Setting out to create accessible mechanical watches, the Marloe Watch Company has turned to handwound movements while the rest of the market wants automatics.
by James Buttery
Take a quick look at the image above showing Oxfordshire brand Marloe’s current three-watch offering; the Cherwell, Derwent and the new Lomond chronograph. Each features a mechanical movement and all three can be purchased for a total a hair’s breadth over £1,000.
While it’s not a sum to be sniffed at, £1,000 isn’t a huge budget when shopping for mechanical watches, especially if you’re after a chronograph. Of course there are sub-£1,000 bargains to be had from the likes of Tissot, Hamilton and Seiko and, with a bit of careful shopping, it is possible to put together a trio of three-handers from the aforementioned brands for around the £1,000 mark, but it certainly won’t stretch to a more complicated chronograph.
Marloe was initially founded as a Kickstarter campaign after Oliver Goff replaced the battery in a one of his fashion watches and was disappointed by the quality of the components. Goff and industrial designer Gordon Fraser, set out to do better and produce a mechanical watch at an accessible price. Which soon led them to the doors of Tianjin Sea-Gull, China’s largest producer of watch movements.
With two models currently available to buy, Marloe is about to deliver its most ambitious watch to date the Lomond Chronoscope, a handwound chronograph for £449.
Due to ship in the next couple of months the Lomond’s elevator pitch is simple and thoroughly compelling, a mechanical chronograph for less than £450. The 43mm watch uses Sea-Gull’s ST1901 handwound column wheel chronograph movement, in its Grade A, decorated guise.
While it may not cause the Swiss any sleepless nights, the ST1901 is neatly decorated with precise ‘Cotes’ style striping on its bridges. The chronograph bridge – one of a number of brass components in amongst the steel levers – has received some machine bevelling but the rest of the components are unfinished, which is hardly surprising considering that this is an entire chronograph for the same sum certain brands sell exotic leather straps.
Fraser’s design appears simple at first but further inspection reveals enough little touches to keep things interesting. Subdials and chapter ring are both recessed into the grained dial, whilst the former is snailed for added effect.
Hours are indicated with both applique markers and lume dots while the central seconds hand has the purposeful look of instrumentation about it, topped with a no-nonsense arrowhead. I’d probably have prefered a classic, off-the-shelf crown over the tall, twisted component used by Marloe, but it affords the Lomond a certain brand identity.
Of course costs have been cut to achieve the final retail price; expensive sapphire crystal has been shunned for both watch glass and exhibition caseback in favour of domed acrylic, which actually adds a certain retro charm. However they’ve somehow stretched to an engraved ceramic bezel. The Lomond is clean and unfussy in its design, which enhances legibility and lends a timeless quality to its appearance.
Secured on a riveted leather strap, the Lomond looks every bit the tool watch and is available in five variations, including a panda.
The Cherwell, at £249, is Marloe’s entry level, time-only model and uses a handwound 21,600vph Sea-Gull movement. Launched as a Kickstarter the watch is now a permanent part of the collection.
The movement’s main bridge is decorated with a radiating wave pattern and central star motif whilst the exhibition caseback is surrounded by a reverse-etched quote from CS Lewis (who, along with JRR Tolkien was an active member of the Oxford literary group, the Inklings), “The future is something that everyone reaches at a rate of sixty minutes an hour.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly quoted accuracy won’t trouble any COSC-certified chronometers at +25/-15 seconds a day, something which might push certain customers towards quartz alternatives.
Marloe has clearly set about creating maximum impact whilst keeping the number of separate production processes to a minimum. The case is bead-blasted for a matte finish, a theme which continues onto the architectural dial, a mix of polished hour batons and square minute indices which rise up from the matte dial. A snailed, recessed running seconds sits at the six o’clock.
While the Lomond might have been the watch that piqued my interest in Marloe, it’s the Derwent I keep coming back to. A collection of four design-led models based on everything from sundials in the Lake District to 17th century nautical charts, the Derwent benefits from a perfectly proportioned 38mm case.
Each of the dials designs will find their audience, whether it’s the everyday neutrality of the Classic or the geometry at the heart of the Sundial, pictured, but it’s the clever caseback that really intrigues.
Marloe had already selected a tiny skeletonised Miyota handwound movement – the 6T33 – for this £329 model before it had started the design process. At 20mm in diameter, the movement would have looked ridiculous through the exhibition caseback of a 38mm watch, so rather than show it all off, Marloe produced a solid, polished caseback with a tiny porthole window focused on the balance. As hackneyed as the exposed balance approach has become, the Derwent pulls it off with aplomb.
The Derwent’s use of a Miyota movement would seem a sound strategy for the future to deflect from the inevitable criticism that will arise from the use of Chinese Sea-Gull movements. This strip-down comparison of ETA and Chinese clones from Christian Dannemann aka Watch Guy in 2013, shows that Chinese manufacturing could not compete with Swiss quality control but, as with most things the gap is narrowing.