Story by Julia Steele
Photo by Dana Edmunds
For thousands of years, people reckoned the time by putting a stick in the ground and seeing where its shadow fell. Today, when digital clocks are embedded in nearly every electronic device you buy (even toasters!), Maui resident Kelsi Vande Velden is bucking the tide: She’s gone back to the Stone Age and created a line of compass sundial wristwatches—yes, an actual sundial that fits on a wrist. The 25-year-old artist, originally from Wisconsin, first happened upon a compass sundial years ago when she was out treasure hunting in thrift stores “somewhere in the American West.” So intrigued by it was she that she created straps, fastened on a buckle and began wearing it as a watch—a constant reminder to herself, she says, to rethink conventional notions about time. People she met on her travels were as enchanted by the sundial as she was—and the seed of an idea was planted. But it didn’t flower until she moved to Maui to, as she puts it, really slow down; ensconced in a “jungle shack studio” in Ha‘iku, she got serious about putting “a new spin on a very, very old concept.”
Today Vande Velden assembles each of her watches by hand in that studio, even curing and tooling the leather straps. The faces, which she designed, comprise both compass and sundial; instructions are engraved on the back just in case you’ve forgotten how to tell time by gnomon. (You need the compass, of course, to orient yourself so that the shadow falls accurately across the dial.) “It’s funny how many different people get a kick out of them,” says Vande Velden, “everyone from old sailors in the Navy who worked with compasses to young people who see them as making a mockery of the emphasis society places on time.” At the end of the day, the Pandeia watches (named for the Greek goddess of the full moon) are for those who don’t usually wear watches, says Vande Velden … or who, like a lot of us who live in Hawai‘i, don’t need to know what time it is after dark.