ThePuristS Interview Peter Speake-Marin

by AlexG
(c) April 2004

There has been quite a lot of talk about Peter Speake-Marin lately. It is always refreshing to welcome a new watchmaker to the world of haute horlogerie and Peter is quite special. He is of the new younger generation, having a different approach to horology with a bold, modern and distinctive design conjugated with traditional craftsmanship.

This interview took place during the Basel 2004 fair where Peter kindly gave me a huge amount of time.

The Interview

The Purists ("TP"): Why watchmaking?

Peter Speake-Marin ("PSM"): A pure accident. I was always good with my hands and had a feeling for mechanics, I then made the wrong assumption that engineering was some kind of natural progression. I was doing A -Levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics at which point I discovered I was totally inept at being able to add up which posed a slight problem (big smile) so I didn৯ very far. Out of sheer luck I was introduced to horology by a careers teacher, I didnॶen know what the word meant which led me to Hackney Technical College in 1985. The course had already started but it fit. It just fit! My knowledge and my appreciation of art, mechanics and history, everything was tied up in horology. I fell into it by accident; I later found out that I had a distant relative who was a watch repairer. It was never planned but it worked for me and today I can੭agine doing anything else.

TP: Before creating your brand, you worked in restoration.

PSM: I went from to college to WOSTEP to after sales service for about a year, and covered a vast array of brands. Then I worked as the Piaget watchmaker on New Bond Street, after that I spent 7 years in Piccadilly restoring antique and vintage watches. There, I covered the best quality watches ever made as well as lesser known makers. That෨ere the Piccadilly comes from, that෨ere my influences come from. After that I had a proposition at Renaud & Papi in le Locle (Audemars Piguet೵bsidiary specialized in ultra complications) and I started all over again, this time with modern complications and I learned more about the production side. However, my influences in design both in aesthetics and execution are more from antique watches than modern ones.

TP: How long did you stay at Renaud & Papi?

PSM: 4 years.

TP: After that you decided to create your own pieces?

PSM: Following Renaud & Papi, we moved from le Locle to the Canton de Vaud (Peter has his workshops in Rolle, not far from Lausanne). Primarily if we were to stay any longer Daniela was threatening to leave me (laughs). Le Locle as special as it is, is not a place for a city girl, so we moved down and ultimately to do what I wanted to do for a long time which was to explore my own ideas.

TP: Where did you get the Piccadilly "look" from?

PSM: I knew that I wanted to have a "drum" style watch following the pocketwatch. The influences are numerous one in fairness was from R&P. When I was working at Renaud & Papi we had dummies for movements which were working cases for handling the movements (no shoulders) where you put the movement inside to test and work on them before they went in their final cases. I loved the technical simplicity of these 鮧s೯ the case is influenced in part through these working cases and probably part through marine chronometers. The hands are fairly classical but a slip of the file when I was making them lent the shape more towards a heart instead of a spade this felt right. The dials are also from classical watchmaking either the enamel or the first that I designed the stepped gold dials which I believe lends another dimension and depth to the watch. When I decided on building my first wristwatch case, I was wondering how I was going to have the lugs. I knew roughly what I wanted to do in fixing the strap, I didn෡nt something that would wear out, and I didn෡nt spring bars. Anyway, I started cutting away on the shoulders but by mistake cut too far in milling it, but it looked right so I kept turning the bed of the jig borer until I was left with the jaguar shaped head that I have to day.

(The Piccadillyऩstincive shaped hands)

The entire base of the design came about as a hands on physical development working with the material, shaping it and feeling the curves. Today I have mastered 3D design software and construct my designs in the same way that I would machine a component but in a virtual environment.

Piccadilly with frosted dial

TP: Your very first watch was the Foundation Watch. A pocket watch with tourbillon, why a tourbillon?

PSM: I fell in love with tourbillons when I was working at Renaud & Papi, they were amongst the first complications I built in Switzerland. It is something which is achievable as a complication because it೩mple even though it needs to be made extremely accurately. I wanted one for myself. I knew the basic technical aspects but I had no idea what it would look like once finished. So I made all the basic components and during the following years it took form. I was working on evenings and weekends on this watch. Now all the wrist watches I make have the same aesthetic elements I had developed in the pocket watch.

I did not make it as a commercial piece; I did not make it to sell and am not selling it. There was a time I would have sold it since I needed the cash, fortunately times have changed and I am keeping it for myself and exhibitions.

Tourbillons are not original, but my execution is. My goal was to prove to myself that I could do it. It was ultimately satisfying for myself and other peoples reactions were very positive which helped the motivation and direction to continue.

The Foundation Watch - scan courtesy of the BHI

TP: Your second piece was a tourbillon with minute repeater wrist watch.

PSM: That piece is the kind of work I堢een doing as an independent for other companies and has financed the development for the Piccadilly. Why did I do it? To show to people that I am a watchmaker of complicated movements and exhibit my own style of work in a high end complication, credibility. I made all of the bridges to my style and the finishing as I wanted it.

TP: You used a pre-existing movement?

