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Anastasia Hendrix | Photo: Sue Hudelson | June 23, 2016
A Bay Area watchmaker offers stylish designs that keep track of far more than just time.
In his youth, Steve Jacobs wore a Timex Ironman, until his father gave him a titanium Seiko. While he preferred practical to haute horology, the gears were turning for the future watch designer. He earned mechanical engineering degrees from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. After working for Apple, Google and HP, Jacobs surrendered to his ticking entrepreneurial clock: He raised $14 million, hired engineers from Apple and NASA as well as watch designers from Movado. Last year, he launched Olio Devices, a collection of fashionably oversize smartwatches compatible with OS and Android operating systems.
Jacobs picked the name Olio because it “sounds the way we want to be felt,” he says, and means “a random assortment of things.” It also resembles binary code, a nod to the software below the luxurious surface. “It perfectly represented the beautiful synthesis of these two different worlds that we’re trying to tie together,” he explains. The company, now in a shared San Francisco high-rise office, is a team of 30 and has sold a few thousand watches, priced from $595 to $1,395. They are available on the Olio website and through Nordstrom’s online arm. Menlo Park’s swank Stephen Silver boutique carries them, alongside timepieces with six-figure price tags.
The Olio designs come in steel—stainless or infused with the same black titanium nitrate ions used in fighter-jet engine blades—gold and rose gold. The bands are Italian leather, including one of Kevlar-reinforced suede. The face features a dynamic visualization of incoming emails, social media and other notifications, refreshing every 12 minutes. “It’s artwork powered by your life, so it’s unique and ever-changing,” says Jacobs. Learning algorithms power Olio Assist, which offers suggestions on everything from real-time car service rates to holding calls during meetings.
What sets the Olio apart, according to the founder and CEO, is that the company will repair and upgrade its watches as technology evolves because it “does not believe in obsolescence,” he says. Jacobs adds that Olio is now focusing on expanding its selection and developing ways for the watches to communicate with devices other than mobile phones to help users “live even more efficient, productive lives.”
Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley