December 26, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Commissioned by the British government itself (by order of David Cameron) the Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch debuted back in 2012 during the “GREAT Britain” exhibition that represented the best of English products during the 2012 London Olympic games. The Roger Smith “GREAT Britain” watch is easily one of the most anticipated collectors’ watches of our day given its reason for existing, maker, and not being able to actually buy it. Perhaps someday, the Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch will fall into a collector’s hands who will be really happy with it. Actually, I am not even entirely sure who owns it – that honor might be with Roger Smith himself.
At SalonQP 2015, I had a very rare chance to get a hands-on look at the one-of-a-kind Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch (that we discussed in more detail here in 2014) that is all too easy to love if you are A) British or B) fond of British things. Of course, you should also probably be a fan of ultimate high-end horology, as Roger Smith (the only apprentice of the late George Daniels) is among the world’s last watch makers to more or less produce everything by hand at his workshop which is located on the Isle of Man off the coast of England near Ireland.
Roger Smith recently shared that since he began producing timepieces in 2001, he has only made about 80 watches total to this day. That means each year Roger Smith is only able to produce just over five watches. Can you imagine the wait time for customers? Roger can’t really speed up production given that he does things himself, and that is sort of the point of the brand. As long as he is making a decent living, then I suppose this is fine in perpetuity – so long as he can continue to make watches, that is. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the real difficultly for Roger is in balancing his time between filling orders and dreaming up new timepieces. At SalonQP 2015, for instance, Roger Smith debuted four new watches (Series 1, 2, 3, and 4), but each of them lacked movements (for now).
At about 40mm wide, the Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch begins with a 950 platinum case (produced by Roger Smith) and and engraved solid sterling silver dial (engraved by Roger Smith) that has the motif of the Union Flag (well part of it). It is a cliché but ultimately satisfying way of suggesting the Great Britain theme. A close look at the dial reveals a number of different engraving styles that use hand-operated guilloche machines. The use of different patterns across the surface of a single color is a clever way of creating contrast.
Speaking of high contrast, some of the most beautiful elements of the dial are the hand-made hands as well as Roman numeral hour markers. Roger Smith uses an intensely laborious process to make hands which has been all but abandoned by his colleagues for that very reason. Not only have the hands been flame blued, but so have the hour markers. This results in a beautiful dial which is also very legible, and in person, it looks fantastic.
The Roger Smith GREAT Britain dial layout is among the most simple produced by Roger Smith, offering just the time with subsidiary seconds dial. Proportions are spot on, and the detailing is exactly what you’d expect from something produced by an obsessive compulsive watchmaker (that I certainly hope is a condition Smith is “enhanced” with).
Turn the platinum case around, and through the rear sapphire crystal you will see a rare treat that is a Roger Smith movement. Pulling strongly from the aesthetic style of George Daniels, the movement inside of the Roger Smith GREAT Britain (along with other Roger Smith watches) contains a co-axial escapement. This system is mostly known for its use in Omega timepieces, but that is because the brand purchased the technology from George Daniels who invented it. Roger Smith has since improved upon Daniels’ original designs, making single-piece co-axial escapements that are smaller and thus more efficient.
You will also enjoy a number of interesting polishing and finishing techniques on the otherwise simple, manually wound movement. The carefully beveled lines and gold chatons with hand-fired blued-steel screws are easy to miss given the detailed engraving work on the large rear plate of the movement. You can see the co-axial escapement in action as well. On the movement is also the small three-legged icon on a shield (know as the “Triskelion”) which is the symbol for the Isle of Man. Moreover, “Isle of Man” in full is engraved into the movement plate under Roger Smith’s name.
The Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch could be one of several “greatly collectible” Roger Smith watches, but I hope he does not decide to pursue a path of creating “intentionally collectible” watches not meant for specific end customers. Today, watch auction houses are starting to approach some of the more prestigious watchmakers and suggesting that they produce unique timepieces meant to go directly to auction. In my opinion, this adds too much marketing pressure to the production of new watches and vastly erodes at the relationship between artist (watchmaker) and client. It might make good business sense in the short term, but it takes away from the magic that makes these people inspiring not only as master craftspeople but also as mavericks who have eschewed a more typical modern life for something uniquely traditional and rewarding.
That isn’t to say that Roger Smith will do what I referred to above, but rather that Roger Smith is a prime example of the type of watchmaker that high-end watch auction houses would love to have as a maker of unique items that clients can get exclusively through them (and only via auction). If something like the Roger Smith GREAT Britain ever does go to auction, I hope it is in many (many) years from now. According to Roger Smith, if a price were put on the Roger Smith GREAT Britain watch it would cost about £180,000. rwsmithwatches.com