PSM: It was a Christophe Claret base. I bought the kit in completely unfinished form and did everything myself, including making the bridges, transforming the tourbillon cage and bridge to make it something more recognizable as my own style.

TP: How long did this take?

PSM: I have absolutely no idea. From the point where I started until I finished, a period of about 2 years elapsed. With the tourbillon pocketwatch I didn࣯unt but knew I was doing it on evenings and week ends so I was able to do a rough count (roughly 1500 hours). With this first wrist watch, it was a lot of work but it was mixed up in parallel with everything else I was doing (note: making minute repeaters and complications for third parties).

A watch like that normally takes at least 6 weeks full time to make, but if you have to do everything from scratch including making your own bridges by hand the time consumed jumps up. I imagine around 3 months but with making the proto case, dial and hands manually it probably goes well beyond, Iಡther not think about it!

TP: What are your future plans?

PSM: I have many projects in progress but amongst the first is a calendar watch (Peter shows me prototype drawings of a Piccadilly with enamel dial and a serpentine hand indicating the date printed on the periphery of the dial) which should be ready for the end of June.

TP: Will the case change?

PSM: The simple calendar will have a thicker case by half a millimeter so you wonॶen notice it the extra thickness which will be eaten in the case back.

Casing of the Piccadilly

TP: Do you accept custom orders for cases (Peter shows me a rectangular case with the distinctive PSM look but commissioned by a third party)?

PSM: Fortunately I am in a position where today I can choose who I work with and the kind of project I do. For example recently I was asked to design a new case rectangular in form but in my style, this I am happy to do on the understanding that I retain or share the rights to the designs. This watch is still not finished in the design stage and is likely to take much more development and change before it finally emerges.

TP: Are these private clients or companies?

PSM: Companies. For the moment I have not had a private individual commission a brand new style of watch. Basically, these are companies who liked what I did as a watchmaker and as a designer with the Piccadilly and offered me a joint venture. This crossed over with what I wanted to do anyway; some of the designs were already mapped out. As a watchmaker with limited means this allows me to join forces with people who have the money to make this happen. These will happen, whether in the short or long term: that is to be seen.

TP: Can you use the research and work you are doing for your client for yourself later?

PSM: Yes, but it will be a different version.

TP: Is it Opus 5?

PSM: (laughing): No.

TP: Will you be developing different models in this new rectangular case?

PSM: Yes, the aesthetics will be similar to the Piccadilly which will be evolving faster when it comes to complications. I have more ideas for the Piccadilly since I have more room in the case and on the dial. The rectangular models will remain a far more simple line.

TP: Are you considering conceiving and developing your own caliber?

PSM: That is one of my goals. What I would like to achieve is make my own watches all the way through: not necessarily making them by hand myself but designing them to my specifications, to my quality쩾with a sigh)衴 however requires serious investment and is still a way off.

I know what the movement will look like, I know how it will function technically and more than the money, I need time and to be realistic I need a solid base and a team. Its one thing to be able to design a watch but you need to have the people and the infrastructure to make it happen.

The Piccadillyऩstinctive rotor is inspired by the tourbillon cage of his Foundation watch)

TP: How many people work with you right now?

PSM: Well let me think (laughs):2!! Daniela (Peter෩fe responsible for administration) and myself. Around us are many people who work with us since next to nothing I use is off the shelf.

You know, we堳tarted selling watches only last October, that෨en we finished the first pieces for people to see the final result, up until then it was prototypes and development while I was working for other companies as a watchmaker. Now it has all changed, we are actually selling watches and Iथsigning for other companies instead of building complications.

bars, screws and crown of the Piccadilly

TP: You actually sell some of your ideas to outside companies?

PSM: Some companies have made special commissions, but I don೥ll my ideas, if somebody wants a special execution of there own idea I can make a offer for that.

TP: How important was it for you to join the AHCI?

PSM: Super important. It was never my original intention, it never even entered my imagination, but when I finished my pocket watch I showed it to Philippe Dufour and he took me by the hand and said I had to become a member of the Academy. He gave me the push to make the wrist watch, I knew that if I had to spend the money that it cost to exhibit at Basel, I would need something commercially viable. So I designed the wrist watch that was 3 years and 2 Basel fairs ago.

Furthermore, I have met an enormous amount of collectors who have come across me through my web site which has often been a result of going through the AHCI website.

Regarding contacts, may it be journalists, photographers or retailers being part of the AHCI is important. And seeing new members and candidates arriving adds to the motivation to keep pushing on.

TP: You don࣯nsider the other AHCI members as competition?

PSM: I have clients who also buy Vianney Halters and vice versa. Just because a collector buys from one of us doesn୥an they will not buy from another. We are not competition for each other. Our customers for the most part are collectors and if somebody loves a Vianney Halter they won஥cessarily love my watches. Recently a client of mine asked me about Urewek by the Baumgartner brothers and as a result bought one of their watches. I hope this stays as it is, ultimately we work for each other. I know academy members who have actually brought their clients to see my watches not the sign of a competitor.

