Heitis: Brewing a serious dive watch in Buffalo

If you grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., or any of its many sprawling suburbs, you know this is a city of tough and prideful underdogs. For D.J. Heider, Western New York is also the birthplace of his vision: To make high quality watches at a good value with Heitis Watch Company.

With his latest Kickstarter launching Thursday, Feb. 21 at 9 a.m., Heider hopes to make his mark with a serious hi-beat automatic dive watch, the Okeanos. The watch features many higher end options, like a sapphire crystal, a Miyota 9015 movement and a generous application of Superluminova.

Heider, 38, has had a fascination with watches from an early age. But several years ago, the avid Seiko collector started modifying his Seikos with aftermarket parts and building whole watches for friends. The hobby soon turned into an obsession as Heider started making plans to start his own watch company. “I just wanted to make something that wasn’t junk – not just a cheap fashion watch.”

The easiest path for Heider was to use a solid quartz movement at first to launch the first set of watches – a pilot’s watch to honor his veteran grandfather, a sporty chronograph and a minimalist bauhaus dress watch. In 2015, Heider took his dream to Kickstarter and almost missed his fundraising goal – but his brother came to the rescue and ordered the final watches needed to kickstart the project. “It was really stressful,” he said. “But when my brother stepped up for me, it made me want to work even harder. It’s a great feeling to release a watch, but it’s boom or bust with crowd fundraising.”

Heider paid his brother back and quickly went to work making watches for backers. He finished assembly himself at his home in Hamburg (a town near Buffalo) with the help of his wife. She handled packaging and mailing when Heider was busy with his full time job. The watches went over well, but for Heider, something was missing.

Stepping up his game

Heider had originally fallen in love with mechanical watches, so it was only natural that would be the next step for Heitis. He wanted to design a dive watch that would appeal to everyone. Determined to do it right, Heider went through a couple different prototypes before settling on the current version of the Okeanos – not an homage to any watch, but taking design cues from from dive watches throughout the decades.

“I would have loved to do an automatic right off the bat,” he said. “But I’m happy we could get the quartz models out – they are good watches with reliable movements. And normally, at that price point, you end up with junk fashion watches. So, I’m proud of the first line.”

For the Okeanos, Heider was ready to make the leap forward into mechanical timepieces. He didn’t want to use a low-beat movement but wanted to offer the watch at a fair price. The Miyota 9015 seemed to fit the bill, giving him a high beat movement dive watch enthusiasts crave. “I was really itching to get an automatic going. I live a couple of miles from a lake here in town and my family loves being around water, so a diver was the perfect choice. And being a watch geek myself, I always wanted to do an automatic and really get Heitis on the map.”

To do that, Heider would need to focus on something that would set his watch apart from the wide variety of micro brand divers: the details. The Okeanos features a deep pressed caseback logo, a saw toothed bezel, and a textured “waffle” dial. “This is not some off-the-shelf watch I chose out of a catalog and printed the logo on,” he said. “I put a lot of effort into the design and thinking about all the little things that would set this watch apart.”

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Moving forward

Heider reached out to friends in the watch community who gave him advice and honest feedback about his first prototypes. That feedback led to some key changes to make the crown function improved. “The truth hurts, sometimes,” he said. “But it was something I needed to hear and I’m grateful people were honest. It make the watch better.”

And, of course, there’s some Buffalo pride injected into each timepiece. “We definitely have that underdog mentality,” he said. “Things are looking up. Buffalo is going through a real revitalization with new development downtown and at the waterfront district. It’s exciting for a lot of us. And, hey, the Bills made the playoffs.”

In his spare time, Heider enjoys spending time with his wife and three children. And he loves to brew his own beer. “It’s a lot of fun to get into that – you have all these different recipes and it gives you a sense of pride.”

Heider hopes he’s brewed a recipe for success with the Okeanos.

Learn more about Heitis Watch Company at their website and Facebook page. To back the project, go to their Kickstarter page.

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