Family Time: LSU Engineering Students, Brothers Use Skills to Design Watches
BATON ROUGE, LA – Can time be engineered? In a manner of speaking, that is exactly what LSU Computer Science and Engineering junior Riley Stephens and his brother Reed, an LSU Mechanical Engineering graduate, are doing as they create their own line of men’s watches using skills they’ve acquired through their LSU classes.
“We apply our engineering thought processes to how we run the company and create new products,” Riley said of their watch brand, Ambici.
“You wouldn’t think of a watch as something that needs to be engineered,” Reed said. “But it’s something that’s on your wrist all the time, so it needs to be pretty durable for daily use and also hold up in different climates.”
What started off as a side project has turned into a well-run company with Reed and Riley at the helm. In 2014, the Mandeville-raised brothers spent their free time selling items on eBay and Amazon to make a little money. Rather than continue selling no-name items, they decided to create their own product.
“After Reed saw a picture of a wooden watch he liked, we decided to create our own brand,” Riley said.
It didn’t hurt that the brothers were already avid watch collectors and saw a market for well-made wooden watches for men.
“Wooden watches had been done in a very basic way and we wanted to do something better,” Reed said. “We thought we could use more interesting woods than bamboo and clean up the design a little bit.”
They also knew a little something about woodworking since it runs in their family.
“Woodworking was always a part of our upbringing,” Riley said. “Our grandpa was a full-time carpenter, and our dad had done that growing up, putting himself through college.”
Before the pair could start designing, they needed a brand name. They liked the word “ambici,” which is Albanian for “ambition.”
“We like the way it paired with the slogan, ‘Ambition is timeless,’” Riley said.
When it came time to design the watches, the duo knew they wanted to use the highest quality, ethically-sourced hardwood from Africa and Brazil that would be durable and give them an elegant finish.
Using PowerPoint to come up with a schematic design, the brothers would then send the designs to a company with 3D software. Now they have their own 3D printer and 3D CAD where they can auto-generate 2D schematics from the model to send to the manufacturer.
“We had to use PowerPoint for our first sketches and put arrows so the manufacturers would know what we meant,” Reed laughed. “After going to LSU classes and learning how to use 3D-modeling software, we quickly [went] that route, which was much more superior than PowerPoint drawings.”
Reed credits LSU Engineering Instructor Paige Davis with teaching him how to use 3D software.
“She’s awesome,” he said. “Her 3D-modeling class was pretty helpful.”
Once the design aspect of their watch line was complete, they launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $21,024 in just one month, surpassing their goal of $12,500. This allowed them to create 500 watches, half of which were pre-ordered.
Ambici’s Original Collection came out in the summer of 2015 and featured four watches of varying color and wood grain such as black wood, ebony, maple, and red sandalwood. Each watch is equipped with a sapphire crystal to add a touch of elegance.
“The watches are made of wood but have a metal casing inside, making it more water resistant,” Riley said. “It increases durability, because wood itself is not a durable substance. That was one of the issues we saw in other watches.”
“Wood in particular is kind of a difficult material to work with,” Reed said. “When it’s hot and humid, it will expand. When it’s cold and dry, it will shrink. My LSU Strengths class helped me determine the wood shrinkage and at what point it cracks and where it cracks. It was kind of interesting, because I didn’t really expect to use those kinds of skills to make watches.”
In order to combat this problem, they apply an oil sealant to the watches before shipping and also ship the sealant with care instructions. The watches have a one-year warranty for issues that are out of the customer’s control.
The brothers plan on expanding the Ambici brand to include other men’s accessories, such as cuff links and sunglasses made of the same wood as the watches.
“We want to have a whole collection where you can get someone a watch for their birthday, and if you don’t know what to get them for your anniversary or Christmas, you can get the sunglasses or cuff links to match,” Reed said. “It has up-sell ability, which is a pretty nifty business model.”
While Reed continues his MBA studies at Tulane University, Riley is enjoying his CSE classes at LSU.
“I initially wanted to study ME at LSU, but after reading the book Industries of the Future, which focuses on software and the future of technology, I changed my major to computer science,” Riley said. “I went into it with no understanding of what computer science was, just more the prospect of how it could help me in the future. I love it. That’s all I do. I program for hours every day. It’s very interesting to me.”
As for post-graduation plans, Riley said this is all preparing him for the real world.
“I’ve been trying to get as much experience in the field personally and professionally, so that when the time is right, I have the tools necessary to be able to go after what I want,” he said. “I try to dabble in as much as I can to increase my options.”
To learn more about Ambici watches, visit www.ambicico.com
Contact: Libby Haydel