Garrick Shaftesbury SM301

Angus Davies provides a “hands-on” watch review of the Garrick Shaftesbury SM301. This article follows the journey of a new watch brand, culminating in the realisation of an interesting timepiece with much enhancement taking place in Great Britain.

This detailed review of the Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

Note – image of latest Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 in black DLC stainless steel case  with ivory toned dial (updated 6.12.2015)

Last year, I received a phone call from entrepreneur and fellow watch enthusiast, David Brailsford. He expressed a desire to establish a watch brand and enquired of my opinion.

I was candid, pointing out to David that setting up a new watch company and offering something different was a monumental undertaking, necessitating vast resources.

Brailsford expressed a desire to create a watch which harnessed many traditional aspects of watchmaking, including thermally blued screws and hand-finished bridges. Moreover, he stated a desire to imbue his watch with a significant quotient of “added value” taking place in Great Britain.

The notion seemed incredibly ambitious and I must admit I proffered great caution.

Nevertheless, Brailsford seemed determined to realise his dream and subsequently invested in an existing watchmaking facility. He regularly contacted me over the subsequent weeks, informing me of his progress and asking my opinion about specification details. His enthusiasm showed no signs of abating and the pace of his progress was impressive, culminating in the Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 becoming a reality.

A British watch?

Some watches which bear the words, “Swiss Made” contain components sourced from Asia and there has been much discussion within the watchmaking industry in recent years about what actually constitutes a Swiss watch. The percentage of value attributable to a timepiece bearing the words “Swiss Made” can vary from 50% to 100%.

In a similar vain, was the watch purporting to be British? This was a point I was keen to establish. My first question for David Brailsford was the source of the movement. I suspected the cost of making an in-house movement would prove prohibitively expensive for a newly formed company. Brailsford was very clear that the watch would have to utilise a Swiss base movement. Furthermore, he was also clear that he would be very open about this and did not wish for there to be any ambiguity about the origin of the movement.

However, Brailsford also pointed out a heartfelt wish to enhance the movement within Great Britain and source components from his home nation. At times procuring British components proved incredibly challenging for Garrick. I regularly spoke to Brailsford and heard of his frustrations when promises that were freely made by potential suppliers were later to be reneged upon.

Nevertheless, the tenacity shown by Brailsford and his team has prevailed and I recently had the pleasure of appraising the first press sample of the Garrick Shaftesbury SM301.

The dial, hands, case, balance wheel and the bridges are all produced in Great Britain. Indeed, several of these items have been produced in-house by Garrick.

I have visited the workshop where the Garrick timepiece comes to life and witnessed trained watchmakers sat at benches deftly using tools. There is no marketing hype, craftsmanship is very much alive and well in this small British company.

The dial

I had seen computer renders of the design before the watch arrived and was familiar with the basic design language. However, there can be no substitute for physically wearing a watch and evaluating its appearance over a number of days.

Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

Note – image of latest Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 in black DLC stainless steel case  with ivory toned dial (updated 6.12.2015)

The dial is presented in black anodised aluminium, however, the brand states it will, in due course, offer a range of alternative dial choices, including personalisation options. One particular dial variant which does sound appealing is an enamelled option and I hope in due course to see this. The sample I received was equipped with a black dial, appearing almost anthracite grey and exhibiting a muted tone

Populating the circumference of the dial is a series of concentric circles which have been engraved onto the surface by a British company. The dial has been bead blasted by Garrick to accord a discreet matt finish.

Garrick has employed a three part dial construction method. Sat upon the black anodised aluminium dial are two brushed stainless steel chapter rings. These are mounted on stainless steel pillars. Each chapter ring is held in position by three thermally blued screws. One of the screws had a slightly more purplish hue than its counterparts, denoting the high degree of hand craftsmanship employed to produce this timepiece.

Polished rhodium plated steel leaf shaped hands impart the hour and minutes in conjunction with the larger of the two chapter rings. The combination of the leaf shaped hands and polished rhodium plated steel confers an elegant appearance which proves simple to interpret.

A small seconds display is positioned at 6 o’clock, employing a second, smaller chapter ring in combination with a red hand. This flourish of colour is an ebullient note to an otherwise restrained vista. The small chapter ring sits on top of its larger sibling, exploiting depth to comely effect.

The case

Measuring 42mm in diameter, the case dimensions prove slightly deceptive. The watch appears smaller on the wrist, resembling a 40mm offering. One possible reason for its seemingly smaller dimensions may well be the design of the lugs which are relatively short and taper, sharply downwards.

Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

Note – image of latest Garrick Shaftesbury SM301 in black DLC stainless steel case  with ivory toned dial (updated 6.12.2015)

Another possible reason for the smaller than reality appearance, is the design of the bezel which again employs pronounced curving lines tidily concluding above the case, according a stepped profile. A sense of neatness pervades the Garrick Shaftesbury SM301.

