Two English watchmakers make very small series of timepieces in a decidedly British style.
By Elizabeth Doerr
Grand Complication 5 by Peter Roberts
To say that Peter Roberts has been at the forefront of English watchmaking over the course of his career is to put it mildly.
Roberts, who became a fellow of the British Horological Institute in the early 1970s, has not only worked for some of the grandest names in watchmaking, but has also taught some of today’s most talented young Brits—the likes of Stephen Forsey (of Greubel Forsey) and Peter Speake-Marin, both of whom successfully run their own boutique brands in Switzerland today.
Roberts has spent the last four years as technical director for Bremont, England’s up-and-coming hometown darlings in the mid-priced luxury sports watch range. He designed a marine clock for Bremont that became the brand’s first movement fully designed and made in the UK.
Roberts was the first British watchmaker to attend the WOSTEP school of watchmaking in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was during this time, in the 1970s, that he began developing and making unique modifications to the Valjoux 72 chronograph movement. An instructor told him that he’d never seen a watch with more than four hands emanating from the center, which naturally propelled Roberts to prove that the theoretical could be realized. He achieved this goal in 1972.
Now, having found a cache of new old-stock Valjoux 88 calibers, Roberts launches a series of only 44 pieces. “We have been searching for these movements for years,” Roberts reveals. The five hands emanating from the center display the time, a chronograph and a second time zone/24-hour indicator. The watch also has a full calendar and moon phase visible through windows. The movement is a hand-finished, manually wound integrated chronograph with 46 hours of power reserve.
The rest of the 42mm watch was designed by Roberts and manufactured to his exacting specifications. There will be 40 pieces in stainless steel and bronze and four in 18K rose and white gold; the numbers represent each of the four decades that have passed since Roberts made his first “concentrique” watch. It can be ordered directly for about $24,100 in stainless steel and about $37,597 in rose gold.
Marie-Louise & Peter Roberts
+44 (0)1227 470701
Robin by Robert Loomes
Robert Loomes—whose ancestor Thomas Loomes was already making pocket watches in the 17th century—owns a small shop in Stamford, England.
Specialized in the repair and restoration of antique clocks and watches, he is part of a long horological tradition in the market town located halfway between London and York. His father, Brian Loomes, was in fact quite an authority and wrote several books on the subject in addition to being a clocks and watches dealer. Young Robert at times helped out in the shop, and ended up training in his father’s business.
Today, Loomes’s business takes up all four floors of the picturesque Stamford building. Around 2005, he started making his own watch here and there, just for the fun of it, but by 2009 he’d gathered enough experience and confidence to issue a run of 100 pieces—which sold out in a year.
Now Loomes spends a great deal of his time planning and designing his own limited-edition timepieces in almost homeopathic amounts. His greatest desire was to make a timepiece using only English components as opposed to having to source Swiss parts.
His wish came partially true when he was able to purchase a cache of new old-stock manually wound Smiths 12-15 calibers from the 1950s. “The finest English movement ever made was made by Smiths in the 1950s,” Loomes says. “I found someone who could sell me a box full that had sat in a safe for 60 years untouched.”
He then went searching for other English companies he could convert into watch suppliers. “The biggest challenge was indeed the sapphire,” he confirms. Thankfully, an optics company in Hertfordshire—that he found by chance through a friend of a friend—had machinery dating to the 1940s for polishing synthetic sapphire crystal. At a small engineering firm south of Sheffield, meanwhile, Loomes showed the engineers that their big, million-dollar lathes could be used to craft watch cases from solid stainless steel bars.
Loomes’s own company has refurbished the Smiths movement, giving the distinctively shaped bridges a high polish and then engraving them with a design that echoes those of Thomas Loomes from the 17th century, before giving them a coating of 22K gold. The Robin is a limited edition of 100 pieces in a 39mm stainless steel case. The brass dials receive a traditional English frosted finish and are then rhodium-plated, which lends them the look of 17th-century silvering.
The watch can be ordered from Loomes for $9,480. A smaller version, 30mm in diameter, called Robina is also available.