Business, Springfield

Right on time: Celeste Watches celebrates 6 years on Main Street

SPRINGFIELD — Even as a kid, Celeste Wong had a thing for watches. 

“The whole process of watchmaking is a vehicle for me to express myself, honor and develop my talents and gifts,” she said. 

Among those talents and gifts? Owning and operating Celeste Watches, a small brick and mortar shop in downtown Springfield — where things run like clockwork. 

“I’ve wanted to be a watchmaker since I was a little girl,” she said. “And sometimes, you can see that everything you’ve ever done has gotten you here. Without that, you wouldn’t be who you are.” 

Her road to watchmaking is a unique one, taking her across the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean, landing her in her studio on Main Street. 

Wong outside of her shop during last week’s celebration. BOB WILLIAMS/ THE CHRONICLE

In college, watchmaking schools are few and far between in the States, many of them in Switzerland or Germany, so she decided to study electronics in San Francisco — something close to her dream. 

After graduating, she forged a new path – moving onto a sailboat in the San Francisco Harbor, where the rent was, admittedly, cheaper. 

“We really just wanted to be glamorous on the boat and have fun,” she said. “And the bay is a good place to learn to sail, so we became really proficient sailors.” 

Chamber of Commerce CEO Vonnie Mikkelsen and Wong in front of Celeste Watches. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

She lived on that boat for three years, sometimes contracting out with sailing races to bring boats back to their home port. On one trip, a two-day torrential storm altered her course. 

“It was a change-in-your-life kind of storm — it ripped the sails, the steering, it was a really terrible time,” she said. “It was exhausting, but I just remember thinking, I have the Rock of Gibraltar in me, I made it through. I can make it through anything.” 

After her trip, she decided to pursue engineering in Louisiana, as one of a handful of women in the program — where she faced resistance to her being in the classroom, but it didn’t hold her down for long. 

“It was hard, but I had one professor say to me, ‘The world needs all kinds of engineers and because you’re different, you’re going to be valuable,’” she said. “I started thinking about myself as being valuable, on my own, and knowing I didn’t have to be like them.” 

The event featured traditional drummers. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE.
Celeste hosted a Buddha and Chinese Lions to bless her space, making sure to leave the back door open so evil spirits could be chased out. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

She went on to write her first book, Is There an Engineer Inside You?, using money from her parents to self-publish a mere 1,500 copies. She sent the book to publishers, local libraries, academics and bookstores – hearing no more than a few times. 

Then the phone rang. And the caller ID read, “N.A.S.A.” 

“I thought it was a prank call!” she said. 

But it wasn’t. They’d heard about the book. Not only that, they wanted to share it. 

“It was NASA’s education department,” she said. “And that was the beginning of a snowball for me.” 

For the next 15 years, her book was the No. 1 engineering career book on Amazon. She wrote more, and more, eventually opening up the Engineering Education Service Center in Springfield, teaching students and teachers to find the fun in engineering. 

“I really see engineering as a launching pad to become anything,” she said. “It teaches you how to solve problems, how to think, how to research and so many other things.”

To date, she’s published 22 books on the subject. 

“I like technical problems,” she said. “And life is a series of solving problems. It’s very much the same to go from zero knowledge about sailing to becoming a captain. Or to go from knowing nothing about engineering to writing 22 books.” 

After 18 years of traveling, teaching and researching – she decided to return to that original dream. 

“I just got this feeling that I needed a little more color, more creativity,” she said. “I’m a maker at heart – and watches were a good fit. I have the precision of watchmaking, the intensity of watchmaking, it’s zen to me. Each watch comes to life on its own.” 

She started rummaging through local thrift stores, bringing home vases full of old and damaged watches – slowly learning to take them apart and restore them. 

“The process of making my first watch was slow and sometimes painful,” she said. “When I completed my first inlay dial, I wore it proudly and showed it to all my family and friends. But during a rainstorm, in a moment that changed everything, I looked down to discover my handcrafted creation was no longer ticking. The learning curve was steep.” 

Her first watch, called Nostalgia – was built with an abalone shell that reminded her of Hawaii, where her parents and family are from, and wood to symbolize Oregon’s trees. 

“It was a watch I could look at and think, ‘Everything is going to be okay,’” she said. 

Six years ago, she opened Celeste Watches in Springfield, bringing her distinctive abalone shell inlays, fluid style, engineer’s eye and artist’s heart to watchmaking. The business is one of only two women-owned-and-operated watch companies in the U.S. 

Last week, she marked the anniversary by inviting the community – and some ferocious Chinese Lion Dancers – to celebrate the date and her recent “Businessperson of the Year Award,” from the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. 

Her brother, pictured here, and family flew out from the Bay area to celebrate with her. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE
As apart of the ceremony, the lions fed on “green things,” like money and lettuce – it’s good luck if you’re hit with the lettuce, and Celeste said she “definitely made sure to get hit.” BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

“On behalf of chamber staff and the board of directors we just want to congratulate Celeste who has been a huge part of the community here. It’s incredible this combination of art and engineering that she has with this business,” said John Garbett of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. 

For Celeste – the celebration was about much more than her storefront. 

“The watches help us celebrate the people we love, the adventures we cherish and the dreams we chase,” she said.