Time Well Spent

Roger Smith is probably the UK’s greatest living watchmaker. The founder of RW Smith Watches, Smith – who makes just 10 watches a year from scratch – lives and works on the Isle of Man, a long way from the inevitably ritzier environs of his wealthy clientele…

In Issue 09




A ‘hole-and-corner’ is an old English term meaning a secret place: somewhere you go to escape the world, to be inspired and to contemplate and create. Where is your ‘hole-and-corner’?
It’s my workshop. That may sound odd but being a watchmaker is all
I’ve ever done since I was 18 and that’s where I’m happiest. It’s where
I can command my own little world. I’ve never been that academic, but
when I pick up some tools then the ideas start flowing – at the
workbench, in the doing of it rather than the planning of it. After that
it’s just constant refinement.

Can you explain why it is so special to you?
It’s a rare thing in watchmaking but everything is there. The Daniels
Method, so to speak [after the late George Daniels, the watchmaker to
whom Smith was the only apprentice] is to walk into the workshop and
leave a year later with a completed watch. And it’s the same here. We’re
not dependent on anyone. You can envisage a watch and make it
all here. There are no barriers to creativity. The workshop is a place of
escape for me. Not many people can say that about their place of work.

What elements do you think make a perfect ‘hole-and-corner’?
For me it’s about having whatever is best to get the job to hand done.
So that means lots of tools, but then a modern CMT machine next
to machinery that’s 200 years old. It’s about using whatever is most
suitable and sometimes that’s the kind of equipment you just can’t find
anymore. It’s rather specialist. If anyone stole it they wouldn’t know what to do with it. If they could lift it that is! It took three of us to get it
in here. I do have other interests – gauge one model railways, or fixing
up my 1967 Mini Cooper. I like to do all the work on that myself.
I enjoy the learning process.

Is it private to you or do you let other people visit?
We have visitors and I don’t feel the need to be protective about it. It’s great to share. When people come here they love the diversity of it. Even clients who have every production watch going are surprised by this obsessional way of making watches.

What do you like to listen to when you’re working?
It’s unusual because you go to most watchmaking workshops and there’s
absolute silence. Everyone is heads down, a lot of people with earphones
in. We have the radio on here though – BBC Radio 2 normally, or Radio 4. It’s important to have some atmosphere. That said, though the radio is on you’re rarely actually listening to it. You just tune in and out according to what you’re doing.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
George would say you have to be your own best critic. You have to
be ready to throw away something you’ve been putting effort into for
days. When I was starting out that would mean a constant inner battle
to accept something wasn’t right. I still throw away several components
every month – but now I can see the issue coming and react faster and
so limit the damage. It doesn’t feel as galling as you might expect.

What is your earliest memory?
It was sitting in a high chair eating a rusk or something – when I was
two maybe. I can still picture the 1970s kitchen very vividly. I suppose
I should say that I then looked up at the kitchen clock and the rest was
history – but that didn’t happen.