Tag Archives: handmade watch

Charles Frodsham & Co

I have been meaning to post this piece for sometime. This is a discovery I made thanks to the Instagram postings of “The Watchnerd” ( #watchnerd).

Dial detail – Charles Frodsham wristwatch

 

A company that amazingly, after reading around the British watch world, I have never come across before; and as you can see from the image above they produce stunning watches.

Charles Frodsham & Co. are the longest continuously trading firm of chronometer manufacturers in the world, and are synonymous with precision timekeeping instruments of the highest quality; watches, clocks, regulators and wristwatches.

Charles was born into a dynasty of clock, watch and chronometer makers on the 15 April 1810. His father William James Frodsham (1779-1850) and Hannah Lambert had ten children, five of whom were apprenticed to their father and later became horologists in their own right.

Charles was educated at Christ’s Hospital, the Bluecoat School in Newgate, London, and as a condition of the Foundation, was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to his father William. He showed early promise submitting two chronometers (numbers 1 & 2) to the 1830 Premium Trials at Greenwich, No.2 gaining the second Premium prize of £170. A further nine chronometers were then entered for trial in subsequent years, until the termination of the Premium Trials, in 1836.

As at the moment I have no other source of information other than the companies website I suggest you go directly there www.frodsham.com  . I am now really curious to discover more about these watches which even seem to impress the famous Roger Smith.

Daniels’ Space Travellers

Just in case you missed this news, which I guess is unlikely, I wanted to mark this important landmark in history of British watchmaking.

George Daniels’ Space Travellers was recently sold at auction for £3.2m. a new record for a British watch.

Space Travellers – photo Sothebys

The BBC reported  Sotheby’s Head of  International Watch Division, Daryn Schnipper said: “The Space Travellers’ watch is no doubt one of Daniels’ finest timepieces and one can only be mesmerised by the beauty of its dial and the complexity and wonder of its movement.”

 

George Daniels Watches for auction

Over the next couple of months not one but two George Daniels watches are being auctioned at Sothebys.

The first being a Millenium Watch that will be auctioned on April 25th.

Millenium 01c (photo Sothebys)

The second watch will be on sale on July 6th it is a gold tourbillon chronometer.

Daniels Tourbillion Chronometer (Image New York Times

George Daniels have consistently achieved amazingly high prices. Given the state of the watch market recently it will be interesting to see if this continues.

My Salon QP – Friday Robert Loomes

Salon QP is now over for another year. This year, as I have already written, I was a little disappointed that neither Pinion or Schofield were exhibiting. However, now on my fourth year I am getting used to the format of the show and so I am starting to feeling comfortable in the Saatchi Gallery.

QP logoOne learning from last year was that around the show there are also some great presentations from interesting people in the industry. This year the talk that caught my eye was Robert Loomes discussing about how he got to be building his movements in Britain; held on Friday lunchtime. Robert is a super enthusiast who apparently would happily tell everyone about is journey for as long as they are prepared to listen. Salon QP disappointingly limited his time.

Robert’s talk was not limited to his new movement, but his watchmaking history that lead up to this  point. The key to his story would appear to be Roberts, “well, that should be possible” attitude mixed with a healthy dose of patriotism. To cut a long story short the whole enterprise started with a bet. Now this all seems like a recipe for the usual heroic  “could have been, if only ” situation.

The heroine in this story, as in so many, would appear to be Robert’s wife Robina, who in 2011 bought the business and left Robert to get on and do the technical stuff. Robina recognised one of the most important current marketing trends “localisation”, customers, a much better description than consumers, are paying more attention to the origin of the products they buy. This has become very evident in the world of food and drink but is now moving into more durable items such as clothing and of more interest to us, watches. Watches that are now, from a practical point of view redundant, have become more  personal statements leading more people wanting to know more about the story and origins of the product the are buying to make that statement. For many people that includes wanting to support their national industry or even to go as far as wanting to know the people responsible for making their watch. These are the people Robert and Robina sell there watches to.

