Meet Britain’s most exclusive watchmaker, whose exquisite timepieces sell for up to £250,000

Just to keep you interested here is another article from the Daily Telegraph celebrating Roger Smith. Happy New Year.

Roger Smith, RW Smith Watches

Roger Smith has mastered 32 different trades to make every component of a watch from start to finish Photo: RW Smith

If you want an exquisitely designed timekeeping instrument, you don’t necessarily need to look towards Switzerland. Mechanical miracles are being handcrafted and designed in an unassuming cottage on the Isle of Man.

Welcome to what is probably the world’s most exclusive watch factory where Roger Smith has devoted his working life to making timepieces. His team of seven uses hand engine-turning equipment to produce watches from scratch, and each watch can take up to 11 months to complete.

The finished articles sell for anything between £100,000 to £250,000, and are sought out by collectors around the world – there is currently a four-year waiting list for an RW Smith watch.

“Watchmaking at this level is very unusual,” says Smith. “I compare it to a Ford Fiesta and a Bentley. The Bentley has leather interior and immaculate piping. It doesn’t make any difference to the running of the car, but it’s nice to have.”

Smith has mastered 32 distinct trades to design and build every component of a watch from start to finish – and he’s one of only a handful of people in the world with this sk

He learned his craft from master watchmaker Dr George Daniels in a partnership that lasted 20 years until Daniels’ death in 2011.

Dr Daniels was the first person in recent history to make every component of a watch, from scratch and by hand and dedicated some 60 years to the art. His “co-axial escapement” invention of 1974 – designed to make a watch’s mechanism run more precisely – was regarded by experts as one of the most significant horological developments in 250 years. It was even taken up by Swiss watchmaking giant Omega in 1999.

The inner workings of his Open Dial watch, which can cost around £150,000

“The introduction of the modern quartz watch in the late 1960s meant that the world was talking of the end of mechanical timekeeping, but George Daniels refused to accept that,” says Smith.

Since Dr Daniels death, Smith has taken over the workshop and continues the watchmaker’s method of handcrafting timepieces.

“Our customers want something unique. They’ve bought the branded watches but now they’re after something different. Our clients appreciate the technical side of the watches and are fascinated in nuts and bolts. They like the idea that someone sits down and makes them a completely bespoke watch.”

Each piece is expertly crafted, and Roger Smith can spend a week perfecting a tiny cog

Buyers come from America, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and various other countries with collectors eager to get their hands on a truly unique British masterpiece.

Smith’s path to horological excellence was a painstaking one. He studied at the Manchester School of Horology and began a seven year self-imposed apprenticeship with Dr Daniels shortly after graduating.

The first handmade pocketwatch he presented to his mentor in 1992, following two years of hard graft, was described by Dr Daniels as a “good first attempt but try again.”

His second completed attempt in 1997 was finally acknowledged as a success and Smith’s watchmaking career took off, launching his Series 1 watch shortly after.

His Series 2 timepiece, which took three years to develop, was the first wrist watch to have been designed and made entirely within Great Britain for over 50 years when it was completed in 2007. Series 3 will launch next summer after being in design since 2012.

A bespoke watch from the Series 2 collection

The key to Smith’s watchmaking method is dedication, absolute detail and a great deal of patience.

Each component will be worked on for weeks until it is perfect in every way. Even a small lever, hidden inside the watch, might take two days to polish to get it just right.

“It’s all been self-funded. I’ve nearly gone broke a few times, but I’ve come through,” says Smith.

His team is made up of an engineer who builds the raw components, while the others all have a watch repairing or restoration background. They aim to recreate the standards of English watchmaking in the 18th and 19th centuries, before mass production.

Three hundred years ago, Britain led the world in watchmaking but now that accolade goes to Switzerland.

Lauded for their precision and quality, Swiss watches are synonymous with luxury and was one few industries to have come out of the global recession relatively unscathed.

Smith says he’s observed developments in recent British watchmaking with varying degrees of encouragement and dismay.

“We have this incredible heritage out there. I see no reason why we can’t build on that. But it takes huge investment and time. The industry’s all but gone in the UK. We’d have to rebuild it into the national consciousness, but this is my life’s work and I’m willing to keep at it. It’s wonderful to create something that is going to carry on working beautifully for 200 years.”

