It feels like a lifetime ago that we started MWC. Since that first interaction between Oliver and I, we’ve always shared the same vision of what we want to achieve, and how to go about it. After all the heated debates over diameters and hand shapes subside, the one shared truth remains; we absolutely love hand-winding mechanical movements. There’s something so pure about imparting energy into a collection of metal parts; twist the crown and the tiny mechanical engine will fire up and whirr along, spinning the little slivers of metal around to indicate accurately the current time of day.
Our first design, the Cherwell, was an exciting and fruitful journey through the ups and downs of manufacturing, project management, expectation management and compromise. We designed the Derwent collection, a different journey with more excitement, experience and challenge. Our third design, the Lomond Chronoscope, was by far the most challenging project of the lot, with a far more complex decision process and an incredible amount of effort to get exactly what we had hoped for; a design that has resonated with so many people.
All in all we’ve been through four production cycles and manufactured over 3,000 timepieces. It’s a big number for a company that only officially turned two years old in October – it’s been an incredible journey.
As early as January 2016 we started approaching Swiss manufacturing partners with an aim to get the ball rolling on our Swiss designs. For a while it was difficult to make the transition, with the increase in manufacturing costs presenting the biggest hurdle. It wasn’t until December 2016 that we were in a position to think more seriously about Swiss Made and thereafter April 2017 that things were finally in motion. Throughout the process, almost 18 months, we were driven by the hope that, when we finally did transition, it would be worth all the effort.
In a week from now we will be shipping our inaugural Swiss Made timepiece, the Haskell, and it can be said that the effort has indeed been worth it. Whilst the drive of the previous 3 designs has been around promotion; videos, marketing and crowd-funding, we are now putting a different sort of drive into the Swiss Made designs. It’s more about refinement, precision and quality. We feel absolutely positive that with the Haskell we are setting a perfect foundation for the future of Marloe Watch Company and our Swiss Made timepieces.
The Haskell brief was to create a modern-day adventure watch; one that was robust, accurate and reliable. A watch that will be with you in all your life adventures. It was decided quite early on that the Haskell should be modestly sized; 40mm in diameter and less than 11mm thick. It had to be discreet enough to not feel like a pendulum swinging from the wrist, or get in the way of rucksacks or shirt cuffs. Subtle but present.
Everything starts with the engine and we finally had access to the movements we desired; ETA. There is an incredible amount to revere in an ETA movement; reliability, serviceability, accuracy, and a high quality and level of craftsmanship; there’s nothing quite like a Swiss mechanical movement.
For the Haskell we chose the ETA 2804-2. This manual mechanical movement is compact and thin allowing a lot more possibility with the design work on the case. If a movement fills the case too much it limits the possibilities. At 25.6mm diameter, we had more scope to precisely design the case we wanted - one that offered a more restrained diameter with a strong yet elegant profile. As such the Haskell arrived at 40mm diameter and 9.4mm thick. Of course the case must work in harmony with the dial to present an overall aesthetic that delivers legibility too.
So much careful thought goes into our cases. I am a dedicated devotee to the “all-senses” approach and try where I can to cater to each sense as much as possible. Despite my best efforts, taste is often difficult to satisfy. Much can be offered to the feel of a watch through weight and touch; all our watches have a balance and weight that exudes quality and refinement, manifested through sensitive wall thickness and internals that follow function-before-form ethics. The mechanical movement brings its own excitement to the sound department and a hand-wound offers that little bit more over an auto or even quartz, with the keyless winding mechanism clicking as you transfer essential energy through the touch of your fingers, bringing life to the collection of metal parts within.
The crown is the almost daily point of connection and must be perfection. Too small and it’s frustrating to wind - too big and it could throw off the balance of the whole piece. The grip needs to be just so; not too rough to cause discomfort but not too smooth either. Width is important too and ultimately, it must look good. For our previous three designs I liked using the tapered crown; it offered a positive winding experience, moving the fingers inwards towards the dial, rather than outwards and away. The Haskell design demanded a bit more of a straight-shooter in terms of profile. As such the angled rifling grip texture of the previous designs was carried forward, but on a flatter profile giving both the smooth winding experience and matching the more refined aesthetic. The end cap is the direct inverse of our other crowns too; a convex dome instead of the concave dish. That large signature M making it absolutely clear, this is a Marloe watch. Of course the final sense, of vision, is the most important when approaching watch design and in particular dial design. This is where the fun begins.
Unlike most other designed objects, a watch relies completely on this one element - the dial - to excite and engage. Everything else follows; the case, crown, pushers, case-back and strap are all secondary to whether or not the dial resonates with you personally. It’s the first thing people look at and the one thing that can immediately win a person’s interest. In a way this is the greatest challenge and the most rewarding.
We knew that the Haskell had to be instantly recognisable as a MWC timepiece, but also unique in its own right. Above all the dial has to work functionally; telling the time is the reason for its existence. Drawing on the applied hour blocks of the Cherwell, the domed dial of the Derwent and the dynamic depth of the Lomond Chronoscope, we wanted the Haskell dial to draw the eye inwards, offering a depth and tactility that would sustain interest and present new things each time it’s viewed.
I love applied indices because it offers up so many possibilities for depth perception. An applied block can extend a plane, slice through or project from it. It can bridge gaps or frame an element. It’s also a mark of an accomplished dial maker. Texture is often over-used too; too many patterns and textures can overwhelm a small dial and if that happens, the battle is already lost. Of course it can be used to devastating effect. I prefer to sidle towards the more subtle side of the texture scale and offer up only one or two differing textural surfaces, and rely more on the way the surfaces play off each other. Coupled with the applied markers, it can be both a simple and complex dial at the same time, depending on how much scrutiny is deployed; from afar a flatter appearance; up close a more flowing, contrasting textural surface with depth and continuity.