The "Stamford"
The “Stamford”

In making their new “Stamford” watch Robert and his team have built on they experience of making the Robin watch using modified NOS Smiths movements. The Stamford being a development of that  movement in a case and dial similar to to the Robin. Initially only 24 examples will be made 12 in gold and 12 white gold and maybe one for Robert himself in “stainless gold”. Unfortunately, for those of us with other demands on our salary, the price will be £28,500. I did enquire if there was a chance these prices might drop if production increases and bring economies of scale. The message from was fairly unambiguous from Robert, unlikely. Given the small number of all the components they are are ordering from small local engineering companies it is difficult to lower cost significantly.

Having said all of this I am confident that Robert and Robina will find  24 buyers that believe in their idea of localisation. Congratulations.

Two Roger Smith’s for sale!

Those clever people at Hodinkee tweeted a few days ago that they have discovered not one but two early example of British watchmaker Roger Smith’s work for sale.

Series 2 & Daniels Anniversary
Series 2 & Daniels Anniversary

Clearly these are not cheap. The gold Series 2 is up for £150,000 , the Daniel’s Anniversary for £235,000 .

For the complete story  https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/two-early-roger-w-smith-watches-watch-xchange

 

George Daniels – Space Traveller

Roger Smith tweeted this short video clip of his mentor George Daniels’ Space Traveller watch displayed in the Manx Museum.

I thought I would find out some more about this impressive pocket watch and this is it’s story.

Dr. Daniels was on a trip to Zurich where he met an important collector for dinner. The collector nudged him and said ‘what do you have in your pocket’, so he took out his watch, a gold Daniels pocket watch with independent double-wheel escapement. The collector said he had to have the watch and asked him to sell it to him. Dr. Daniels said it was not for sale but the collector persisted. Dr. Daniels thought this was an enormous compliment as he did not even ask the price, and so sold him the watch. Dr. Daniels immediately regretted selling this watch and therefore decided to make another which would be an improvement on the first both in terms of complication and accuracy. Having not fully exploited the first watch, the second watch would have separate calculations for each train, it was therefore possible to indicate both mean-solar and sidereal time.In the 18th century to check the accuracy of your watch you had to have a precision clock which was set by a star. This watch by means of having solar and sidereal time could make the calculation for you, the difference being 3.555 minutes per day.

To try and improve the calculation of the train which allowed for an error of 0.8 seconds per year Dr. Daniels contacted a friend at Cambridge University to ask if they knew of a mathematician interested in watches. He got a response almost immediately and extraordinarily enough the mathematicians name was Professor Daniels. The professor was able to calculate a better ratio of 0.28 seconds per day, which Dr. Daniels was very happy with.

Dr. Daniels used to say to people, ‘when you are on your package tour to Mars you need a watch like this, and when using the telephone for long distance calls you could switch the chronograph into sidereal time to cut your bills by 3.555 minutes per day’.Originally the watch had been referred to as the Daniels squared (2) because of the assistance he received from Professor Henry Daniels but Dr. Daniels did not think this was good enough so named it the ‘Space Travellers’ watch in honour of the American landing on the moon which was the greatest space exploratory journey of the century.

Roger Smith attends New York City premiere of The Watchmaker’s Apprentice

Roger Smith and David Armstrong

How was the trip?

New York is always very exciting. It’s a great city with a deep interest in horology. In fact the horological community there is growing and very knowledgeable, while the people I meet always seem to enthusiastic and very pleasant company!

The event was hosted by the New York Horological Society…

Yes it was – and they are doing important work, which is continually increasing the awareness and knowledge of watchmaking.

You also have collectors in the USA?

We do. Both the East and West coasts are important for us and overall the USA probably accounts for a third of our business. I think that was partly why there was a great deal of interest in the Watchmaker’s Apprentice.

The event was sold out…

It was! The cinema is actually quite iconic, being the home of the Tribeca Film Festival and the house was packed! It’s marvelous to see so much interest for a film about watchmaking. It is particularly gratifying to see this for DAM Productions who made the film.

