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.”