This is my general discussion and news area, where you will find my musings about the Independent watchmaking world that I love. As I have got to know most of these watchmakers quite well personally, that connection is a big part of why these timepieces are so compelling. Their blood, sweat & tears have gone into creating these horological works of art, and I find that worth supporting. I hope you'll join me.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I thought I'd pen or rather type this little missive about why I have chosen to work in the Independent watchmaking end of the watch business, rather than the broader big brand market or the second hand dealer arena.
Yes, it is a more difficult (read less financially rewarding) way to operate professionally, but infinitely more rewarding as the business aspect of the watch world changes each year.
I saw the change coming almost ten years ago, with the opening in NYC of the first branded boutiques, and I certainly understand why the brands are doing this. As an independent watch store, this had some benefits and disadvantages for us. Unfortunately the disadvantages outweighed the benefits rather significantly and it is why when setting up Passion Fine Jewelry three years ago, we chose to only represent real Independent Watchmakers.
One of the reasons Janna & I do this, is that these relationships we develop with collectors over the months & years often turn to friendships and a group of like minded individuals reward us with their loyalty and support, as we continue to support the artisanal aspect of fine mechanical watchmaking by helping these Independent watchmakers who have chosen the path less travelled and certainly more difficult, within the watch business. I fully believe that people like to help others if they can, it is a human need on many levels and brings a level of happiness and contentment that other pastimes can rarely offer. It just feels good!
Seeing the joy in a collectors eyes when they first open up a new watch box to reveal that piece they acquired, especially when it often takes months to get sometimes even a year, is amazing and knowing it helped a watchmaker build his little business, is a large part of why I do what I do.
I know that the big brands create many lovely watches, some of which I personally own and would own more if money were no object, however there is that human connection with the watchmaker that cannot be duplicated with a big brand, and it is this aspect that I first found compelling 9 years ago when I started working with Peter Speake-Marin. Back then, we were both in quite different places professionally and personally. I was part of an existing fine jewelry store who were big brand authorized dealers for many great brands such as Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron-Constantin, Glashutte Original etc, etc., whose products I'm still fond of to this day, with quite a healthy annual turn over of several million dollars feeding an expanding business. Two children, married and working to build this business, with a couple of pieces of expensive CA real estate to my name, I came across this fellow Peter, married, no kids, working with his wife and just getting going in his independent phase, having recently created the Watch Workshop to design and make watches under the Speake-Marin name. With an annual production of around 35-40 pieces, he wasn't making himself wealthy by a long shot. Probably just about covering his bills with a long road ahead, I was immediately taken by his humility and straightforwardness when discussing a potential business relationship over coffee in Basel that initial meeting.
Basel 2004 Peter & I discussing his creations at the AHCI stand.
His watches were stunning and I wanted to help promote him and sell his watches to our collector clients, who I was fairly sure would be as compelled with Peter and his watches as I was. Committing to buy 5 watches, 3 gold and 2 steel classic Piccadilly pieces, with 4 enamel dials and one hand frosted, I was going out on a bit of a limb professionally, as it was a fairly significant chunk of our open to buy dollars being spent on a completely unknown then watchmaker, whose products we had to pay up front for before he would ship them over to California. No glossy catalogs, Facebook or a fantastic website like he has now with which to market and promote his amazing work. Just a few rudimentary photos I managed to snap in Basel, which are in this message for you to see, and my enthusiasm!
Basel 2004, his only model, the 38mm Piccadilly with three dial variants, enamel (top) Hand frosted solid 18K three layer dial (middle) & hand engraved solid 18K three layered dial (Bottom)
Intrigued to find out if I was correct, I talked about the watches we ordered that first year in 2004 for several months after Basel, to as many watch aficionados as I could. When the FedEx box arrived in September, we had several collectors, and you know who you are, eagerly awaiting in the store to see these first pieces from Peter. Three left that day to new homes within a couple of hours of the FedEx truck leaving!
