Roger W. Smith – The GREAT Britain Watch

Considered to be the finest watchmaker in the world, Roger Smith has created a unique watch to celebrate GREAT Britain, the ambitious international marketing campaign initiated by British Government to showcase the very best of what Britain has to offer in order to encourage the world to visit, study and do business with the UK.  The campaign is currently active in over 134 countries and seeks to promote British excellence and creativity around the world.

Watches made in the Roger Smith studio can rightly claim to be made to a standard which goes way beyond what is normally considered to be a luxury watch. Fewer than ten pieces are created per year and each is conceived out of The Daniels Method, (devised by Dr George Daniels) requiring every single timekeeping component to be handmade within the watchmaker’s studio. Roger is the only watchmaker in the world able to complete an entire watch in this way and, as such, his watches are often considered pieces of‘mechanical art’ – but they are equally famed for their functional perfection.

The timekeeping heart of Roger’s watches is his own recent evolution of the most significant advancement in mechanical timekeeping for 250 years – the Daniels Co-axial escapement. Roger’s studio is located at the centre of the British Isles, in the Isle of Man –globally recognised as a centre of excellence for watch making.

Roger Smith watches are also the first production watches to have been designed and made entirely within the British Isles for over 50 years and, in 2013, Roger Smith was appointed as a partner for the Great Britain campaign.

The GREAT Britain watch is a unique piece designed and made by Roger Smith to celebrate the Creativity, Innovation and Technology which make Britain GREAT. The watch has been loaned for the duration of the campaign and will travel the world to help promote the best of British in key trade markets.

The Case
The case has been hand-fabricated using traditional British case making methods.  Three strips of platinum were rolled to the correct size and bent to form circular rings. The rings were then individually soldered together and driven under great pressure into a tapered former.  The result is three perfect circles – one for the back, middle and front of the case.

The front and back rings were machined to form the profiles, followed by the cutting of the sapphire crystal seats. The strap-lugs were hand soldered onto the middle ring and then profiled, prior to the case been sent for assaying in London The buckle was also fabricated by hand from Platinum and hand engraved with the maker’s name (R.W. Smith).

The Dial

The GREAT Britain Watch dial sets new standards for British watch making and ranks as probably one of the most complex dials to have ever been designed and made by hand.

Signed R.W. Smith and GREAT Britain Made from sterling silver with applied blued steel Roman numeral batons, the multi-relief, three dimensional dial is comprised of some thirty-four individual parts which describe an off-centre Union flag.

Taking three months to design, prototype and make, the individual dial components were engine-turned and engraved by hand. The dial was made using processes developed by Roger and draws on over three hundred years of British watch making history, several engine-turned patterns were used in the making of the dial and each one was hand cut on the Daniels’ original Straight-line engine. However, the process did not stop there and the lettering was also cut by hand.

This was followed by a series of repetitive treatments, as the dial was steadily assembled using a complex process of silver soldering. This process entails heating the delicate components with a flame (to a temperature of 730 degrees centigrade) until the solder melts and bonds the two metals together.

This treatment stage was followed by many high-precision machining processes before the next stage of silver soldering could commence. This series of processes was repeated many times until the dial’s Union Flag design was complete.

The dial background was flame whitened prior to the fitting of the flame-blued Roman numeral batons. All lettering was then inked in by hand.  Although complex and time consuming, the traditional materials used in the dial’s construction mean that it has an infinite life-span and renders the dial a work of art in its own right.

The Hands
Displaying minutes, hours and seconds, the three dimensional, sculpted hands are Roger Smith’s signature design.  Finished by use of the Daniels method the hands are hand-polished and flame-blued to a purple and blue hue.  It takes five days of painstaking work before the hands are finished to a standard high enough to be fitted to an R.W.Smith watch.

The movement design

 “I have a very personal aesthetic motivation when designing my movements. In particular, I have Always avoided the slimmer and flatter movements which lack strength, life and a certain spirit! This is why, from the outset, the aesthetics have to be very three-dimensional in appearance, in line with the tradition of great British watch making at its peak some two to three hundred years ago” Says Roger Smith.

One example of this approach is the use of steel components throughout Roger Smith’s mechanisms, all made from material which is a minimum of 0.50mm thick. There are practical reasons for what might initially just seem an extravagant use of material; primarily it is for strength but also, more importantly, for the long term future of the component. Additionally it assists Roger in creating depth within the architecture of the mechanism.

