“This Series 1 was the watch that led to it all…”
This article is an update of an interview we originally published for Phillips ‘Independents Day’ in May 2019.
For a watchmaker who makes 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, such as Roger’s first Open-dial or the GREAT Britain watch.
However, as much as these 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.
In May 2019 this watch, now known as ‘The First’, was shown at Phillips ‘Independents Day’ in Geneva and was acquired by a long-time collector and friend of Roger’s, who lives in Hong Kong.
Originally unnumbered, Roger decided to further distinguish ‘The First’ from his subsequent Series 1 watches by adding a special commemorative plate to the back of the watch.
Ahead of the ‘Independents Day’ show in 2019, we interviewed Roger to get his memories and reflections on this seminal watch and we’re also delighted to republish that interview here…
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 heavily modified it to take a new engraved raised barrel bridge with inset screwed chatons. This has now developed into my signature look. I also added a retrograde calendar mechanism to the dial side of the movement and built a case and dial to suit.
But I distinctly remember how the thought of my first true production watch having a bought-in movement (albeit much modified) 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. Had I stuck with that original movement, at the very 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.”