Handmade watches and custom designs

Recently, I spent few hours each day wandering the streets of Hamilton’s City Centre and discovered dozens of funky and quirky hidden gems – bookstores, fashion boutiques, cafes, a knife shop, live music venues and even an acoustic guitar shop that was more like an art gallery. But, the quirkiest hidden gem was at 91 John Street S, a modest two-storey building with a fire engine red door with the only signage being a poster in the window. The poster said: Atelier Vsaint Orologi offering custom timepiece design and watch repairs. I am not sure what enticed me to go inside, but I am really glad I did.

Photo by Richard White

As I opened the door, a bell connected to the door by a string tinkled to announce my arrival – charming and very old school. The interior was sparse with an antique safe located in the middle of the room. It immediately captured my interest. The well-dressed man behind the counter said, “Hi! How can I help you?” I replied, “what can you tell me about the safe?” One thing quickly lead to another.

Turns out the building was built in the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. And the safe is the original safe now used for over 100 years to store watches in at night.

Vincent Cino then introduced himself as the building’s new watchmaker and shared his story. He became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There he became intrigued with what his cousin was doing at his watchmaker’s bench. Soon he was fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology (the science of watchmaking). Upon returning home to Hamilton, Vincent signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Fast forward 40 years. Today, Vincent is an expert at building hand-made custom watches. As he sources all materials for Vsaint timepieces from Switzerland, one could honestly say “there are Swiss watches made in Hamilton.” Each watch has Vincent’s unique logo on it – a “V” (for Vincent) next to the word saint, to create a wordplay Vincent/ Vsaint. Turns out that “saint” was also a nickname given to him by his friends as a young boy – he can’t remember why.

While today’s smartphones have almost made wristwatches obsolete, there has been a definite resurgence in the watch as a fashion statement for men and women. Today, BIG watches are all the rage. Historically, men’s watches have been between 35 and 37mm wide, but in the mid-2000s they have grown to be more commonly 45-48mm – and in some cases even wider.
Vincent customizes his watches based on his clients’ (both men and women) tastes so you can get the size, colour and design you want. But all are “automatic,” i.e. a mechanical watch that is wound by the motion of the wearer’s wrist, rather than by twisting the crown. The motion of the wrist moves a counterweight (called a rotor) that then powers the mainspring, which turns the watch’s gears.

Custom timepieces start at $1500 and go up from there depending on materials chosen. What makes Vsaint watches particularly cool is that you can see the inner workings, creating a very industrial, mechanical statement that is both strong and delicate at the same time. Exhibition backs (see-through) is an option to traditionally closed backs. After looking at a couple of watches, I quickly noticed they are exquisite works of art.

Photo by Richard White

Anyone can buy a Rolex or a Breitling, but if you want to make a unique timeless fashion statement consider a “made in Hamilton” Vsaint watch. I am currently selling my ten battery-powered watches to commission my Vsaint watch.

Vincent also fixes, cleans and replaces watch batteries. So, the next time you need a new battery or have a watch that needs cleaning or repair, head to Atelier Vsaint for a walk back in time.