“The idea came while I was attending F-16 training in Tucson,” said Garret, co-owner and founder of Wingman Watches. “I wanted to buy an affordable watch with a classic aviation theme, but everything I looked at was too expensive. So, I decided to design my own.”
In 2015, the entrepreneurial wingman began networking with small watch builders that would help him create pilot watches, built for pilots by a pilot. After developing a few prototypes, and once a positive buzz about the one-of-a-kind watches began circulating through the squad, Garret called his brother Geoff about taking a leap into business.
“He contacted me and said, ‘I think we have a business here,’” said Geoff, co-owner of Wingman Watches and resident of Pacific Beach. “Our business success so far has been a lot of word-of-mouth among the military and we’re becoming one of the go-to companies they reach out to.”
The two brothers launched their business as a Kickstarter campaign, offering up their “First Wave” designs: The Classic, The Patriot and The Defender. With a blue sapphire face, three white sundials and the bright red Wingman logo in the noon position, The Patriot became a best-seller among individual buyers and helped the Kickstarter campaign raise nearly 400 percent of the Schmitz brothers’ goal. It wasn’t long until Wingman came up with their signature idea: Custom Watch Campaigns.
“Watches are incredibly popular in aviation, and especially among fighter pilots,” said Garret, who has been an active-duty pilot for the last 10 years. “Most military pilots save up their entire careers and can only afford to purchase one watch. We wanted to change that. We were tired of guys overpaying for a watch that didn’t really tell their story or catalog their career.”
For the past three years, Wingman Watches has been helping squadrons in the Air Force as well as the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard, custom design watches that commemorate defining moments during their time in service. These military groups can request a personally crafted design for their watch and Wingman will create a model and help with the campaign to raise the funds for manufacturing. Most commonly, family and friends are the ones to donate.
“There’s a lot of different elements we can tailor on that watch, like colors or symbols or designs and logos that mean something unique to the group,” said Geoff. “But we still keep that traditional ‘Wingman’ look.”
Most of the custom-designed, stainless steel watches are two-dialed to make room for the aviation design at the six o’clock mark, whether it be a Viper, Eagle, Galaxy or a B2 Bomber. Wingman has worked with 30 different military groups and every watch is a one-of-a-kind, with the names of each squad mate engraved on the back. Wingman also has made non-aviation watches with pirate flag logos that say “hook ‘em all.”
“These are small-knit groups of people that have a passion for their what they do and the memories they’ve made, and we can convey that passion through our watches,” said Geoff. “Not everyone is a watch-wearer, but there’s a bit of a renaissance coming back for the non-smart watches. It’s more of a jewelry piece than something to tell time, and pilots really like their swag.”
Geoff and Garett are also expanding their business’ wingspan, working on projects with about a dozen civilian groups, including private pilots, emergency room doctors, golf course members and mortgage companies. In total, Wingman has built more than 40 different watches, partnering with their manufacturer, Smith and Bradley, in Florida. They have sold more than 1,000 watches and partnered with the San Diego Padres last March for the 2018 MLB season to honor military personnel and first responders.
“What I’d love for people to know about Wingman Watches is that we aren’t just for the military, we can design a custom watch for anybody,” said Garret. “We want you to be able to wear your experiences.”
Geoff, a finance major from USD, added: “In the accounting field, it’s really not about looking forward. You’re managing what’s happing right now by looking at the past and dealing with numbers and bank accounts. But with Wingman, I really like being able to think forward and put someone’s memories in a design that has a lot of life to it.”
Wingman Watches is now getting ready for their “Second Wave,” developing a new line of a 44mm-46mm chronograph watches, as well as offering a smaller 38mm sized watch that will appeal to both men and women. Just a few months ago, the company also started selling custom made sunglasses with Air Force planes printed on the sides.
But while Wingman has had the opportunity to connect communities both within the U.S. and internationally with fighter pilots in Australia, Garret says the most rewarding experience has been getting to work alongside his brother. The two have built a thriving business, even with Garret on deployments.
“We talk almost every day in some form or another, and we’ve been able to include the rest of our family in a lot of the aspects of the business, so it’s been a pretty fun adventure for all of us,” said Garret. “I know they say not to ‘go into business with family or friends,’ but I’d disagree with that. I say go into business with someone you trust, and who else is going to look after your interests better than a brother?”
Visit wingmanwatch.com to find out more about the company including the Kickstarter video that captures the spirit of their business: "In support of every great achievement… Wingman."