Since the start of his blog, I haven’t focused my content on any particular watch – to the extent that it can be called a ‘review’. I’ve featured anecdotes on my Instagram posts and have been offered to be sent some watches in the past – which I usually reject. I’ve always felt that there are others better suited to providing a verdict on a timepiece. However, a recent series of events ended up making me change my mind thinking “meh, I might as well have a go”.
To those of you who go by the name Watchnerd or are enthusiasts of military memorabilia, you will be familiar with the story of the Dirty Dozen. The term covers the 12 watch brands appointed by the British Ministry of Defence to supply custom watches to be worn by British soldiers during WWII. I didn’t know anything about this until a short while ago; when I overheard a small group of people excitedly talking about a spread of watches that to me, looked virtually identical.
After listening in on the conversation for a bit and throwing in a few questions of my own, I built up a basic understanding on what I was actually looking at. During this brief period of asking questions, I had heard a buzzword that set off brainsparks in my head: “Vertex”
Prior to the period of learning about the Dirty Dozen, I was compiling my own mental database of British watch labels – particularly those who fell into the ‘reincarnation’ category. The most prominent of these labels were Fears – headed by Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, and Vertex – headed by Don Cochrane. Both these companies were revitalised by the heirs of the original founders and so I thought it would be an interesting story to work around my ‘watchfam around the world’ project as well as look into the business strategies of each label. My goal was to sit down with these directors and listen to what they had to say. The lengthy stories of each meeting will be postponed for future articles, along with my own separate piece on the Dirty Dozen.
I had set up a meeting with Don a week before I was headed to Switzerland for Baselworld. For both us, we had quite busy schedules though I suspect that Don had a lot more things to deal with than me. Still, I appreciated that Don had given me his time on what turned out to be a surprisingly sunny Monday morning in central London.
After sitting down and talking about the brand and his overall future goals, we had to cut our meeting short as Don had another arrangement to attend to. I wasn’t perturbed by this apart from the detail that I had ordered a nice looking camomile tea which I couldn’t take a sip of at the beginning or the end because it was still blisteringly hot. As a way of making my time worthwhile, Don offered to let me take the watch with me so I could take photos in my own time. I was quite surprised by this asking “Do I need to sign some disclosure forms or some kind of insurance documentation?” to which he replied “Nope. I trust you”
My tale now comes to this point. I had been unexpectedly been left with a watch for a few days and needed to figure out what to do with it apart from taking pictures. A review ended up being the answer. I just had to figure out how I should tackle what has now become my first ever ‘watch review’
In true Watchrant fashion, the story ended up being unplanned with a “just go along with it” vibe and as always, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The atypical review
The Vertex brand began its origins as Dreadnaught Watch Company in 1912, founded by Claude Lyons of London. For a few years, Dreadnaught produced watches for the British Military before then founding the Vertex Watch Company in 1916 – located in Hatton Garden – specialising in watches with Swiss movements being re-cased in Britain. Over the next 60 years, Vertex built itself to be one of the most prominent British watch companies before eventually closing in 1972 due to pressures from the Quartz crisis and the Hatton Garden lease ending. It wouldn’t be until another 100 years of the original founding date would the Great Grandson of Claude Lyons, Don Cochrane take the helm of the family business once again – with the Vertex M100 as the legacy paving showpiece.
As someone who is far from an expert on military watches, I will have to say that I almost instantly recognised the watch as a thoughtful homage to its WWII ancestor. I think the design has a good balance of emulating the characteristics of watches of the past, but letting you experience it in a modern context. The shift up from the original 36mm case size to today’s average 40mm, along with SuperLuminova on the indices is an example of this. The watch feels like it was meant to be worn when getting things done without frills. The features are set to the original specifications of the military timepieces of the past: high accuracy and legibility, paired with Arabic numerals and a Black dial, all within a durable and waterproof case. Everything is in precise proportion and the finishes are flawless.
