2015 Mini Review

 

IMG_0061Over the holiday period, at the suggestion of my wife, I reviewed my pile of magazines and brochures with a view to getting rid of most of them. As always happens in these circumstances you start to re-read articles or find things you missed the first time round.

One interesting booklet I found was the catalogue to the 2014 Salon QP. This reminded me of two brands that I saw there of which I have heard nothing since.

The first being Meridian watches that had always struck me as being in the vanguard of the new British watch resurgence. Their website has for sometime now just continued to announce the “new website – coming soon”.

The second being Valour watches with their aeronautical engine inspired “Sopwith” watch.

I have written to both companies to see if they have any news for us. I will let you know if I get anything back.

Then reflecting on the past year for Grinidgetime. I think 2015 was an important year if only because I have managed to keep the blog updated regularly,  which was something I doubted I would manage. I have also really started to enjoy meeting the characters involved in the small British watch community. The highlight has to be shaking Roger Smith’s hand at the Salon QP. But also really enjoyed chatting over a drink with Piers Berry and Alexandre Meerson, both really interesting people.

On the other hand I have also noticed that the international watch blogger/forum world is less friendly and people can be very jealous of their followers and do nothing to encourage the idea of community that I thought I would find.

Anyway you live and learn. I am looking forward to 2016 and continuing to meet more interesting people and writing, hopefully, more frequently. I have also bought an English watch. 🙂

 

 

Greenwich Gate Watch

Imagine my interest when I saw a small poster at Cutty Sark Gardens DLR station the other morning advertising the “Greenwich Gate Watch”. The watch shown had a miniature replica of the clock on the Meridian line in Greenwich Park. I had to investigate. My first thoughts were, what an odd name, I do not really understand the significance of “gate”.

I have got to the bottom of the story. This is a Kickstarter project to launch a new range of watches, Reading all the information I am a little disappointed. The movement is a Chinese Seagull and it would appear the watch is assembled in Italy.Maybe I will get to talk to the projects backers soon and understand if they want to make something a little more British.

This is the story so far.

The Shepherd Gate Clock mounted on the wall of the Royal Observatory in 1870
The Shepherd Gate Clock mounted on the wall of the Royal Observatory in 1870

In the year 1849, the engineer Charles Shepherd Junior (1830–1905) patented a system for controlling a network of master and slave clocks using an electric way, the galvanism. Shepherd installed the public clocks for the Great Exhibition in May 1851. By August 1852, he had built and installed the network of clocks and cables in the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich, London.

The clock dial in 1910 (left) and after the 1981 repainting (right)
The clock dial in 1910 (left) and after the 1981 repainting (right)

The Gate Clock originally indicated astronomical time, in which the counting of the 24 hours of each day starts at noon. The clock was changed in the 20th century to indicate Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in which the counting of the 24 hours of each day starts at midnight. Currently, the Gate Clock continues to show Greenwich Mean Time, and it does not show daylight saving time.

The Shepherd Gate Clock mounted on the wall of the Royal Greenwich Observatory today
The Shepherd Gate Clock mounted on the wall of the Royal Greenwich Observatory today

A few meters behind the clock, pass the Greenwich Prime Meridian Line, based at the Royal Observatory. This meridian was established in London by Sir George Airy in 1851. By 1884, over two-thirds of all ships and tonnage used it as the reference meridian on their charts and maps.

A sign indicating the passage of the Greenwich Meridian Line
A sign indicating the passage of the Greenwich Meridian Line

In October of that year, during the International Meridian Conference, this meridian was selected as the Official Prime Meridian of the world.The Greenwich Prime Meridian is still now the worldwide Time zone reference.

The GTG Watch near to the Shepherd Clock
The GTG Watch near to the Shepherd Clock

The original idea to create a wristwatch version of the Shepherd Clock, bornt in the summer of 2014, in London. During a visit of the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, we remained fascinated by the Shepherd gate clock and its history. That’s why we decided to search for a wristwatch replica of this historical masterpiece.

