Exploring the Paragon, the First Solo Venture From Bradley Taylor

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One of the things that never fails to energize me when it comes to contemporary watchmaking is the idea of a watchmaker communicating their artistic vision to the world. There’s a whole world of beautiful objects to discover, and the people and stories behind them are ultimately what make these watches interesting. Bradley Taylor’s new watch, the Paragon, is both an expert technical achievement as well as a showcase for one man’s point of view. “I create watches for one reason,” says Taylor, “I need to express myself as a watchmaker.”

Before we get too deep into the ins and outs of the Paragon, let’s get one thing out of the way: this is an expensive watch. It’s $22,000, and there are only 12 of them, which means that for most of us, owning one is out of the question. But watches are more than products to place in your digital shopping cart – they are instruments that help us understand the people who make them, the world around us, and the history of the discipline of watchmaking. Understanding the Paragon (or any watch) can help us appreciate and understand the watches that we do decide to own, no matter their cost. 

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Bradley Taylor resides in Vancouver, and his eponymous watch brand is, to our knowledge, the only high end Canadian luxury watch brand currently operating. That distinction previously belonged to Birchall & Taylor, the brand Taylor founded with his watchmaking school classmate Charles Birchall. That brand shuttered permanently last year, but Taylor continues alone, with just his name on the dial now. 

While the Paragon is by some measures opulent, with solid gold movement components, hand finishing throughout, and complex guilloche patterns on the dial, Taylor’s operation is humble. He works out of a spare bedroom in his Vancouver apartment, where he assembles the Paragon and finishes many of its components. It’s both charming and genuinely surprising to consider a watch of this caliber being produced in an extra bedroom, particularly if your image of high end watchmaking involves men and women in long white coats sitting dutifully at watchmaking benches in cleanrooms for hours on end, perhaps with floor to ceiling windows behind them revealing the expanse of the Vallée de Joux. There’s a homemade appeal to the Paragon that takes shape once you appreciate where the watch comes from. As a team of one, Taylor has had to lower production capacity compared to the Birchall & Taylor days, but the whole endeavor is about quality and realizing his vision, and not churning out watches at volume.

If the small scale of Taylor’s watchmaking operation reminds you of micro-brands working on a shoe-string, his own personal watch history won’t be much of a surprise. His first mechanical watch was a Seiko Monster, and soon after buying it, he experienced the rite of passage common to many of us when we first encounter a mechanical watch. “I took off the caseback and was amazed – I recall using the word beautiful for the first time in my life,” Taylor told me. He had done his research and landed on the Monster because it promised a certain level of bang for buck, and the watch’s utilitarian look appealed to him, but clearly the intricacies of even a relatively simple Seiko movement had a lasting impact. 

The Monster is still with him, but radically changed from its original state. Taylor bead blasted the case while in watchmaking school as part of a bench test, and wound up swapping out the hands, dial, and chapter ring. He also machined a new crown for the Monster, but chose to do so with carbon steel. That crown would eventually be reduced to a ball of rust, but Taylor is quick to point out that his Monster taught him a lot over the years, and the simple fact that he still owns the watch illustrates the lasting importance these things can have on us, and serves as a reminder of the circuitous routes our lives take as a result of seemingly innocuous decisions. Imagine buying a Seiko Monster, and ten years later being your country’s premier luxury watchmaker?  

Bradley Taylor’s Seiko Monster, with a bead blasted case and modified dial
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Today, Taylor frequently wears a Zenith from the 1960s that he restored in watchmaking school, and he’ll occasionally pick up chronographs on eBay with an eye toward repairing them, but he doesn’t consider himself a watch collector. Instead, he’s built a collection of watchmaking tools, which he views as a way to connect to the work of the watchmaker. “There is something incredibly special about understanding a watchmaker’s thought process and passion and then holding their work in your hands,” says Taylor.

What we have in the Paragon, at least at a surface level, is about as far removed from a Seiko Monster as you can get. It’s a classically styled dress watch that’s very much made in the old fashioned way, with handmade components and old world style finishing techniques. But the Paragon is not overly fussy, and reflects Taylor’s taste for refined watches that can actually be used. “I challenge myself to design watches that epitomize balance and simplicity,” Taylor told me. “It’s also important for me to offer quality in my work that I believe is getting rarer.” 

Taylor understands that his name might not yet have the stature of watchmakers who have become household names, but he’s confident in his own abilities as a watchmaker and designer. “I invite all of my clients to compare my work under magnification,” he says. He believes that collectors who know what they’re looking at will recognize the quality in his work. 

Unlike many who dabble in the high end, you won’t find Bradley Taylor throwing around terms like “in house” where they don’t belong. Taylor’s hands touch every watch with his name on it, but he’s not fabricating dials in his apartment or building movements from scratch, and he doesn’t want you to think he is. He’s proud of the partnerships he’s forged, and the list of suppliers for the Paragon is impressive. The dial is made by Comblémine, which is Kari Voutilainen’s dial manufacturer. The movement is Vaucher SA’s 5401/32, which is their latest micro-rotor caliber and features hand finished internal bevels and a solid gold rotor which is also made by Comblémine. Taylor even sought out Canadian typographer Ian Brignell to design the numerals and wordmark for the dial. Brignell spent time in Taylor’s studio, studying historic watch typography, to come up with his design. 

