“This Series 1 was the watch that led to it all…”7 May, 2019
For a watchmaker making just ten hand-crafted and individually produced pieces a year, Roger’s watches will always be synonymous with true rarity. Within this pantheon of watches are some pieces which are simply unique; While Roger’s first Open-dial and GREAT Britain watches have become notable for their horological importance, there can only ever be one ‘first’ Roger W Smith watch - and this is the unnumbered Series 1 which he created in 2001.
We interviewed Roger to get his memories and reflections on this seminal watch which is about to be released for sale on behalf of his first ever collector…
This Series 1 is not only your first production watch, but also represents the inception of your own studio. What was going on for you at this time?
“Well, it was in 2000 and during the last year of the Millennium watch project with George we had been discussing what ‘life after Daniels’ might look like for me” explains Roger.
“My first notion, to create a pocket-watch, was quickly dismissed. I knew I had to embark on a wristwatch, but the quantum shift in both technique and scale was a daunting prospect; to go from the 1-200ths of a millimetre tolerances required for pocket-watches to the 3-4000ths that would be mandatory to pull off a successful wristwatch felt like another mountain to climb and, while I had clearly gained valuable knowledge from collaborating on the Millennium, it still felt like I would be free-climbing that mountain with a blindfold on!”
..So what was driving you?
“Well, I was determined to strike out on my own, and I wanted to immediately establish my own horological approach as distinctive from George Daniels. You know instinctively that your first watch is incredibly important. It sets the tone for everything to come and even then, I knew that I had to be able to look back on this watch in years to come with a sense that this was the true ancestor of whatever I would be making in future! I look at it now and, while my watches have clearly evolved, hugely so in some areas, this Series 1 was the watch that led to it all”.
One hallmark of Roger W. Smith that you established in this Series 1 was the building of dials from multiple components…
“That’s right. The approach with which I’d become familiar working with George was his preference to make a dial from a single component. I’m not sure back then, having just turned thirty, if it was arrogance, or naivety (or a bit of both), but I decided from the outset to distinguish myself from George Daniels by building up my dials from individual components to achieve improved quality and also to establish the robust aesthetic I had fixed in my mind. This would eventually reach its apotheosis in the Union Flag dial on the GREAT Britain watch, which I built from 34 individual components - but that narrative begins with this first Series 1”.
How do you feel looking at the watch again for the first time in nearly twenty years?
“Strangely I’m reminded of the fear of embarking on my first wristwatch! Then it’s the relief in not only completing it, but finding my first customer! For anyone else, I guess any interest is going to be found in the story of the build, but for me it is all about those feelings; Looking at the watch now, I’m reminded how often you make apparently rational decisions based on your emotions and instincts. Initially, because I had no resources and the prospect of building the entire watch was so daunting, I bought in a Swiss movement and winding mechanism and in fact I had completed the watch albeit with my own retrograde, dial and case. But I distinctly remember how the thought of my first true production watch having a bought-in movement just didn’t sit well for me. I really agonised over this and, in the end, I took it all apart again and designed completely new movement plates and acquired the core-components so that I could build around this in the style I really wanted to achieve. So when I hold this Series 1, it is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I listened to my gut. This watch really does occupy a rightful place as the first step towards everything that has come since. If I’d stuck with that original movement, at the least it would have been something of a false-start for my studio; or, if I’d been happy to use a bought-in movement, I might have turned out to be an entirely different type of watchmaker”.
How do you think this Series 1 will be viewed in years to come?
“I think it very much depends on what happens in those years to come. There’s no doubt that without this watch, there is no Series 2 in 2006, there’s no Open Dial, there is no subsequent Series 3 or 4, or the GREAT Britain. Those watches are all thanks to this piece, just as everything yet to come will start with this Series 1 made by a young man starting out with no route map, few resources and less money”!
“I think it’s fair to say that I was finding my way in creating this watch, but I found my way in completing it. That’s how important this watch is to me.”
As well as exhibiting this Series 1 watch, you are a panellist at Phillips ‘Independents’ Day’ celebration of independent watchmaking…
“I’m delighted that the timings worked out and this Series 1 will have a chance to be seen by so many collectors as it comes available for sale. Ahead of this, we already have significant interest in the watch, as you can imagine. I will also be wearing a Daniels Millennium, which is very special and appropriate as I will be part of the panel discussing George’s legacy at 6-30pm on Friday 10th May at the Hôtel La Réserve in Geneva. This of course is in conjunction with Phillips’ auction of the Daniels Grand Complication which has received so much attention since it was announced. It will be a very exciting few days”!
For more details, please do visit Roger at the non-selling Independents’ Day exhibition this week from Thursday 9th May to Sunday 12th at Hôtel La Réserve, which is being showcased alongside the timepieces of Geneva Watch Auction: NINE.
“Independents’ Day” The Legacy of George Daniels, is a celebration of independent watchmaking is a one-of-a-kind exhibition, open to the public, that gives a unique occasion to view masterworks by thirteen independent watchmakers gathered in one place. This will be the first time ever these watchmakers and watches will be united under one roof and a truly exceptional opportunity for any watch aficionado to plunge into the world of fine watchmaking, by seizing the importance of Daniels’ extreme capacity to inspire, by his undisputed genius, future generations of watchmakers.