At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I thought I'd pen or rather type this little missive about why I have chosen to work in the Independent watchmaking end of the watch business, rather than the broader big brand market or the second hand dealer arena.
Yes, it is a more difficult (read less financially rewarding) way to operate professionally, but infinitely more rewarding as the business aspect of the watch world changes each year.
I saw the change coming almost ten years ago, with the opening in NYC of the first branded boutiques, and I certainly understand why the brands are doing this. As an independent watch store, this had some benefits and disadvantages for us. Unfortunately the disadvantages outweighed the benefits rather significantly and it is why when setting up Passion Fine Jewelry three years ago, we chose to only represent real Independent Watchmakers.
One of the reasons Janna & I do this, is that these relationships we develop with collectors over the months & years often turn to friendships and a group of like minded individuals reward us with their loyalty and support, as we continue to support the artisanal aspect of fine mechanical watchmaking by helping these Independent watchmakers who have chosen the path less travelled and certainly more difficult, within the watch business. I fully believe that people like to help others if they can, it is a human need on many levels and brings a level of happiness and contentment that other pastimes can rarely offer. It just feels good!
Seeing the joy in a collectors eyes when they first open up a new watch box to reveal that piece they acquired, especially when it often takes months to get sometimes even a year, is amazing and knowing it helped a watchmaker build his little business, is a large part of why I do what I do.
I know that the big brands create many lovely watches, some of which I personally own and would own more if money were no object, however there is that human connection with the watchmaker that cannot be duplicated with a big brand, and it is this aspect that I first found compelling 9 years ago when I started working with Peter Speake-Marin. Back then, we were both in quite different places professionally and personally. I was part of an existing fine jewelry store who were big brand authorized dealers for many great brands such as Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron-Constantin, Glashutte Original etc, etc., whose products I'm still fond of to this day, with quite a healthy annual turn over of several million dollars feeding an expanding business. Two children, married and working to build this business, with a couple of pieces of expensive CA real estate to my name, I came across this fellow Peter, married, no kids, working with his wife and just getting going in his independent phase, having recently created the Watch Workshop to design and make watches under the Speake-Marin name. With an annual production of around 35-40 pieces, he wasn't making himself wealthy by a long shot. Probably just about covering his bills with a long road ahead, I was immediately taken by his humility and straightforwardness when discussing a potential business relationship over coffee in Basel that initial meeting.
Basel 2004 Peter & I discussing his creations at the AHCI stand.
His watches were stunning and I wanted to help promote him and sell his watches to our collector clients, who I was fairly sure would be as compelled with Peter and his watches as I was. Committing to buy 5 watches, 3 gold and 2 steel classic Piccadilly pieces, with 4 enamel dials and one hand frosted, I was going out on a bit of a limb professionally, as it was a fairly significant chunk of our open to buy dollars being spent on a completely unknown then watchmaker, whose products we had to pay up front for before he would ship them over to California. No glossy catalogs, Facebook or a fantastic website like he has now with which to market and promote his amazing work. Just a few rudimentary photos I managed to snap in Basel, which are in this message for you to see, and my enthusiasm!
Basel 2004, his only model, the 38mm Piccadilly with three dial variants, enamel (top) Hand frosted solid 18K three layer dial (middle) & hand engraved solid 18K three layered dial (Bottom)
Intrigued to find out if I was correct, I talked about the watches we ordered that first year in 2004 for several months after Basel, to as many watch aficionados as I could. When the FedEx box arrived in September, we had several collectors, and you know who you are, eagerly awaiting in the store to see these first pieces from Peter. Three left that day to new homes within a couple of hours of the FedEx truck leaving!
I have to say I was rather excited about this, as one doesn't know if that "leap of faith" one takes is a good decision or not, until the market reacts. Suffice to say it propelled me on a path, that to this day I am thrilled to say is the one I'm staying on the watch world. Getting to know the watchmakers personally and finding out why they create their life's work is pretty compelling to me, after all there are many "things" one can spend money and resources on, and to support artisanal watchmaking at this level is very satisfying.
Basel 2004, the two enamel options, stylish arabic or the lovely elongated romans
On that note I'll end off, but before I say goodbye, please consider where you buy your next timepiece, remember the people who help you and have steered you well and most importantly, who value you as a client/friend and not just some sales target to make. There are still a few of us in this business that value the relationship over the dollar. I think you know where I stand.
As I sit here and type this, I am reminded of how long we have known each other, almost 9 years! What a ride it has been from those heady days of 2004 when I ordered the first 5 watches from Peter & Daniella during the Basel fair. Not having bought any Independent watches for "stock" prior to this point, I was slightly cautious, and asked what happens if they don't sell. Their response was that they would certainly exchange out any models for ones that do sell, and so I signed off on the purchase order and dashed off to my next appointment. Well, five months later when the watches arrived in a FedEx box, I had prepared several of the local watch collectors as to the impending arrival, and they were eagerly waiting in the store when I opened the box! Within 15 minutes, three of the five were sold, I kept the rose gold white enamel roman dial Piccadilly and the remaining steel piece with cream enamel arabics stayed. As I was packing up the store later that day, I recalled with a sense of amusement, that conversation with Peter & Daniella back in Basel about not being able to sell his watches, I sent an email to them the following day asking for more watches!
