He’s the creator of the world’s first atomic-powered timepiece, as well as devices that marry smart technology with traditional aesthetics. The Daily Telegraph meet Richard Hoptroff
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The familiar environs of the fine watch world – the rarefied factories of Geneva or the glossy stores of Bond Street – are a world apart from an unassuming street in south London’s Elephant & Castle. The tiny workspace that makes up British timepiece specialist Hoptroff’s HQ is like the horological equivalent of the Old Curiosity Shop, only with a dash of luxury fairy dust sprinkled throughout. For it’s here that physicist, archaeologist and amateur pilot Richard Hoptroff is pushing the boundaries of watchmaking through a series of pioneering innovations that have changed the watch world.
We like challenges here,” he says, by way of understatement, referring to the project that will launch at fine watch fair SalonQP next month; the Hotblack True Tide. This timepiece will be able to tell the tide times at over 3,000 ports across the world, syncing up with a smartphone containing information relayed via Bluetooth into a chip in the watch, with the traditional dial on the face swinging to the relevant numbers. But what sets Hoptroff’s technical wizardry apart from the smart phone generation is that this complex technology comes in the form of handsome, classically designed watches that look mechanical rather than digital.
“The watches are ‘smart’ but they are traditional looking, beautiful pieces. Primarily a watch is a thing of beauty not utility. We don’t even need watches to tell the time these days so you wear it to look good and feel good. The ‘smart’ element is displayed in a more considered way than just a screen,” Hoptroff says.
It’s this thread of innovation that led Hoptroff, who started working in forecasting software, to create the Atomic, which lays claim to being the most accurate timekeeping device of its size, not to mention being the world’s first atomic-powered watch. It was developed in 2013 using chips taken from US military cruise missiles (and no, he can’t divulge what’s in them – it’s top secret) and runs at an accuracy of 1 second to every 1,000 years. In layman’s terms, it’s more accurate than Big Ben.
Currently working on refining the size of the timepiece to make it viable for the wrist, Hoptroff has also recently created the No.9, a watch that tells the share prices on a dial on the face, synced up once again to an app, and the No.15, a watch with an embedded compass that indicates the direction to Mecca and relays the exact times of prayer.
In his inventor’s studio, overflowing with devices such as a Crookes radiometer, circuit boards, balance springs, cogs, studs and escape wheels, Hoptroff’s mission statement has always been to test the technological status quo. “We’ve refined our processes by trial and error. It’s not rocket science,” he says, although it sounds like it, “but you realise that by adding just a little bit of smart technology in an intelligent way, you can do amazing things. We employ technology but we do so in a personal way, so for your prayer times, or the device on the watch I’m wearing that tells me when anniversaries, birthdays and important dates are on a dial”. All this innovation in a package that’s infinitely more beautiful than a standard smart timepiece makes Hoptroff one to watch.