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Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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 GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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).

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

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Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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).

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Roger Smith GREAT Britain Unique Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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

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  • Usually it would be hard to call a $267K USD watch a bargain, but in this case it does seem fairly priced for a watch that is not even for sale. So nice and so much to appreciate and enjoy. Thanks for the review and great photos.

    • Alex Makogon

      Seriously? I don’t see here anything for $250k. Try to compare this with new Ferrari.

      • IanE

        An interesting but rather challenging comparison! The aesthetic and practical considerations are so different and would factor so differently for each of us: personally I have no desire for a Ferrari – though I do enjoy seeing them out in the real world and most are indeed objects of beauty. The Roger Smith watch is much more an object of solidity, permanence (as near as can be attained), dependability and an expression of amazing skills, passion and obsession – for me, (trying to avoid being too pretentious – and rather failing due to my poor word-craft!) it is a physical metaphor for all the processes involved in its construction – more about the art of telling a story than about the plot, perhaps.

        • iamcalledryan

          I would rather have both, but this thing is worth more to me.

          • egznyc

            After all, how many watches are made by the protege of George Daniels? How many watchmakers are a GD protege?

          • iamcalledryan

            I might be wrong, but I think R Smith was the only one that had a formal apprenticeship and is the only one to employ the Daniel’s method of watchmaking. If you want hardcore Daniels and have a big budget, you get GD or RS, if you want Daniels and have a more Earthly budget – get an Omega co-axial!

          • egznyc

            You might be wrong, but you’re not. No, you’re not. We are victims of our love of horology.

          • iamcalledryan

            Victims with full-blown Stockholm syndrome. The truth is I don’t really care what time it is!

        • Berndt Norten

          With Smith you are buying immortality of a sort. How on earth the value of this product can decrease over time … beats me.

      • Tob Markotob

        This watch is clearly not created for the likes of us. Its for those who don’t squabble about $250,000 watch and instead just drop that amount like a pocket change.

        • Alex Makogon

          Absolutely, like any $250k watch. I just can’t see big value in this one comparing to other $250ks.

        • Berndt Norten

          The rich aren’t like us. They have more money!

      • Put in perspective: Roger Smith does something no one else in the industry does. He hand-makes everything going into his watches. He makes five watches a year. Assuming he’s lazy (he’s not), that’s 416 hours per watch (at 40 hours per week). Considering that he’s one of, if not the top, watchmaker in the world, $250k is not exactly an exorbitant sum for this watch. It comes out to around $600/hour if the only cost is his labor (it’s not).

        Consider that very little on said Ferrari will be hand-worked, much less the whole thing created from start to finish by one craftsman.

        You would be more apt to compare this to a Rolls Royce, but even that will fall flat as Rolls doesn’t hand-make much in the way of the body or engine, just the interior.

        • iamcalledryan

          Agreed, when you observe the manufacturing process of both products, you might find yourself questioning the Ferrari price, or at the least understanding the RS.

        • Marius

          I agree that the Ferrari is not hand made, but it has other attributes such as power, acceleration, and speed, characteristics that a watch will never have. For some products such as supercars, you actually need machine work for making a 600HP engine, you couldn`t do that by hand.
          Moreover, there are other items entirely produced by hand, such as Savile Row bespoke suits and shoes that don`t cost nearly as much as this watch. On top of that, most are made on the premises on Savile Row, one of the most expensive streets in London, where the rents are exorbitant

          • A suit costs nowhere near what a watch does.

            Also, Nissan hand-makes the GTR engine, which have between 450 and 650 bhp, so no.

            A watch has equally important traits; escapement type and material, balance type and material, what the movement is made from, etc will all drastically effect how a watch performs.

            It’s the reason you can find a Seiko for $50 and why you’ll never find an FP Journe for $50, much less $5000.

        • Alex Makogon

          Sorry, but I just can’t see enough value for money for this beautiful piece. For it’s price, you can buy like 5 De Bethune’s which seem no less a masterpiece for me, simply put. I think that $250k for a time-only watch is just crazy, no matter how many legends about handcrafting you have. I adore great craftsmanship – unusual design and mechanisms, say De Bethune, MB&F, Urwerk and many others, but in this case I just can’t justify the price. It may as well be 25 grand, not 250.

          • You can’t see the value because you aren’t educated enough in watchmaking. Simple enough.

