BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Riley and Reed Stephens, brothers who both attend LSU, have created their own line of men’s watches using skills they’ve acquired at the university.
Riley is a junior majoring in Computer Science and Engineering, while Reed is a graduate student studying Mechanical Engineering.
“We apply our engineering thought processes to how we run the company and create new products,” said Riley.
Their company is called Ambici. The word “ambici” is Albanian for “ambition.” It started as a side project in 2014 when the Mandeville brothers used to spend their free time selling items online. At that point, they decided to start making their own product.
“After Reed saw a picture of a wooden watch he liked, we decided to create our own brand,” said Riley.
"You wouldn’t think of a watch as something that needs to be engineered, but it’s something that’s on your wrist all the time, so it needs to be pretty durable for daily use and also hold up in different climates," said Reed.
The brothers are avid watch collectors.
“Wooden watches had been done in a very basic way, and we wanted to do something better. We thought we could use more interesting woods than bamboo and clean up the design a little bit,” said Reed.
Woodworking runs in their family as well.
“Woodworking was always a part of our upbringing. Our grandpa was a full-time carpenter, and our dad had done that growing up, putting himself through college,” Riley said.
The brothers came up with designs and decided they wanted to use ethically-sourced hardwood from Africa and Brazil. Initially, they used PowerPoint to plan out their designs, but now have their own 3D printer and 3D CAD in order to auto-generate 2D schematics from models to send to the manufacturer.
“We had to use PowerPoint for our first sketches and put arrows so the manufacturers would know what we meant,” Reed laughed. “After going to LSU classes and learning how to use 3D-modeling software, we quickly [went] that route, which was much more superior than PowerPoint drawings.”
The brothers later launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $21,000 in just a month, surpassing their goal of $12,500. With that money, they were able to create 500 watches, half of which were pre-ordered.
Ambici’s Original Collection launched in the summer of 2015 and featured four watches, featuring different designs and woods, like black wood, ebony, maple, and red sandalwood.
“Wood in particular is kind of a difficult material to work with. When it’s hot and humid, it will expand. When it’s cold and dry, it will shrink. My LSU Strengths class helped me determine the wood shrinkage and at what point it cracks and where it cracks. It was kind of interesting, because I didn’t really expect to use those kinds of skills to make watches,” said Reed.
The brothers say they plan to expand their company to make other men’s accessories, such as sunglasses and cuff links, which will also be made of wood.
Reed was 18 at the time of the company’s launch, while Riley was just 16-years-old. According to their website, a portion of their proceeds goes towards Alzheimer’s research after their grandmother was diagnosed with the disease in 2004.