Making It: Showstopping Watches Handmade By Alex Draven In Akron
Maker: Alexander Draven, owner
Business: The ExCB (The Exquisite Corpse Boutique), one-of-a-kind handmade timepieces
How and why did you decide to start designing and making watches?
I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing and Studio Arts from the University of Akron. And I got into watches because I couldn't find one that I liked. So I was like, ‘Fine, I'll make my own.’ So I did. I was wearing it out, showing it off and everybody was like, ‘Where can I get one of those?’ And I said, ‘I made it.’ My first watch was the Crescent Watch and that was, I want to say, 2006-2007. It wasn't until about 2009 that I started making watch pieces as production as opposed to custom, one-of-a-kind pieces for individuals.
Draven's first design was for his Crescent Watch, circa 2006. [Facebook / The ExCB]
So handcrafting watches wasn’t necessarily in your plan to begin with, but you’ve always been interested in the arts?
Well, I always wanted to be an artist. My mom knew that I was going to be an artist, so she helped nurture that. Always had me in art classes. And as a kid, you think art is clay or paint. It wasn't until college that I even considered metalsmithing. Towards the end, I was like, ‘Oh, I need to figure out what I'm going to do with my life.’ And so I decided to start a jewelry company, create my own designs, do it all by hand.
Draven with his mom, Judy, and sister, Amanda. [Alex Draven]
Do you remember your first sale, and what it was like selling a piece of your art to a customer?
There's still a lot of imposter syndrome that I feel, which is, ‘Why do they want my pieces?’ I still feel a little bit of that and nervous because I want them to love it. I am making it because I love it, not because I want to make money, not because I want to sell it. I want to make it because I need to. That's my therapy. My very first piece, I was so nervous. I wasn't educated in watchmaking. I was all self-taught, and watch collectors are very particular, so there is a lot of stress there and there still is, because there's some people that like a unique piece, others like the name and status, and they all look alike. I want showstoppers. I want you to be stopped in the street and asked, ‘Tell me about that watch.’ There's no point of making something that looks like every other. So I make it weird.
At work in his studio. Draven spends about 250 hours to complete a line of 20 watches. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
Describe your design process. Where do you find inspiration?
Most pieces I see completed in my head. I don't know what causes that spark. It might have been a little detail in a painting. It might have been a motorcycle. Whenever that flash happens, then I see a piece in my head and can sketch it out. I can actually draft it to all the specifications that I would need to build it. Other times, I don't know what I'm doing, I have a vague, foggy idea of a thought, and it kind of grows organically. So I'll just kind of wing it. And it all starts off as just sheets of metal, typically copper, brass, nickel, sometimes silver.
Draven intricately sketches out ideas and designs to determine materials and measurements. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
What gives you motivation on the difficult days?
When I first started doing shows, I'd sit out on the curb at the end of the night and be like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ And then the next day, just out of spite, I’d go back and keep making things, make it better. Redesign it. Figure out why people didn't stop and even give me the time of day. And it just kept evolving. Once I became a full-time artist, I would say that every day. But again, just to spite myself, I would keep going, do better. I'm always trying to outdo the last piece I made. And I don't think I'll ever be done doing that, that will be an ever-evolving process.
Inspecting the casing on one of his most popular timepieces, the Voyager Watch. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]