 

Roger Smith letter – The State of British Watchmaking

This is a letter from Roger Smith I found on the Hondikee website, I’m not sure to who but he makes some interesting points. Over to Roger.

Over the last few years I have observed a renewed interest in British watchmaking with varying degrees of encouragement and dismay.

For the last twenty-five years, I have absorbed myself in designing and making complete and original pieces of horology in keeping with our great history of British watchmaking. As apprentice to the last great British watchmaker, Dr George Daniels, I had the honour of witnessing such history at first hand.

My reputation and methods are entirely founded on being a British watchmaker in the truest sense of the claim; by making watches in their entirety in our studio including, most importantly, the movements.

Today I am encouraged that much is happening with investment and job creation in watchmaking, as well as renewed interest in our rich horological heritage.

But I am dismayed by the current direction and ethos (or lack of it).

We are very much in the infancy of a revival in the British watchmaking industry, but we are also at its most critical point. Our actions today will define the future.

Since my studio only produces around ten pieces per year, they are clearly available to only the most determined of collectors. The field therefore remains open for the first volume-produced ‘true’ British watch, which will of course include a British movement, designed and made in its entirety within our shores.

To date, this has not been achieved by any current British watchmaker. So where, in fact, are we?

In my view today, there are three other distinct types of British watchmaking company.
The first (which is typically an overseas holding company) will rake through our horological history books and appropriate a watchmaker’s name (and valuable heritage). They then make extraordinary claims as to their company having direct lineage back to that original watchmaker.

This is clearly misrepresentative and it is frankly embarrassing when I meet collectors who have bought watches from a “heritage brand” in the false belief that their watch is directly connected to the company’s founder or has been produced in Britain.

The second type is the product designer who simply adds some design flourishes to an existing ‘base’ watch, either Japanese or Swiss. Calling them “watchmakers” is akin to calling a maker of picture frames the “artist.”

The third type (and includes the makers I feel should be conditionally applauded) is a new British watch company, started from scratch by founders with their own vision.

However, despite some noble aspirations, they again readily tap into our rich history, mention a few horological greats, choose a very “British” sounding name, and then quickly discard this rich British watchmaking heritage by conveniently buying in foreign components.

Looking back in history, we see some eminent British watchmakers buying in quality Swiss movements and so you may say “what’s wrong”?

Well, these days it is all about the presentation together with lofty claims of provenance.

Recently I witnessed a British watchmaking company claiming to have designed and made their new movement in house in England. If you can’t “kid a kidder,” just try kidding probably the best informed collecting community there is! Within minutes, eagle-eyed watch devotees online realised that the movement in question was designed and made in Switzerland. The fallout was astonishing, but not a surprise, because the watch devotees had been lied to and taken for fools. The statement was quickly retracted. But the damage was done – and not just to the individual company.

With new British watch brands I hear, all too often, talk about these manufacturers blazing the trail for a re-birth of British watch making and yet, on even cursory inspection, their watches are ostensibly of foreign origin. Furthermore, for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of our recent history British watchmaking never really died, thanks to the pioneering work of the late aforementioned Dr George Daniels.

While the number of Daniels’ entirely British watches was extremely limited, their significance was global and historic. Above all, Daniels proved that the mountain could be climbed, that it could be done!

These premature and deceitful claims diminish Britain’s rich horological past, and prejudice its present and its future.

Let me state once again, there is no shame in a British watchmaker using Swiss movements to drive their watches. Some of our forefathers did just this, driven by economic expediency and the quality of movements available.

Today there are no movements being mass produced within Britain and so common sense dictates that we must look to Switzerland for the supply of quality movements until we British are in a position to honestly declare that we are able to mass produce high quality mechanisms to drive our watches.

This is an incredibly difficult endeavour. It will take huge investment and a concerted effort – perhaps an unprecedented partnership between our British watch companies.

But isn’t that the point? A true British watch is not meant to be easy. Easy has no interest or value.

George Daniels achieved his acclaim and rightful place in horological history by climbing that most difficult face of the watchmaking mountain. Lacking any readily available British components, he worked out how to make each and every one of them and hand made his watches from scratch. It was brave; unprecedented. It should have been impossible – like using an ascent of Everest as a course in rock climbing!

Today, the current crop of ‘watchmakers’ are indeed planting their Union Jacks in the same spot at the top of that mountain.

But instead of climbing it, they are flying up it, business class – courtesy of ‘Swiss Air’.

