The exception to Groucho’s rule

You know you’re in for a good evening when the opening line is “Cocktail, sir?”  Add a small bar in Mayfair, four watchmakers, several of watchmaking’s finest and a conducive crowd and you have the launch of The Page & Cooper Club.

MD Jonathan Bordell had organised The Whip on Davies Street to come up with an appropriate drink for the evening. Clearly as nifty at naming cocktails as making them, they’d invented ‘Spare Thyme’; a mix of puns, vodka, lemon juice and lemon thyme agave syrup and soda.  It looked to be going down very well indeed.

There’s nothing like a cocktail or two to get stories going, and all the best watches have a story.  Each of the makers at the Page & Cooper Club launch had stories enough for a paperback.

Get talking to Andreas Günther, CEO of German brand Laco, and he’ll deliver one story after another in a splendidly deadpan style that’s belied by the twinkle in his eye.  He’d brought along his 55mm Replika to celebrate Laco’s 90th year. This is a serious, full-on replica 1930s aviator’s watch.  It’s not a pilot watch, as Andreas points out, “These watches were made for navigators. They were beobachtungs-uhren, observers’ watches.”  They’re powered by the Laco 97 movement, a heavily modified hand-winding ETA 6497.1 and have heat-blued hands that curve down at the ends to make precision timing simpler.  Even the strap is accurate.  It’s a riveted closed loop - just like the original - so it fits over your flying jacket.

Andreas also had a very special watch on display - an original U-boat pocket watch, almost as it left the bench.  Almost, in that the dial would have originally been completely coated with Health & Safety-unfriendly radioactive tritium paint. A completely luminous dial made the watch easier to see in the dark of a submerged submarine.  The modern, but otherwise identical dial, is coated with superluminova instead.

Another watchmaker with a steady stream of visitors was David Brailsford, the man behind Garrick and a first-timer as a watchmaker at a Page & Cooper event. He was unveiling his new Garrick Hoxton SM302, one of those watches, like David’s Shaftesbury SM301, that’s deceivingly simple.  

For example, on paper it looks as though it’s running a pretty standard Unitas 6498.1 movement.  But that ‘standard’ movement is vintage new-old-stock with hand-finished bridges and a free-sprung balance.  That balance alone deserves a proper explanation, but it’s enough to mention that its adjuster screws are fitted inside the outer diameter of the balance. Why? To reduce airflow disturbance as it oscillates and thus make it more accurate.  That’s the sort of pickyness one wants in a watchmaker.  

And one of the watchmakers behind Garrick is Simon Michlmayr. That’s a name that should ring a few sonneries.  He’s a second generation watchmaker who studied under Peter Roberts before he trained at WOSTEP and became a Fellow of the British Horological Institute.  

Just a Spare Thyme induced stagger from Garrick were Felix Wallner and Evelina Daub of Hanhart. They were showing three ranges from their workshops in Germany - the Pioneer, the Racemaster and the Primus.  And again, the stories flowed.  

You’ll spot that nearly all Hanhart chronos have a red re-set button.  There is, apparently, both a prosaic reason and a romantic story behind it.  The prosaic reason is simple - it’s a safety feature so that a pilot could quickly differentiate between the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ buttons on his chronograph - particularly if it was a flyback chrono. The romantic explanation is rather more enjoyable... an early Hanhart-wearing pilot’s girlfriend painted the button with her red nail varnish so her beau would keep her in mind as he flew.

Hanhart is another watchmaker that enjoys detail. The Racemaster GTS and GT use the traditional Hanhart bicompax format - two subdials on the main dial.  But look at the 9 o’clock dial and you’ll see it has two simultaneous functions and two hands, one under the other; they move separately and work as a small seconds and a twelve hour counter.

The Racemaster cases are made from a specially hardened steel - very much harder than the more usual 316L stainless. Hanhart have called it “steel HDS pro” and you’ll have to restrain Felix from confidently demonstrating how tough it is by belting it against any nearby hard surface.

Assuming you haven’t been waylaid by watchie pals or sunk into the nearest Whip sofa and decided to recuperate, there’s still Fortis to visit.  It’s good indeed to see them back in the UK. If you were at Salon QP you’ll have spotted one of the team on the Page & Cooper stand but for the Club launch, designer and artist Rolf Sachs had joined them to talk about his new 150 piece limited edition .  

Herr Sachs’ relationship with Fortis goes back to 2008.  He’s already designed the ‘chalkboard’ IQ and the Frisson, with its frosted glass crystal.  He picks up the watch and demonstrates how moisture clears the glass, “breathe on the face, or wipe your finger across it and it reveals the time...”  The new  echoes the structure behind the watch face’s circle with a dial designed with hand-drawn, coloured mathematical formulae.

Fortis have always been known for their pilot and cosmonaut watches.  These were making a strong showing, particularly with another limited edition, the Phantom F-4F.Commemorating the McDonnell Douglas fighter with a F-4F silhouette replacing the continuous small seconds dial at 9 o’clock.  There’s the iconic Phantom “spook” caricature below the day/date indicator too. It’s a proper flieger - and in the evening’s company, that’s august indeed.

You could overhear conversations ranging from restoring classic Porsches, Italian sports cars, vintage pens, visits to watchmakers’ workshops and whisky. The stories - and the cocktails - kept coming as watchmakers chatted to enthusiasts and people learned more about the makers who spend far more time crafting watches than brand images.

And that’s the whole idea of the Page & Cooper Club - “to bring together fellow enthusiasts and watchmakers to discover some of the world’s most intriguing timepieces.”

It’s a club worth being a member of.  So here’s to the next meeting...

Guest piece written by Mark McArthur Christie.