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Roger Smith Watches

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

At the end of July, I had the special pleasure of spending a couple hours with Roger Smith as he swooped into Los Angeles to deliver the commissioned and bespoke Big Date Tourbillon that had been four years in the making.

I have a special interest in independent watchmakers and Roger Smith, who hails from England and still lives there–the Isle of Man, to be specific–happens to be one of whom I’m particularly fond. Most watchmakers do their schooling and then go to work for the brands to cut their teeth. Smith has never worked for a brand. He had a very personal watch education from the master of independent watchmaking, George Daniels. If you’re not familiar with Dr. George Daniels, he practically gave birth to the independent watchmaking movement. He’s known for his exquisite one-off pocket watches as well as his invention of the co-axial escapement. Yes, the one used by Omega.

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

When Smith was in watchmaking school, Daniels came to the classroom and showed his Space Traveler watch to the students. That pocket watch inspired Smith to make his own at 19 years old. After 1½ years of toil, the young and enthusiastic Smith trotted off to show it to Daniels. Smith relayed that Daniels said the watch looked unmade and that it should look created. The styling wasn’t there and the watch wasn’t homogeneous. Start over, was Daniels verdict.

Rather than become dismayed by the master’s criticisms, Smith got invigorated. Smith’s next effort took five years to complete and in that time period, he remade the watch four times. At this point, Smith felt confident to show Daniels the results. Needless to say, Daniels was satisfied and asked Smith to work for him. For four years, Smith worked side-by-side with Daniels on the Millennium watch for Omega. A watchmaker couldn’t ask for a better education.

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Smith doesn’t produce watches in the industrial fashion. In fact, he confesses he really wouldn’t know how. He literally makes and finishes all the components by hand in his workshop, with the exception of such things as balance springs, rubies and straps. Just like Dr. Daniels taught him. Smith even makes his own cases! By the very nature of a handmade watch you’re going to see mistakes and flaws, but Smith says that’s what gives them character and life.

What makes Smith’s watches so aesthetically interesting to me is the three dimensional nature of the dial and the movement. He’s currently in production on the Series 2 and now all the Series 2 come with a hand-engraved movement, which is really quite lovely and gives the decoration from behind extra panache. I got to hold and examine quite closely one with an open dial, as well as the Big Date Flying Tourbillon. I got lost in the balanced and thoughtful architecture. And the view is just stunning because Smith takes great pride in his finishing. Better yet, I don’t have to squint through a loop to enjoy it. That’s because Smith comes from the tradition of pocket watches, where you can appreciate the workmanship with the naked eye. He wanted to translate that experience into a watch, and I have to say he succeeded beautifully.

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Don’t get the idea that Smith is walking step for step in Daniels’ shoes, though there are visual similarities in the two men’s watches. How could there not be? Smith was Daniels’ protégé, after all. Still, Smith has grown into an accomplished and confident watchmaker, establishing a style of his own. Characteristics of Smith’s work include a ¾ plate, jewels in gold chatons, a raised barrel bridge, silver dials, and hands sculpted from 18k gold or steel. Also, he hand engraves all the notations on the movement and the case.

With the amount of time put into each piece, Smith is only able to make 10 watches a year, but he plans to increase production to 30. However, his workshop is going to get a lot busier. A couple months ago Smith announced a collaboration with his mentor George Daniels. They are creating a series of 35 Anniversary watches to commemorate Daniels’ invention of the Co-Axial escapement, the watch representing a bookend to Daniels’ illustrious career.

The Anniversary watch is going to feature a new technical advancement developed by Smith. After working 12 years on the Co-Axial escapement with Daniels and in his own workshop, Smith came up with a way to improve the performance of the part. He combined the upper and lower wheels into one by adding raised teeth onto the lower wheel. The Co-axial escape wheel can now be made in one single operation, removing the potential for error by getting rid of a pivot point.

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Roger Smith Watches ABTW Interviews

Getting all this history and know how in the Anniversary watch is coming at the hefty price of £142,000. The watch doesn’t have a tourbillon or a perpetual calendar either. It is a hand-wound movement that will display hours, minutes and seconds, power reserve and calendar. Obviously, collectors find the price reasonable because the series is almost sold out.

While Smith continues to work on the Series 2, which is an open edition limited by the nature of production, he has plans to increase his product range to between 6-8 key pieces in the next 5-10 years. He also will continue to take on commissions. Smith’s pieces start at close to six figures. The big numbers are enough to make anyone gulp or scoff at spending so much on a watch. But let me tell you, once you see them in person, it starts to be a love affair. At least it was for me.

If you are in a position to afford any of Smith’s handmade beauties, you will be getting a piece of the revived English watchmaking tradition.

[Ed. Note – the anime image near the bottom of the article is from a cartoon called "The Big O.” Why is it here? Because the main character (who is like a combo of Bruce Wayne and James Bond in a universe with big robots) is named Roger Smith, and has a cool watch that he uses to communicate with his mega mechanical robot.]



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  • Jack Freedman

    Another great article from Meehna on a master watchmaker. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    Jack Freedman

  • And I thought it was me in the background — super watch girl, scouring the universe to bring you stimulating ideas and perspectives about watches.

  • Ivan Y

    Excellent article! The watches are, obviously, gorgeous as well. The tips of hour and minute hands look very unusual – is there a specific term for that shape? It almost looks like he takes a round wire and pinches the tips.

    Ariel/Meenha — I’m a new reader, so forgive me for asking but have you done an overview of independent watchmakers? I’ve read bits and pieces about various makers, but don’t think I’ve come across something more comprehensive.

    P.S. What makes one an “independent” — size of the company, production quantity, or something else?

  • Hi Ivan, and welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    To answer your question about the hands, Roger sculpts them from gold. They are quite unusual and beautiful.