Let me be absolutely clear here. If we take a ‘binary’ view on provenance, taking a Swiss movement, finessing it and framing it does not constitute making a ‘British’ watch. Claiming otherwise diminishes the very heritage these companies seek to gain value from. At last year’s Salon QP, I spoke about the need for British watchmakers to take the challenge of producing true British watches more seriously if our revival is to be anything more than a fantasy.

Within a year of making that speech (which can be found online), I am therefore dismayed to find that some of my fears have already come true.

I make no apology for being a purist. Ours is the purest of mechanical arts.

Perhaps I am an alarmist? But when I read comments from collectors all over the world talking (justifiably) about “more British smoke ‘n mirrors” is it really such a big conceptual leap for this to slip into the collectors’ consciousness and cause long-term damage to the reputation of British watchmaking?

For me an industry’s ability to self-regulate is a privilege, not a right.

The only fundamental right should be that of the consumer to be able to purchase products which are precisely what they say they are.

It seems we can learn a thing or two from the food industry and their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The purpose of the regulation is to protect the reputation of regional foods and eliminate the misleading of consumers by non-genuine products.

So even if I spend £2 on a “Melton Mowbray Pork Pie,” the regulation dictates that my purchase has been 100% made where it claims to be made, and to a process consistent with its heritage.

However, if I invest £5,000, £10,000 (or more) on a wristwatch, it currently seems that no such integrity of provenance is even required, let alone protected.

This seems pretty ludicrous.

If we are to become the beneficiaries of Britain’s incredibly rich heritage in watchmaking, then we must be curators of its reputation. Perhaps we should look to establish our own basic standards to establish our country’s watch making provenance.

Let’s hope nobody does it for us, because I believe British watchmaking is currently taking liberties with that privilege. Some of its participants are making misleading claims as to the British provenance of their watches in order to boost the value of their products.

Our country rightly has claim to significantly defining what we carry on our wrist to this day. Many inventions, which the Swiss have brilliantly mass micro-engineered into the watches of today, were actually British in origin.

This wonderful heritage contributes to what makes a British watch worth owning. British country-of-origin bestows a watch with significant added-value.

So what needs to be done?

While we continue to be self-regulating, I ask for aspirant British watchmakers to show restraint in their claims. I ask for them to take their responsibility as curators of Britain’s watchmaking heritage – and its future – more seriously. As heirs apparent to this heritage we need to curate that reputation instead of simply trying to cash in on it.

Having devoted my working life to developing British watchmaking I passionately believe in our industry and its potential. My aim is not to denigrate the aspirations of those who are intrepidly setting out to create mass-produced British watches. It is my hope that the global community of watch collectors will also forgive recent indiscretions as the exuberance of youth.

But let’s not spoil our ongoing efforts by prematurely popping the champagne corks and declaring the “Second Coming” of British watchmaking.

Above all, let’s ensure that we protect our industry’s reputation by applying the only true virtue for which we should be renowned…

…Good timing.

Roger W. Smith

Schofield Beater

THE BEATER LAUNCH
What to expect from Schofield at SalonQP 2014? A special little corner of the English, independent, watchmaking scene. Showing the Beater watch for the first time, in three different materials, finishes and colours. The production version of the Blacklamp. A few Signalman watches are left for sale and how it is likely that this is the last SalonQP they will be available, also the range of watch straps which are interchangeable across all the watch models.

Pinion Axis Pure

Well this is one that slipped below my radar, it appeared on Pinions July newsletter, just as I had switched myself into holiday mode. This is a very handsome looking watch. I hope to get to see one at Salon QP.

For the forthcoming Axis Pure watch, we’ve developed our own bespoke luminous colour for the dial and hands, which has been designed to emulate the radioactive painted dials from vintage clocks and instruments.The process of painting clock and watch dials with radioactive materials began at the turn of the 20th century. Because there was a need to see in the dark, the only solution to create a ‘glow’ was by using a mixture of radioactive materials and applying them by hand.

Unlike watches of today, which require a charge in the sunlight to make them glow, the radioactive dials would ‘burn’ constantly for years, until a point where they ran out of power. This and the time duration, resulted in the discolouring effect which you often see with vintage watches when viewed today.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The Axis Pure will be available this Autumn (Shipping October) in a limited run of 100 pieces:  Only 50 Polished steel and 50 brushed bronze watches will be produced.

