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Guns & Poseurs: Meet Jeff Parke, Specialist Engraver

by Jonathan Ho on March 8, 2017

A recent survey report compiled by The Reputation Institute (RI), a Boston reputation management consulting firm, has uncovered that for a second consecutive year that Rolex has lead a list of the most reputable brands on the planet. Rolex’s retention of the top position underscores the market’s perception of the undeniable quality of the Swiss watchmaker.

 

In another survey of 8,000 U.K. residents collected by Home Protect, a British insurance firm, a profile of Rolex owners also discovered that while a company director was more likely to own a Rolex than a butcher, there was near universal appeal for the world’s most identifiable watch brand and that there were Rolex owners from all walks (and professions) of life – from Chief Executives to humble Chimney Sweeps.

Therein lies the quandary – for all its mass appeal, how does a Rolex owning high flier distinguish his watch from your run-of-the-mill salaried blue collar employee? Enter Jeff Parke, Specialist Engraver.

Jeff Parke has worked on everything from manly pocket knives to gentlemanly Cartier Roadsters. Images: Instagram @J.Parke

From Guns to Poseurs: Meet Jeff Parke, Specialist Engraver

According to Merriam-Webster, a poseur is “a person who behaves affectedly in order to impress others”. While there are derogatory connotations with this definition, they are not implied but instead, the focus is on the aspect which makes a Jeff Parke engraved Rolex arguably attractive and undeniably attention grabbing.

By day, Jeff Parke is one of ten artisans working at William Henry, an American brand centred on creating unique accessories for men using all manner of traditional artistic crafts, among them, engraving. As a result, Jeff Parke has worked on everything from award-winning pocket knives to men’s jewellery and even writing instruments. By night, Jeff Parke is an engraver for hire, taking bespoke commissions to engrave watches from the world’s favourite watch brand – Rolex.

Truth be told, an engraved Rolex (even one by someone as artistic and talented as Jeff Parke) is an acquired taste. Call me a snob, but I’m still on the fence on the necessity of scarring a perfect industrial product. When DLC black Rolex watches came on the market, I eventually saw its appeal (as did Tudor in recent years) but frankly, I’m still waiting for an engraved Rolex to grow on me, even though I can appreciate the artistic aspects of engraving. Still, it’s a niche phenomena that is growing in exactly the same way that blacked out Rolex Submariners started to become a trend.

Engraving your Rolex DEFINITELY voids your warranty. It could also limit your access to official Rolex servicing.

Jeff Parke has a true passion for hand engraving, his work has been centered around this particular handicraft even as he worked in retail and gemstone setting. In essence, Jeff Parke has followed his passions in becoming a skilled goldsmith and silversmith much in the same way a historical smith would have and this lends an aura of authenticity to his intricate metalwork. Using only hand push burins, his talent for fine engraving has led him to work on one of the hardest and denser watchmaking materials on earth – the vaunted Rolex 904L steel.

There are few things as manly as a double barrelled shotgun and a Rolex Sub. When world renowned Master Engraver Jason Marchiafava once brought a vintage double barrelled shotgun to the workshop where Parke apprenticed, the photo-realism of the landscapes and animal portraitures Marchiafava would etch was forever burned into his mind. The contrast of gold inlay on steel became an artistic standard to which Parke would aspire and eventually commit on his own works and the Rolex watches he’s commissioned to work on.

Typical double barrel shotgun engraving

Beginning in 2006, he apprenticed under the world’s most talented artist engravers like Jason Marchiafava, Alain Lovenberg and Sam Alfano, his work is completely by hand and unlike his works on gunmetal and gold, working on 904L steel involves nerves and hands of steel. His first Rolex project, a Milgauss commissioned in 2015 by MadeWorn, a watch enthusiast in Los Angeles, took a month (150 hours of labour) to complete due to the difficulty of cutting 904L steel. In an interview with IFLwatches, Parke opines the irony of his statement when now luxury watch engraving makes 90% of his orders.

To achieve the level of detail in a material like gold or silver is child’s play when compared to your regular 416 stainless steel. That’s because the easier it is to press into the metal, the more control you are able to exert as you draw the burin across the surface. Cutting and tattooing 904L steel requires not just special carbide cutting tools and the requisite hand dexterity but also the muscle endurance to pull the blade steadily and consistently without vibration across the dense metal. In terms of traditional metalworking history, there’s simply never been anything like 904L steel to carve and Parke has had to develop his own techniques to achieve the level of detail in a 904L Rolex canvas.

Engraving Your Rolex

Engraving your Rolex is a simple process, first you commission Parke, work on the details and what you wish to accomplish together and then he starts disassembling your watch. In general, Rolex is ripe with “blank canvas” areas such as the bezel, case, case back, bracelet, and clasp; by disassembling the watch, Parke gets to use every millimeter of the working space to great effect – his style of relief engraving completely textures the steel background and his fine line shading much like banknote art gives his signature engraving style a depth which is undeniably attention grabbing. You can follow Jeff Parke here.

 

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