Garrick S4 – a pre-launch look behind the scenes
The Garrick S4 will be released in the coming weeks. Billed as the firm’s ‘entry-level’ watch, the S4 promises an affordable taste of high-end British watchmaking. Made in one of the best-equipped workshops in the UK, the watch is endowed with a high-quotient of in-house expertise. In this article, David Brailsford openly discusses the decision-making process behind the watch and the dilemmas he faces before the final specification is decided upon and the model is launched.
Image – Garrick S4
Walk along London’s Savile Row and you will note several attractively appointed retailers vying with one another, keen to entice affluent consumers to their premises. These retailers are havens of excellence where the price is inconsequential. Each bespoke tailor has its own style. For example, Huntsman favour a rope shoulder, high armhole and nipped waist, whereas Anderson & Sheppard is famous for its ‘dress soft’ look.
Whichever tailor has been selected, once the threshold has been crossed and the decision to buy has been made, the preliminary consultation ensues and numerous measurements are taken. Thereafter, patterns are made, the expensive fabric is marked with chalk, cutting takes place and timed-served artisans sew each part together. The client will return once or twice for adjustments as staff skilfully refine the fit, a millimetre here and millimetre there.
If the client’s left shoulder is slightly higher, or the right arm is longer or the upper back is slightly rounded, the bespoke tailor will mask such physical deficiencies with a combination of tape, chalk and deft sewing. This is the beauty of bespoke. However, considering a suit can take over 50 hours to make, its protracted creation and notable excellence are inevitably reflected in the price.
For many people, financial constraints lead them to the door of Marks & Spencer. The promise of choice, quality and price makes the high-street retailer a sensible choice.
In the world of watchmaking, there are mass-produced watches which are made on production lines to a uniform specification. Conversely, in the highest echelons of Haute Horlogerie, firms are willing to accede to personal requests. Similar to a Savile Row suit, bespoke horology is the preserve of the fortunate few. Indeed, six or seven figure pricing is not unheard of.
With this in my mind, Garrick, the British watch company, is somewhat of an enigma. The firm, operating from a workshop in Norfolk, has repeatedly combined low-scale production and personalisation requests with egalitarian pricing.
It makes off-the-peg models, but also allows its clients to request a bespoke enamel or guilloché dial. Furthermore, a personalised cartouche can be shown dial-side or positioned to the rear. Garrick is also happy to embellish a movement with Geneva waves or a rhodium frosted finish. The list of bespoke options is endless.
Image – adding dial feet
Over the years Garrick has fulfilled numerous client requests, creating one-off timepieces for those individuals who place much importance on individuality. Does Garrick make fully bespoke creations? No. The case dimensions are set in stone. Likewise, the architecture of the movement is not subject to change. To create everything from scratch would be prohibitively expensive. However, even a Savile Row suit is made with off-the-peg fabric, so one could argue that few objects are 100% bespoke.
Garrick unveiled its inaugural watch, the Shaftesbury SM301 in 2014. The model featured a vintage Unitas 6498.1 movement with the brand’s own free-sprung balance. Ordinarily, this latter detail is only found on high-end watches, hence it was surprising to see the independent watch brand offer the Shaftesbury SM301 for £3995, including VAT.
Thereafter, Garrick launched the Hoxton SM302, an even more affordable watch endowed with the aforementioned Unitas movement, but on this occasion paired with an index-adjusted balance. Later, Garrick unveiled a further ‘entry-level’ watch, the Norfolk, no doubt a reference to the model’s place of origin.
In 2016, the magnitude of Garrick’s ambition became apparent. Its Regulator featured a heavily modified Unitas calibre. The movement was inverted, with the balance shown via a dial-side aperture. Furthermore, the balance cock sported two slim arms, precision-cut to an impressive degree, a further illustration of the brand’s expertise.
However, the arrival of the Portsmouth model in 2016 was probably one of the most significant moments in the brand’s history. Garrick set aside the Unitas calibre and unveiled a ‘new hand-wound exclusive movement’ enriched with an impressive level of finishing. It was worthy of comparison with Switzerland’s finest. The balance, located beneath a prominent and beautifully polished bridge, was positioned at 6 o’clock, visible through a circular dial-side aperture.
Image – Garrick S3
After the Portsmouth, Garrick went on to release the S1, S2 and ultimately the S3. This latter watch is the firm’s most complex model to date. It includes an openworked dial and a mainplate endowed with numerous recesses to accommodate the wheels and components relating to the motion works. Furthermore, the movement finishing encompasses mirror polishing, frosting and screwed gold chatons. Even the click is a thing of beauty. Such excellence inevitably comes at a price, with the British marque asking £28,995, far more than the inaugural Shaftesbury SM301. However, compared with watches of comparable quality, some of which come with six-figure pricing, the S3 represents remarkable value for money.
Not forgetting where you come from
Chatting to David Brailsford, the Managing Director of Garrick, provided a fascinating insight into the company’s mindset:
“We have produced several models over the years. After a period of time, we like to discontinue an existing watch and release a wholly new creation. Our production methods preclude making lots of watches, however, we like to limit the number of watches we produce in each series, granting our customers a degree of exclusivity. Just to put this in context, we can only make five examples of the S3 each year as they take so long to produce.”
“At any one time, we only offer four or five different models. Some of our customers augment the exclusivity of their watch with personalisation requests. In fact, the chances of meeting another Garrick owner with an identical watch is small.”
