Q & A With Lauren and Lorenzo Ortega Of Lorier Watches

Since the release of the first-generation Neptune, your brand has produced some of the most desirable, but hard to get pieces in the industry. What has changed for you guys from the conception of the brand, to being one of the most known unknowns in the community?

Not much has changed, really. We were fortunate enough to have success relatively early on, so our struggle is still trying to deal with demand while trying to expand our catalogue to where we want it to be. We actually don’t like that a Lorier is hard to get. We’d much rather they be as readily available as the old SKX’s were, so people can go out and use theirs with less hesitation and more daring (at least in theory).

Our mission is still the same, that is to say: to spread the joy of mechanical watches. There’s a romance to it that you don’t get with most other things, even if it’s something you’ve had and used everyday. You wouldn’t pass down your Apple watch, for example.

One thing we did learn these past few years is that growth is really difficult. Our standards are pretty exacting and we really don’t like to compromise. We feel like that’s been part of our success, but on the flipside that makes it really challenging to ramp up production quickly. We get a lot of emails from frustrated people who just want to buy a watch, and we really wish we had one for them, but the reality is there’s only so much we can produce in a given amount of time and still have the same level of quality. We feel like ultimately the best thing to do is set our standards, have a good collection and a strong foundation before we expand.

I saw one of the few available interviews with you guys about a year ago and I was amazed that you guys started out in watches so humbly. I fully expected the first watches to be a Rolex or an Omega, but Lorenzo your watch was a Seiko 5. How much does that first watch, coupled with what it represents to you and the greater watch collecting community, play in how Lorier is priced and marketed?

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That’s a great question! I’ve already forgotten what I’ve said in the interview, but that watch was on my wrist from my 15th birthday up until before grad school. It’s sort of informed my philosophy as a watch-wearer. I think it should be an anti-status symbol—not worn to impress—

but rather to express one’s own personal style and character while still being a useful tool. I’d go so far as to say that the fancier the watch, the greater the danger of it losing meaning and substance.

That’s not so much about marketing and branding. It’s just about who we are and what we like. We don’t believe in having things to show off (that become too precious to actually use), but at the same time we still want something that adds a sense of artful panache to daily life. A Seiko 5 is a great introduction to that ethos.

Interestingly enough, that humble Seiko got me into watches but not into collecting. It still bothers me to not spend time with a watch. The first time I bought one for myself was when I was about to graduate from college 10 years ago, because I wanted something that looked a little more serious. I got one, didn’t end up liking it and sold it. I actually met the buyer in person, and he asked me if I collected. My first thought was “why would I do that?”

I realize that’s a little strange to say as a brand owner, but I just like the idea of having just one watch you take everywhere with you. So really, it’s just been a personal quest to get a watch that fulfills the marketing promises of brands like Rolex and Omega from 60-ish years ago: solid, reliable, classically styled, and accessibly priced. It’s astonishing to think that back then you could get them from these really unpretentious places like military post exchanges (and a lot of people did). A brand new Rolex Daytona cost $212 in 1967, which is about $1650 today. That’s still a lot of money, and they were still luxury items, but not incredibly exclusive like they are now. Plus, consider how much more we have to pay nowadays for housing and education (and healthcare, for Americans), compared to before.

It’s sort of an impossible dream, so we just did the crazy thing and started our own brand.

Watching your journey, I’ve seen the challenges presented with deadlines and pre-orders and trying to be transparent while maintaining your brand’s integrity. Of these, can you each tell me which has been the most rewarding of the challenges the brand has faced?

For one, there’s the learning from experience, and as former teachers we’d like to believe that’s its own reward, haha! We’re basically not doing pre-orders anymore, for example. Business-wise, it might not make the most sense, but we’d rather eat the cost and produce as much as we can upfront. For customers, the result is basically the same as a pre-order without us holding on to their money for months at a time. So it’s nice when customers reach out and tell us that they appreciate that we do things the way we do.

The vast majority of our owners and audience have been extremely supportive and understanding of our journey. We were prepared to deal with a lot of rudeness because we know how dehumanizing the internet can be. But most people treat us and talk to us like real people, something which we are continually amazed by and grateful for. Along the way we’ve managed to meet and connect with some really cool folks, too. This could change as our exposure grows, but right now it seems that people realize how personal this is for us and respond in kind.

