Situated in the Irish sea, the Isle of Man is a small and unassuming Crown Dependency, nestled between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, it’s this tiny bastion of Norse-Gaelic culture that is home to one of the finest horologists in the world – Roger Smith. He works away amid the tranquility of the countryside, in a cottage which has been converted into a miniature mechanical wonderland, designing some of the worlds most exquisite, and most expensive, watches. It’s an unusual setting for an unusual job, and I got the chance to chat with Roger about his work.
Roger made his first steps into the world of watchmaking when he took up a course at the British School of Horology in Manchester, he explains “It was a course which taught people how to repair clocks and watches. I heard about it through my father, who was interested in taking this course as a part-time hobby. It was as simple as that really, I heard about the course, found it interesting, and as someone who’s always been very practical, I took to it like a duck to water.”
In 1989, soon after completing his course in Manchester, Roger worked under the tutelage of the legendary George Daniels, a horologist who was regarded as one the world’s greatest watchmakers, up until his death in 2011. One of few men to build watches completely by hand, Daniels’ most famous invention was the coaxial escapement, which allowed watches to be built without lubricant. It was Roger’s time spent with this pioneer that sealed his destiny for a career in horology.
Now confident enough to set up shop on his own, Roger launched his company R. W. Smith Watches officially in 2001. With the Isle of Man now his home, he converted his cottage into a fully functioning workshop, and gathered together a small team. To this day Roger and his team produce just 10 watches per year, due primarily to the intricate methodology he employs in creating each design. “It starts with me designing the watch and that’s something which is very different with my company” he says “because I act as both designer and maker, which today in the industry is rarely heard of, and this was an approach which was started by George Daniels in the late 1960’s. He made his first watch by hand, and it’s a way of doing things that I found very exciting. So, I will start off with designing the dial and the hands, and then the case, which are the most important features of a watch. Once I’m happy with the balance and the aesthetics of that, then I will start to design the mechanism which provides the information for the dial. This can be a very long and drawn out process. To give an example, the new watch has to date taken four years to refine and improve, it’s a massive undertaking.”
An R. W. Smith watch is defined by its aesthetics, mechanical gems of absolute beauty, and Roger sources his inspirations from two very specific places “my inspirations come from watches I see everyday” he explains “but also, I take a look back at the great history we have in Britain. Without doubt we’ve got one the most enviable horological histories in the world, and there’s tons of inspiration to be found there. If you plan to build on anything you have to look back to see what has gone before you, so that’s a particularly special area of inspiration for me. Basically, horology is a very complex field and it involves everything from mechanics to aesthetics.”
After 15 years, R. W. Smith is coming out with a special range of watches, which will be launched in November, as Roger told me “that’s quite a big thing for such a tiny manufacturer.” Sadly he could not divulge anymore than that, so we will have to wait and see what creations he has come up with.
The distinct charms of a traditional mechanical watch show no signs of dwindling, and Roger Smith is a man leading the charge for quality and true craftsmanship in the field.
By Ben Mirza
Ben is the Editor of the Think Shaadi blog. Aside from that he is a freelance blogger, photographer, web designer and copy-writer. He has written for numerous print and digital magazines across the world, and worked with a variety of clients in the arts and lifestyle sector. You can find out more about Ben by visiting his website benmirza.com.
Photos of Roger courtesy of R. W. Watches, all other photos are sourced from Google and belong to their owners respectively.