Lost in Norwich
Angus Davies visits the factory of Norwich based Merdian Watches to see their range of Prime models.
I hate being late for business appointments but I recently found myself lost in Norwich, despite having a satellite navigation system in my car. I had entered the wrong postcode and found myself on a residential street. It seems, even with the benefit of modern technology, we are still capable of becoming lost and sometimes regrettably late.
However, navigational aids have come a long way, and like many, I sometimes take them for granted. In bygone times, marine chronometers would be employed to establish longitude and Britain lead the way thanks to the work of John Harrison et al. Ironically, my appointment was with a company named Meridian Watches whose branding pays due reverence to Britiain’s horological past.
The company is owned by Simon Michlmayr, a former pupil of Peter Roberts, someone whom I personally hold in high esteem.
Meridian Watches is a brand I have wanted to visit ever since seeing the Merdian Prime models at SalonQP 2012 and yet I found myself lost and late. Thankfully, my hosts were forgiving and very accommodating. Moreover, I was not to be disappointed.
Simon Michlmayr, and his colleagues, have been repairing and servicing clocks and watches for a number of years. Indeed, Michlmayr and his colleagues have been seen, suspended by a series of ropes, attending to church clocks at perilous heights, abseiling into position with tools in hand.
Michlmayr has a passion for adventure and cites rock climbing as a personal interest. It is this Boy’s Own lifestyle which lead Michlmayr to conceive a range of quality, robust timepieces to challenge the many watches available from Switzerland and Germany.
Although, Meridian Watches have used Swiss ébauches in their range of masculine timepieces, other components whenever possible have been sourced locally. Furthermore, much added value takes place within the confines of the factory in Norwich.
Dials are of a sandwich type construction with numerals and indices cut-out to reveal a luminous layer below. The dials are made in-house and painted by hand. They proffer excellent legibility and, whilst modern in design, feature a triangular index at noon, typical of historical pilot’s watches.
Customer choice is at the centre of the Meridian paradigm, with several opportunities for personalisation by utilising different coloured hand and dial combinations.
Subsidiary seconds feature at 6 o’clock or 9 o’clock, dependent on model. Hour, minute and second hands are open-worked revealing more of the dial surface beneath.
The stainless steel hands are made, polished and painted on the premises. This a was surprising observation, as ordinarily I see these components supplied to watch companies packed in boxes ready for assembly.
Currently the case diameter of all Meridian Watches is 46mm. Each one is hewn from a solid billet of stainless steel. The result is a case which looks capable of withstanding apocalyptic trauma. Whilst some may find the case too large, I found it perfectly suited my larger than average wrist. The short lugs appear to entice the strap to cosset the wrist ensuring elevated wearer comfort. Plans are in place though to produce a 42mm version in the future.
I looked at various models, the majority of which had a solid caseback engraved with the lines of longitude and the inscription, “Made in England for the world”. However, one model, a prototype for a corporate client, had an exhibition back which I particularly liked. It seems with the vast amount of hand finishing bestowed upon the movement within, Meridian should share this added value with the wearer. Nevertheless, I accept some readers will disagree and a solid caseback does afford greater robustness, something Mr Michlmayr holds dear.
A non-standard exhibition back revealed much beauty residing within the case
Attention to detail is evident when you closely examine the case of the watch. Despite much fondling of the case, I could not find a sharp or rough edge anywhere. The straps are secured with hexagonal screws and look as though they will never come adrift without deliberate loosening using the hex keys provided.
The high quality leather straps are complemented with stainless steel buckles. Once more they are made in-house. They feature an integrated roller to facilitate ease of fastening. It seems remarkable that the company has chosen to make these items in-house when cheaper, mass produced items, are readily available. However, this demonstrates once again, the company’s the fixation with producing thoroughly engineered components.
The crown features a degree symbol on its vertical flank acting as a means of indicating when the crown is adequately tightened. It sounds a small detail but should help mitigate the risk of overtightening that can result in seal damage.
The movements are Swiss-made Unitas 6497/98 calibres from ETA although much modification takes place in-house.
The bridges and mainplate are gold plated, affording a traditional finish, typical of old pocket watches. Lines of longitude are applied to the movement using hand engraving and bridges are hand-frosted. The deft chamfering of the bridges is a further indication of the matchless finishing observed during my time on site.
Screws are replaced with hand-blued items. These screws are not blued using chemicals but subjected to heat to achieve the regal tincture and hardness, traditionally found on the finest watches.
The movements are hand-wound and have a power reserve of approximately 40 hours. However, I did see some new movements in development which confer a greater power reserve of 100 hours. Indeed, one member of staff, Craig Baird, was wearing a development watch containing the prototype movement along with red details on the dial; I would dearly have loved to take this particular watch home with me.
A screwed-balance features within the movement. It allows finite adjustment when poising and once again reaffirms that the watches bearing the Meridian name are quality items.
I was profoundly impressed with the passion exampled in Norwich and the high quality products which leave the factory. Simon Michlmayr set out to create a robust watch that can be worn every day although the result is anything but everyday, it is so much better.
The dimensions of the case may prove too large for some, but with a 42mm version in the pipeline, those seeking smaller dimensions should soon find a watch which meets their needs.
Even the hinges on the wooden presentation case are made in-house
The mania for creating quality components at times beggars belief, even the hinges on the wooden presentation case are made in-house. In some larger concerns, the stereotypical bean-counters would rein in the artisans and insist on procuring cheaper items elsewhere. I am pleased to say that the artisans prevail at Meridian Watches and most components are made in-house or sourced locally.
Whilst I clearly struggled to find my way around the urban streetscape of Norwich, depicted on my satellite navigation, Mr Michlmayr knows the area well. Like an accomplished chef, those components he does not make himself he endeavours to source from local suppliers and the resultant recipe is a mouth watering proposition.
- Model: Meridian Watches MP
- References: MP-01 – MP-10 (variants include black / white dial, location of subsidiary seconds at 6 o’clock / 9 o’clock, finish of case (polished, brushed, Meridian Black))
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 46.00 mm; water resistant to 30 bar (300 metres); sapphire crystal to front; solid caseback.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds.
- Movement: Modified Unitas 6497/98 base calibre, hand-wound movement; frequency 18,000 vph (3Hz); 17 jewels; power reserve 40 hours
- Strap: Leather strap presented on a stainless steel pin buckle.