Ryan Steenhagen of Delafield already owned a few dozen watches when he took his collection to the next level: He started buying watch parts and made himself a pair of cufflinks. Locating a matching set of movements was one thing; he also had to teach himself how to solder.
In 2011, he decided to make and sell cufflinks as a hobby. He founded Steenhagen Studios and debuted his steampunk aesthetic. Today, it’s an endeavor he and his wife, Angela, undertake together, making unique cufflinks, necklaces, money clips, and more with a hip, retro vibe.
The Steenhagens craft jewelry using watch parts and mechanical movements that date between the 1880s and 1960s—before batteries. “You would wake up in the morning, wind them up, and they ran for the day,” Ryan explains.
To locate parts, he visits watchmaker estate sales and auctions across the country. Angela, who has natural artistic talent and photography training, began making necklaces and other accessories with leftover pieces.
“She gives (the jewelry) a more feminine touch. I just like the gears and mechanical movement—the intricacy of the watch parts,” he says.
Items are sold online through Etsy and the couple’s website, steenhagenstudios.com; in local stores; and at craft fairs. Cufflinks start at $45 and skyrocket to $2,000 per pair for names like Piaget, Rolex, or Breitling.
“When you get into that price range, people are buying it for the watch and not just the (unique) look,” Ryan says.
No wasted time
By day, Ryan works as a construction project manager. After the kids are tucked into bed, the pair retreats to a home office, where they work side by side. “Anything with a full movement, I make. Anything with parts and pieces cast in resin, she makes,” he explains.
Their favorite things to create are custom orders because, Ryan says, “We can take a broken watch and craft a meaningful keepsake.”
For example, they once took a dad’s pocket watch and turned it into three necklaces, one for each of his daughters. They can also mount a lady’s wristwatch inside a heart pendant and set the “time” to a birthdate or anniversary.
“Rather than having something just sitting in a drawer, now you have something you can show off, wear, and have with you,” says Ryan.