            None of the watches you mention are at the cutting edge of what’s possible (with the exception of the MB&F calendar watch recently released), nor are they handmade in any way, they’re all made by machines.

            Roger Smith is the only apprentice of the late George Daniels, considered one of, if not the best, watchmakers of the last century. He does everything by hand. Everything. Every single piece that goes into one of his watches is handled only by him. On that Urwerk? Probably a dozen people handle every piece that goes into that watch. That’s how the rest of the industry works (I would know, I work in the industry).

            This piece will be worth tens of millions in 100 years, as watchmaking students will still be learning about Roger Smith and George Daniels, where DeBethune, MB&F, and Urwerk will be relegated to a footnote.

          • Alex Makogon

            I can’t disagree with you since I see you know much more than me. But I can bring something new to this dispute. What I’ve actually noticed is that we can’t agree because we’re appealing to the different sides, different qualities of the subject: while I speak only about practical ones, you touch heritage and history. I guess this difference in thinking leads us to different point of views.

            Eiffel Tower, Saint Basil Cathedral are great because they are great. Athens Agora is great because it’s history.

        • Berndt Norten

          You’re buying the mystique, the name, the one-man (or not) atelier. You are likely buying it to pass it down your family line. Given their rarity, these watches will appreciate in value like almost no others out there.

  • CortexUK

    Nice watch.

    But it would have been nice to have had a watch made in Great Britain, and by someone who paid tax here.

    • DanW94

      You’d know better than me given your username, but isn’t the Isle of Man part of the United Kingdom? A protectorate at least?

      • CortexUK

        The Isle of Man is not part of the UK. And they never have a problem reminding us of the fact when it suits them. It’s a self-governing possession of the Crown.

        The UK provides them with defence and represents them in international fora.

        • DanW94

          Thanks for the info….Not that I’m trying to delve into political waters, but it sounds like a sweet deal for them….lol

        • Berndt Norten

          Precisely why Daniels moved there. He admits as much in his autobiography. But he wasn’t averse to getting his knighthood, was it,? from the Queen at Buckingham…

        • egznyc

          Thanks, (cerebral) cortex. Now while we are at it, what’s the distinction between the UK and Great Britain? And why is the IoM known for cats without tails? ,-)

  • iamcalledryan

    Grail watch.

    • Berndt Norten

      This one goes to 11. People won’t be writing about Ralph Lauren’s wooden watches 200 years from now but they will be writing about Daniels and Smith.

  • Mark Baran

    That last photo is the clincher. Hard to believe he went to the trouble of hand making the residual sections of the two hour markers that have been dished out around the lower section of the subdial. That is a really nice piece of mechanical art.

  • DanW94

    Just stunning! Two things, Is there a particular reason that he capitalizes the entire word “GREAT” and only the B in Britain? I find that a bit distracting. Also, I think he could have omitted the portion of the Roman numerals V and VII. Otherwise, yeah, I’d wear it : )

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I did wonder that myself with the lettering of Great Britain on the reverse of the piece and can think of no reason why this was done.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        My real point is why RW even needed to basterdise the face of this piece from some fly by night politician is beyond me. Its not kike he’s on his knees looking for work. RS would be spinning in his grave.

        • iamcalledryan

          I’m even more confused. Whose grave?? RWSmith, the watchmaker, is alive and well. I have read a few open letters from Roger Smith to the industry and he is passionate about hand-craft, about preserving that craft, and I imagine was honored to be asked to represent the initiative.

    • iamcalledryan

      if you go to the website of the campaign that this was made for, it is part of the branding.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/watches/31782/roger-w-smith-a-great-british-showcase.html

      • DanW94

        Thanks for the link. Makes perfect sense now. I suspected there was a deeper meaning than just an emphasis on the word great.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        With respect that article doesn’t really answer my question on why his name should be capitalized and only the B in Britain on the face. And indeed what its even doing their in the first place. The G(O)D look is timeless, but I suspect he wouldn’t have cluttered the space. I have written to a quick email to RW to get the answer straight from the horses mouth…….so to speak.

        • iamcalledryan

          It refers to a campaign, the name of which is GREAT Britain. It is a branding decision made by the UK government, not R Smith.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Your not getting me. I would be the first to call Britain great ( on account I live here ). I meant why go lowercase and why it was their in the first place.

          • iamcalledryan

            I guess you’re right that I am not getting you. I have no idea what is left to understand here?