To our great surprise, we found out that no one had ever made a wrist version of this clock, considered by many people the world’s most popular GMT Clock. After a careful analysis, we realized there were several factors preventing an easy replica of this watch from being marketed. The first one is the particular dial and ring shape, both difficult to be properly executed in small dimensions. The second, but perhaps most important reason, is the movement: The clock has got a 24h movement with hours and minute in the main dial and seconds in the high positioned subdial. There are watches with the 24h movement mechanism in the market, but nobody with this very particular feature. Later on, during the design phase, we added the 12h movement version, to share with the twelve hours watch users the unique design of this famous clock.

Frontal view of the GTG 24h watch cases (left) and GTG 12h watch cases
Frontal view of the GTG 24h watch cases (left) and GTG 12h watch cases

The movements mounted on the GTG are of two type:

24H MOVEMENT

Characterized by a 24 hours and minutes hands on the main dial, plus the small second hands on the high subdial. The mechanism is a fully-automatic self winding type with the GTG logo engraved on it.

12H MOVEMENT

Characterized by a 12 hours and minutes hands on the main dial, plus the small second hands on the high subdial. The overall dimensions are the same of the 24h version, as the fully-automatic self winding mechanism, with the GTG logo engraved on it.

Bottom view of a Black IP coating Stainless Steel GTG (left) and natural Stainless Steel GTG (right)
Bottom view of a Black IP coating Stainless Steel GTG (left) and natural Stainless Steel GTG (right)

Each movement is tested in the Italian Assembly Department, responsible for the manufacturing of the watches and for the quality control.

The movement accuracy tested with a Watch Timing Machine
The movement accuracy tested with a Watch Timing Machine

The two movements come with the same dimensions: 30.4 mm diameter and 7.4 mm thickness.

Exclusively for the Kickstarter campaign, we are proud to announce that the watches will be numbered. Every backer from Kickstarter will have her/his own watch engraved at no additional cost.

The incision will be on the movement and it will follow the production order – from the first baker’s watch with the lowest number (e.g. “001/ —-“), until the last one.

The numbered limited edition won’t be available for watches sold after the Kickstarter campaign.

The first design step consisted in defining a 3D cad watch-case that could maintain the original shape of the Shepherd Clock, with a luxury design that could exalt its character. For this reason, the case is linear, without shapes and with the crown in the bottom (at “6 hours” in the 12h model, at “12 hours” in the 24h model).

The design of the dial
The design of the dial

The ring is probably the most particular and distinctive part of this watch. Its colored in black for the standard GTG model, as the original Shepherd one. To preserve the original layout, we decided to use the 316L Stainless Steel with Black IP coating, a modern treatment used from many of the most luxury watch manufacturer.

The 3d model of the GTG
The 3d model of the GTG

To create a symmetry in the watch, even the exhibition case on the back is the same color. There is also a more classical version available, with natural 316L Stainless Steel.

The mounting of the bezel on the case of a GTG watch
The mounting of the bezel on the case of a GTG watch

The next steps was to create prototypes in ABS material, with a stereo lithography 3D printer. This test was crucial in verifying the space required for the crown setting and the strap positions.

Another distinctive and particular element of the clock are the hands. We have made photo chemical milling prototypes of these ones as well.

Some watch prototypes 3d-printed in ABS material
Some watch prototypes 3d-printed in ABS material

Once the dial size was defined, we moved into designing the dials. In order to obtain a collection of watches suitable for different occasions and for people of all ages, we designed three different dials versions, in glossy or galvanic surface finish:

  • the modern clock version – 24h
  • the modern clock version – 12h
  • the 1910’s clock version – 24h

We decided to add the 12h version to share the unique design of this famous clock with people that prefer this kind of movement.

While the back glass of the watch is the same for all the combinations, we decided to give each customer the possibility (at the same price) to choose between two type of frontal glasses:

  • domed sapphire coated classic glass (3 ATM water resistant)
  • high domed acrylic crystal vintage glass (dust resistant)
Sapphire coated classic glass (left) and acrylic crystal glass (right)
Sapphire coated classic glass (left) and acrylic crystal glass (right)
The mounting of the case and the frontal glass, the ultrasonic watch washing and the test of the water resistant feature
The mounting of the case and the frontal glass, the ultrasonic watch washing and the test of the water resistant feature

The Greenwich Time Gate logo is inscribed on the Ardillon Buckle and on the Deployant Buckle (“butterfly type” – STRETCH GOAL).

