Ian Schon of the Pen Project Ventures into Watch Manufacturing
by Aaron Recksiek, CW21
By day Schon is a product designer and engineer for IDEO, an international 130+ million dollar design and consulting firm with clients from multi-billion dollar companies such as 3M, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Samsung, GE, Ford, and Toyota. At night Schon spends time at home with his manufacturing equipment, prototyping and perfecting the process for producing his own line of watches as Schon DSGN.
Schon has always had a knack for figuring out how things work and what he can do to make them better. He remembers being very particular about watches when he was growing up. It was always very important for him to have one around to tell the time. While attending Boston University for mechanical engineering, Schon ordered watches from eBay and took them apart just to see how they worked. He was interested in how complicated mechanical watches were and how many different ways there were to design and manufacture watch parts. Many design and engineering factors have to be overcome to create a reliable watch.
To understand the core principle behind Schon DSGN, you needn’t look any further than the Pen Project. After spending years manufacturing custom bicycle parts, Schon wanted to create an easy-to-use everyday item with a simple, yet reliable design that was entirely manufactured in the US. He turned to Kickstarter to help raise the funds to pay for the completion of his project and was able to raise over $60,000 in the process. The pre-orders surpassed the 1,000 pens made in his first production run. The first pens produced were housed in an aluminum body. Since creating the first run of pens, Schon has made pens in brass, bronze, and titanium. Working with titanium has a unique set of challenges and starts to cross the threshold into the high-end manufacturing sector. Many benefits came out of this early success in addition to the sale of the pens. Schon made contacts and became familiar with the local production-machining shops. The tolerances dealt with in the production-machining of pens was remarkably similar to those of watch cases.
In 2013, a major independent American-made brand hired Schon as the lead engineering contractor to help in the design and production process of their watches. Schon was, and currently is, in constant contact with the facilities manufacturing the components to assist in quality control and component integrity. This relationship helped Schon realize the possibility of creating his own watch.
Using equipment in his house, Schon created a prototype watch and fitted it with a quartz movement. He has been wearing the watch for over a year. After a consultation with Nicholas Trahadias at Precision Watch Works in Boston, Schon was directed toward different mechanical calibers that would be worth pursuing to use inside his watches. He experimented a little with the Unitas 6300, but eventually settled on the hand-wound Peseux 7040.
When finished, the first run of watches will be limited to 30 pieces, with everything but the mechanical movement made by him in house or locally in Massachusetts. A final price has not yet been determined, but it is estimated that the prices will range from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the model. Current plans are for cases made of stainless steel, titanium, and bronze. He expects to have them finished in the next year. Schon then would then like to take some of that money raised from the sale of these pieces and begin designing and engineering his own movement caliber parts.
Schon is very active on various social media platforms, and Schon DSGN currently has an online store where his manufactured items can be viewed and purchased. His pens are also available to be purchased at select Shinola product dealers.