifestyle conducive to taking up the trade.
That could easily be Andrew’s story. He’ll tell you, "I'm married, I have a baby… you have to go [to watchmaking school] for two years straight, and I don't have that option.” But with Andrew, if there’s a will, there’s a way. And he found such a way to pursue his curiosity about watch movements - and assembly - all while keeping his day job, and never enrolling in a formal horology curriculum. What’s even more impressive, is Andrew founded his own watch company back in 2012, Chicago-based Astor & Banks, with the initial goal to "design a watch, get the pieces made, and assemble it [himself]."
Before I go any further, Andrew would want me to stop and announce his disclaimer: “I’m not a watchmaker, nor do I ever portray myself to be [a watchmaker], nor will I ever, unless I actually apprentice with somebody or get certified…”
One of the reasons Andrew decided to take on the daunting task of assembling a watch was the sheer challenge it presented. His approach to this undertaking was to treat it as an “intriguing” and “fun” project, rather than a business, which allowed him to teach himself - at his own speed - how to correctly build a good, solid wristwatch. Along the way he befriended a few certified watchmakers, who were kind enough to take him under their wing. Andrew remembers the first time he finished a prototype and showed it off to a watchmaker. “To me the watch was working, it told time, kept time, I thought 'awesome,' this is pretty easy. [The watchmaker] took my watch and looked at it and said 'Well what did you do here? Did you file the stem down to a point? Did you regulate it? How did you put the hands on? …’" Hearing the watchmaker's feedback was a harsh reality that he had a ways to go before he could unveil his collection and confidently sell to the public...
Andrew spent over a year perfecting his craft, including learning the ins and outs of one movement - the ETA 6497 - which he still uses to this day in Astor & Banks' flagship models, the AB1405 and the AB Clasico. Andrew has become extremely adept at working with the ETA 6497 movement and assembling his manual wind watches. They take him about three to four hours to put together and are then put through six days of quality control testing before being presented to the new owner.
Besides Andrew assembling your watch, the other unique aspect of Astor & Banks’ business model is that the AB1405 and AB Clasico are semi-customizable - you consult directly with Andrew about the design of your watch-to-be. You choose the dial, hands, case, crown, and strap. Once you finalize your decision, Andrew gets to work. The first step he does is to make a few adjustments and apply finishing touches to the movement, such as regulating it for precise timekeeping and lasering the Astor & Banks logo onto the ratchet wheel. Once the movement is fine-tuned and decorated, Andrew installs the dial and hands, sizes and cuts the stem, seals the case, and attaches the crown. Trust me, this is a lot easier said than done...
Most watch wearers can tell you where their watch was made, but they can’t tell you who made their watch - unless they own a Simplicity by Philippe Dufour. When people find out Andrew’s role at Astor & Banks, they invariably turn to him and say, "What? You're doing the watches?" His approach gives new meaning to being hands on and adds a new dimension to the story someone can tell about their watch.
What started out as simply a way for him to get more involved in the hobby of watch collecting, has evolved into a full-fledged business: Astor & Banks has done well over the years, including expanding their collection to include a quartz Chrono, which is also assembled by Andrew.
What does the future hold for Andrew and Astor & Banks? According to Andrew, he plans to “keep doing watches... right now I can’t do it full time... eventually, if I can make this a full time thing, that would be great. [For now] if I can continue to at least do this, it’s keeping me happy, it’s keeping me doing what I love to do, and [keeping] me learning…”