“Strength and rigidity are little-used words in watch making and yet are essential for good, reliable timekeeping and indeed for the long term future of the piece. Therefore on the reverse of the mechanism there is a large plate, more commonly called a ‘raised barrel bridge’. This raised section not only hides the ratchet wheel, click work and crown wheel, but also gives great rigidity to the movement – this was a traditional feature used solely for the highest quality British work”, Remarked the master watchmaker.

The finish
The finish given to the watch is described as an ‘English finish’ and can be characterised by the gilded and frosted plates and bridges which elegantly frame the black polish applied to the gold cocks, jewel chatons and steel work. The hand flame-blued screws with their purple and blue hue firmly secure the gilded bridges and cocks in place and add further richness to the palette and texture of the movement.

This attention to detail continues throughout Roger’s mechanisms and goes far beyond normal standards. The under-dial work, usually ignored, is finished to the same standard as can be seen through the glazed back, with a black polish and bevel again being applied to all steel and gold components.

In fact this approach continues through to the three-dimensional hand polished and finished hands which are sculpted from a sheet of material 0.50mm thick. This height assists in giving the hands legibility and a feel which is simply not attainable when hands are made from thinner sections.

The escapement
The heart of Roger Smith’s watches is the invention which revolutionised mechanical timekeeping – the Daniels Co-axial escapement. This invention was a culmination of the life’s work of Roger’s mentor, Dr George Daniels (1926 – 2011).

Continuing Daniels’ quest to perpetually challenge what has previously been achieved in mechanical timekeeping, Roger has deployed his own evolution of the Co-axial escapement in the GREAT Britain watch.

This new, second generation Single Wheel Co-axial escapement is set to establish new standards in British watch making.

However, the GREAT Britain watch now Features the culmination of a further two years’ development to the Single Wheel Co-axial to a new level by radically lightening the escape wheel by 23% which benefits the performance of the escapement with a faster acceleration and less abrupt deceleration.

The story of the escapement
Conceived by Dr. George Daniels in 1975, the Co-axial escapement is regarded the most significant advancement in mechanical timekeeping since the invention, by Thomas Mudge, of the Lever escapement (first used in 1769).

The principle feature of the Co-axial escapement is that it transmits power through to the oscillator via a radial impulse which is impervious to the deterioration of an applied lubricant.  In sharp contrast, Mudge’s Lever escapement transmits its energy through a long-sliding action which is reliant upon lubrication for its efficient function. When this lubricant ages, in combination with the long-sliding action, the performance of the Lever escapement is affected and, ultimately, its timekeeping properties deteriorate.

An insight and development
Roger has been working with the Co-axial escapement since 1998 and, over this lengthy time, he came to the conclusion that an important improvement could be made to the construction of the escape wheel.

The GREAT Britain watch represents the culmination of Roger’s continuous quest to challenge and improve the mechanical timekeeper.

Understanding that concentric and angular errors were occurring in the assembly of the two wheels onto a shared arbor (causing variable performance in the escapement), Roger strove to eliminate these vagaries by combining the two wheels into one.

This had the immediate benefit of guaranteeing a closer concentricity and angular orientation between the two sets of teeth and their common arbor, with a distinct improvement of escapement performance being noted. First fitted into a Series 2 made in 2010, the Single Wheel Co-axial escapement represents a significant evolution of the timekeeper.

At the heart of the GREAT Britain Watch timekeeping function is Roger’s most recent development of this technology.

The GREAT Britain watch is presented in a handmade presentation box in English Oak with a Union Jack design to the lid, by Linley.

Combined design and build time – 10 Months
Project dates – March to November 2013
Value – £180,000

Technical details
Signed Roger W Smith and Great Britain
A unique piece – the one-of-a-kind mechanism has been designed specifically for GREAT Britain.
Three dimensional movement architecture
Hand built
Manually wound
3/4 plate with floral hand engraved  raised barrel bridge, fitted with the  Isle of Man’s Triskellion symbol  and two applied sterling silver  cartouches engraved GREAT  Britain and MMXIII, both secured  with blued screws
Single wheel Daniels Co-axial escapement developed by Roger Smith
Free sprung balance
23 jewels
Gilded and frosted hand engraved plates
Red gold chatons and cocks
Screws, flame blued to a purple and blue hue

Three piece, hand made
Material: Platinum
Hand engraved – GREAT Britain Hallmarked in London 2013

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