It has been nearly four years since they filmed the interviews with George and myself here in the Isle of Man. So to see them gain support from The Watch Club in London, to ensure the film was finished and to now see that faith fulfilled with sold-out screenings and international distribution is marvelous.

How does it feel to be the subject of a film?!

Well, I think this comes back to the question of the faith of filmmakers. Tucked away in our studio in the Isle of Man, it is easy to forget that there is so much interest in watchmaking, and what we do, all over the world. As such, I was amazed that anyone would want to make a film about it!

However, I think, clearly the fascination is with George Daniels and his story. George gave so few interviews and was a very private person (except when he was racing his Bentleys!) that for the production team to get his last words also gave them the chance to create a completely rounded narrative on his life and work, which in many respects makes it very complementary to Michael Clerizo’s excellent biography. I may be ‘The Watchmaker’s Apprentice’, but my story in the context of the film is only really the last chapter of George’s.

You also gave a question and answer session?

Along with David Armstrong, the director, yes. Being a horological audience, many of the questions picked up on various aspects of the story and there were also a number of anecdotes shared from the audience about George Daniels, which are always entertaining!

It was also touching to hear how the film affected people and it was also very gratifying to meet so many young people with a passion for watchmaking!

..and there was a lot of interest in your now famous ‘Open Letter’…

That too! I must say it was quite overwhelming the support I received and to hear about the similar issues faced by the watchmaking fraternity in the USA. Since the letter was published by Hodinkee it has received huge support around the world and in particular the UK of course. It has also subsequently been quoted by others, and in forums, somewhat out of context. My issue is not and never has been a judgment on how people make watches, but purely about the honesty of their claims. The audience shared their own big concern about provenance in New York right now. They were telling me that some watch companies claim to make pieces locally, but in actual fact these might be dissembled foreign watches, which are reassembled on site and then passed off as having been ‘Made in New York’. This is the sort of thing I am talking about.

What is next for the film?

I gather that the film is being represented for international sales by Amadeus Entertainment at the Cannes Film Festival right now and is being released in the UK on the 20th July by the distributor, Bulldog Film.

It’s next stop on ‘tour’ is going to be at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham on the 26th May, where the film will be screened and there will be another Q&A session, with David Armstrong on which I will be a guest.

Roger Smith – Hodinkee Interview

Interview: A Collector’s Discussion With Roger Smith — HODINKEE // // http://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-2/html/container.html

The origin of Roger Smith’s watchmaking career is well known. He studied at the Manchester School of Horology and while there George Daniels visited his school – an experience which considerably shaped Smith’s life. He graduated in 1989 and won the British Horological Institute’s Bronze medal for the most outstanding student in his final year. Upon graduating, armed with Daniels’ book “Watchmaking” as his guide, Smith set out to build a watch by himself. After two years of hard work, Smith had created a handmade pocket watch with a tourbillon and a detent escapement. He visited Daniels to show him the watch with the hope that he could become Daniels’ apprentice. Daniels called it a good first attempt, but not good enough. Smith returned to his watch bench and spent the next five years on his second attempt (this time adding a perpetual calendar). Smith refined and refined until he felt he could find no way to improve the watch. He visited Daniels again, but this time his watch was good enough to win over the master watchmaker and thus Smith became George Daniels’ one and only apprentice.

Instead of retelling this familiar territory, our interview begins with this point in Smith’s career.

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Smith had done restoration work for a dealer in London, and this dealer had a customer looking for a bespoke pocket watch. The customer heard about Smith and decided to give Smith his first commission. This pocket watch, Smith’s third, was therefore his first sale.

So your third pocket watch had a 15-second remontoir

Watch 101
Remontoir d’Egalite
rementoir
Remontoire: from the French, remontoir d’egalité, a device used to provide constant force to the escapement. 

, Peto cross detent escapement

Watch 101

Escapement
escapement
The escapement is a mechanism that translates rotational energy into lateral impulses. The tick-tock sound you hear when holding a watch to your ear is from the escapement. The pallet fork locks and unlocks with the escape wheel at each vibration of the balance wheel.

