When he was 18, Roger Smith built his first watch using instructions from the book Watchmaking by British horologist Dr George Daniels. Considered by many to be the finest watchmaker in the world, self-taught Daniels – the first person in contemporary history to make a watch from start to finish by hand – had revolutionised the craft.
Smith wrote to Daniels, who invited him to his studio on the Isle of Man. However when Daniels saw the young fan’s first attempt at crafting a watch, Daniels told him it looked “handmade”, not “created”, and suggested he build a second. “That second watch took five-and-a-half years to make, but every year I improved,” Smith recalls. And when he presented his work to Daniels, the elder man looked closely at it, smiled and said, “Congratulations. You are a watchmaker.”
As chronicled in the 2015 Netflix documentary The Watchmaker’s Apprentice, Daniels invited Smith to be his student, and the Bolton-based Smith eventually relocated to the Isle of Man in 1998. There, the two collaborated on a number of watch series, the last of which was a 2010 series to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Daniels’ invention of the coaxial escapement, a new kind of mechanism designed to make a watch run more accurately and now used by Omega. When Daniels died, aged 85, in 2011, Smith took over the workshop.
“Watchmaking is all about achieving perfection,” says the British horologist, now 48 and one of the world’s leading master watchmakers (he can count himself among a very small number of people in the world who have mastered all 32 skills required to build a watch from scratch using raw materials). “Our watches are some of the rarest in the world,” adds Smith, whose company, Roger W Smith, makes just 10 watches a year, entirely by hand in his studio in Ramsey on the Isle of Man. “The build for each watch is about six months. The case takes 10 days to make from start to finish, the dial takes three weeks and the mechanism three to four months.”
Naturally, such excellence doesn’t come cheap: prices start at £100,000 but the appeal is obvious. “We live in a world that is all about speed, about cheapness,” explains Smith. “But quality takes time and it takes thought.”