The Axis will retail for £2,950 GBP Inc.VAT or $4,180 USD (based on exchange rates at time of going to press).

If you are interested in reserving one of these watches, please contact:hello@pinionwatches.com

Mecca Watch

Well why not, why should I concentrate my commentary on “British” watches to mechanical time keepers. Part of the quirky London brand Hoptroff’s range is this Mecca watch.

It offers not only time and seconds, but also the direction to Mecca and the times of Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha

Under the elegant exterior, a built-in magnetometer in the timepiece and a Bluetooth transceiver to access the GPS in your phone, are used to determine the direction to Mecca and the prayer times.

950 Platinum £9000 + sales tax
Britannia Silver £1650 + sales tax
Available November 2014
Pre-orders now being taken

Garrick

Last month saw the announcement a further “British” watch company, Garrick, founded by David Brailsford and two friends. They aim to produce a watch brand of “a distinctly British character”.

The first Garrick London watch, the sm301, a stainless steel time only model will be based around a hand wound Swiss Unitas 6498.1 movement, modified and enhanced in Britain with hand-bevelled bridges and thermally blued screws, then housed in a 316L stainless steel case manufactured by an English company.

The 42mm Shaftesbury are going to include a machined brass enamelled dial, and raised steel chapter rings secured with blued screws, for the hours and minutes track and small-seconds dial. It claims a 42-hour power reserve and will initially be offered only on alligator or leather straps.

Pricing hasn’t been confirmed on the Shaftesbury yet, but is expected to be around £3,000.

http://www.garrick.co.uk

Image to be updated

English ?

I found this explanation of when a watch can be described as “English”. I assume the rules also would count for the other British countries. This is therefore a is quiet an important question for the purposes of this blog.

This is clearly an important question for Schofield Watches who published this explanation on their website.

According to the law, if a watch company wants to have ‘Made in England’ written on the dial, then England must be the place where the watch ‘underwent its last substantial, economically justified processing or working’. More recently a draft EU proposal recommends that watches will only be able to say they are ‘Made in England’ if at least 45% of the ‘value content’ can be attributed to this country.
Though we acknowledge the current definition and the proposed new legislation, at Schofield we have always said that we need much more for one of our watches to carry the ‘England’ motif.Clarity of process is essential. ‘England’ on the dial is not a cheaply won marketing tool nor is it something to be manipulated, but rather an aspiration to achieve with ‘industrious effort’. Endeavour must also be encouraged and commended as we seek to re-build the watch industry in this country returning it to the forefront of the global stage.Until May 2013 all Schofield watches were designed in England and made in Germany, the dial therefore stated ‘Germany’. Since then our watches have been designed and assembled in England. According to the current law all of our watches could have England written on the dial. In spite of this the Signalman and the DLC still retain the Germany label as we feel this to be the most sincere and appropriate description. By contrast our newest models, the Blacklamp Carbon and Beater, will have England on the dial. It is almost entirely made in England and we believe the details of its design and manufacture, the effort made and the endeavour warrant the label.The Blacklamp Carbon – Made in England 100% – Watch assembly in England 85% – Value content of Blacklamp attributed to England 100% – Watch Design in England 98% – Value content of associated Blacklamp items attributed to England 100% – Assembly of associated Blacklamp items in England.

These numbers will I imagine surprise lots of watch enthusiasts who imagine that the movement is the key ( most expensive ?) part of a watch. Well apparantly it is not, I have seen the cost of the Unitas movement used by Schofield is only a couple of hundred dollars.

But surely the definition of orgin should take into account what makes rhe watch tick ?

A quick Pinion mention

I must admit to having a soft spot for Pinion watches especially after having a chat with founder Piers Berry at the QP show last year. The brand remaining at the forefront of my mind as I use their watch app on my iPhone.

I am now trying to catch up on the news during my period of “writers block”. I have just spotted a press release from a few days ago announcing the latest Pinion watch, the Revival 1969, which will be produced as a limited edition of 100 pieces. The key feature of this Pinion’s first chronograph being the use of NOS Valjoux 7734 hand-wound movements from 1969.

Here’s a link that gives more information – http://www.pinionwatches.com/revival-1969/

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Yet another Bremont article

Bremont: a turbulent take-off for high flying design – FT.com

Bremont: a turbulent take-off for high flying design

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