I have to say I was rather excited about this, as one doesn't know if that "leap of faith" one takes is a good decision or not, until the market reacts. Suffice to say it propelled me on a path, that to this day I am thrilled to say is the one I'm staying on the watch world. Getting to know the watchmakers personally and finding out why they create their life's work is pretty compelling to me, after all there are many "things" one can spend money and resources on, and to support artisanal watchmaking at this level is very satisfying.
Basel 2004, the two enamel options, stylish arabic or the lovely elongated romans
On that note I'll end off, but before I say goodbye, please consider where you buy your next timepiece, remember the people who help you and have steered you well and most importantly, who value you as a client/friend and not just some sales target to make. There are still a few of us in this business that value the relationship over the dollar. I think you know where I stand.
I have known this genius of a watchmaker for 7 years now, having met him on that serendipitous visit to Dublin in July of 2006. See my article from that trip under the "Watchmaker & Workshop visits':
Here we are now, delivering to my mind the most elegant and sublime Tourbillon made by anyone. The execution in rose gold with the darkened rhodium plating on the mainplate under the synthetic sapphire crystal dial, really works well together to create this:
Photo courtesy of McGonigles
Stephen, together with his brother John, have been creating their next generation of McGonigle watches, this model is a time only piece, skeletonised for the intitial variation. The Tuscar cased in white gold, with a sapphire crystal dial sits atop the open bridge work to reveal the stunningly hand finished german silver. This long sold out subscription series of 10 watches are close to being completed and will adorn the wrists a little later this year. In the meantime, here a couple of images of the prototype Stephen brought with him.
Notice the circular grain fine finish on the balance bridge, which is centered on the balance wheel bearing. A very large free sprung balance of John & Stephen's design, beating away at 18,000bph, it is a lovely caliber to observe.
This is the official picture of the serially produced One of Ten Tuscar.
The back revealing the now solid main plate, where previously in the proto's they had an opening.
As is the typical path of these Independent watchmakers, the desire to design and execute one's own caliber is a big goal, with many obstacles in the pathway. However, those that do persevere and realize their ambition, will be rewarded and acknowledged by a select few aficionados who recognize the blood, sweat and tears that go into this process. I find myself on many occasions spending a lot of time explaining to watch collectors, unaware of the real difference between an Independent watchmaker, Independent watch companies and big brands, the staggering differences in the process of bringing these seemingly similar products to market.
This semi-skeleton initial series of ten pieces cased in 18K WG is long sold out and being delivered slowly but surely. The Tuscar in person is so much more than the pictures and one can see and feel the efforts put into creating this lovely watch. The good news is that there will be another execution of this Tuscar, now in 18K RG with a darkened sapphire dial, that reveals the balance wheel beating at 18,000vph, called the Banu. This is to my mind actually a better looking watch, might have something to do with it having a RG case and a dark dial, which is one of my favourite combinations!
Here is the Banu, love the massive balance wheel free sprung with gold weights slowly oscillating. Held in place by the pincer claw balance cock. Pic courtesy of McGonigle Watches.
As is our way, we had a fun evening with Stephen at Passion, where friends and collectors could really get to see why Stephen and his brother John, create what they do, touch and feel his proto Tuscar and see a local collector's superlative and to my mind, most lovely McGonigle Tourbillon cased in 18k RG.
We then were able to spend a fun day showing Stephen and Cathriona around some of the local sights. He is quite an avid nature watcher, so the seals and sea lions in La Jolla provided several hours of amusement:
In closing, I invite you to take a look at these truly stunning watches created by two of the world's most lovely fellows. Honorable and easy to work with, Stephen and John will I hope in years to come get the recognition they so deserve!
Thomas has been beavering away in Twann creating his next pieces inspired by the Art Nouveau era, the steampunk movement and also his love of nautical lore having been an officer in the former West German Navy as a young man. Probably best known for his foray into multiple axis tourbillons and being the first fellow to design and make a Triple Axis flying Tourbillon with constant force on the escape wheel, he has gone in a bit if a different direction, certainly style wise!