When walking down Main Street in Vineyard Haven, you will most likely come across a small store named AquaNaut. In the windows, there are scrimshaw items and watches. Yes, the scrimshaw is nice, but it’s the watches that caught my eye. And of course there is a story behind them.
Meet Rubin Douglas Cronig, yes of the Cronig family, the creator of these fabulous watches. All of the watches in AquaNaut, his store, are his watches, Vineyard Time. The face of each watch is unique since each one is handmade and amazing. He also has a high-end line that is not in the store, Rubin Douglas.
But before we learn more about watches, let’s talk about how Rubin got into the watch making business. At age 16, he began his watch making business. Rubin had always loved watches and already had quite the collection.
Of course many of the ones he coveted were a bit too pricey for him at this age. So, he decided to make his own. As a student of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, which encourages independent study, he was able to focus on his watch making business.
Rubin quickly learned that watch making was not easy. It is a very close knit community that does not like to share its knowledge with outsiders, especially a 16-year-old kid. There was no online site he could google that would provide him with the specs for watch dials or watch movement. However, Rubin kept at it.
He would meet with Rubin three times a week for about three to four hours at a clip, teaching him how to sketch designs for his watches.
Once Rubin mastered the designs, he was lucky enough to have a connection to a man who worked with Richemont, the second largest luxury watch conglomerate in the world.
Along with his help, and aid from few other people, Rubin was making watches. He called his company, Rubin Douglas. In 2004, he created a full line of handmade watches on Martha’s Vineyard with dials designed and constructed by local designers, artists and metalworkers.
Each Rubin Douglas is handcrafted and is one-of-a-kind. There are about 10 – 20 designs that he rotates each year and typically adds three to five new styles a year.
Rubin also customizes the collections for the regions they are sold in. Rubin Douglas is an internationally known brand, and has quite the following. Many of the pieces are custom. His customers want an image that is unique and special to them.
A Rubin Douglas can cost anywhere between $5,000 – $12,000, which is not a lot when you compare it to a Rolex or a Cartier. And think about it, each one is unique because the dials are all handcrafted, and each watch is hand-assembled.
Rubin works with four to five artists a year to help create the dials, and most of the watches themselves are assembled here on Martha’s Vineyard in his studio behind AquaNaut.
The materials in the dials of the watch can consist of antique ivory (scrimshaw), titanium, carbon fiber, or Mokume (mixed metals that give a wood grain appearance). The watches are mechanical, not quartz like most watches are these days.
Mechanical watches consist of 50 to 300 moving parts. This style of watch has seen a resurgence in popularity.
They are more expensive, and tend to become heirloom items, passed on through generations, and are popular with watch collectors. Making one is a labor of love, and is more challenging than you could image — just ask Rubin. But, there is a satisfaction in creating such a masterpiece.
When the economy took a turn for the worse, Rubin created another watch company, Vineyard Time. These watches have quartz movement and are not as expensive. They are about $900, plus or minus.
Though not as costly, each dial is handcrafted scrimshaw and assembled locally. The dials are made from antique ivory (white face) or buffalo horn (black face). I really like the black dials. There is something very cool about them.
Most of Rubin’s designs are very classic. This style tends to appeal to his clientele, but know that he can make just about any type of watch one could want. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.
The store was opened in 2012 in memory of Rubin’s good friend and mentor Thomas DeMont. Tom DeMont was one of the world’s premier scrimshaw artists, and shared his craft with Rubin. He owned the Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery. He was a major reason why Rubin is able to do what he does today.
Rubin was devastated when Tom died suddenly, and to help keep the love of scrimshaw alive, he opened AquaNaut. Many of the artists that Tom carried at his store are now selling their scrimshaw at AquaNaut. The store is in dedication to a wonderful man and a legend.
On a side note. When I was in AquaNaut, a man came in who wanted to have Rubin make a custom watch featuring his airplane. How cool is that! Send an image via email of your favorite toy, and months later, it can be immortalized and have it with you, on your wrist.
Rubin’s watches are sold in 120 retailers around the world. Each year, he adds one to three more, and plans to continue growing at this scalable pace. He is involved in every watch, and they are his babies, his gift to the world.
When you meet Rubin, you’d never guess that this friendly, smiling man — who lives on the sailboat Osprey in Vineyard Haven harbor — and who likes to drink tequila at the Atlantic in Edgartown, is a man who travels the globe on a regular basis, making these amazing watches.
Once again, another amazing Islander. Oh and in case you were wondering how many watches a watch maker/collector has? It’s in the hundreds.
Thanks for reading On Point, and special thanks to Vineyard Style magazine for the great picture of Rubin. You can learn more about Rubin Douglas and Vineyard Time on their websites. Please don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and YouTube.