Baselworld 2004, Peter & Daniela Speake-Marin
Fast forward to where we are now, the second generation enamel dialed Piccadilly model, the Resilience, sporting the new EROS 2 caliber, an automatic twin barrel workhorse with a 5 Day power reserve with Peter's signature topping tool motif rotor. I love it, especially the 18K red gold execution in the 38mm case. I sold my original piece over a year ago to friend and miss it. Now I have an alternative option!
On the wrist, yes it feels as good as it looks. The 2mm slimmer profile is tremendous! 18K red gold 38mm case, white enamel dial $24,600
Love Peter's foundation style blued steel hands as allways!
Also making it's debut is another time only model the HMS (Hours, Minutes & Seconds), again powered by the EROS 2 caliber, differing in dial material from the Resilience. This prototype features again a very classic look with the black roman numerals on a circular grained two-layered silvered dial. There is another execution of the HMS with a white lacquered dial and again the black romans, as an option for those not wanting to step up for the real deal of the enamel dialed Resilience! This last version of the HMS, I have not seen in the metal so to speak, and therefore will pass final judgement upon handling it in person.
The lovely 18K RG HMS in both case sizes. 42mm $27,000 38mm $22,200
The 38mm on the wrist. $22,200
Also in the Resilience family are the steel versions, Peter only had a 42mm with him this trip, so all I can show is that piece. As a comparison to the original, I have included a picture that reveals the 2mm case thickness difference below.
42mm steel Piccadilly Resilience with enamel dial. $16,300
Here is that comparison shot.
Below we have another wrist shot to show off the classic lines of the Piccadilly case:
42mm steel cased Piccadilly Resilience on the wrist. $16,300
Here is the movement revealing the blued steel rotor and circular grained main bridge, which features twin barrels providing 5 days of power reserve, when fully wound.
Here are few more shots comparing the different dial options and case sizes of the new models. All feature the EROS 2 caliber.
38mm 18K RG Resilience $24,600 and 42mm SS Resilience $16,300
38mm 18K RG Resilience on left and 18K RG HMS on the right. Both stunning watches in their own right.
Other than these lovely new models, Peter showed me the new Spirit Mark 2 prototype, which he barred me from showing until now, as it was introduced at the Salon QP exhibition in London today. It is a 42mm steel cased "entry level" Speake-Marin with a similar military inspired dial as last years original Spirit Pioneer. In keeping with the military look and feel, he has dispensed with the exhibition case back in favor of a solid back, still with the now familiar Speake-Marin topping tool motif etched on the caseback together with his call to action quote, "Fight, Love & Persevere".
Here a couple of images showing it compared to the original Spirit Pioneer…
The original on left $9950 and the Prototype of the Mark 2 $11,500
This is very much a prototype dial, more to show the design format and style, the serially produced one is a similar black lacquer as the original on the left. The new model is all white superluminova rather than the pale green & white found on the original. Also the bezel in the production piece is circular grained by hand.
The final piece is the mighty and bold Renaissance Minute Repeater Tourbillon, cased in a 44mm 18K RG Piccadilly case with a skeletonised dial and unique hand engraved movement. There are six pieces of this, each one is unique due to it's engraving. This particular piece has a dragon depicted on the reverse. This was a piece Peter designed as a model to show his re-emergence from the "World watch crisis" that occurred in 2007 with the downturn in the economy, particularly the American & European ones. It was a tough time for Peter professionally, and emerging in one piece, he wanted to celebrate with a stunning piece. I'd say he has done it!
18K red gold 44mm case Minute Repeater Tourbillon $290,000
It sounds superb when chiming the time and the tourbillon again has his topping tool motif as the cage arms. Hand finished beautifully in the traditional Swiss way, it is a sight to behold and those lucky few who own or will own one, are fortunate indeed. Peter's time at Renaud & Papi, where he honed his skills particularly in the minute repeater and tourbillon departments for them, is shown in his Renaissance model.
On the wrist it feels sublime and looks killer!
Once again, it has been my great pleasure to host Peter at our store, Passion, in Solana Beach and give local collectors the opportunity to meet with him. Handling his watches in person gives one a huge advantage over just seeing them in pictures, with the huge added bonus of having Peter here to answer any questions.
We had what I anticipated was going to be a brief question and answer session, after Peter spoke for about 10 minutes to the assembled collectors, instead he held the audience in rapt attention for another 45 minutes answering question upon question and going into lengthy details about the future of his work and life. This was a precious time, that I think all very much appreciated being here for.
In closing, I'd like to thank Peter for making the effort to come down to Solana Beach and for taking the time to share his life's work.