The Making of a Watch: The Sycamore Collection

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When DC Vintage Watch’s Nick Ferrell announced he was launching a watch line, I took notice. Ferrell has made a name as one of the foremost Seiko dealers around, and the first pics he released of the Sycamore line were gorgeous—the Wolf and the Hunter, a matte black GMT and a matte black dress watch, respectively, both with Hindu-Arabic numeral dials that seemed to anticipate the Hindu-Arabic dial craze the watch world has entered. Ferrell’s watch cred and the success of his design are reason enough to be interested in the Sycamore line, but there’s something more about it that fascinated me. With the Wolf and the Hunter, Ferrell has gotten to live the watch enthusiast’s dream: he had an idea for a watch and he actually got to make it.

“Some of it was not seeing out there what I wanted myself,” Ferrell recalled in an interview. “And another thing was, there’s that black PVD [Seiko] 6139, it’s kind of like an oval, it’s the 6139-8010 and I took the dial off and I put the 6139 military dial with the Arabic numbers on it. Playing around with this, and I was like, ‘I really like this.’”

A Seiko 6139-8010 which served as inspiration for the Sycamore Collection

That was about nine months ago—a fitting length of time between the conception of an idea and its birth. Since then, Ferrell has taken that inspiration and produced watches that, while they contain some of the DNA of that initial Seiko mod, are wholly unique pieces. 

With Ferrell, that meant starting with a case.

“​​Because from that you’re going to decide what type of movement you’re going to put in, what are your dial options, bezel, etc., all that fun stuff,” said Ferrell. “You don’t look at price points just yet. You’re looking at suppliers, you’re looking at, okay, here’s the cases that are out in the market. Do I want to do anything super custom right off the bat, because super customs are going to mean it’s usually super expensive.”

Ferrell wanted to produce one watch inspired by Seiko military watches and one dress watch in the vein of the Rolex ref. 6694. Working with a casemaker that Ferrell knew through his previous work in the watch industry, he found case styles that fit with his vision. 

A look inspired by military Seikos, with the proportions of a classic Oysterdate

“So you’re looking initially at the case and how much real estate you’re dealing with,” said Ferrell. “These are 28.5 millimeters, I believe. So you’re dealing with mock ups. How does it all work together? And you’re looking at the design you’re trying to fit the stuff on.”

The design for the dials is original to Ferrell, who struggled to find a dial maker who could produce what he wanted.

“I had to go through a few people actually,” said Ferrell. I was like, ‘can you do this?’ Some said, ‘no.’”

In designing the watches, Ferrell added subtle touches that make the watch deeply personal, the most significant of which has to be the name of one of the watches, the Wolf, which Ferrell named after his longtime furry companion that he adopted off the streets of Cairo.

The “Wolf” is a GMT named after a much loved German Shepherd

“I had that dog for 13 years, which is a long time for a German Shepherd,” said Ferrell. “Wolf was my companion everywhere. I would go visit relatives in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he would come with me, we would go camping together, we did everything together. And I’ve had dogs all my life, but he was probably the closest I’ve ever been with a dog.”

After Wolf’s passing, Ferrell’s family wound up rescuing another German Shepard, who, coincidentally, had already been given the name Wolf by a prior owner. That Wolf sadly passed at Christmastime, giving the Sycamore Wolf, which was released only a week later, a special meaning to Ferrell as a tribute to two loyal companions.

The rest of the design commemorates other parts of Ferrell’s life, like the Hindu-Arabic dials, a reference to his time working on Middle Eastern affairs in the State Department. The font is another subtle nod to that time in Ferrell’s life: the words “Sycamore” and “GMT” are printed in the same font used in State Department cables.

Even once Ferrell found a dial maker who was able to produce his design, it wasn’t straightforward.

“I mean, I know the first dial we got was 29mm. So it would not fit. Again, you talk about these stupid small problems: That delayed us a solid two or three weeks. They sent a 28.5mm dial—it got lost in the mail,’ said Ferrell.

Fitting for someone who has become so associated with Seiko, Ferrell went with Seiko movements to power his watches. 

“It’s like the workhorse of the automatic watches everywhere,” said Ferrell.

He went with the NH34A GMT and the NH36A movements, and worked with one of the watchmakers DC Vintage Watches turns to for repairs to put the pieces together. Ferrell’s watchmaking process wound up being similar to how most brands went about building their watches: until going in-house with their various components, brands like Rolex relied on third-party vendors to build cases, dials, and movements, and then pieced them all together at the end.

“One of my best watchmakers, his son is apprenticing for him and is the one who put them together,” said Ferrell. “He’s so passionate about taking on his dad’s livelihood. It’s really great to see the younger generation taking an interest in watchmaking.”

The watchmakers also put the watches through various tests for durability and water resistance—both the Hunter (priced at $699.99) and the Wolf ($799.99) are water resistant to 200 feet—and Ferrell wore a prototype of each model for a month to see how they would fare on the wrist.

“I wanted to give it a test run,” said Ferrell, “to make sure that it’s holding up because some of these problems, you’re not going to see if you’re just working on once or twice a month.”

And they held up. The watches became available for purchase at the start of the new year, a turnaround of under a year for two new watches to be created—impressive considering all the complications, seen and unforeseen, that arise in putting together a project of this nature. But who better to handle complications than a watch enthusiast? Sycamore

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Alec is a writer and editor based out of Washington, DC, currently working as a congressional reporter. His love for wristwatches started at age 10 when he received a Timex Expedition as a birthday present. A film buff and tennis fan, Cary Grant and Roger Federer played influential roles in continuing to develop his interest and taste in watches.