A year after watch company Vortic Watch Co. won a lawsuit filed against it by Swatch Group, the Colorado-based brand is putting pen to paper and getting in front of the camera to tell its side of this David-versus-Goliath story.
Vortic, which is co-owned by R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe, is spilling everything in a weekly docuseries with its first chapters now available on YouTube, as well as writing a book telling the behind-the-scenes tale of how it survived the Hamilton v. Vortic lawsuit.
“It’s documenting all of the things I learned by building a watch company over the past 10 years and working through some of the most difficult conversations personally, professionally, and legally that I’ve ever had,” Custer says. “Hopefully, it inspires another generation.”
The six-year legal battle in a federal court was more than a trademark issue, Custer says. When Swatch Group went after Vortic for its use of the Hamilton pocket watch in its upcycling business, Vortic had to split its attention between starting a new business and hiring attorneys to help determine whether its use of vintage watch parts was legal.
“This is the next step,” Custer says. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of stories to tell. We know from the success of business podcasts that people love these stories and they want to know your personal experience alongside that of your company’s. People want to know who is making this stuff, not just what the product is.”
In 2015, the Swatch Group, a Swiss conglomerate that owns the U.S. brand Hamilton, filed a lawsuit accusing Fort Collins, Colo.–based Vortic of trademark infringement and counterfeiting. The case culminated in February 2020 with a bench trial in the Southern District of New York. A September 2020 ruling came down in favor of Vortic.
Swatch Group immediately appealed that judgment, Custer says. However, in September 2021, a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed the original ruling, and Vortic immediately started offering its Hamilton-branded watches again. By early 2022, Swatch Group confirmed it would not pursue the case further.
Custer says he hopes any person who is thinking of going into business for his or herself will read his story or watch the docuseries, “Upcycling the American Dream,” to get informed on what could happen if you cross swords your larger competitors.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. So many entrepreneurs and visionaries like me will go blindly into stuff,” Custer says. “I knew nothing about the law. I knew nothing about trademark law, specifically. I know a lot about it now because I got sued. These are things you don’t think about when you become an entrepreneur.”
Custer says he regularly receives emails and phone calls from people and legal experts asking about the lawsuit, and the docuseries is his first chance to tell his side and go into more detail. Custer says he will use the interviews from the Vortic docuseries to help him write a book about the case; he expects the book to come out this summer.
One detail most people don’t know about the case: how it started in the first place. The truth of the matter is Vortic received the gut-wrenching cease-and-desist letter before it even manufactured or shipped its first watch, Custer says.
“We had an ad in WatchTime magazine because we thought that is what we were supposed to do,” Custer says. “Swatch saw it and didn’t like it.”
Ultimately, Custer says he wanted to get his thoughts down about the case now that he has had some time to digest the company’s victory and before the pain of such a significant legal battle becomes too faint to recall.
“This will reveal a lot of the unknowns for people. All of the judges in this lawsuit called it an interesting case, and, trust me, you don’t want to be the defendant in an interesting case, because it’s also going to be very expensive,” Custer says.
Top: R.T. Custer and his team at Vortic are creating a docuseries and book around the Hamilton v. Vortic lawsuit in which Swatch Group sued the Colorado-based company for its use of the original pocket watch in its timepieces. (Photos courtesy of Vortic)@jckmagazine
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