            I thought you didn’t understand why ROGER SMITH used caps for “Great”, and I was explaining to you that it has nothing to do with him. The GREAT Britain logo is the logo of the campaign, so not available for his own interpretation of it.

            As for his name, it is also his brand name, and that has always been in Caps.

            So RS has nothing to do with “ritain” being lowercase, and both sets of words on the dial are logos/trademarks. If this is still off topic, perhaps RS will do a better job of explaining it to you.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            An email is on its way to my local government minister : )

          • Berndt Norten

            Take your complaint to the United Nations. There ain’t no cure for the blingtime blues….

          • DanW94

            The Blue Cheer version is the best…check it out….

          • Berndt Norten

            Indeed! A little thing called the push toward a referendum to secede. Scotland and undoing 1707. And all that.

  • socrates35

    At an average price of roughly 120,000 British pounds per watch, and a annual production of five pieces, I surmise Roger Smith isn’t doing too badly at all. That works out to a gross revenue of approximately US$1 million per year, and all in tax free Isle of Man too. With a workforce of just one (himself) I salute his business acumen as much as his horological craftsmanship… hard to say really which is the more impressive of the two! 😉

    • john coleman

      I think you will find he has 3 or 4 people working with him.

      • socrates35

        Thanks for the info. You’re obviously more well-informed than Ariel Adams of the staffing situation at the Roger Smith atelier (or maybe he just forgot to mention that particular factoid)

        • the #watchnerd

          Actually, I think the total number of employees is closer to nine, up from seven eighteen months ago.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Easily the nicest most sought after piece I have seen all year. To me tis is my Holy grail. If this is the only piece I owned, I would die a happy man.

  • wallydog2

    With the greatest of respect to a master craftsman, may I, cap in hand, wonder about the squashed Roman numerals, V, VI, and VII. Further, if I may be so bold, this peasant wonders if the “GREAT Britain” might have been toned down a tiny bit in keeping with British understatement. At the risk of hearing “off with his head!”, perhaps the Union Jack on the dial is a tad…, gulp,corny.
    Being Canadian, let me apologize. I was born in, but left Britain, in 1944 at the age of 10 months. I’d save “God Save the Queen”, but I’m not really a monarchist…he says as he puts his other foot in it.
    (I was born in Colchester, a Roman town, thus my sensitivity to squashed numerals.)

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I don’t even know where to start ! ; ) …………

      • wallydog2

        I apologized, didn’t I.

        • iamcalledryan

          Understating that bit was not the brief, the sole brief here was celebrating British craft.

          • CortexUK

            So why not have it made in Britain?

          • iamcalledryan

            Because we don’t force people to, and if you could set up your own in house wonder-factory, you would want to put it wherever the hell you like. Being an apprentice of GD I think this is more about the British lineage of his craft than his postal address, and thank goodness, because to exclude him would have been a greater crime.

  • SuperStrapper

    Why is the Union Jack a cliche of Britain? Are the Stars and Stripes a cliche of ‘Murica?

    • wallydog2

      I trend towards understatement, in that a watch is “personal and private”. Watches should be apolitical. Putting a British Union Jack, or American Stars and Stripes or a Canadian Maple Leaf, while admirable to a certain point in a patriotic sense, is nudging a little too closely to having a BMW logo or a “007 Bond” somewhere on the dial. It’s…forgive me…I’d say “borderline tacky”… but I won’t – out of fear of the tar-and-feather fraternity turning up outside my door late at night.

      • SuperStrapper

        Generally, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. But when you understand the circumstance in which this watch was created, it makes perfect sense in this instance.

        • wallydog2

          $360,000 worth of perfect sense?
          (Sorry. That’s my pre-lunch cheap chianti speaking.)

          • SuperStrapper

            That’s right. Just because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

            I getting really pathetic the number of people that only want to come here to whine about the cost of haute horology, as though some great injustice has been committed.

          • wallydog2

            I may be wining but I’m not whining “about the cost of haute horology”. I’m the first to say that quality costs. I’m also aware of a $ threshold, regardless of personal wealth. (I’m a zillionaire and $360,000 still seems a tad steep… for a watch. So there!)

          • DanW94

            Absolutely no threshold. No price is to steep for someone with enough money who is looking for novel ways to display it. Hence, 90 million for a painting done with 100 dollars of materials requiring the skills of an 11 year old. Perceived value is all about cache, scarcity, uniqueness and a host of other factors.

          • Berndt Norten

            Jeff Koons, Damien Hurst…. Rothko… Pollock… Frauds all of them. We wants to be duped.