Another really rewarding thing is when people “get it.” There are some things about watches we’re really passionate about, but it’s something that has to be seen in person and/or something that we can’t explain ourselves without it coming off as branding/marketing. Even though we always speak as people rather than as a brand, it’s just a natural consequence of how we’ve been conditioned as consumers (unfortunate, but totally understandable).

It’s definitely been an uphill battle. Somehow we always find ourselves defending the virtues of an old-school plastic crystal. A lot of people scoff at anything other than sapphire, but there’s a certain magic to plexi that makes us wish everything still came with it (how cool would it have been to have had Hesalite on the FOIS Speedmaster?). It’s a design thing, too: plexi allows for the crystal to be shaped so that it arcs over the hands without looking glassy and reflective, like a bubble. It’s not apparent in 2D, but handle a vintage Submariner—preferably one with a superdome—and its modern sapphire equivalent, and the difference is clear. It’s why plexi is referred to as having a warm glow (as opposed to sapphire’s cold glare).

 

Same idea with ceramic bezel inserts, scratchproof coatings, open/display backs, etc: all these things look and sound great on the spec sheet, but we feel like they can actually detract from a watch’s utilitarian soul. It crosses a bit too much into the realm of a watch as wrist ornament. Jason Heaton from Hodinkee has this great line: to paraphrase, people really just like watches because of how they look and how they make us feel, but that sounds a little too superficial and simplistic to admit, so we use specs to rationalize the irrationality. In terms of feel, you can’t really get that “came out of a time machine” aura with modern materials, because they’re made for different, dare we say more exhibitionist purposes. It’s not something that people can really grasp via a screen, and it doesn’t help that vintage pieces are just really inaccessible right now.

So it’s really great when owners discover what vintage watches are all about, without having to pay vintage prices or needing to baby their watches. The best was when a customer emailed us saying our watches reminded him of his dad, a retired stuntman, who once jumped out of a helicopter wearing his Rolex GMT-Master. That kind of thing is unheard of today, so to see that, and having our owners do stuff like that with a Lorier, it really warms our hearts.

Side note: our warranty doesn’t cover jumping out of helicopters, but neither does Rolex, and if something unfortunate does happen, the repair bill from us won’t be anywhere as bad!

I’d like to chat a bit about the Gemini, Lorier’s two-register chronograph. Lauren, would you please give us an idea of what it took to bring it to life and what you truly wanted your chronograph to represent for the brand?

The Gemini is a good example of the tight rope we have to walk, balancing our love for mechanical watches with the reality of expensive, complicated movements. This model was a huge gamble and really was a passion project above all else. Mechanical chronographs are notoriously temperamental and expensive, and mecaquartz provides a great alternative that addresses those two issues, but ultimately it’s a compromise. We’re just stubborn romantics, for better or worse. And budget wise, we couldn’t make a chronograph for under $1000 if we didn’t use the ST19.

Seiko and Swiss chronograph movements are many times more expensive, and we have to also take into consideration how much an owner might face when needing repair or service. The cost is extremely prohibitive. Now this means a lot more work and precaution on our end, making sure the QC is intensive and we have a service center that is knowledgeable about the movement. So, the Gemini really fulfills our mission of creating the kind of romantic, mechanical watch that we’ve always dreamed of having, without the huge barrier to entry.

As I began to collect, I wanted to learn and share what I learned. Writing about and reviewing watches made me want to take better pictures of them, which turned into studying photography. I’ve looked at my YouTube suggestions recently and been amazed at the amount of watch and picture taking content I’m offered. Individually, has building the Lorier brand allowed the discovery of other hobbies you may not have discovered otherwise? What do you guys do away from the design table to decompress?

Funnily enough, Lorenzo jumped right into photography as well. It can be fun, and a bit of an obsessive going-down-the-rabbit-hole quest like any hobby would be, but it’s hard to use it for relaxation because we came to it from the necessity of keeping costs down. We always have to think about the fact that most people don’t have an opportunity to see our watches in the metal before buying. So there’s a bit of pressure there and it’s not really an escape.