Prior to receiving the watch, the computer renders provided by the brand made the onion-shaped crown appear larger than the item gracing my press loan watch. In reality, the scale of the crown appears more diminutive. The crown is devoid of any Garrick branding with a fluted motif taking precedence.

The 316L stainless steel case has been designed by Garrick and manufactured by a British company. The case is subsequently polished by Garrick when it arrives at the workshop. All surfaces are highly polished, providing an eye-catching juxtaposition to the reserved character of the dial. The polishing is especially impressive, delivering a brilliant gleam with a sublime smoothness to each surface. I have run my fingers over each facet of the case and did not detect the merest hint of unwelcome sharpness. The finish of the case is especially impressive bearing in mind the relatively modest price point.

Garrick has indulged one of my horological obsessions by equipping the Shaftesbury SM301 with an exhibition case back. The sapphire crystal fitted to the dorsal flank of the watch is huge, affording a widescreen view of the movement. 

The movement – finishing

An existing vintage Unitas 6498.1 has been selected as the base movement for the Shaftesbury SM301. However, the movement has clearly been subject to much in-house enhancement.

The hand-wound movement is gold plated with a frosted finish. The brand has equipped the movement with its own in-house bridges which are spaced sufficiently far apart to reveal much of the gear train and escapement. This is a design aspect which I particularly appreciate, reminding me of movements from yesteryear.

A plethora of thermally blued screws are visible via the case back. The Geneva Stripes adorning the bridges are narrower than I am accustomed to seeing but no less appealing. Indeed, close examination reveals that they have been imparted by hand with subtle clues revealing this aspect, noticeable with prolonged use of a loupe. This degree of hand craftsmanship is quite remarkable bearing in mind the recommended retail price of £3995 (as at 14.1.2015). TheGarrick Shaftesbury SM301 represents the antithesis of a mass produced watch, granting a delightful note of individuality.

Typically, I have a predilection for circular grained wheels and note their ommision from this movement. I have no doubt their inclusion would have increased costs and necessitated raising the asking price of the watch. However, on reflection, it is not an omission which unduly detracts from my appreciation of the finely finished movement.

The movement – free-sprung balance

An aspect of the specification which proves most surprising is the in-house free sprung balance constructed of Invar.

Ordinarily, most movements use an index-adjuster to alter the effective length of the balance spring between two pins, making it run faster or slower. This approach is often employed because in serially produced watches it proves simpler to manufacture. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that it can negatively influence the isochronism of the balance spring. Moreover, the rate of the balance spring is more susceptible to change depending on what position the watch is held.

A free-sprung balance incorporates a balance spring which has a fixed length. Its rate is altered by adjusting the position of weights affixed to the rim of the balance wheel. In this instance, Garrick has gone further by mounting these weights in-board, mitigating air turbulence that could adversely affect accuracy.

The use of a free sprung balance is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, it is more challenging to produce and secondly, it is normally the preserve of watches costing much more. This degree of attention to detail not only confers small enhancements to accuracy, but also exhibits the young watch company’s fastidious eye for detail.

The balance spring does not feature a Breguet overcoil due to cost considerations. However, the accuracy reported by Garrick would suggest that the inclusion of a Breguet overcoil would prove unnecessary. The brand reports that repeated tests of the movement using a Witschi machine have shown a daily variance of only +3 seconds per day. By way of illustration, COSC chronometer certification requires an average daily rate tolerance of -4 to +6 seconds per day, underscoring Garrick’s achievement.

The movement – specification

The movement within the Shaftesbury SM301 has a frequency of 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz) and the sole spring barrel delivers a power reserve of 42 hours.

A hacking seconds facility allows the wearer to pause the motion of the small seconds hand by pulling out the crown, proving ideal for synchronisation with a reference clock. Once the crown is pushed home the seconds hand recommences its journey and the balance wheel comes back to life.

Closing remarks

Seldom have I witnessed each development stage of a watch company and the evolution of a new model. I know that the journey to produce theGarrick Shaftesbury SM301 has, at times, proved arduous, but David Brailsford and his colleagues have persevered and the dream has now become a reality.

The watch features many impressive attributes, delivered at a very attractive price point bearing in mind its specification.

Prior to receiving the press loan watch, I anticipated it would reveal a greater degree of “cottage industry” construction. The surprising revelation is that it resembles a serially produced watch in many respects with high quality much in evidence. There are some charming clues to its individual creation, such as the hand applied Geneva Stripes and the thermally blued screws. It is these aspects, in my opinion, which augment the smile factor and grant the unique character of the timepiece.

Technical Specification

  • Model: Garrick Shaftesbury SM301
  • Case: stainless steel; diameter 42.00mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small hacking seconds.
  • Movement: Vintage Unitas 6498.1 base, hand-wound movement; frequency 18,000 vph (2.5Hz), power reserve 42 hours
  • Strap: Black leather strap presented with a stainless steel pin buckle
  • Price: £3995 (RRP as at 14.1.2015)

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