Minnesota isn’t exactly a place that comes to mind when you think of watches, but maybe it should be. After all, Sears got its start in Minneapolis as the R.W. Sears Pocket Watch Co. way back in 1886.
Leo Padron, 38, is doing his part to revive local watchmaking by handcrafting heritage timepieces. He’s even designed one that pays homage to Minnesota winters. Padron founded the Padron Watch Co. in 2011 after he discovered a passion for restoring vintage watches he found at estate sales and auctions.
“There’s a great maker spirit here,” Padron said. “If any place is going to be the renaissance of American manufacturing, Minneapolis is a great place to start.”
We recently chatted with Padron about his line of luxury watches, which are so stylish you’ll forget about standing in line next week for Apple’s new smartwatch.
How did Padron come about? “It began with a failed attempt to fix a watch that had belonged to my grandfather, who passed away many years ago. I tried again, read, bought better tools, read some more, tried again, and then one day the balance wheel began swinging and it was like watching life suddenly return to this thing that had been still for so long. From there, I was hooked.”
In the golden age of “smart” electronics, why traditional watches? “Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and surely the smartphone must be a pretty apt candidate for this. But say you put down your magic phone for a moment to glance at a treasured old watch you received from a passed loved one. It will last an incredibly long time if well-tended to. Centuries, even. I’ve restored quite a number of timepieces that predate world wars and the invention of flight. And as magical as our modern gadgets are, they are meant to be replaced. Meanwhile, a well-maintained mechanical watch will be ticking for your children, your grandchildren, and their children. That’s its own kind of magic.”
Describe the Padron aesthetic: “There are touches of the past that I look to, especially since I’ve restored so many vintage pieces it’s hard to escape that. There’s a little mid-century modern going on with some of my choices, notably the absence of lugs on any of my watches, which was a big 1960s thing. The rest of it is pretty much a love letter to the future, and by that, I mean that aspirational, jet age concept of what the future might be.”
With the release of the Apple watch and other smartwatches, are you worried traditional watches will fall to the wayside? “To a watch person, there’s no such thing as one watch. Many of my customers already owned a smartwatch and a few other watches before discovering mine. We live in a great big world and people like having choices.”
The caseback for “The Hennepin” watch is the Minneapolis Snow Emergency logo. What’s the story behind that? “I wanted to call out the special grit it takes to deal with a winter here. To me, the Snow Emergency route sign is something that should be the mascot for a good Minnesota winter. It’s a bitter cold day and you’re circling around in your car trying hard to find good parking so you can cut your walking time and you suddenly find a great wide open stretch of curb. And just as you’re about to celebrate your good luck there’s the sign with the snowplow in all its majestic indifference, telling you to get back in your car.”