Before NYC was locked down due to COVID-19, Lorenzo would decompress with Muay Thai (shoutout to Coban’s Gym). It’s something he’s been doing for a long time, so for him, it’s a relaxing headspace and pretty much the only thing that really gets his mind off work. Admittedly, it helps to hit stuff. Now that gyms are closed, we’ll have to get creative. Lauren has an at-home yoga practice that is really coming in handy during the quarantine. Another useful diversion is cooking and baking new things—we’re big fans of Alison Roman and Samin Nosrat.

Otherwise, we try to find times in the day where we’re just present. No screens, no business-talk (it’s a challenge, but we’re making an effort). We’re lucky to live next to several lovely parks, and we really value the ability to go for walks together and clear our heads (keeping proper distance from others, of course). It can also be as simple as taking time to eat a nice dinner together, or putting on a record and listening to it all the way through. It’s these small acts of self-preservation we all have to do. We also have 3 cats with very distinct and charming personalities, and that’s always a joy.

The next thing (which is always asked when something new debuts, lol) would be for watch enthusiasts to ask for you to design and release a GMT. When I bought my first, I saw that the majority of those available in the price range you guys operate did not have a bi-directional 24-hour bezel. Even if that is not a feature you use to separate yours from everyone else, can you share what you guys have seen in GMT designs from the present and past that you would like to put your distinct touch to? Is that even the next piece you guys want to introduce to your lineup?

This is spoiling it a little bit, but we love “pepsi” bezels. They look sharp, and they’re functional, which is perfect for who we are. The tricolore is such a classic combination, and we can’t really think of a better combination of good looks and practicality for displaying daylight vs. evening/night hours. Having the bidirectional bezel is also a good way to compensate for there being no “true” GMT movements available for smaller brands like us. Ironically enough, the movements used in the Rolex ref. 6542 (the original GMT watch) were not “true” GMTs, thus the invention of the bezel to go with it.

In terms of design, we never believed in being different just for the sake of being different, and we’d rather distinguish ourselves in the execution. To use an analogy: some would say making the perfect navy blazer is boring and unoriginal, but it’s also undoubtedly classic and endlessly versatile. And the world could always use more well-dressed people!

That said, we’re going to play with the insert material a little bit, but we’ll stop there before we make any promises we can’t keep!

I really want to thank you both for your time and candor. My belief is that the more people can understand what it takes to produce a watch they love they will have a greater appreciation for it – adding to the history and story of the brand. Of the watches currently in your lineup, individually, which is your current go to and why? What is it about a piece made by a different brand that got it to find its way on your wrist recently as a daily?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! We’ve really enjoyed getting to open up and share our experience.

To answer your question: the only watches we have outside of our own line are our Seikos and vintage Omegas (nothing fancy, just the standard Seamaster dress watches you could get for about $250 a decade ago). We got them because they were pretty much the perfect representations of their archetypes: rugged diver (Seiko) and midcentury dress watch (Omega). We’ve since used Loriers for our adventures, but we’ll still wear the Omegas to weddings (we got them to celebrate our own) or other special occasions.

But most days we wear our own line. It’s not that we don’t like things from other brands; actually there’s a lot we absolutely love out there. There are too many that are doing great work to name, micro or otherwise. But the thing is, we can design and produce exactly what we want, plus we’re suckers for the idea of making experiences and memories from wearing the same watch all the time. That said, there is a little bit of guilt involved because we’ll spend time with a prototype and then have to move on to another, though it’s also a nice representation of how we evolve as people.

Lorenzo’s new daily is the black Gemini (after almost two years with the Series II Neptune prototype on his wrist). It’s got that classic style while still having a bit of flair and daring to its design. Lauren’s also started wearing the Gemini as her daily since it came out, though it’s a prototype for a colorway we can’t talk about just yet. Ultimately, we feel like a watch finds its way to our wrists because it makes us feel like a cooler version of ourselves. It’s a little silly to admit, but it’s true!

Find out more at www.lorierwatches.com