Before Peter Speake-Marin set a trailblazing path as an independent watchmaker, he was a man oft depended upon by men like Max Busser and Steven Holtzman to get debut watches like the MB&F HM1 and Maitre Du Temp Chapters 1 and 2 off the ground; In over a decade’s worth of watches, the graduate of London’s Hackney Technical College (class of 1987) has not only spawned some of the most visually appealing watches of our modern age but yet for his own namesake, he has obsessively retained the most aggressively classic of watch dial elements- the roman numeral.
(Lead Image for the article is a sneak peek at the recently launched Speake-Marin London Chronograph. Deployant will be carrying an exclusive hands-on review next week.)
Peter Speake-Marin: the Man and the Brand
With competencies having attended WOSTEP course on complicated watches and working as a restorer for Somlo Antiques in London’s Piccadilly and even serving as part of a team of masters at Renaud et Papi in Le Locle. Peter took the bold step in 2000, after spending close to a decade paying his dues with his own company – the Watch Workshop.
As watch collectors, we lionise provenance and in-house. Often, the marketing videos of the bigger groups show the grainy, desaturated images of a lone watchmaker hunched over a bench working by candlelight. But we know in our heart of hearts that today, in the highly modernised manufacture, nothing can be further from the truth. But for Peter, it was a reality, one man making movements from handcrafted German Silver, using wheels and jewels from new old C H Meylan movements and then creating the setting mechanism, bridges, tourbillon carriage from scratch. Maybe not a lion, definitely a lone wolf who was seriously conscious of details when he unveiled his early prototypes under AHCI at Basel 2002 – right down to the screw dot at 6 in Breguet tradition, details are what separates your flash in the pan wannabes from the pre-eminent greats.
While his Foundation Pocket Watch aptly captures the visual DNA of Speake-Marin’s handiwork through its Breguet numerals and instantly recognisable (now brand motif) ace of spades hands, the real legacy comes from the distinctive watchmaker’s topping tool which inspired the original cage bridge that was to become his signature hallmark. While Speake-Marin is undeniably Swiss, the unmistakable English references whether by design or collection name refers to that influential period in his life working as a restorer in Piccadilly, London.
After a chance encounter with living legend Philippe Dufour, the creator of the Grande et Petite Sonnerie and inventor of Duality, the first wristwatch with double escapement, Speake-Marin was encouraged to show off his creation to the exclusive sorority of independent watchmakers. However, Peter has always been gifted with innate business savvy and he quickly realized limited commercial appeal for a pocket watch would quickly hamstring his nascent enterprise. His astute realization led to the creation of the Piccadilly wristwatch, a namesake reference to his “foundation years”.
From the corner of your eye, a Speake-Marin is best identified by the large deep fluted crown, but give it your full attention and the little details start to tickle your fancy. The heart-shaped hour hands, the unique layered dials (look closer and you’ll realise the dials are 3D) with classic chapter rings, roman numerals, coated with white enamel and of course the topping tool wheel logo.
While critics might decry the unremarkable aspects of some of his base movements, whether base ETA 2824 modified by Soprod and further hand finished or Technotime since ETA no longer supplies (as many) ebauches, it’s our contention that it’s not the movement but rather what you do with it and Speake-Marin has certainly delivered on high complications like perpetual calendar, tourbillion and minute repeater.
Still despite the trials of the great recession, Speake-Marin, on the ropes and bleeding, didn’t throw in the towel. In a feat of Rocky Balboa-esque proportions, come out fighting with his own movement, the caliber SM2 and in it, solidifying the topping wheel logo by incorporating the design as part of his oscillating rotor. Tongue in cheek, he celebrated going ten-rounds with the greatest economic decline since the depression with a new timepiece dubbed- the Spirit, as in fighting spirit to “love & persevere”- all in all, Peter Speake-Marin might not have the advantage of centuries heritage of the big brand watchmakers, but what he lacks in history, he more than makes up for with condensed experiences and insights. To wit, during an exhibition with Vianney Halter and Philippe Dufour at Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the audience asked the trio on what made them different from established marquees, Dufour with his trademark dry humour simply responded, pipe in lip, “they’re dead and we’re alive.”