Industry / Watches

Vortic Watch Says Its Swatch Legal Battle Is Finally Over


Vortic Watch Co. says its days in court defending itself in a trademark infringement and counterfeiting case are “officially and completely over,” as its legal wrangling with the Swatch Group will not move forward to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Vortic cofounder R.T. Custer confirms to JCK that the Swatch Group dropped the case and will not pursue any additional appeals to the Supreme Court. Custer says he had been waiting to see if the case would move forward, and now he feels free to pursue this work without a legal cloud hanging over Vortic.

“We defended our right to take a pocket watch and turn it into a wristwatch, no matter what brand is on the dial. We also defended the right to upcycle,” Custer says. “Our attorney says the case has already been cited by other lawsuits and will be a landmark case in the recycling and reuse industry for decades. I couldn’t feel more validated.”

Swatch Group through its public relations team confirmed that the company is not pursuing any further legal action. However, it did not have any further comment on the case or its outcome, Swatch Group said in a Jan. 3 email to JCK.

R.T. Custer cofounder of Vortic Watch
R.T. Custer, cofounder of Vortic Watch Co., stands victorious in front of the federal courthouse in New York City.

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.

Custer and Tyler Wolfe cofounded Vortic Watch Co. as students at Penn State University. The goal is to preserve American pocket watches as wristwatches—something that prevents these classics from being scrapped for their gold or silver cases, Custer says.

“I remember getting the cease and desist like it was yesterday. Over six years ago, in the summer of 2015, before we even shipped our first watch (launched in late 2014 on Kickstarter), the world’s largest watch company started suing us,” Custer says. “Fast-forward to February 19, 2020, one of the best days of my life. After years of fighting an unwinnable battle in ‘settlement discussions’ and BS email threads with Swatch/Hamilton execs and attorneys, we got our day in court.”

Custer says he remembers that day well, handing his own watch to the judge for her to consider. That watch was a Lancaster model Vortic containing a Hamilton Masterpiece 12s pocket watch movement manufactured in 1929.

“I told her the whole story of our small business. It was and is my life’s work,” Custer says. “Finally hearing now in December 2021 that Swatch dropped the case after losing in federal court and the court of appeals, and knowing we are not headed to the Supreme Court, is surreal. It’s over. We won.”

The court case ran up thousands of dollars in legal fees and took up hundreds of hours of the company’s resources, Custer says. But he feels excited about the future for Vortic, for Wolfe, and for himself.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my business partner, Tyler, and our team for keeping the lights on while I fought off this behemoth. If we can win against Swatch, we can do anything,” Custer says.

Custer celebrated this final moment through emails to customers as well as on social media. “Thank you to everyone who supported our David v. Goliath battle. We couldn’t have survived without the help of our customers. Hopefully, this 6-year long legal battle will be the last of its kind for us and we can simply do what we love…make watches,” Vortic said in a December email.

Top: Vortic Watch Co. says its top-selling Hamilton watch no longer faces any Swatch-related trademark or counterfeiting issues after the Swiss watch giant confirmed it is not going to take its legal battle to the U.S. Supreme Court (photos courtesy of Vortic).

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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