The Deployant Buckle (left) and the Ardillon Buckle (right)
The Deployant Buckle (left) and the Ardillon Buckle (right)

The last step was to find the straps. Due to the high amount of combination available until this point, it was necessary to choose high quality straps suitable for different combinations.

Our choice consisted in 4 main categories:

  • Vintage genuine Italian leather straps: light brown, dark brown, black
  • Bull genuine Italian leather straps: white, brown, black
  • Crocodile Print genuine Italian leather straps: light brown, dark brown, black
  • Real crocodile Italian leather strap, black

In addition to these models, we have the Silicon strap (black) and the Nato type straps (4 colors), available for everyone as STRETCH GOALS.

The collection is divided into four main models:

  • the GTG 12h Glossy Dial, a variant of the classic 24h Shepherd Watch
  • the GTG 24h Glossy Dial, the classic one inspired to the Shepherd Watch
  • the GTG 12h Galvanic Dial, with variant of the luxury galvanic finish dial
  • the GTG 24h Galvanic Dial, with variant of the luxury galvanic finish dial

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The GTG 24.P1050 model
The GTG 24.P1050 model

                                                                                                    

The GTG 24.P1010 model
The GTG 24.P1010 model
The GTG 24.P3090 model
The GTG 24.P3090 model
The GTG 24.P3060 model
The GTG 24.P3060 model

These are the main models in the collection. You can see the full catalogue (51 models) and the specifications at www.gtgwatch.com. All the watch are sent with the GTG wood pack box.

Rewards #2 #6 : GTG 12h Glossy Dial – from 120£ (EARLY BIRDS) to 145£

Rewards #3 #7 : GTG 24h Glossy Dial – from 125£ (EARLY BIRDS) to 150£

Rewards #4 #8 : GTG 12h Galvanic Dial – from 130£ (EARLY BIRDS) to 155£

Rewards #5 #9 : GTG 24h Galvanic Dial – from 135£ (EARLY BIRDS) to 160£

Rewards #10 #11 #12 #13 : 1 x GTG + 2 additional wristbands – from 165£ to 180£

Rewards #14 #15 #16 : 2 x GTG – from 285£ to 305£

Reward #17 : 5 x GTG – 760£

Rewards #18 : 10 x GTG – 1,500£

The packaging is composed by a luxury wood box, with a material inspired to the Greenwich park trees, in the typical English brown oak wood.

The famous Queen Elizabeth's Oak in Greenwich Park and the external view of the GTG wood pack box
The famous Queen Elizabeth’s Oak in Greenwich Park and the external view of the GTG wood pack box

The production plan of the GTG will include, at the end of the production, a testing time, for the quality control of each singol watch.

Lateral view of GTG Watch - Black IP coating type
Lateral view of GTG Watch – Black IP coating type
Detailed view of sapphire coated Classic Glass
Detailed view of sapphire coated Classic Glass
Detailed view of the acrylic crystal Vintage Glass
Detailed view of the acrylic crystal Vintage Glass
The GTG Watch Vintage genuine Italian leather straps
The GTG Watch Vintage genuine Italian leather straps
The GTG Watch Bull genuine Italian leather straps
The GTG Watch Bull genuine Italian leather straps
The GTG Watch Crocodile genuine Italian leather straps
The GTG Watch Crocodile genuine Italian leather straps

Risks and challenges

During the past two years we employed our energies and time to make our working prototypes reach production quality. Prior to our Kickstarter campaign, we have been rigorously testing our products and we’re confident that we’ll meet or beat our projected delivery dates.