, and an up/down mechanism. What is the Peto cross detent escapement? You can see it in Chamberlain’s book It’s About Time.  It is, if you like, a “purist’s detent escapement” because the purist would say that as the classic spring (which traditionally sits on the side of the detent) flicks back, it could potentially destabilize the detent. So you have the classic spring on the opposite side of the detent. The detent then comes into the center; the classic spring comes into the center, and it does all the work, but doesn’t influence the detent. So it’s a real purist’s escapement.

And it’s described as having an up/down mechanism…do you mean a power reserve

Watch 101
Power Reserve
reserve
Mechanical watches are powered by a coiled spring known as a mainspring. As this spring uncoils, the amount of time that the watch can run diminishes. This remaining amount of time is referred to as the power reserve, winding indication, or up/down indication. An indication turning through an angle or a linear indicator appears on the dial to display the power reserve, similar to a car’s fuel gauge.

indicator? Yes.

You studied using Daniels’ book Watchmaking, and there are multiple editions, so did the later editions evolve as a result of Daniels and you working together?

No. No involvement. I think he just updated it with a few more photographs and that’s all really. He also put the Millennium wristwatch in there, which we were making.

The Millennium series was made using the first Omega movements off the production line. So, what did you guys do to them?

We made the cases, dials

Watch 101
Dial
dial
A dial is a visual interface to a watch, displaying a variety of information produced by the movement.

, hands

Watch 101

Hands
split
Hands are used in conjunction with a dial to indicate time. They are thin pieces of metal attached to a center point of rotation.

, and the automatic rotor… and the calendar mechanism. George designed a calendar

Watch 101

Calendar
calendar
A calendar complication displays the date in a number of different ways. A simple date display will show a number representing the day of the month in an aperture on the watch dial. Other calendar complications will show the month, year, and day of the week. Most calendar complications need to be manually corrected at the end of months that don’t have 31 days. Annual calendars correct themselves automatically. Perpetual calendars take this a step further by correcting themselves for leap years automatically.

function for it, because it had the [date] window at 3 o’clock, so he designed a very simple but very clever little system to operate the hand.So [the date] changed from a window to a hand?

Yes, I mean it was brilliant really. So simple! Only George could come up with an idea like that. We ended up finishing the movements, frosting it, putting some shape, literally just with a file, into some of the plates. The watch was really just created to celebrate George’s amazing achievement; that he had managed to get this escapement industrialized.

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You were involved in making two unique wristwatches called “Blue” and “White” that are rectangular-cased tourbillon wristwatches fitted with the Daniels Co-axial escapement and a calendar complication, designed by Dr. George Daniels and signed Daniels London. Are these Daniels watches or yours? Or did you help him make them as his apprentice?

Well I think George got these orders six months or a year before I was due to leave him. I think he did it to help me on my way really. He found the clients, he designed the watch, and it helped me on the way as I was starting my Series 1. It just softened the blow [of transitioning] to working on my own again.

Your Series 1 was a series of twelve rectangular watches, correct? Can you talk about that watch? What was the movement, etc.?

We only ever made nine in the end. At that time I had very limited equipment. I was still using George’s workshop for the jig boring and so on. I bought in a train of wheels, escapement, balance wheel, and hand set mechanism. And then I built the plates, designed the retrograde calendar mechanism, and made the dials, hands, case, and created a watch around those components.  Basically it was a way in for me, because I didn’t have the expertise then to create a full watch, nor the equipment.

I was struggling with the decision – do I just buy a movement, put my name on it and sell it? Many people said I should just do that.  But I was wrestling with that, and I wasn’t really happy with that idea. So this was, for me, a nice entry point.

For your Series 1, I read that there were supposed to be three pieces made for the Onely Collection [in collaboration with designer Theo Fennell]. Were those the three that weren’t made?

No, they were made.

Okay, so of the nine, three were for the Onely Collection, and six were “normal.”

So, looking at the timeline from your website, in 2006 it mentions you completed Unique Commission #3, a tourbillon wristwatch. Is this called #3 because Blue and White were #1 and #2?