The Haskell blue and green dials feature another first for MWC; a metallic sunburst texture which gives the impression of the applied markers being suspended above this deep, vivid, ever-changing inky surface. Continuing the firsts, we have used a movement that features a date complication. This is quite a divisive element on a watch dial and one that I was acutely aware of. In research, the biggest bugbear is that a dial “window” is not executed very well, or even worse - underwhelming. It’s a common technique to punch a hole in the dial, chamfer the edge and call it a day. Despite being behind the dial physically, the date really should feel part of the front of house crew. Using an applied frame in place of the 6 o’clock numeral makes the date frame feel very much part of the set, whilst making its own statement by bringing the date wheel to the forefront.
It is easy to look at the hands as simply pointers to indicate the time. The opportunity to select some ready-made hands from a catalogue is there and can take a lot of the headache away. I’m not sure how easy it would sit with me emotionally however - everything should work in harmony and I find that catalogue hands bolted to a dial can look a bit homogenous. Instead I prefer to design the hands unique to that dial, and for the Haskell it made sense to bring a contemporary feel to what is quite a traditional aesthetic. Gradual tapering slices, small luminous tips and two distinct lengths allow a quick and easy time-reference of hours and minutes. The 28,800bph sweeping seconds hand is a thin needle with a coated luminous tip. Each of the three hands features the exact same counter-weight for the one magnificent moment each hour when all the hands overlap and become one.
Each Haskell dial has a distinct flavour; the white dial is chalky with mirror polished metal shards contrasting beautifully. The sand version amplifies the textured centre section and uses black plated applied blocks and handset to bring even more contrast to the dial - extreme legibility on a sunny day, for example. For the green and blue dials we use the magnificent metallic sunburst finish and polished metal blocks and hand set. Each dial is surrounded by a scalloped chapter ring, smoothly sweeping up to almost touch the underside of the sapphire crystal and lead the eye inwards. Printed train-track markings on the curved scallop allow precise time setting whilst introducing a bit of busy around the edge. When it’s all bought together; the scallop leading the eye inwards via the seconds track; the rough sandpaper texture with precise metal slices emerging from within; the printed dot track over which the 3 hands cantilever outwards - it makes for a fascinating combination and one that rewards ten-fold when the infinite changeability of light and ambience begin to contribute to the aesthetic. Nothing makes a dial sing more than shadow and relief, revealing the hidden depths and textures in real-time.
Of course all this counts for nothing if the modern adventurer’s watch can’t stand a drop or two of water, or the rigours of daily life. With robustness comes thickness - thicker crystal, thicker case, thicker case-back, more complex crown seals. Much like the belief in weight adding quality and value perception, I think the water resistance rating of a watch contributes as well. A watch rated at 5 meters conveys to me that it dislikes any form of moisture. If water can get in so easily, then it must not be very robust. Typically this rating is found on dress watches that are not worn near water, or in hazardous environments. However, if a watch is rated to 3,000 meters, you pretty much know you can take it anywhere and it will be absolutely fine. We required more than the former and we certainly didn’t like the idea of the thickness a 3,000m rated watch would add, so instead we chose a middle point, where the Haskell would be right at home swimming, snorkelling and around water, but not bring the headache of thickness a higher rating demands. 100m water resistance is that sweet spot and allows the adventures to proceed without heed paid to the risk of damaging your watch from an impromptu dip.
The Haskell is the culmination of our own adventures in design and manufacturing of bespoke timepieces. We have never shied away from the difficulties of executing multi-level dials or steeply raked watch cases, and our watches have always been better for it. The risks involved in approaching watch manufacture from a more bespoke angle often leads to frustration and heartache. If taken on in the right frame of mind however, with the right people around you and the skills from a manufacturing partner to execute them properly, it can be absolutely magical.
To finish the Haskell off we decided to approach the case-back differently to our other exhibition case-backs. In offering the Haskell to the modern day adventurer, we also wanted to pay tribute to the historical adventurers; those who carved the difficult paths for others to follow. The case-back is flat around the perimeter, leading inwards to a domed surface protruding outwards from the case. This dome represents the curve of the Earth and engraved into this dome is a map of the Antarctic; the place in which the greatest of adventures are played out. It’s a lovely way to celebrate adventure and the area of a watch usually hidden from view is often treated with the minimal of detail. The Haskell case-back delivers a visual treat - the final flourish.
I am often asked how excited I am about an upcoming release, or how pleased I am that things are going well. I often look grumpy, but it’s mainly because I struggle to detach myself from the process. I live and breath each and every design for extended periods of time, often over a year or more. I always try to design every element myself, over using a catalogue of parts. I sweat every single little detail until I am dizzy from the scrutiny, before being coerced along to sweat the next one; everything I am is in each design. The Haskell shipping next week is exciting in a nervous kind of way. I am filled with hope that it will resonate in the way I intended and that the decision and adjustments I have made over the course of the project have been the right ones.
The process of weaving that vastly complex and incredibly difficult path from design seed, through technical studies, prototyping, manufacturing and assembly, is where I find the excitement; why I devote every waking minute to improving and furthering MWC with each release. That this experience can be encapsulated in a tiny mechanical machine that can be placed on my wrist, is really quite rewarding and an easy way to remind myself of the experience.
That it might resonate with someone else? Well, that’s what keeps me awake at night.