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2016.01.28

Uncovering the appeal and checkered history of British watch brand, "Smiths”.

Book Vintage Products



From Lightning Magazine: “British Products” issue released on January 28.

 

 

This issue revolves around everything British, from products, culture, the secrets of their fabrics, to British stores that you can find in Japan. For this issue, we received various opinions and information from British people, providing our reader with rare insights into the culture and introductions to the trendiest British products. 925 yen + tax

 

 

 Purchase from here

 

 

For our cover story, “Life with British Products”, we created eight different scenes, from the morning to the evening, to introduce British made products that can be used in various situations.

 

Each of these brands has their own extensive history, original manufacturing techniques, and offers the highest quality products.

We believe that items that are made with the finest quality and attention to detail make you want to use them on a daily basis, so we focused on a simple and casual look.

Another key point was the use of vintage British items. See how you can incorporate them into your own everyday style.

 

 

One of the products that stood out in particular was the vintage watch made by Smiths.

 

(“British Products” P. 24 Photo by Masahiro Nagata)

 

 

 

Many readers may associate the name Smiths with the motor accessory brand that manufactures parts for British cars and motorcycles. However, Smiths was actually established in 1851 as a watch store.

 

 

This is the beginning of Smiths’ long history, with many ups and downs along the way.

Established in 1880 as a manufacturer of pocket watches, the company transformed into an automobile parts manufacturer in the 1900s. During the early 20th century, they utilized Swiss company Longines’ high quality movements, and only the Smiths logo was manufactured in England. After the war, they recruited skilled technicians from Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, and succeeded in creating a line of completely “Made in England” watches.

 

 

From the days when they were reliant on the techniques of Swiss watch manufacturers until they finally succeeded in creating a line of completely “Made in England” watches, Smiths has continued to evolve as one of the top British watch brands. However, people still insist that Swiss-made watches are the best in the world. Even among British people, their image towards Smiths was that they because they were an automobile accessory company, their watches were simple and sturdy, but not considered necessarily of the highest quality. In terms of manufacturing luxury watches for members of the upper class who were extremely picky about their watches, Smiths could not compete against the top Swiss brands. Even though in reality, the watches they made were equal in terms of quality, the fact that they were a British brand made them seem inferior to the top Swiss brands…



During the 1960s, with the beginning of the Quartz Revolution started by Japanese companies, Smiths retreated from the watch and accessories industry, and currently manufacture medical devices and electronic devices for airplanes.

 

 

Although they were made with precision, the personalities of their watches could be described as somewhat“clumsy”. Huge fans of British watches, Watch Big Bear, a showroom based in Chiba Prefecture, has become one of Japan’s leading collectors of vintage Smiths items.

 




The owner of Watch Big Bear, Mr. Okuma, who has transformed a room in his own house into a watch showroom, is a huge fan of the United Kingdom. Beginning with Smiths watches, his collection consists of a wide range of vintage British accessories. He is the owner of a 1929 Austin 7, and he also works as an illustrator whose works consists of landscapes featuring various British automobile motifs. 

 


“Before the value of vintage Smiths watches increased, they could often be purchased by a cash register of a British automobile store. I first bought five vintage Smiths watches, and they were not in very good condition. When I was a child, I dismantled a watch that I received as a gift and broke it, so I was a bit traumatized by the concept of repairing watches. However, I decided to try it again with my Smiths watches. I was taught by a veteran watchmaker, and successfully repaired four out of the five watches. Being able to reconstruct a watch is also proof of its quality. Cheap watches cannot be reconstructed once they are dismantled. In addition to their high-end lines such as the Deluxe series, Smiths also manufactured a line of low-cost watches, such as the Empire series, in a factory in Wales. I know it may not sound so good for the brand, but they were recommended for students or young people who still could not afford a luxury watch. Users could learn a lot about watches, and they certainly contributed to spreading the brand name to various age groups. Returning to my story, this was the first Smiths watch that I repaired, and I really wanted to spread the Smiths brand in Japan as well, so approximately ten years ago, I began repairing and selling their watches here. I especially feel a sense of duty to pass down the history of Smiths’ watch manufacturing techniques through the repair of their watches.

 


1957 Deluxe. Featuring a 9-carat solid gold cased, 17 stone, manual wind, 31.8mm diameter. ¥599,000_Manufactured by Smiths Motor Accessories, a subsidiary company that manufactured accessory parts, as a retirement gift for their employees. The brand’s logo is carved into the back surface of the watch. This is a high-grade item even among other Deluxe models, and has been kept in good condition.

 

A watch manufactured at Smiths by Asprey, a British luxury product brand that specialized in making jewelry. Made in 1958, with a 9-carat solid gold cased, 17 stone, manual wind, 33.6mm diameter, and comes with a special box. ¥599,000_ The detailed dial design is especially noteworthy!

 

Left/1960 Astral. Featuring a chrome case, manual wind, 33.8 mm diameter. ¥39,900_. The Astral series featured simple yet modern designs, and can still be often seen today. Right/ 1950 Deluxe. Featuring a gold-plated case, 15 stone, manual wind, 33.4mm diameter. ¥59,000_. The classical design features a unique clock face lettering and small seconds hand.

 

Dead stock alarm clocks. From left to right: An original 1950s model ¥162,000_, 1960s model ¥59,900_, original 1960s model ¥75,600_. Between the 1950s and 1960s, alarm clocks were mainly used by the upper class, so an immense amount of work and detail was put into the designs. The vibrant box designs provoke a sense of affinity.

 

 

The above is just a portion of the lineup boasted by Watch Gallery Big Bear. They all have a common trait in that they feature classic designs, ranging from high quality wristwatches to vibrant alarm clocks. Each of these items tells a story about the history of Smiths watchmaking techniques. They are relatively low-priced, so we highly recommend them to first-time vintage watch buyers.

 

 

Finally, we would like to provide a little inside story. Mr. Okuma, who is widely known as Dr. Smiths, is a watch expert who feels joy just by gazing at the unique numbers of vintage watches. During this interview, I was so intrigued with the conversations about Smiths watches that we completely lost track of time. About three years ago, I actually purchased my own vintage Smiths watch at a market while I was visiting London. Because the numbers were beginning to peel, the movements were beginning to slow down, and the belt needed to be replaced, I had completely neglected it and kept it hidden in my desk for years. I brought it with me for Mr. Okuma to see it, and as a result, I found out that it was an Empire model, and that it was best that I didn’t let it go through a complete overhaul. “If this watch undergoes a complete overhaul, it will probably end up breaking,” Okuma added. I had a feeling that this watch that I had purchased at a market probably wasn’t worth too much, but on top of that, knowing that the numbers couldn't even be repaired left me a bit disappointed…”

 

Although it is an Empire, the dial is split in four, and the unique number displays gave the watch a very interesting design. I plan on finding a high quality belt and beginning my new “Smiths” life.

 

 

 

Shop Data

Watch Gallery Big Bear

5463-2 Goi, Ichihara-shi, Chiba

Tel: 0436-25-1232

10 AM ~ 6 PM (*By appointment only)

http://mydearmini.com 

 

 

Text by Clutch Magazine 

 


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