No, I got some orders early on. I got orders to make three tourbillons. In those early days I was growing the business by the seat of my pants, trying to keep money coming in. I got three orders. The first was a grande date, which is [Unique Commission] #1.

It says 2009 on [the timeline for] that one.

Yes, it took a long time to finish, because I was struggling with the mechanism.

Number 3 was a simpler one and that ended up being produced first. And number 2 I will be finishing in about two weeks time.  There were issues with the technical specifications that the client wanted, which we have debated for a number of years. There’s also a 4th commission [produced in 2010].

So you’ve only produced four bespokes?

Yes.

In 2004, you launched Series 2. Which escapement do they use?

They’re all co-axial.

Series_2_movement

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Did you switch from the “Daniels Co-axial” to your improved “Smith Co-axial”?

The Millenniums were the slimline version. So I had experience with that escapement, and I felt that George’s original (the traditional pinion with two co-axial wheels) was better. So I went with that version for the Series 2. But I’ve now evolved that escapement so now we’ve got a single wheel and so on.

I started using just a very traditional Daniels Co-axial. So it’s a small traditional pinion and then two co-axial wheels, but they were separate at that point. And they went into the first Series 2. And I think I produced the single wheel in about 2010.

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So all the ones from 2010 onwards were single wheel?

Yes.

And even today?  If someone ordered one today, that would be a single wheel?

Yes.

Throughout the movie [“The Watchmaker’s Apprentice”], it mentions that Daniels mastered 32 of the 34 trades involved in watchmaking – so which two were missing?

Balance spring making and engraving.

Do you currently do all 32 trades in your watchmaking?

Yes, we do actually, yes! We rarely have to make jewels. We buy stock jewels and so on. But, for example, this tourbillon that I’m just working on, I had to use a special jewel for that.

So you typically buy jewels, mainspring, balance spring, sapphires, and straps.  But that’s it?

Screws.

Do you make some of the screws?

We do have to make case screws and things like that. Some of the odd-scaled ones.

How many of those 32 would you say that you’ve mastered?

Gosh, you know we do a very good job now. We are highly professional in what we do. I’m very proud that we’re running a really, really tight workshop. Years ago, we all had our own skill set, and we’d pass one watch from one watchmaker to another. The watches were very, very good, but I knew that there was room for improvement. So about three years ago I started a very intensive training, teaching everyone how to make dials, hands, cases and all other aspects of the movement that they weren’t doing. So now everyone is doing brilliant work, they really are. Fantastic work.

So pretty much there with all 32?

Yes, without a doubt.

That’s excellent!

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Again, in the movie it’s mentioned that Daniels believed that you should not see the hand of the maker in a watch? Is that accurate, did he really believe that?

Yes, without a doubt.

Do you have the same philosophy?

Yes. But then you can look at the engraving. The engraving of the mechanisms is all hand done, and each dial is completely different because of that. So each watch still tells its story. You can still see the handwork. The beveling will be different on every single watch. Sometimes it will be deeper on some than others and so on. It varies.

You produce watches without the use of repetitive or automatic tools, is that correct?

We use CNC, which I guess is automatic.

So it’s basically CNC plus hand operated machines and tools.

Yes.

What would you describe as your signature aesthetic elements? One that stands out are your scalloped arrow hands, which are beautiful. Would you say that you have other ones?

I suppose really the hands are the key feature. The English-finished movements anybody could do and it would be great if they did.

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About the 35th Anniversary Daniels watch. To get down to it, you basically made the 35th Anniversary watch completely yourself. You designed it, obviously based off his aesthetic. But you designed it and built it all.

Yes, George was there to look at designs and tell me if it was right or wrong, so it’s very much a Daniels. By then I’d known George for several years so it was becoming second nature anyway. What I did struggle with was when I had to make my next watch, I forget which it was, I struggled a bit to get back to my own designs because I had become “Daniels-ified.”  It was quite a funny period really.

So your production of ten watches per year is currently, and for a while now has been, a mix of yours (Series 2) and 35th Anniversary pieces?

Yes.

