Back in the 1970s, it was possible to walk into a UK car dealership and hand over your money for a brand new car that was so badly made and designed it would already have terminal rust. It would have been designed by a warring committee, it wouldn’t go properly, the engine would be made from bits of biscuit tin and the brakes wouldn’t. If you wanted a car that didn’t look like a skip and that actually ran without bits falling off, you had to spend eye-watering amounts of money. Things are rather different today.
I thought of this last evening as I visited Elder Street in London’s Spitalfields for Page & Cooper and Timothy Everest’s “A Stitch in Time” event. It wasn’t simply that THE most gorgeous Morgan Plus 8 I’ve seen in years was parked outside either. Along with some of the smartest tailoring in London there were watch brands represented in each of the C18 wood-panelled rooms. They ranged from a few hundred pounds to more than ten thousand. And every one was, in its own way, exceptional. Not a Morris Ital in sight (Google it).
Packed into tailor Timothy Everest’s London workshop (a three storey townhouse dating from around 1722) were enough watches to elicit repeated “wows” for most of the evening. I would have piled into the champagne on offer but, feeling my responsibilities to W&W readers I declined and hit the watches instead. And it was worth it.
Getting to meet watchmakers is always a privilege and always about stories. Chatting to the uncle/nephew team of Andrea and Sylvester from Squale, they told me about coming across an old envelope in a corner of their workshop and finding ninety new old stock bezels from the 1960s. Thirty were past redemption, but sixty were still perfect so, being Squale, they designed a replica of one of their original models around it. Plexi crystal, and even a perfect replica of an original strap that clicks around the lugs to hold the watch properly on your diving suit.
Then I got to see the Squale Master – and its movement – for the first time. Apart from some of the most gorgeous engine-turning I’ve seen, the Master’s movement has the date cyclops actually mounted in the main-plate. If you get the chance to meet Andrea and Sylvester, do it – you can’t ignore their sheer enthusiasm for their brand.
Ian Elliot and Alex Brown (from the eponymous Elliot Brown) were in a tiny room at the back of the house when I arrived, chatting to Mikael Sandström from Halda. Ian and Alex showed me their unique case design, with its neat integrated shock-absorber. And any watch named after one of the UK’s twenty three Real Tennis courts gets my vote. The Canford is a beautifully simple watch that’s equally beautifully made. In my experience, that sort of simplicity doesn’t come without a great deal of thought, design and hard work.
Opposite Ian and Alex was Halda with its CEO Mikael Sandström. I knew Halda as a classic car rallying time and distance keeper but not as a watch brand. Mikael was there with the Race Pilot and the Space Discovery models. Both are modular, in the sense that the wearer can dock either a mechanical or a digital module into a ‘time platform’ that houses an outer case and strap. But it gets better, particularly for someone like me with petrol in their veins… the Race Pilot digi module doesn’t just have workaday stuff like a 1/100 sec chronograph, a three axis accelerometer so you know how much G you’re pulling (handy in my ’67 Volvo Amazon) and a time-to-race countdown timer. It has the detailed circuit plans for 150 tracks built into its circuitry. That means you can leave the start line at Suzuka and the watch knows how fast you’re going because it ‘knows’ the track already.
Mind you, that’s child’s play for the Space Discovery’s digital module which can tell you Earth time from space (and has done; it went up with the STS-128 mission) adjusts its backlight automatically and even has a built-in events log.
The Space Discovery’s automatic module is home to a new old stock automatic movement from the 1970s, now designated the H1920-SA, running at 5Hz (36,000bph). Inside the Race Pilot’s automatic module is a decorated Zenith 685 with a 50 hour power reserve.
If you’ve not looked up Halda recently, or think they’re the people who just made taxi fare meters, it’s well worth it.
On a similarly automotive theme, downstairs was the splendid Bradley Price, a fellow petrolhead. I have a sneaky suspicion he may have been the pilot of the Morgan Plus 8 parked outside. He certainly had his range of watches with him, including the Prototipo. The thing to do with Bradley is get him talking. Then, simply shut up, listen and enjoy. There are plenty of people taking movements, casing them and selling them. In my view, there are few doing it as thoughtfully, as stylishly and with the same level of obsession as Mr Price. And no-one else I can think of doing it with the same whiff of Castrol R.
Take the Prototipo. It has a Seiko mecaquartz movement. Now, my love of good quartz movements is on record. What Bradley has done with the VK64 Seiko chronograph hybrid is rather special. With this movement there’s no running seconds, so no tick-tick-tick to give the game away. Push the chrono start button and it feels just like a mech. Watch the chronograph hand and it moves in 1/5 sec increments and it snap-resets just like a mech. Leave in the watchbox and come back a month later and it’s still running and bang-on accurate, not just like a mech.
The design is drool-inducingly ’60s-’70s automotive. The caseback gets held on with six allen screws, just like a classic MOMO steering wheel. The 42mm case is a mix of polished and brushed finishes that is far better than a watch this price deserves to be. Detail, detail, detail. Delicious.
Upstairs and standing next to the suit pattern for one Pierce Brosnan as well as another for Mick Jagger (I did mention this was a tailor’s workshop) was Sinn. For my money, some of the nicest people in watchmaking. They’d brought along classics like the 6030, the Frankfurter Finanzplatzuhren and the 1736, a clean simple watch with a plain white enameled face, Roman numerals and an ETA 2892-A2 at its heart. Even though you could happily wear either with a double-cuff shirt, neither is a fragile watch. The 1736 is still water-resistant to DIN 8310 and carries the D3 sealing system for the stem and crown.
The workshop was packed from the time it opened until, I suspect, well after I left. The talk was of watches, watch people, tailoring and, briefly, even cribbage. It’s an eclectic crowd at dos like these. But, most of all, it all ran with the sort of apparent ease that only comes from a great deal of behind-the-scenes work, so a huge thank you to both the Everest and the Page & Cooper teams. Clearly watchmaking and tailoring in London are in rude health.
by Mark McArthur Christie