Our manufacturers stand ready to activate production as soon as we meet our Kickstarter funding goal. In addition, we built in extra time for the manufacturing process and are confident we will ship by the projected dates. We will always keep you informed if (in the rare chance) things take longer than planned.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

CAPX – British Watch article

This article was highlighted by Piers Berry of Pinion watches on Instagram yesterday. I have not come across the CAPX website before; they say they bring the best writing on politics, economics, markets and ideas, underpinned by a commitment to make the case for popular capitalism.Furthermore  they are bringing the world of British watch brands to a wider audience I am all in favour.

A link to the article and website

If you just want to read the article here it is.

When we think of the things Britain is famous for making and selling to the world what springs to mind?

Back in the day we might have thought of the might of British industry; ships, aircraft, railways and giant feats of engineering.  In more recent times high end cars and fashionable clothes. Music and literature too, I suppose.

What most people don’t think of when this conversation comes around is watches and clocks and that’s a pity because in historical terms Britain, especially England, can claim to have been at the forefront of the development and commercialisation of both. It’s one of the areas we could be proudest of, were we more aware of it.

To give you an idea of the extent of English horological history, London’s Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was founded in 1631. It’s heading for its 500th anniversary. I’m afraid you IT consultants and call centre managers have a way to go.

In fact some of the great names in the history of using mechanical instruments to accurately measure time are British: Graham, Dent, Arnold, Tompion, Harrison and Mudge, for example.

It would also be a mistake to think that British makers produced only high-end pieces in small numbers. According to expert Laura McCreddie, writing in Retail Jeweller magazine, a House of Commons report from 1796 gives the number of watches being stamped that year in London’s Goldsmith’s Hall alone as 191,678.

Sadly, as in so much else where we led the way in innovating and manufacturing, watch and clockmaking became things other countries did best and turned in to major export industries of their own in latter years.

In fact by the time all things British were at their most desirable, in the 1960s, the British watch industry had withered to almost nothing. By then if a watch didn’t say “Swiss made” nobody was much interested, and so it has remained.

Until now. British watchmaking, or perhaps we should say British watches, are back; and back with a mighty boom. There are real British alternatives to Switzerland out there now in almost every price range and for the buyer looking for something a little different from the crowd they offer a host of refreshing options.

They’re also selling in greater and greater numbers as the British alternative becomes a normal area to explore, just as the German one has always been for those in the know.

Let’s also get something out of the way early here. As British watch brands have risen in recent years there has been much discussion, and heated argument, about what constitutes a “British watch”.

Purists say the tag should start and stop at master craftsman like Roger Smith, hand-making watches from the ground up in their own workshops.

Others insist this is economically silly, given that masterpieces like Smith’s cost upwards of £200,000. If you set the bar there, they say, there wouldn’t be a British watch industry, just two or three bespoke British watchmakers.

This more relaxed group insists that so long as a watch is conceived, designed and assembled/finished in the UK it’s British, even if some of its parts are assuredly foreign.

I agree, not least because I believe that allowing British brands to grow organically by initially finishing their pieces in the UK will ultimately facilitate domestic manufacture  of more and more of the watch here, and that’s already happening as we’ll explore in a moment. Let’s celebrate it, not grumble about it.

Today we’re going to take a look at three very different British brands, none of them the preserve of Oligarchs, all real options across price brackets in the mid and luxury sectors. We’ll then look more closely at one example, as usual with these articles.

They’re all watches I like, which is why I’ve chosen them (there are a number of British watches I don’t, but that makes for miserable reading the week before Christmas – ‘tis the season not to be a Grinch, I say).

There’s an argument that Sussex-based Schofield, our first brand, is spiritually closest to the world-view of the watchmakers of England’s late 18th and early 19thCenturies given the little company founded by Giles Ellis seems determined to innovate endlessly and has little regard for the rules.

The inspiration for Schofield’s pieces is positively traditional – lighthouses, the sea, the English landscape. Yet the watches themselves look and, perhaps more importantly, feel like nothing else. The ethos may be as old as the hills but the delivery is wholly contemporary. I’m a huge fan of the way both of these sides of a Schofield watch’s soul are obvious as you turn one over in your hands, from beautifully enamelled dials to the sweep of the case and the waxed cotton strap options.

They’re about style and concept first and foremost. No Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres’ certifications or 500m+ water resistance here. But they’re not cheap, and this combination means you have to love them to have one.