TP: At one point you were saying that you were basically a one man show. What is your production?

PSM: Last year we made our first watch around 20 pieces which provided us the means to reinvest in components and present my watches to the final customer, as a result we have already many orders waiting. This year 2004 we are planning on close to 100 pieces.

TP: You have other watchmakers work with you?

PSM: I do all the assembly because it is the only way I can be 100% sure that everything is right but I outsource some of the finishing to other watchmakers. In my workshops I do the final assembly, control, the timing etc﷠that I have so many orders and am developing new products I need some help and by the end of the year I hope to have 1-2 watchmakers join me and an assistant for Daniela.

TP: What production do you hope to attain in the next few years and with how many watchmakers?

PSM: I would like to develop a small efficient team. In my present premises I can only take 2-3 watchmakers. I have no desire to start making large quantities, maintaining the quality becomes variable. In the coming years I hope to slowly develop a team of like minded motivated people how many time will tell. Itயt clear at this point to talk about production, there will be more complicated pieces and the more complicated the watches the lower the final production.

I would like to have a team with a similar vision and philosophy who work together to the same kind of quality and share the same dream. The goal is not to make 1000 or 10000 watches and strive to become the next **** but to make pieces which are beautiful and continue to develop as a watchmaker.


TP: How tough is it for a young independent watchmaker to find supplies.

PSM: Not that difficult. We are tiny in the business and competition to no one. With the companies I work with for the cases, hands or dials these same companies who make for the high quality mass production pieces for the industry so why are they so receptive to me? My impression is that they like to be part of what they deem to be real watchmaking and have a certain sympathy for the independent watchmaker.

All this to say that a lot of the people we work with are quite enthusiastic about what we do. They know that they will never retire thanks to my business but they like working with small guys. They obviously donଯose any money but they live principally from the big houses not us.

TP: You work on an ETA base movement (2824), do you purchase directly or from a third party who has already modified the movement?

PSM: I buy the movement from a company who buys the raw materials from ETA and then tailors the movements according to the clientಥquirements. They supply me with the highest quality version available and decorated to my requirements, to my needs: the longest available hour wheel, canon pinion, and second wheel to compensate for the thickness of my dials as well as a simplified setting mesh. The movements are supplied partially assembled after which I retouch the time keeping and make the finishing and assembly of the automatic block.

Piccadilly movement view

TP: You were talking about retailers earlier on. What about distribution?

PSM: I donथal with distributors because I donਡve the kind of margins necessary. I made the decision in the beginning that I wanted to make the best product rather than maybe the best business. I do work directly with retailers who understand and are enthusiastic about what we are making. Before Basel we had a retailer in Japan and another in London. We have now confirmed a representative in Russia, another in California, all the watches I have sold until now in the US have gone to California, and ironically we have Embassy in Switzerland who will also be representing us.

TP: Does this mean that at one point or another you will stop selling directly to clients?

PSM: In territories where there is a representative, I prefer the client goes there. I will sell directly to clients on territories where there is nobody.

Even though we have customers who have bought our watches sight unseen, that is not the majority and it is important to be available in shops. Furthermore, we need our retailers to educate our clients because the Piccadilly is a simple watch but 2 years of development have gone into it. There is a stack of details in it which make it different to the watches from the industry and I need my retailers to explain this first hand to interested collectors.

TP: You probably know most of your clients, where is your market?

PSM: Everywhere!! That෨at೯ peculiar. There was a lot of interest in Japan and we received a lot of publicity in America, in these two countries we have sold more watches than any other markets, but we have had enquiries from Australia to Poland.

TP: Where did you get your publicity?

PSM: AHCI, The Purists, our own website, International Wrist Watch who have a granted us a huge amount of support and a few editorials here and there. Now that we have watches out there it is mostly word of mouth.

So our market is varied and international, which has given me great confidence and great relief since I can now make a living from what I love doing. But it is also surreal when you have retailers who work with all the big brands, the Vacherons and the Pateks who love what Iयing.

TP: Being an English watchmaker, you never considered working in the UK?

PSM: When I was working in London, my dream was probably to do in England what the British Masters have done in Switzerland. And they堤oing what the British should have done in the first place.

But England does not have an industry and when it comes to making a technical product, even a simple watch, a multitude of components and specialized techniques are required. During the development process continued improvements and modification are made as well as in each series there are problems that need to be rectified. Performing this work within the country of production is essential, I need to go to the suppliers and control the quality and if Iयing this from another country it would be a major head ache. Being in England and working with Swiss companies would be a nightmare with customs, postage etc I just get in my car, drive to the supplier and work things out.

TP: Is there one brand you really respect?

PSM: Not one, Philippe Dufour is a God!! I think Vianney Halter makes fantastic watches; the man is wild and a genius in his own right. I love the philosophy of Antoine Preziouso because it೩mple; he has imagination. In the big guys I like Lange & Sohne and Roth.

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TP: What do you do when you堮ot making watches?

PSM: I spend as much time with my wife and son as possible. Pretty boring huh? (big smile) But that෨ere I get my balance, that෨atಥal.

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