Roger W. Smith is one independent watchmaker who has attracted a lot of attention not for his media savvy, nor his loud antics, but for his quiet approach to a very serious, studied watchmaking philosophy . He learnt this approach the long and hard way, by his apprenticeship to the late great George Daniels in the Isle of Man. We take a close look at the Roger Smith Series 2, the second of only two collections (his other works are all bespoke commissions) he has offered.
Roger himself is a reflection of his mentor. Intense, soft spoken, but immensely driven, and focused. He became the disciple of the Daniels Method of Watchmaking, which entails mastering 32 skills necessary to make a watch. Almost the entire watch is made in his workshops in the Isle of Man.
Roger Smith Series 2
The Series 2 is the second serial watches made by Roger. The first, aptly named Series 1 was produced from 2001 to 2004.
The watch seeks to address what Roger feels is what a classical watch should be. He dislikes ultra thin watches, “I have always been turned off by the slimmer and flatter movements that lack strength, life and a certain spirit!” he explains. And as a result, the Series 2 is made with the use of steel components, and from sheets which are at least 0.5mm thick. This gives the resultant watch a 3 dimensional feel as a structural rigidity and strength he desires.
The case, dial and hands
Quite unusual for watch manufactures, and even more so for independents, Roger makes his own case, hands and dial in his own ateliers. He does do some of the engraving work in London, but the rest of these are made in Isle of Man.
The case is a three part case, hand fabricated using the Daniels’ Method, and comprises of the case middle, case back which is opened to accept a sapphire glass back to display the movement, and a bezel cut for the sapphire glass over the dial.
The dial is also hand made from components assembled by a combination of silver soldering and screws from the reverse. This dial looks rather 3 dimensional as Roger had intended.
The base dial is hand guilloché on a Rose and Straight line engine. The lettering, numerals are also cut by hand. The dial background is flame whitened prior to the fitting of the hand grained chapter rings. This traditional method of construction is very time consuming as each part is hand cut, hand finished and hand attached, but it also means that the dial has an infinite lifespan, and the dial is a work of art from both an engineering perspective as well as an aesthetic one.
The hands are sculpted from a sheet of material 0.5mm thick, and given a final hand polishing. The result is hands which are very legible, and have a strong look. The hands are not flat, but 3 dimensional and gives an appearance of strength.
The movement is where Roger spends a considerable amount of time in. Designed from ground up, and made completely in-house, the movement is made using the traditional crafts prescribed by the Daniels Method. A large three quarter plate adorns almost the entire case back, covering the ratchet wheel, click work and crown wheel. It gives great rigidity to the movement – this was a traditional feature used solely for the highest quality British work. The German school of watchmaking, a tradition started by Ferdiand Adolph Lange in 1845 also employs the three quarter plate for the same reasons. F.A. Lange learnt this craft from the English when he did his Journeyman years in England.
As with Roger’s intent, the movement is rather thick, made with thick, strong plates anchoring the wheels in place. The visual look through the back is one which is 3 dimensional, with bridges, and cocks laid out at different levels, The entire movement reminds one of those early English movements made by George Graham. Very English.
Of particular interest is the house manufactured escapement system, a speciality of George Daniels.
The co-axial escapement was conceived by George Daniels in 1975. The principle feature is that the escapement transmits power to the oscillator via a direct impulse, and avoids the sliding impulse of the Swiss Anchor escapement system. The main advantage of the co-axial being that it becomes impervious to deterioration of the lubricant. Indeed the escapement can be made to run without any lubrication, although in practice, a small amount is employed.
Roger worked on the co-axial escapement since entering the Daniels studio in 1998, and continued to work and perfect the system. The system used in the Series 2 uses only one wheel instead of two in the original Daniels system, and was pioneered by Roger himself. By combining two wheels into one, he guaranteed concentricity and angular orientation between the teeth and arbour, and improved the escapement performance.
Of note is that the entire wheel and escapement is made in Isle of Man, with the exception of the hairspring which is purchased.
Finishing on the movement is also classical English style, with frosted gilt plates. The movement also employs gold chatons to hold the rubies and these chatons are secured by hand flamed screws. All the other screws securing the bridges and cocks are also hand flamed to a deep blue-purple hue which provides a nice visual contrast to the gilt plates.
Gilt frosted finished plates give the movement a more understated look and perhaps less glamorous feel than the more commonly seen Swiss style of plates which are rhodium plated brass or maillechort and finished with Côtes de Genève, and its variants. Somehow it reminds us of the traditional English gentleman, who is discrete, quiet, and unassuming. Quite like Roger.
Black specular polishing is performed on all the steel and gold components. As seen in the movement, the bridge holding the power reserve mechanism is one such steel bridge, and is black polished. Roger tells us that the same finishing is performed on the parts of the movement which are under the dial.
A rather interesting watch, and the only wristwatch currently almost entirely made in Great Britain. The other British watchmakers like Peter Speake-Marin make his watches in the Swiss style and in Switzerland, while the Irish McGonigle brothers do make their watches with a certain Celtic style, but still quite Swiss in the implementation. McGonigle watches are made in their workshops in Ireland and Switzerland.
The style of the Roger Smith Series 2 is distinctly English. A little quirky, a little looking like it was made in someone’s garage, but on second look, very studied, and very refined. Attention to detail is outstanding. The price may be a scare to many, a time only watch with a power reserve indicator asking a retail of about S$200k is rather steep. But what is the price of exclusivity? Roger makes no more than 10 watches a year, and perhaps only Philippe Dufour‘s watches are more exclusive, or perhaps not. Philippe made 200 pieces of his Simplicity.
Roger Smith Series 2 Specifications
Case: 40 x 13 mm, stainless steel, crafted using the Daniels method
Movement: manually wound caliber, 18,000 vph, power reserve 36 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; power reserve display
Price: in 18-karat gold, the Series 2 retails for £100,890.