Good time:

How a small Nor­folk com­pany is at the front of a re­vival of British watch­mak­ing

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Do­minic Cas­tle

The Nor­wich firm cre­at­ing amaz­ing watches

The watch sits com­fort­ably on my wrist, the cool, mir­ror-pol­ished steel back al­most im­pos­si­bly smooth on my skin. The face is mostly cut away, re­veal­ing a beau­ti­ful, me­chan­i­cal, golden in­te­rior, all cogs, gears, wheels and jewels.

A spring hyp­not­i­cally pulses out the heart­beat of the watch, its rhythm eas­ing the blued steel hands round the dial.

It is fab­u­lous.

It is also, un­less I have a dra­matic shift in per­sonal for­tunes, the first and last time I will wear it for it would cost me £27,995 to buy. But I’m not in­ter­ested in it just be­cause it is ex­pen­sive; I’m in­ter­ested be­cause it is made in Nor­folk.

In a small, ex­tremely se­cure, unit on a Nor­wich in­dus­trial es­tate, Gar­rick of Eng­land craft time­pieces for the dis­cern­ing and well-heeled. The S1 which has left my wrist and been re­turned to its show­case, is the top of the tree.

Gar­rick is very much a new boy on a re-emerg­ing English watch­mak­ing scene, but Si­mon Michlmayr, one half of the part­ner­ship be­hind the brand, is well-known in the county, hav­ing run the watch and clock re­pair busi­ness which bears the fam­ily name for over three decades. He is a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion watch­maker; his Aus­trian fa­ther started the busi­ness in 1958.

“My aim was al­ways, from day one, to build watches. I’ve built var­i­ous things over the years for other peo­ple and we had a brand called Merid­ian which I started do­ing on my own a few years ago,” he says.

Then he met watch-lov­ing, straight-talk­ing busi­ness­man David Brails­ford at a watch fair.

“Dave said ‘why don’t we do some­thing to­gether where I can take over the deal­ing with clients and so on and you can do what you want to do’ – which was build­ing watches.” Thus Gar­rick was born in 2014.

It is a spe­cialised firm in a spe­cialised world, mak­ing state­ment me­chan­i­cal watches – i.e. they have winders, not bat­ter­ies.

“There are some amaz­ing watch brands out there – the ob­vi­ous one is Rolex – but they are a mass-pro­duced watch. We are in a dif­fer­ent mar­ket were we are a group of peo­ple who hand-make watches,” says Si­mon.

Watches are made in low num­bers. “We’re not pro­duc­ing hun­dreds and vir­tu­ally ev­ery watch we build ends up be­ing cus­tomised,” says Si­mon. “It’s very rare we sell a watch from stock. In ef­fect ev­ery­thing we do is a pro­to­type.”

For in­stance one lo­cal buyer was pas­sion­ate about his Morgan sports car, so the dial was given the same colour as the body­work and the strap was made from leather to match the up­hol­stery. The fi­nal touch was to put the car’s reg­is­tra­tion where the Gar­rick le­gend would be.

The ap­peal of a Gar­rick watch to a col­lec­tor who val­ues the rare and spe­cial is huge but some of those who buy one will never wear it. “If they want to do that that’s up to them,” says Si­mon.

“My own watch has dinks and dents in it – I don’t take it off. I just wear it and for me that’s part of its life. ”

They are also in­vest­ment pieces and 90% of what they make goes abroad, to the Far East, USA, Hong Kong or Dubai. And they mostly go to men.

Si­mon says that they have sold a Nor­folk model to a woman buyer. But that could be about to change.

“That’s some­thing we are ad­dress­ing be­cause there are a lot of ladies who are in­ter­ested in watches and that wasn’t true a few years ago.”

So the next big thing for Gar­rick will be a smaller watch, partly driven by the op­por­tu­nity to tap into the fe­male mar­ket, partly by a per­ceived shift away from the cur­rent vogue for chunky time­pieces.

Si­mon takes me on a tour of the work­shops. It’s an horol­o­gist’s de­light; rest­ing on a steel cra­dle is the huge mech­a­nism for a Great Yar­mouth church clock while a few feet away, in one of the work­shops, a crafts­man peers through his eye­glass at the in­nards of a £13,000 watch.

Si­mon’s team is a com­pact one; in fact find­ing staff with the right skills is a real chal­lenge. “There aren’t many of us here but there is a lot of knowl­edge,” he says. “To find watch­mak­ers is im­mensely dif­fi­cult.”

Fewer than 20 prop­er­ly­trained peo­ple leave col­lege each year and the big play­ers take a chunk of those, pay­ing to put them through their train­ing then re­tain­ing them for a set num­ber of years. But work­ing for Michlmayr is dif­fer­ent, says Si­mon.

“We of­fer our watch­mak­ers a lot of va­ri­ety and the big com­pa­nies can’t of­fer that. A lot of watch­mak­ers can re­pair watches but can’t ma­chine, for in­stance.”

This ap­proach brings in dif­fer­ent skill sets. For in­stance Si­mon has taken on a young ap­pren­tice who brought CAD (com­puter aided de­sign) knowl­edge which the com­pany didn’t have.

Michlmayr has long made watches and com­po­nents for other watch­mak­ers. That is how the in­dus­try works; for in­stance its own high-end Gar­rick watches use move­ments made by Swiss watch meister An­dreas Strehler.

He and Si­mon de­signed the move­ment – es­sen­tially the ‘en­gine’ of the watch – which is then made in vol­ume by An­dreas be­cause he has pro­duc­tion ma­chin­ery which Si­mon doesn’t have in his work­shops.

The anal­ogy might be a small-vol­ume, high-end sports car maker who buys in cer­tain com­po­nents like gear­boxes, for ex­am­ple. Si­mon would ide­ally like to bring ev­ery­thing in-house, but is prag­matic about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of do­ing so.

“I want to build ev­ery­thing our­selves. Whether we get to that point comes down to the eco­nom­ics of it.”

As with find­ing watch­mak­ers, lo­cat­ing the equip­ment needed to build pre­ci­sion time­pieces is also dif­fi­cult. Si­mon shows me a Swiss Hauser milling ma­chine which works to an ac­cu­racy of one thou­sandth of a mil­lime­tre. It looks al­most new, but is ac­tu­ally ap­proach­ing 70 years old.

“They’re amaz­ingly well-built. It took me 10 years to find one

– at the point I got of­fered it I sold the car I had at the time and bought it,” he says. “Once you have got one you are never go­ing to part with it.”

I ask Si­mon what watch he would save if there was a fire in the work­shop. “None. I’d run out with the Hauser be­cause I could make an­other watch!” he laughs.

At this rar­efied level of watch­mak­ing the devil is in the de­tail. For in­stance ev­ery com­po­nent of the watch is pol­ished and prop­erly fin­ished, even though it may never be seen by any­one other than the builder or some­one re­pair­ing or ser­vic­ing it.

“It’s about do­ing the best job to the nth de­gree and that’s where we are, that’s what we do.

“And it’s nice. And there’s noth­ing wrong with nice, is there?” gar­rick.co.uk michlmayr.com

“My own watch has dinks and dents in it – I don’t take it off. I just wear it, and that’s part of its life”

RIGHT:Putting a watch to­gether is a painstak­ing process

LEFT AND BE­LOW:The S1 and the Reg­u­la­tor

ABOVE: Watch­maker Si­mon Michlmayr

LEFT: The S1 Time­pieceRIGHT: The Portsmouth

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