Entry today is the “Beater” – watchie slang for a trustworthy everyday workhorse you don’t mind dinging, although at around £2,800 their definition of “everyday” may not be quite everyone’s. The Beaters will be replaced with a new entry watch in 2016. At the top end sits the limited edition £10,000 Blacklamp Carbon and the Signalman and Silvertop sit between the two.

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The “Beater”, in bronze, from Schofield

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Schofield’s innovative Blacklamp Carbon

Whichever Schofield you look at though, there’s little room for the middle ground. They’re Marmite watches, unashamedly and deliberately unlike much else. If you get them, you tend to fall for them deeply. If not you’re left scratching your head.

Coming from a completely different angle is Oxfordshire’s Pinion, founded by former digital designer Piers Berry, who decided life was better analogue in 2013 and formed a mechanical watch company which has taken the core aesthetic of classical gents’ watches and chronographs and added some subtle contemporary fizz at its Henley workshops.

They are “safer” in design terms than Schofields and aimed at a slightly more traditional watch buyer.

What emerges is a collection of striking pieces which appeal to those with classic tastes but who want to buy a watch designed and assembled in Britain, and which has its own subtle differentiators.

From the original Axis to the Pure and on to the piece which has really caught attention in recent times, the Revival 1969 Chronograph (limited to 100 pieces using previously unassembled hand-winding Valjoux 7734 movements, altered and upgraded in Henley) Pinion have chosen well-executed contemporary classic over radical.

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The Axis Automatic, from Pinion

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Pinion’s Revival 1969

But classic British things are very much in vogue too, which is why Pinion has marketing hook ups with some very hip companies indeed, such as Japan’s Iron Heart selvage denim company.

The Pinion range is due a major refresh in 2016, to include evolutions of the Revival (to be called the R-1945, running a version of the rare 1940s Valjoux 22 movement) and the Pure, as well as a second generation Axis. The existing range starts at £1,995 for the Axis Automatic in steel and tops out at £4,950 for the Revival 1969.

Our final British firm, and our focus today, is really the daddy of them all (although they’d hate to be described as such).

Bremont Chronometers, whose watches you’ll find in good jewellers everywhere amid the Rolex and Omega display cases. More than any other modern British brand Bremont has crossed the Rubicon from the slippery banks of niche production to the sunlit uplands of mass market recognition in the luxury sector. Their own boutique outlets in London, Hong Kong and New York (the “right” bits of them too) attest to this.

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The British are coming… Bremont founders Giles and Nick English

The reason why Bremont has managed to make this leap are twofold. One is certainly the watches, of which more in a moment. The second though is what they represent or, if you are more cynical, how they are marketed. Founders Nick and Giles English share passions for motor racing, classic cars, aeroplanes, motorcycles and a dollop of military history as well. As anyone who enjoys any of these things knows, where you find them you also tend to find a love for watches.

Bremont’s offerings have been closely associated with all these pastimes. Sometimes through clever brand link-ups with the likes of Norton or Jaguar, or by using materials taken from WWII fighters or Enigma code machines in manufacture, through to Bremont’s Military division which sells personalised versions of its watches to regiments or squadrons. In all this the company has created a large pool of well-connected, influential brand advocates who spread the word.

None of that would have worked, though, without the watches themselves being very good; and they are. The entire core collection is C.O.S.C certified and all its pieces carry a three year warranty. It’s serious performance wrapped in sharp design with its roots in history – a combination which has been commercial dynamite.

Moreover, as an example of my belief that British watch companies become more British as they becomes more successful, Bremont is something of a standard bearer. Its watches are assembled in Oxfordshire but it recently opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Silverstone, home of F1 and British motor racing. That is already allowing it to produce many of its own case and movement components as it moves towards full in-house movement status.

This is a major investment and, I suppose, a risk by the English brothers, but it represents a big step towards what has always been the end game for them – a watch designed and built entirely in the UK. There are some very good people working on how that will eventually look and, when it happens, it will be a watershed for the industry in Britain.

