Robert and Courtney De Pol create sleek, high-performing timepieces at affordable prices for aviators and military enthusiasts.
By: Anne Booher
Photos by: Dark Lab
NNaval aviators take great risks daily, whether they are training students, landing on an aircraft carrier at night or flying missions in our nation’s defense. It is a specialized camaraderie, and while it is, at times, associated with mirrored sunglasses and awesome ‘80s movies, it forges a bond unlike any other.
Traditionally, members of aviation squadrons commemorate those times by purchasing specialized watches, meant to be functional as well as a treasure to be passed down through generations. Robert De Pol decided to honor that bond by creating such a timepiece that appeals to both aviators and military enthusiasts while staying at an affordable price point.
Naval roots run deep for the De Pols. Originally from Annapolis, Md., Robert is an active-duty Naval aviator stationed in Kingsville. His wife, Courtney, handles the accounting and financial component of the business and is also a fulltime engineer for the Navy.
“I see how aviators react to watches. It’s all about invoking a feeling. Your watches tell the story of your life – where you’ve been and the experiences you’ve had,” Robert explains. “When I was on deployment, our squadron decided to do a custom watch buy. Most of the options can cost upwards of $5,000, and I thought, there has to be a more affordable alternative.”
With that motivation and in the middle of an overseas deployment, De Pol set out to design and manufacture his own. He sat down with Courtney in the Singapore Marriott, and together, they hashed out a business plan on the back of a napkin. Within a year, they had selected an American manufacturer and prototypes came soon after.
“I saw a void in the market for this specific price point of customized watches and decided to fill it,” De Pol says. “It’s hard to get a junior officer with a family and a house to spend several thousand dollars on a watch. So I decided to create a quality timepiece for under $1,000. I came up with two models: the LSO, which is vital to how we time landings, and the Tailhook, which is a key player in aviation on the ship.”
In addition to their air of sophistication, functionality was an essential component. “I wanted to use a Swiss movement to maintain precision, accuracy and quality,” De Pol explains. “Precise timing is critical, and these watches can be used as training tools.”
Every 60 seconds, a plane lands on an aircraft carrier and each pilot has a window of time they must adhere to, which comes down to a matter of 15 to 18 seconds. The landing signal officer (LSO) is on the ship’s platform all day, timing and recording these landings within seconds of one another. If you look at the LSO model, there are four colors around the bezel: green, yellow, brown and red. Green is a pilot’s goal, within the required window of time. Yellow is a warning for either just too early or just too late, and brown and red will adversely affect the pilot’s grade.
“Everybody’s grade is put up on the ship. Yes, it’s a fun game and helps pilots establish a baseline upon which to improve, but in addition, it keeps people safe by being competitive and avoiding complacency. If these grades didn’t exist, mistakes would start to happen.”
Aside from Swiss movements, the watch is assembled entirely in the United States. “Our main assembly is in Florida, then those models are sent to me and Joel Smith, a local watchmaker and friend, in Corpus Christi to be customized,” De Pol says.
Corpus Christi and South Texas have fueled the development of their company. “I love the Corpus area because I’ve developed this awesome network. First of all, the military culture fits right in with our mission. Secondly, Joel, a former P-3 pilot, is an amazing mentor and his watch-making skills enhance our product. He has even developed tools specifically for working on the De Pol brand, and has taught me so much about this process. Finally, we have an amazing engraver in the San Antonio area, and their work has been flawless.”
Offering more custom and personalization options for his clients is one of De Pol’s top priorities. “Our future expansion plan includes marketing our product to corporations, fraternities, sororities, fire departments or any organization that wants to honor a specific event,” he says.
De Pol’s watches are sleek and professional, and they can be designed with any logo, squadron or business in mind. In addition to offering limitless custom options, they plan to add a line of women’s watches to their collection.
“We want to bring a part of military aviation to the public,” De Pol says. “People like to associate themselves with flying and the atmosphere around it. It’s dreamy – it’s what little kids want to be when they grow up.” De Pol watches capture that mystique, delivering a high-performing timepiece that will eventually become a cherished part of one’s heritage.
For more information, visit www.depolwatches.com.