“We enjoy making increasingly ambitious models. This is what excites us. Nevertheless, from the outset, we have also sold comparatively affordable watches and for this reason we have decided to release the new Garrick S4.”
Does this mean the company will cease making the popular Norfolk model? Brailsford is very honest, “Yes, however, the Norfolk may be resurrected in some form and we may choose to build one-off bespoke pieces. The Norfolk has been one of our most popular models. However, we have a finite production capacity and we like to limit our whole range to a maximum of five models. If we release the S4, we either cut the availability of all models or we discontinue the Norfolk. These are the dilemmas which keep me awake at night!”
Deliberations and dilemmas
In recent weeks, Garrick has posted various images of S4 prototypes on social media. Each version of the watch has been endowed with a unique specification. The watch brand has deliberated over different dial and movement finishes. On several occasions, it has agonised over a high-end detail, on one hand, aware that it showcases the firm’s expertise while on the other hand mindful that it may well inflate the selling price, pushing it beyond the reach of its intended audience.
Unlike its costlier siblings, the Garrick S4 features a heavily modified ETA 6498 calibre. The British firm could have used its own movement, but this would have significantly increased the cost of the model. As Brailsford explained, “I want to put as many Garricks on wrists as possible, hence we have to must always offer entry-level option for those people unable or unwilling to buy an S3. Rest assured, after we have worked on the ETA movement it looks superb.”
Take the balance cock. The brand has made various prototypes, including a solid version, the most affordable option. However, it also made an open-worked version with hand-drawn internal angles. While exterior and rounded angles can be executed using automated methods, interior angles necessitate using files of various coarseness and wooden pegs smeared with abrasive paste. The technique requires the artisan to introduce a 45° chamfer between the surface and the flank.
The two intersecting bevels are skillfully executed and seamlessly fuse together. This finish is exquisite but it takes numerous hours to realise. While Brailsford loves this latter detail, he is mindful of the additional cost, “I love the interior angles on the balance cock as it looks glorious and demonstrates our in-house expertise. The only problem is that it will heighten costs and, by default, the selling price. If a customer wants this detail we can incorporate it for an additional fee.”
Despite having written about watches for many years, I can safely say few CEOs or Managing Directors have been so open about the internal dilemmas taking place behind the scenes.
Making the in-house dial
Brailsford has not revealed the final product specification, I suspect he is still deliberating over each detail. However, he has shared some information.
The Garrick S4 will feature central hour and minute hands and a small seconds display. Brailsford provided me with images showing the watch equipped with the company’s distinctive Maritime hour and minute hands, however, these can be exchanged for lancine-style items. All hands are thermally blued, upholding traditional watchmaking practise, but if preferred grained and polished alternatives are also available.
Image – flattening a dial blank
Everything starts with the dial. Whereas the mass-produced approach is to stamp a dial blank from a ribbon of brass, Garrick uses a lathe to create a brass disc. Two feet are riveted to the underside of the dial blank which ultimately unite the dial with the movement.
The dial blank is ‘flattened’ using fine abrasive paper in order to remove any burrs or imperfections, creating a smooth surface. Thereafter, the dial is bead blasted. A chapter ring, effectively a circlet of metal, is paired with a smaller ring for the small seconds. These are then drilled, creating holes to facilitate fixing.
The chapter ring is clamped between two plates and baked at 300°C. This hardens the metal and removes any springiness. After the chapter ring has cooled, it is ‘spun’ on a lathe, creating a motif termed ‘satiné circulaire’. Furthermore, the hour track and minute track are delineated from one another with an engraved pattern called ‘sauté piqué’.
Laser engraving is used to impart Roman numerals to the chapter ring. The resultant recesses are then inked by hand using a special syringe pen. Once the ink has dried the chapter ring is cleaned and spun again to remove any excess ink.
Upholding fine watchmaking practise, the Maritime hour and minute hands are heat-blued and the collet sat atop the hands is hand-polished to a brilliant conclusion. The central area of the dial is frosted, while the small seconds display is suffused with an intricate hand-guilloché motif, executed on a traditional rose-engine lathe. Alternatively, the central dial area can be specified with a contrasting guilloché pattern.
Image – chapter rings (before and after)
Furthermore, when chatting to Brailsford, he revealed that a stippled dial has also been created. It appears that behind the scenes the deliberations continue.
The movement features an unusual engraved cover sat atop the ratchet wheel and crown wheel. It features an elaborate motif performed using a machine engraving technique. Brailsford will say no more about the precise technique used, eager to retain his trade secret. Prospective purchasers can select either a gold plated or rhodiumed movement finish, complete with gleaming jewel sinks and a screwed balance.
The Garrick S4 will be housed in a British-made case, measuring 42mm in diameter and made from 904L stainless. This grade provides superior scratch resistance to the ubiquitous 316L grade as well as exhibiting a greater degree of brilliance. The cost of 904L stainless is higher, but the added benefits justify the additional expense.
Perusing the Garrick website, the brand has advertised the price as ‘£4,995 – £11,495’. It is certainly a broad price range, however, I suspect this has much to do with Brailsford agonising over the model’s final specification.
In a few weeks, I hope to receive a sample of the Garrick S4 with an ‘off the peg’ specification. It is my intention to scrutinise the model and write an in-depth ‘hands-on’ review. I am curious what will constitute the standard specification of the watch, however, based on experience, Garrick will no doubt offer an array of personalisation options for remarkably sensible money. Indeed, clients don’t need to frequent Savile Row in order to enjoy an impressive tailor-made experience.