The fact that so much of the Paragon comes from outside of Taylor’s studio doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s very much his watch, in his own design language, with his stamp all over it. Indeed, it could be said that the assemblage of parts coming together in this way, customized to Taylor’s specs, is completely representative of his own taste. He has curated a watch from the best suppliers in the world without making any compromises to his aesthetic.

The Paragon’s case is 39mm in diameter, 9.8mm thick, and 47mm lug to lug. This is a classic form factor for an everyday watch, and coming in at under 10mm thick gives it a profile that’s hard to beat for regular wear. What’s surprising about the Paragon is that despite its somewhat formal appearance, it’s actually water resistant to 120 meters, making it completely appropriate for swimming and nearly every other activity that could get the watch wet. To look at the watch, you wouldn’t expect it to have a screw down crown and tool watch specs, making it perhaps the ultimate dressy tool watch.

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The custom numerals are machined individually and polished by hand, and they are complemented by a guilloche pattern around the perimeter of the dial, which is reversed in its application to the subsidiary seconds register. Taylor will be making the Paragon with dials in light blue, black, and purple, and will also consider custom color requests. The color of the hands can also be selected by the customer, and can be left in their polished state, or heat treated to blue or purple, the latter of which is the most popular choice at the moment, according to Taylor. 

The handset warrants a more detailed explanation, as it’s a feature of the Paragon that Taylor is rightfully proud of. He knew that he wanted the Paragon to feature heat tempered purple hands, but was unable to find a supplier who could commit to making them to his specifications. “After knocking on many doors and being told that no one would make purple hands, I began research and began developing the process,” he told me. Ultimately Taylor was able to develop a process for creating just the right shade of purple himself, but it proved to be time consuming. “Each individual hand requires approximately 20 hours of hand work,” says Taylor. “Tempering metal is always challenging, but achieving a beautiful, consistent purple shade requires quick reflexes, and lots of patience.”

Each purple hand takes 20 hours for Taylor to produce

Another feature of the Paragon that you would be hard pressed to find on any other watch is the unique shape of the caseback screws found on the watch’s backside. The square head screws are believed to be the smallest of their kind in the world. The design of the screw was conceived by P.L. Robertson, a Canadian inventor, in 1908, and screws of this type are common in Canada to this day, but most often used in construction (they’re often referred to simply as Robertson screws). It’s a detail that connects the Paragon to its maker’s native country, and also provides a showcase for Taylor’s ingenuity and creativity as a watchmaker. Similarly to the manufacture of the handset, finding a partner to fabricate the screws was a challenge, and over ten companies declined. Eventually Taylor found a partner willing to make the screws, which have to be stamped with a custom tool to create the square shape prior to rolling the threads. Each screw head is individually hand finished by Taylor in his workshop. 

The Robertson screw on the Paragon’s caseback

When I asked Taylor about what excites him about the watch world right now, his answer resonated because he’s excited by the same things that have lifted the value oriented watch segment over the last several years. “We are now in a time where all it takes is an Instagram account to share your work to the world,” he said. “Social media and the widespread use of the internet has taken down many barriers of watchmaking.”

This is every bit as true in the micro-brand landscape as it is in the world of high end independent watchmakers that Taylor lives in. Social media allows anyone with a healthy curiosity to learn about watches of all kinds, and the watch industry as a whole has moved to the internet in a way that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Mostly, though, apps like Instagram and burgeoning platforms on YouTube and elsewhere give enthusiasts an opportunity to enjoy something like the Paragon and all of its unique quirks without actually owning or handling the watch. It’s proof that these objects can be enjoyed from afar regardless of what currently sits in your own watch box, or what you personally aspire to own. 

The idea of value in watches has always been something that Worn & Wound has focused on, and for good reason. Watches have historically been a segment where it’s easy to be swindled, and shining a light on affordable watches that offer something expensive brands don’t is a worthy challenge. The Paragon shows, though, that affordability alone doesn’t equate to value, and that you can get a lot for your money even at prices that are more than what almost any of us would ever consider paying for a watch. Consider the hand finished, custom designed screws, that pay subtle tribute to a Candian inventor from over a century ago. And that at $22,000, you can own the Paragon, or keep saving to buy the current iteration of the stainless steel Rolex Daytona, which often carries an asking price closer to $30,000 on the secondhand market, with finishing that is largely accomplished by machine, and carries none of the personal, handmade touch of the Paragon. 

As anyone who has spent any time in the microbrand space knows, when you buy into a small brand, you’re buying into the people who actually made the watch. It’s the same with an independent watchmaker like Bradley Taylor. While the price points are different, the attention to small details, focus on communicating a vision, and presenting a relative value are all very much the same. Bradley Taylor might make expensive watches, but the Paragon is rooted in practical wearability, high quality craftsmanship, and making the most of what you’ve been given to work with. The Paragon might not be a typical microbrand watch, but it has certainly been made with the ethos of an enthusiast. Bradley Taylor

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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