Kevin Bertolero has a disdain for time.
"How many times do you look at a clock, or look at time, and are happy?" Bertolero said. "When was the last time you were like, 'Oh, sick, it's 10:30. Awesome.'"
That's one of the reasons the 30-year-old has been making watches that don't tell time. They're meant to be worn like a traditional watch, except you won't see a clock face when checking your wrist. Instead, you'll find a tiny 3D-printed pool with magnetic duckies and bubbles.
After leaving a stressful job at a plant-based yogurt startup, Bertolero wanted to engage with his "child self."
He was using all sorts of strategies to work through childhood trauma at the time.
"I think all of us are low-key traumatized — you can't not be living in modern society, to some degree," Bertolero said. He said when people's traumas flare up, they use shopping, socializing or community involvement to mitigate discomfort. Bertolero found another option: cute things.
The idea for watches that don't tell time came to him in a "state of semi-sleep"; a watch that's sleek like an Apple Watch, but fun and interactive like Legos.
Little rubber duckies popped into his mind as something indisputably cute. He knew he wanted to make them tiny, because "the tinier something is, the cuter it is. The more people love it."
Bertolero says the sensory aspect of being able to touch and move the ducks are similar to toys like fidget spinners or slime.
Bortelero said he's always been attracted to art, but has no formal training. He found ways to express himself creatively at his local makerspace, where he learned how to 3D print.
He used a friend's resin 3D printer to print a little pool for the ducks to sit in. He posted the process to TikTok and, to his surprise, the video went viral.
A collaborative design process via TikTok excited Bertolero, and he ended up incorporating some of his follower's ideas.
"I created these watches because they made my inner child happy," Bertolero said. He thinks his watches evoke the same reaction in a lot of people.
Crystal Burwell, a licensed professional counselor who works with adults and teens, said reengaging with the inner child takes people back to a place where they can treat themselves with care, and that working through an issue therapeutically doesn't look the same for everyone.
She encourages her patients to embrace their "weird, customized happiness" with sensory toys like squishy stuffed animals. It can help people reconnect with that part of themselves they have disengaged with.
Toy designer Whitney Pollett said that there's a demand for simple, comforting toys. Objects that one interacts with tactilely and act as an emotional reminder.
Bertolero said: "I think basically, people are at their wits end."
"And you know, it's nice to have this little wrist reminder that there are cute and happy things around you in the world," he said.