So obviously at a certain point, Daniels got to the point where his hands weren’t steady enough to make watches anymore. Was that around the Blue and White time?

It was just before then. When I was building the Millenniums with him, I was on my own for the last year and a half, almost two years. By then he was in his mid-70s.

Is the co-axial still patented, or has the patent run out?

Yes, it has run out. It ran out before Omega got interested actually.

Why don’t more people use it then? Do you know who uses it?

Myself and Omega.

That’s it?

I think it is because it’s difficult to make, and more importantly it’s down to marketing.

Can you imagine this situation if Rolex said “okay, we’re going to shift over to the co-axial.” Suddenly it would be like saying, “Omega is better than us.” It’s never going to happen. It’s a shame because really it’s stifling horology. It’s stifling progression.

It’s a shame because really it’s stifling horology. It’s stifling progression.

– Roger Smith on the lack of widespread adoption of the coaxial escapement.

Do you feel like if a small maker, a similar watchmaker to you making say 10 pieces a year, said “You know, that is a better escapement. I’m going to start using it” you would be fine with that?

Great, yes. In any case, I can’t stop them!

But would you feel like it would be like ripping off your scalloped hands or something?

No, not at all. It’s there to be used by everyone. It would be brilliant, in fact!

You talked about some of your improvements to the co-axial. Do you want to go into more detail because there was a series of them essentially?

There were a few different types. In 2010 there was the single wheel.

Which combined the two wheels into one piece with two levels.

That’s right. It had a great benefit because suddenly you’re removing all the inaccuracies that you’ll get by having two wheels pushed onto the same arbor and trying to orient them properly. And it improved performance quite drastically.

Daniels_Single_Wheel_Escapement

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Then the light one came…the current one.

That was 2012? The second generation with a lighter design?

I was just again trying to improve it, to improve performance. A dramatic response. And we were able to drop the mainspring, which is good – it prolongs the life of the mechanism. It takes away the wear.

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By “drop the mainspring,” you mean?

In terms of power. You can use a weaker mainspring. Less wear on the mechanism. Just better all around.

How did you make it lighter? Was it reducing material? Changing metal?

The first one had two rims. And what I did on the second was to make very long teeth for the outside teeth and it worked very well.

The GREAT Britain watch is a unique piece. Has it been sold?

No.

Will it be for sale at some point?

I don’t know actually. It was an honor to make The GREAT Britain and right now, it is traveling the world representing the best of British creativity and innovation. Also, I don’t actually have a watch and in fact I never have a piece to show people, so I think I would like to retain it!

Movement-wise, is it essentially the same as your Series 2?

Yes. Stripped of the up/down mechanism.

Ballpark how many Series 2 pieces have you made?

Maybe about 60 pieces over a 10 year period – or almost 10 years.


On the future…

Do you want to talk at all about future watches coming out? What teaser do you want to give us?

I have another development of the co-axial over and above what we already have. So I’m redesigning the series 2 around the new co-axial and bringing out a small series of pieces. I see it as a bit of a rebirth really. That’s the idea of it. New escapement, new movement. I’ve learned a hell of a lot over the past 10 years. My ideas of movements have changed and how to design them. But what has not changed is my commitment to producing the same number of pieces. Keeping to 10 pieces a year.

Almost everybody wants to have a legacy.  Would you say that you hope one of your legacies, other than your great watches, would be to establish the Isle of Man as a center of watchmaking excellence?

It’s great to be able to carry on George’s work. What I’m also keen to do is to show that watches can be made again in Britain.  There’s this idea that it has died and gone away, but from my first watch, the Series 1, the idea behind that was just to say we still can make watches in Britain.

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How many people currently work in your workshop, and what do they do?

There are eight of us. One is Caroline, my wife, who does accounts and emails and keeps me on the straight and narrow. We have another guy, an engineer, who uses the CNC to supply the watchmakers with a good proportion of the parts. And the rest is made up of watchmakers and we are all responsible for building watches.

I’d like to thank Roger Smith very much for taking the time to speak with me. It was a very enjoyable chat and I hope you enjoyed reading it!

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