One of the more interesting trends in the watch space over the past few years is the rise of small batch watchmakers that straddle a line between what we traditionally think of as a microbrand and the world of true haute horlogerie or independent watchmaking. Depending on how you define your terms (on either side of the equation) there are a lot of brands and watchmakers that could fall into this category. Ming is an often cited example. In addition to their more modest offerings (that always sell out immediately) they experiment freely in a much higher tier and seem to have aspirations of living in more rarified air. I also think of brands that specialize in unique and artisanal craft projects, like the silver cased watches of James Lamb, or the impeccable custom finishing you’ll find in a Laine. One of my favorite brands in this category is Garrick Watchmakers, which focuses on traditional watchmaking by hand in an inherently British style, with an emphasis on customization and in-house movement and manufacturing innovations. Brand founder Dave Brailsford has been working on their latest watch, the S5, for quite some time, and it’s finally ready to be shown publicly.
According to Brailsford, the operating principle behind the S5 was to create a watch with a smaller diameter that could be worn by Garrick customers and fans who thought their previous models to be a bit too large. Garrick’s past efforts have come in at 42mm in diameter, a function of the custom movements used in their watches, and a smaller case would require a new caliber in addition to a reworking of every other component. The S5, then, is the debut of the new Garrick UT-GO5 caliber, which is small enough to fit into a more svelte 39mm case and features dramatic textured rhodium finishing. The movement is quite striking aesthetically, and is dominated by a large plate framing the balance, which is held in place by a three-spoke bridge and beats at a frequency of 21,600 vph.
If you’re familiar with previous Garrick releases, you already know that their watches have a somewhat ornate sensibility that is largely drawn from classic English pocket and wristwatch design. The S5 is no exception, with dials that feature multiple layers and finishes, as well as Garrick’s signature maritime inspired handset. The centerpiece, literally and figuratively, of each dial is a central section with a hand-applied guilloche pattern created using a rose engine. A steel chapter ring surrounds the guilloche section and features laser engraved Roman numerals that are filled with ink by hand. Garrick also gives their customers the option of ordering their watch with an open-worked, heat blued, or polished steel chapter ring.
It’s worth noting here the importance of customization at Garrick. Each watch is built to order and Brailsford consults with every client from the beginning on the unique features of the watch he’ll make for them. Virtually everything can be customized, including the case finishing, the guilloche pattern itself, and the hands can be polished or heat blued.
Dial color is another opportunity for customization. Garrick offers gold, silver, and rhodium dials in-house. But customers can opt for virtually any color under the sun, and Garrick will send the dial off to a specialty coating company they’ve partnered with to take care of the job. It goes without saying, but the choice of color here can radically alter the mood of the S5. In the press materials for the watch, Garrick included images of dials in a bright, almost neon, shade of green, as well as a purple-ish color they describe as “plum.” A bright color on a watch like this takes a stately and somewhat conservative aesthetic and immediately turns it on its head in favor of something far more contemporary and adventurous.
While the S5 launches today, the first batch of these watches has been pre-sold, and new orders will not be delivered until 2023. Brailsford notes that when he posted images of a 3D printed prototype case for the S5 on Instagram in August of last year, it garnered enough interest in the new watch to completely fill his books for the time being. Again, Garrick doesn’t make watches in mass quantities. Everything is touched by hand and largely made to order by a small team, so it takes time. Clients for watches like this are used to waiting, of course, but what is somewhat unusual, according to Brailsford, is the level of interest and filled orders before a watch had even been made. For a small outfit like Garrick, this illustrates not just the importance of social media, but that the level of interest for watches of this type has reached something of a fever pitch. It implies that at least some collectors have moved on from the usual subjects and are seeking out watches that are unique in a tangible way, either by their limited nature, their handwork, a design that’s of interest to them, or some combination of these factors and others.
The price for the S5, converted to the US dollar once VAT is removed, is around $19,700. That’s an expensive watch, no doubt, and Brailsford is aware that some might question the price point. But when you stop to consider the customization options, handmade nature of the watches, and the considerable cost inherent in developing the custom caliber, the price tag begins to make sense even as it disappoints some observers (raising my own hand here) as they realize it’s out of their reach, personally. It’s also worth remembering that the S4, a watch created with the idea of making a high end style of watchmaking approachable, is still available and starts at a more manageable $5,500.
More information can be found on Garrick’s website, right here.