What made you want to switch careers and become a watch designer?
I have always loved watches, I used to like buying a lot of the swiss brands like TAG, Breitling and so on. I was looking to buy a particular leading brand watch which I discovered did not include a proper movement – the watch’s working mechanism – that I expected it would.
I went home to research the parts and bought the movement I wanted along with a dial, a case and a strap, and made my first watch. It was this process which really opened the doors to a world of precision engineering, design and production.
What was the biggest difference going from a motoring career to creating watches?
It’s part of the jewellery world. In the ‘car world’ you are doing a service which is a necessity, whereas watches are a luxury purchase and therefore everything around it needs to bit more luxurious. Your website, your showroom and your attitude need to be dramatically quite different. How I thought I would sell watches is totally different to how I am actually selling them.
In the garage business people come to you because they are forced to, as a garage owner you just need to keep a good reputation and do the job right and customers will keep coming. Making watches is different because we are making things to people’s tastes, so in my case I have to find people who have my tastes because I only make what I like.
From what I can tell your products are stronger as a result?
Yes, because I put a lot into them. I hand finish every micron of them, to the best of my capability.
Tell me a bit about your career in the vintage and modern motoring industry?
My father had a garage in Gosworth in a big local town which was quite successful. My grandfather was also a mechanic, so I naturally fell into the career and have been ‘tinkering on’ with motorcycles and bits of machinery since I was about 12 years old.
What skills were transferable from your time as a garage owner?
Everything I have seen working on cars and motorcycles goes into my watches. If you look at my watches they are all bolted together and the straps are connected by small brackets. I really like using a brushed and a matt finish as opposed to a polished one, because it gives a similar finish to cars and engines – more of an industrial look. At the minute I am using a lot of mother of pearl, but the rest of the watch I will leave brushed or sandblasted so it has both shiny and matt sections as well. So you can see a contrast between the two layers on the dials.
Tell me a bit about the range of watches you now offer?
We have our Synchro range which is what I have been working on for about two years. It features a removable bezel, which can be easily changed. The strap is also held in with the same bolts so customers can replace the strap as well. Those components can be changed by the owner and I make a new bezzle every few months for customers.
I also have been working on a classic watch, which is a slight smaller 40mm timepiece that ended up morphing into more of a lady’s timepiece. I am trying to create a more women-focused range using mother of pearl, crystals and I even have some diamonds that are going to be set in the dials in the future.
How is the business going so far?
It is still early stages. I am still doing a lot of outdoor events and am still having to push very hard. I think it is one of those things where a lot of companies are able to just throw a lot of money at marketing, but I don’t have that luxury because I have spent a lot of my money on machinery and design.
How has your history in the motoring industry influenced the way you design your watches?
It has been influenced a lot by working on engines, pulling them apart and seeing all the wheels, pulleys and brackets that hold the engine together. I have always enjoyed the way engines look, especially on high end vehicles likes Ferraris. I translated a lot of that into my watches. Dashboards were also a big influence. I have just created a walnut watch which has taken direct inspiration from the design of a vintage car dashboards. It really achieved that vintage look especially when paired with a brown leather strap.
Why offer so many customisation options for your watches?
I like giving customers that option. Cars, motorcycles and push bikes can all be customised so why can’t you customise your own watch? I have designed my watches so the bezel is held on with two screws and can be swapped with another in less than 30 seconds. It completely changes the look of the watch and the strap is also interchangeable and can be done so in less than a minute.
I know that when I go on holiday I will take a silicon or leather strap and wear that through the day and in the evening I will put a metal one on to ‘bling’ it up a bit. It’s a philosophy I have had since the beginning, which is what I enjoy doing and I have gotten great feedback from customers.
How has the response been overall?
It’s been fantastic! When I do the outdoor events I will usually end up talking to around 400 people throughout the day, and I would say around 99% love the watches.
How do you sell your watches?
I have a showroom where people can come in and choose elements of the watch they like and then I can build it right in front of them. Our website also offers this feature, allowing customers to build their own watches, which is quite state of the art and a lot of companies are getting into that now.
I think this works because only a small company like my own would be able to offer customisation options, I don’t think a bigger company would be able to. I have the opportunity to spend more time with the customer, show them all the options. If they wanted something like a bespoke bezel I can make it for them.
How long does it take to make one of your bespoke watches?
From the beginning it took about 18 months to create the design for my first watch. But today to actually make a watch it only takes around two days with the machinery I have. Although I can only make around 15 to 20 watches per month, and I am hoping to double that amount year. Although I want to stress that is as far as I want to go with the amount I make, I would rather make 20 watches a month and make them to my customer’s bespoke ideas than make 50 watches that don’t.
I am not really going after the big, mass production market. I want to really focus on unique designs and enjoy doing that for the rest of my career. The market is swamped with watches from abroad, so making something that is really different takes a lot of time and that is why getting to this point took so long.
Were there any difficulties in starting the business?
I had to teach myself CAD design, which took a while. Actually selling was a huge learning curve, I had to build myself a jewellery showroom, which is something I hadn’t really foreseen at the beginning. I originally thought I would have just been selling them on the website, but that wasn’t the case.
How many staff do you employ?
It’s just me and my wife, that’s it. I do everything, although it means I don’t get much sleep. I do want to get somebody in to help us, some young lad who is already at college doing engineering and who wants to learn a new craft.
How do you see the next 10 years of your career?
The plan for the next few years is to get some new machinery in, more staff, promote our products and try and meet more customer interested in what I have to offer. I would like eventually design my own movement system if possible, so I can really design my watch around that.
The trouble is I am getting a little bit older now, I am creeping towards 50, and to learn how to make your own movements takes a long time, so I may need to get somebody in to do that with me. Although I have already met a great jeweller who is interested in making a watch together with me. The plan is to come out with some solid silver watches with a bit of vintage look between us.