    As for what defines an independent, it’s a watchmaker who finances the company through his own or private funds, instead of being part of a luxury group such as Richemont, Swatch Group or LVMH. The independent has a freedom to maneuver that isn’t offered in a corporate structure. If he or she–and yes there are some she’s around–want to explore an idea or make a particular model, they can do it because they are the ultimate decision makers.

    While operating as an independent offers great rewards in terms of creative freedom and the ability to forge new designs or techniques without having to justify them to an executive or board, there are also huge financial risks. If there is a miscalculation or the funds run out, there is no one large corporation to fall back on.

    What I love about the independents is the soul and spirit imbued in the watches. They represent the vision and dreams of one man or woman. There is something very personal and intimate about purchasing a watch from an independent watchmaker. Oftentimes you get to co-create your watch and be part of the process. By supporting them you become part of the dream. In some senses you are a patron to an artisan.

    I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the independents, as I know and have relationships with several of them. In addition, I have written about them. I invite you to take a visit to my blog as well as my media section, where you can peruse some articles and get a sense of what and who the independents are and what they stand for:

    • Meehna, Maybe an article with a brief list of the indy guys is a good idea?

  • witch watch

    I’m agree with Ariel i’d like to see a run down of the independant manufactures to add to the ones i know which include:
    Nautische Instrumente Muhle Glashuttle,Rogers London, Dent London, Speake-Marin,McGonigle,FP Journe,SUF Helsinki,Andreas Strehler, Gronefeld and Cornelius & Cie to name a few.

  • pat i.

    Witch Watch -here’s a site to check out:

    I’d have to put Roger Smith at the top of the heap. The man is amazing and a true craftsman. A lot of independent makers have their movements subbed out or use modified ETA movements.

    I read/scanned through George Daniels book “Watchmaking”. It’s a task to get through, but it actually contains instructions on how to make hands, springs and jewelled bearings.

    Roger Smith learned from the best (and probably the only) true watchmaker alive today.

    The watches are stunning. As some of you know I’m not a big fan of high priced timepieces – especially those resembling the Battlestar Galactica. I’m pretty much immune to the idiotic ad campaigns put out by the watch industry.

    But if I had to sell my sould for a watch, It would be a Roger Smith.

    Having said that – I can fully appreciate the work and detail in the watch hands – but they seem a bit odd to me…probably not used to them.

  • Okay, you guys talked me into it. I’ll do a piece on the indies.

    pat i. also had a great suggestion to check out Curtis Thomson’s site: In fact, one of my articles on master clockmaker David Walter is there. If you are at all fascinated by clocks, as I am, he is someone to check out.

    • pat. i


      Thanks for the heads up, but I couldn’t find the article.

  • Hi pat. i,

    You can find it at the below link, entitled “Mastering the Tick-Tock, September 2010.
    I sent you a private email as well with the PDF.

    • pat. i


  • Rocky

    I saw the Roger Smith review and considered it’s simple beauty. Then I rushed out the door for a busy weekend, several times I thought of this fine time piece and how much I wanted something like this in my watch wardrobe. Saturday night I attended a play that was much better then I expected. At the final curtain I was on my feet vigorously applauding. For a second I thought of the safety of my watch then remembered that I was wearing a Rolex Datejust (white gold) and clapped louder. I thought of the Roger Smith and other fine watches that I consider delicate. Can I wear one of these in real life? Would I have to muffle applause or take the watch off? I love watches but consider them an addition to my life. Would such a time piece interfere with life?

  • Dear Rocky,

    You can applaud away with a Roger Smith watch. Roger comes from the old pocket watch tradition of making them built to last for centuries. Rather than interfere with your life, I wholeheartedly believe it would be an enhancement to it.

  • Ivan Y

    I know, I’m a little late commenting back, but I want to thank Meehna and Ariel for responding and, especially, for posting a link to Meehna’s articles. I’ve been to her site, but didn’t see a link to Articles page. I now have some serious reading to do 🙂

  • Hi Ivan Y,
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and browsed around my site. In the next few weeks it will be relaunched with some adjustments for clarity. I will also be posting an article here on the independents shortly, as requested. In the meantime, here’s a link to my articles to make it easier for you.


  • John

    Firstly, a very well compiled over-view of an original watch Master George Daniels. I would just say that R W Smith, seems to have lost some of his unique style element by following Daniels so closely. For me any Daniels watch is a Masterpiece of design, with nothing superfluous. You know what I mean………………. a car needs an engine fine, but then they put 24 mufflers on it and totally ruin the aesthetics.

    Personally I would be hard put to tell the difference between a Daniels and a smith.

    But absolutely wonderfully gorgeous watches, and all one-off’s so you can more or less design your own face with a choice of figures, and hands perhaps?

    If my earning were in that league where I could afford this watch or watches, I would definitely buy all I could. What a gorgeous watch to wear, (if you were brave enough!) and what an investment!

    Thank you for writing about my absolutely most desirable watch maker George Daniels.

  • Hi John,

    I agree that Smith hews closely to the Daniels aesthetic and it’s no wonder since he worked as his apprentice for so many years. I did an article on Smith that enumerates the differences in their styles and aesthetic cues, though from a first glance the watches of the two certainly show more than a passing resemblance. What Smith offers that Daniels doesn’t is a series of watches, expensive though they may be, and I’m not including the Daniels/Smith collaboration of the Anniversary watch, which is a special situation. Daniels works(ed) exclusively in one off and bespoke orders, so that you needed to have very, very deep pockets to afford one, as opposed to just very deep pockets to buy into a Smith watch. You can access the article I did on Smith for HH Magazine on my site under the title: “Reviving the English Watchmaking Tradition”

    I look forward to your opinion.