Story by Waysun Johnny Tsai, Photos by Waysun Johnny Tsai and Manufacturer
As far back as I can remember, I have had an affection for watches. I was that skateboard kid in high school that wore half a dozen Swatch watches, at the same time.
As I grew into my career as a self-defense and Combatives Instructor, I began breaking every watch that I wore in class. I have probably owned every known brand of “tactical” watch available on the market. None of them held up during training. Pins kept popping off the bands and watches would take a hit, causing crystals to crack or the watch to stop working altogether.
I learned that many watch brands were just marketing hype, with cool names – I have broken some very well-known brands. I have even broken a G-Shock, and those are supposed to be indestructible.
About eight years ago I was introduced to Reactor watches. I saw the Gryphon and liked how it looked. From a distance, it appeared to be a pretty tough watch and caught my interest. I gave Reactor a call and to my surprise I was able to reach the owner of the company, Jimmy Olmes. Jimmy was an ex professional surfer and a pretty cool guy to talk to. He agreed to send me a Gryphon to test out in class, to see how it would hold up.
Eight years later, I still have my Gryphon. It has been through hell and back with me. The Bezel is a little worn down, but it’s still ticking and keeping accurate time, like it was new. Even though I now own 5 Reactor watches, my first watch, the Gryphon is still my favorite – I guess I like the battle scars that it has. I stand behind this brand so much that I recently bought everyone in my family a Reactor to wear.
My editor Joshua Swanagon is also a fan of Reactor watches, and since knives and watches go together like peanut butter and jelly, we decided that maybe it was time to give the readers of Knife & Gear Society a proper introduction to Reactor.
Without further delay, let us introduce you to the CEO and founder of Reactor Watches, Mr. Jimmy Olmes.
Knife & Gear Society: Hi Jimmy, thanks for taking time out of your busy day. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your background.
Jimmy Olmes: Quick background, I was born and raised in PA until age 13, when I moved to California with my family. My family moved back to the mid-west, when I was 17, and I stayed in Southern California – which was the best decision I ever made.
I started my career in the Ski industry, eventually moving from there to designing aerobic wear and casual sportswear for women. Later, I joined a company called Freestyle, that was making nylon Velcro wallets. One thing lead to another and we developed a running product called a wrist wallet, that incorporated a watch to time your runs. This progressed to developing colorful surf watches, leading to the infamous SHARK watch, which defined the company for many years in the future.
At one point, the Shark watch was one of the top selling watches in the US, and we owned upwards of 85% of the action sports watch industry. I became a partner in the company in the early 80’s and we sold the company in 2000 to a VC group. At that time, my partners retired and I stayed on as the President and CEO of Freestyle, reporting to the head company, out of NY.
In the middle of 2003, I started developing the business plan for Reactor. After defining our mission, we started developing product and shipped our first watch in early 2004.
K&GS: How did Reactor come about?
JO: It was an evolution from Freestyle. We launched Reactor in the action sports arena but found our production design was a bit too “traditional” for surf, and our retails were much higher than our previous Freestyle line.
From action sports we evolved to dive, then fishing and then to mid-tier and better jewelry distribution. We have a very strong following in saltwater fishing and water sports, as well as tactical and outdoor.
K&GS: What would you say sets Reactor apart from other watch brands?
JO: Our mission from day one, was to build the best performance sport watch on the market. We developed a set of criteria that every Reactor watch had to adhere to, or it could not be a Reactor. These criteria are called the DNA of the Reactor brand – no other watch company on the market puts all of these features and benefits in every watch they build.
K&GS: One of my favorites that I own is the limited-edition Polaris. What are you rocking as your favorite right now?
JO: My day to day watch is also the limited-edition Polaris. It was designed as a true professional dive watch but is only 45mm in case size, and very wearable.
The Polaris not only incorporates our ND (Never Dark) dial technology, in the dial, but also uses ND in the timing bezel. Reactor is one of only two brands that has figured out how to protect the fragile Tritium tubes, outside the protection of the case.
Compare to another brand that offers similar quality – with beginning price points around $3,000.00 – and their watch featuring Tritium in the bezel is upwards of $5,000.00. As a point of reference, our Swiss quartz Polaris is only $900.00 and our mechanical automatic limited-edition version, that we both enjoy, is $1,500.00.
K&GS: Any other limited-edition models coming out?
JO: The watch market loves LE (limited-edition) models and we try to always have at least one in our line.
K&GS: Anything New and exciting that you can share?
JO: We continue to solicit our dealer to find out what they think we are missing. Watch design in general is becoming more minimalistic – smaller and thinner – so we have introduced the new Quantum and Neutrino in full size cases, and the Manhattan and Trinity in mid-size cases, for women. Although very different in styling than our tactical and hard-core dive, they still share all the Reactor DNA.
K&GS: What are some of the toughest destruction tests you have put your watches through, where they survived?
JO: We have a very cool promotional video that shows us shooting our watches with a .22-caliber rifle and the bullet bounces off them. We also shot one of our watches, case back facing out, with a double barrel 12 gauge shot gun – the only damage was to a link in the bracelet.
At one point, we caught a 400-pound bull shark, using one of our watches as the leader. Also, to show the strength of our case to band interface, we dropped a Reactor Gamma off an overhead bridge – 33 feet to cement – you can see the sparks flying but no damage to the watch.
We also ran our Titan over, with a 22,000-pound, armored Bear Cat, with no damage to the watch.
While this is all fun stuff, it is important to note that as durable as our watches are, they are still highly sophisticated mechanical time pieces that need to be taken care of.
Knife & Gear Society would like to thank Jimmy Olmes for his candor and taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate the opportunity to learn more about him on a personal level and the chance to learn more about his well-crafted watches. K&G
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Reactor Watcheswww.ReactorWatch.com(800) 291-6600
SIJO Waysun Johnny Tsai is a Chicago native and the founder of C.U.M.A. Combatives and the C.U.M.A. Survival School. A Master level Instructor, Sijo has over 33 years of combined experience in teaching practical street defense in the civilian, military and law enforcement sectors and is considered one of the World's foremost experts in practical street defense and Combatives. He is a published book, magazine and DVD author, as well as a highly established impact and edged weapons designer. Sijo has knife designs on the market and available through TOPS Knives, Slysteel Knives, Day One Gear, Combat Ready Knives and Grunt Style.
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