Time is right for watchmaker to the rich and famous
JUST 60 people in the world own a Roger W Smith watch — making it a very exclusive club to be a part of.
But the man behind the luxury wristwear began his successful career in his parents’ modest home in Stitch Mi Lane, Harwood.
As a youngster, Mr Smith, had no time for books or school and spent all his time making models and finding out how things work.
His father’s interest in clocks led him to study horology — the science of measuring time.
A visit from watchmaker George Daniels changed his life — and he set about learning the 34 different skills needed to make a watch.
Seven years and two handmade pocket watches later, Mr Daniels, impressed with his work, offered him an apprenticeship — so Mr Smith relocated to the Isle of Man to work with his mentor before branching out on his own in 2001.
Now, his exclusive handmade watches can command between £85,000 and £500,000 each and have an eight year waiting list.
And to add to his already brimming CV, the 43-year-old has been asked to make a watch for the GREAT Britain overseas trade and tourism campaign that celebrates the best of Britain.
Mr Smith said: “I was always interested in making models when I was younger — I didn’t understand school or see the point of exams. I was always interested in practical things. I would build things like model boats or Meccano — I never asked for books.
“I finished school at 16 and went to study horology. My father had an interest in clocks and heard about the course and thought it would be a good idea for me to go on it. I went for an interview and thought it sounded brilliant. I remember the first day we were allowed to use the machinery — better than sitting at a desk with a pen.”
Whilst at college in 1987 and repairing watches in his spare time, his course was visited by Mr Daniels.
Mr Smith said: “I wrote to him asking if he would take me on as an apprentice but he said he wouldn’t — I’d have to do it myself. So I set about making my first pocket watch. It took me 18 months to make from scratch.
“When I showed George he said it looked too handmade and he was right. He said that a handmade watch should look just as good as one made by a machine and I needed to spend more time perfecting the 34 skills.
“So I started doing another one. That took five and a half years. I got it ticking in the first year but the components were of poor quality and I went back to the beginning. I re-made it four times within that period.”
But hard work paid off for the young watchmaker when Mr Daniels stamped his seal of approval on his timepiece.
Mr Smith said: “By then I’d started repairing watches at Timepiece in Bolton. I did three or four days a week to pay my parents rent and made the watch in my spare time. They allowed me to take a small room in the house and make it into a workshop.
“When I completed the watch I had to show it to George and I got his approval. I remember walking down his drive to the house in the Isle of Man thinking after so long trying to make watches, if he says no I would have wasted the last seven years of my life.
“He looked at all the components and asked if I made them all. I said yes. He said: ‘congratulations, you are a watch maker’.
“Six months later he asked me to work with him and I worked there for about four years. We made a series of watches and I learned everything I know in that time.”
When Mr Daniels started to slow with age, Mr Smith branched out on his own in 2001 — thanks to a little help from the internet.
He said: “I decided to make nine wrist watches and tried to sell them under my own name. That coincided with the internet taking off so I bought a computer and posted some images on various forums and I got some orders straight away. Without the internet I would’ve had to go to London for retailers, which would have been costly.”
Thirteen years later just 60 people in the world own a Roger W Smith timepiece, which each take about nine months to make.
He said: “I do have a standard watch but generally clients want a version or a theme. I do bespoke, one off pieces too. We normally make 10 a year. We are one of the smallest watchmaking companies in the world.
“Our clients are very low key, successful people. I want to start making 12 a year now. It usually makes nine months to make an entry level one from start to finish.”
Still living in the Isle of Man with his wife Caroline, aged 40, and their 20 month old daughter, quiet success is something that Mr Smith is content with — but even he cannot help but feel proud of being asked to make a bespoke watch for the GREAT Britain Campaign.
He said: “A year ago I had a phone call from Downing Street who told to me about this campaign, which is a worldwide promotion of Great Britain. They said that they felt that my work fitted a few British qualities — inventiveness, technology and creativity.
“After a couple of meetings they asked me to make a watch for them. I did — it took about 10 months to make and is worth £180,000. It is going to be toured around the world as part of this campaign, which is really quite exciting.
“You don’t get a phone call like that every day, do you?”
The Roger W Smith Great Britain watch will be unveiled officially on April 24 at Watch Club in the Royal Arcade, Piccadilly, London.
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