Bremont’s range is growing but at its core sit numerous variations of two absolute cornerstones of gents’ watches – the pilot watch and the dive watch.

Today we’re going to take a close look at a Bremont which really captures how far the firm has come, and what I think is one of the best pound for pound watches you can buy.

The £4,395 Oracle II, limited to 535 pieces, is significant for a number of reasons but chiefly because it is one of the watches which marks Bremont becoming the official timekeeper of the America’s Cup yacht race, something previously the preserve of far bigger names in watchmaking. It is also a key sponsor of one of the boats, Team Oracle USA, the crew of which have all been given Oracle IIs. For a relatively small British watch maker this is huge international exposure.

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Oracle II, by Bremont

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Form and function – the Oracle II doesn’t cut corners

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The least British part of Bremont’s Oracle II

Like the Oracle I the second watch in the line is based in part on Bremont’s successful Supermarine dive watch, with 500m water resistance and automatic helium escape valve. The Oracle II, though, uses titanium and sculptured DLC in parts of the case build which, like so many Bremonts, reveals more complexity and features the closer you get to it.

The most obvious change is of course the addition of a second time zone, enabling a GMT function. The combination of the four hands, both colour and design, is what really makes the thing work for me. It could have been terrible but it’s like Goldilocks’ porridge, just right.

That balance continues wherever you look, from the powerful but unobtrusive crown guard to the bezel. Turn it over and over in your hands and the proportions of the design never fail.

It’s also changed colour from the Oracle I’s white to more traditional (and, let’s be honest, saleable) black but still bears the “America’s Cup” name on the varnished matt dial above 6 o’clock.

Both Oracles use Bremont’s anti-shock movement mount and anti-magnetic Faraday cage which encases a modified caliber 13 ¼” BE-92-2AE movement, a decorated and upgraded ETA unit.

Looks and performance are the key to selling a watch, but as a punter that nebulous phrase “how it wears” is key to whether you come to love it. The 43mm Oracle somehow shrinks on the wrist, feeling snug and slipping under shirt cuffs rather than trying to escape as so many taller watches do. The kevlar strap, which is available across the Bremont range, is also something of a revelation. It’s not a material one thinks of as comfortable but it is that and then some.

I’ve also not worn anything in a long time which has gleaned such universally positive reactions from people. They are initially struck by how handsome it is, then by the detailing on closer inspection and finally, if they don’t know Bremont, they’re delighted to learn it’s British… rather like drivers who’ll let a E-Type out of a side road but not a Ferrari.

One tries not to be too much of a cheerleader about these things, which is tough with a watch I like as much as this one. However, after hunting for something less than glowing to say about it I’ve come up with the fact it says “Team Oracle USA” on the caseback.

Sorry chaps, but I’ll be supporting the Brits.

It only remains for me to wish all of you a very merry Christmas, and a prosperous and peaceful 2016, and I hope very much that Santa is kind to those of you hoping for a Patek Philippe under the tree.

Bremont Jaguar MkIII

 

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s video here is the announcement of the next watch in Bremont’s Jaguar range, the Mark III.

Jaguar MKIII Video

The MKIII is the most pared back timepiece in the range yet still very much in keeping with the design of the MKI and MKII. The MKIII by comparison has a slightly slimmer 43mm polished steel case; the black tachometer-inspired dial design features the date window at the six oíclock position and carries the Jaguar heritage logo right above it. Its hour markings are reminiscent of the numerals found on E-Type instruments and the dial features a distinctive ëred lineí quadrant between three and four oíclock also paying homage to the E-Typeís tachometer.

As with the other models in this range the iconic winding crown harks back to the Lightweight E-Type using the same original Dunlop tyre tread, topped with the Jaguar heritage logo to match that of the dial. Turning the MKIII over reveals further automotive imagery in the form of its closed case back, inspired by wheel centre detailing from the E-Type. The 43mm stainless steel case – which is fitted with a double-domed crystal to enhance the vintage appearance of the watch – is made entirely in the UK by Bremont using its renowned, three-part Trip-Tick® technology that also incorporates Bremont’s anti- shock movement mount technology.