The watch comes in a Pelican case that Don claims can be run over by a tank. I’m not sure if this has ever been tested but if it ever is, I call shotgun on first viewing! Included in the case are the options of a NATO-esque (I understand there are a set of features defining an exact NATO strap, but for convenience sake, I’ll just call them NATO) or leather strap. Whilst the NATO straps definitely hint at the military vibe, I’m not personally a fan of such straps as well as the fact I have the wrists the size of a toddler. As soon as I opened the box, I switched it out for the leather strap, which looked a lot more discreet and fit my wrist in a manner that can be described at best; comfortable but awkward (This is in no fault of Vertex as virtually every factory watch configuration n existence refuses to fit my wrists)
The instruction booklet features a few notes that describe how although the watch is rated to 100m of water resistance, it would unadvisable to go diving with it. This was perfectly fine by me as I had no intention of doing any such thing and I’m pretty sure most of the owners would share the same sentiments. This is a contemporary tool watch for everyday use – though there was a remark about warning against wearing the piece whilst playing golf – something I don’t personally need to worry about but it made me wonder about the rest of the clientele. Are people who have a knack for military watches also avid golf addicts? I have no idea.
In my personal case, I wore watch with the leather strap combo over a few days and got to try out different scenarios of wearing it and let me say now, this is definitely an ‘everyday watch’.
I have a ritual these days where as soon as I come home, I’ll change into my pyjamas and get on with my daily tasks in comfort. I did this whilst wearing the M100 and the first thing I did was test the real life applications of the lume. I walked into my bathroom and within a few minutes of direct sunlight, the indices were glowing bright enough to be viewed in my dimly lit bathroom. I had a series of other scenarios such as wearing it to a meeting at an investment bank in the city – the watch blended in ok with my suit though I prefer wearing white dial dress watches, which I suppose is a matter of taste and preference. The watch was definitely stealth and any regular onlookers wouldn’t have assumed much of it. I also wore it paired with a baseball jacket as I watch Marvel’s Black Panther in the cinema. The lume had a satisfactory glow in the dark cinema hall and I found myself losing focus on the film as I got distracted by the watch itself.
I think my favourite moment with the watch was when I had decided to wear it during a video interview for my Business School application and when I was quizzed about my hobbies, I turned to talking about watches and had the M100 on my wrist as an example to support my statements. My interviewer was quite impressed (I ended up getting an unconditional offer in the end! The school is the one I’m deferring entry to next year) so I guess this is one of those instances where fate unexpectedly plays out in the end.
Another thing I liked was the choice of manual wind movement. I really enjoyed having to power up the ETA 7001 each morning by hand, being reminded that the watch was on my wrist. I would find myself fidgeting and winding the watch in the evenings subconsciously.
The supposed downside
I think I should probably have to point out the elephant in the room with this watch: it costs £2500.
Whilst I wasn’t expecting it to be bought for pocket change, the pricing is a slight deal above what I thought it would be. The £2500 really creeps up on you since the watch is so discreet – not the typical flamboyance of other watches within a similar price category. I can imagine a lot of budding collectors turning their backs to the watch at the very mention of four figures. What will deter potential buyers even more, is the fact the first batch of customers were selected by Don and that new customers have to be referred from the initial bunch. I think it’s fair to say that price paired with the “I know a guy” rhetoric isn’t exactly an attractive or welcoming value proposition.
Having said that, I think there is a bigger picture to be painted with what Don is trying to achieve – which relates to the original reason I wanted to meet him: Don’s main goal is sustainability and focusing on the long-term culmination of Vertex.
I won’t go particularly in-depth as that’s my plan for my next article; however what I briefly have to say is that Don wants to form a community of watch collectors who can appreciate the watch for more than face-on value. I don’t think this can be dubbed as a luxury timepiece as such. Buying a Vertex timepiece goes beyond the physical watch itself, but also buying into the brand and being able to share your story with other owners. From what I gather, owners of an original Vertex military piece were among those selected in the initial batch. These are people who will be much more emotionally tied and sympathetic to the cause and will therefore be less focused on the acquisition cost. I feel this goes beyond the crude ‘you can’t sit with us’ descriptions made by some opponents. If I have understood correctly, the first batch of timepieces has sold out meaning the brand has hit its initial marks. I also don’t think this is an appropriate case to recommend alternatives at a lower price point because this watch was never meant to be in that bracket in the first place.
To those who are still looking to buy this watch overlooking price and the reference hurdles that come with it, I’m told that Vertex plans to launch a series that is more easily accessible. I guess it’s just a matter of waiting it out.