Pinion’s founder Piers Berry is very clearly a man with a mission. I spent three hours with Piers just before Christmas. We covered everything from classic motorcycles (a mutual love) to the technicalities of designing watch dials. And we moved at speed, too. Piers is not a man to sit still for long. And it shows.
In March last year, Pinion was barely a few scribbles on the back of a cigarette packet. By November, Piers had three prototype watches designed, cased, dialed and exhibited at the UK’s most prestigious watch show – SalonQP.
I say a cigarette packet, but Piers is, by trade, a digital designer, “I’m not a watchmaker – I’m a watch designer. It’s all about the whole thing that comes together.” You can tell by the way he flicks through the digital images of his new designs like a native. When we sit down, there’s a deluge of images – dials, cases, crowns, hands – flashing across the screen.
So why has he struck out on his own, creating one of the new wave of English watch brands from absolutely nothing? “For me, designing a watch was like going back to my roots as a graphic designer. It’s about combining my two passions – design and watches.” Piers continues, “It’s the antidote to living in the digital world. It’s nice to have something mechanical that’s been made by hand – a manmade invention – it’s the perfect antidote.”
And watches have been a long term affair for Piers, who has strong opinions on what he likes; “My first watch was a G-Shock back in the 1990s. It’s a lame excuse for a watch, but I went straight from there to a Panerai. I never liked Rolex. It’s not the designs, it’s just the whole ‘Rolex’ thing.”
So, it’s not entirely surprising that Piers is equally determined to go his own way with Pinion. There’s no focus group research. There are no opinion surveys. He’s taken everything – bar manufacture – on himself. “I literally do everything… watch design, photography, the website, the app, packaging – everything’s done by me apart from physical manufacture.”
One soon gets a sense for his obsession with making sure each aspect of Pinion is right, even down to the typeface he’s used for the brand and on the face of the Axis watches. “I used to design my own typefaces, so the type I use is really important for me. I guess that’s a different background from most watch people. I designed the typeface for Pinion.”
As we look at the three prototypes Piers has brought along, he talks me through them, still at a pace. Pinion buyers will have their choice of their Axis in one of four different case materials – stainless steel, stainless steel with a diamond-like carbon (DLC) black coating, bronze and, later in 2014, titanium.
To call the bronze case solid would be understating massively. Although it’s the same 43mm case diameter as its brothers, this watch has weight and presence. And, as it’s worn over time, the characteristic bronze patina should mellow to give it a unique character.
Each of the watches – no matter which case material – has a stainless crown and a stainless back. Piers explains, “I wanted to make sure the crowns picked up the colour of the hands – and it make sense to have a stainless back, particularly on the bronze.”
Pinion originally planned to manufacture cases in England, but after some initial production problems, Piers is now having them made in Switzerland. Each case houses an ETA 2824 movement, so servicing and spares are unlikely to be a problem in years to come. Piers has little time for ETA nay-sayers, “There’s a lot of snobbery out there. But the ETA is a proven, solid, sound movement.”
There’s a detail difference here too, with each rotor being removed, decorated, plated and re-fitted. And each of Pinion’s watches will be assembled, tested and regulated at “The Motion Works”, Pinion’s UK watch assembly and service centre.
This desire for detail extends to the rest of the Pinion package. Each leather NATO strap is handmade and hand-stitched in the UK. And if you thought the watches were solid, the straps show the same determination to be robust and last. Like everything else, they’ve been designed especially for Pinion by Piers. And so has the leather watch roll that comes with every Pinion watch and the unique, bronze strap-changing tool. Piers has even designed the instruction manuals himself.
It seems that this absolute single-mindedness is gaining buyers’ approval too. Pinion orders (through the website at http://www.pinionwatches.com/) are coming in not just from the UK, but beginning to flow in from Germany, Australia and the United States.
Clearly not satisfied with having produced a watch brand, its design, prototypes and just about everything else himself in under a year, Piers is already looking ahead. Most of the plans are top secret, but I can tell you that a Pinion Chrono with a very distinctive dial indeed, perhaps based on a Valjoux 7750 movement, might just be the next project from South Oxfordshire… You heard it here first.
“It’s early days, but I’m going at it like the clappers. I’m putting everything into it.” Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Prices for the Axis collection: Stainless at £1,950/$2,285, DLC at £2,100/$3,095 and Bronze at £2,300/$3,370. Titanium: tbc
by Mark McArthur-Christie
additional photos courtesy of Pinion Watches