          • Marius

            The problem of pricing depends on if you are a buyer or not. If you actually buy high-end watches, then you have every right to be interested in and complain about the ever-increasing price of watches. On the other hand, if you read watch blogs, but don`t actually plan to buy a watch, then, of course, the price is not an important issue.

          • SuperStrapper

            K.

  • Marius

    I really like the hands and hour markers of this watch. However, what I don`t like is the pricing structure due to the low economies of scale. What I mean by that is that a Dufour Simlicity, a similar watch, but with a better finished movement costs only half as much, and a Voutilainen three times less. The main reason is that Dufour and Voutilainen, while manufacturing many parts in-house, also outsource some components to high quality suppliers. R.Smith, on the other hand, manufactures almost all compinents in-house. That is admirable, but since he doesn`t have the economies of scale of a specialized producer, to obtain the same quality of a Dufour or Voutilainen, you have to pay two, or three times more. Now, even a very rich collector, such as GeryG from Quill&Pad, looks for quality, rather than for who made that component.
    As a reader pointed out, $250,000 for a time only watch, even from R. Smith, is absurd.

  • BNABOD

    cool dial w the union Jack, the GREAT Britain all caps for GREAT is just in my view obnoxious but frankly i am not surprised. otherwise a great looking movement.

  • Ulysses31

    It’s a stunning piece, at least from the back. The level of accuracy and detail in the engravings is some of the best i’ve ever seen. The Union Jack dial is subtle and while it might have become a fashion cliché is no more so than any of a number of other popular flags. The price is irrelevant – you’re not looking at anything close to a mass-produced item, and it is only through economies of scale that things which ought to be very expensive (considering the number of steps and expertise involved), such as phones and computers, are as cheap as they are. Smith works at a glacial pace out of necessity and will continue to do so unless he has a change of heart, or unless someone transplants his brain into the body of a cyborg and cranks it up to eleven.

    • Berndt Norten

      As Leonard Cohen would say. I love to see you over there naked. Especially from the back…. Gorgeous case back… dial is…. a little boring. A bit Dufouresque methinks

  • Larry Holmack

    Really beautiful watch….all hand made…what more could ask for if you had the disposable income. I love the “flip side” of the watch…the craftsman ship that went into all the engraving on the movement is amazing.

  • Regarding the Union Jack, I think it is done nicely (it’s there but not colored or demanding too much of your attention) and more to the point – look at “who” commissioned the watch. Call it patron’s privilege to reflect the whole intent of the watch being British.

    And as others have pointed out (before I crawled out of bed), a Ferrari is not entirely hand built by a single master craftsman so while I lust after Ferraris also, it’s not exactly a fair comparison outside of the simple question of how would one spend 1/4 mega buck. But there are lots of choices – houses, women, drugs, art, throughbreds, Pez collections, etc.

    • john coleman

      Totally agree.

    • Berndt Norten

      Yes, I recall Ric Flair trying to win over the LWO, circa 1998 (was it?). “I’ll give you cars.” (They’re nonplussed.) “I’ll give you money.” (Some interest shown). “I’ll give you women.” (Finally the lucca lunatics nod their heads and seal the deal). As I was saying, yes, a lovely watch. But there certainly is an irony in Roger Smith being granted a commission in honour of Great Britain when his mentor was a curmudgeonly tax exile who had no truck with Britain (although he enjoyed British cars!!) even after Thatcher’s lowering of the top marginal rate from 70 to 40%.

      With Smith, the mystique of the master artisan, hunched over his work desk, living solely for his art…well that’s the whole shtick. It’s inefficiency in the name of inefficiency…and in the name of perfection. And personal enrichment. It’s all connected.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    IMO, that £180,000 figure may be just a bit…light.

    • Berndt Norten

      It would be if he had had to buy his tools but I think they were bequeathed to him by Daniels. Not sure if death duties apply on the Isle but probably not. It’s like being given the keys to a factory, free of charge.

  • word-merchant

    Rather sadly I don’t like the style at all; I find it fussy, old-fashioned and dare I say it, a rather dull. When I look at the rather fine photos in the article, I also keep seeing the ‘mistakes’ – the unevenness of some of the engraving and so forth.

    I know this is entirely handmade by a craftsman, and therefore a unique watch, but for £180k I want it to be perfect. And it isn’t.

    I may well be a complete philistine.

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