Jon Shakespeare and Sam Holland launched their own high concept watch brand three years ago with the aim of fast-tracking a 130-year ‘history’ through the 20th Century and beyond with 13 annually released watches. For the release of their third chapter, the 1929, WatchPro editor James Buttery charts their progress.
The authors of the WT Author brand met at university and then found themselves in design roles at the same company four years ago. A mutual love of watches turned into a discussion that led to watch project that would include “a story behind it and a lot of sentiment”, something that, according to commercial director Sam Holland, would allow them to be “selfish and create something really unique, that wasn’t pandering to any specific watch trend”.
The pair felt that a trend for “really thin, soulless watches that don’t have much character” had left a gap for something more expressive and emotive. They looked at the very first wristwatches and began discussing how they could modernise the look with signature elements.
Their combined efforts gave birth to the red crowns and 12 o’clock hour marker logo that sets WT Author watches apart from the crowd.
Exclusivity was, and remains today, at the heart of the WT Author brand. Each year the pair produces a single model, with 125 examples produced in four colourways. Just 500 watches worldwide annually. As Holland puts it: “so that the person sitting next to you in the restaurant is never going to be wearing the same watch”.
Then Shakespeare, the brand’s creative director, and Holland turned their attention to the concept; they decided to create a brand history of 130 years over the course of just 13 years. One watch would be released every year, taking inspiration from the design style of each 20th Century decade. Shakespeare explains: “We didn’t want to fake our past, we wanted to fast-track it, so that after the project was finished we’d be brought up to the present day. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan, we want to be a slow-burner.”
It is clear that the pair are also brand building for future developments, looking at how their brand will be perceived after the 13-chapter project is brought to a conclusion, creating a 130-year history in snapshot. There was also the idea of a fictitious character linking the major historic events of the 20th Century to be addressed. The name Author had been attached to the project from the very start, the result of a brainstorming session. The founding duo each added an initial from an important figure from their past. In Holland’s case his teacher Wynn Phillips and in Shakespeare’s his grandfather Thomas Hall. Wynn Thomas Author was born. Holland adds: “We wanted to be attached to it, we felt that if we had an initial each neither of us could walk away from it.”
The first watch was launched at 13:00 on Friday, 13 September 2013 via crowd-funding platform Indiegogo, raising just over £10,000 of its £15,000 goal through 33 backers. The initial push might not have reached its target, but it did provide the capital to get the project underway.
The first watch, the 1905, marked the advent of the 20th Century; the second, the 1914, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, whilst this year’s watch takes its inspiration from the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929.
Each watch is supplied with a written chapter charting WT Author’s ‘personal involvement’ in the event in question. When collated over the 13-year project, the chapters will form a complete, if embellished, view of the 20th Century.
For a watch brand it’s a high concept idea, but one that seems to be capturing the imagination of watch buyers around the world. US consumers are particularly taken with the idea, especially those in Texas, which is a hotspot for orders.
“The Texans absolutely love it, perhaps it’s the straps,” says Holland. Shakespeare explains further: “We’ve had quite a few good blogs in America, I’ve been speaking to the UK Trade and Investment recently about going out to America and walking the shows and from what they’ve said about the Americans, they just buy into the whole British-made, that whole rural, made in Shropshire kind of thing, they love it.
“We have this one great repeat customer; he’s very high up at Paramount Pictures. This guy’s probably on a fortune and yet he buys our watch every year and he’s already pre-ordered the next one because he loves it. He could have any watch in the world and yet he chooses to wear our watch.”
The pair have developed strong relationships with watch websites Watchuseek and Wristwatchreview in the US, which they cite as helping to generate strong interest in their designs.
Holland says: “they’re always keen to have first dibs on having samples sent over to them. Initially it’s these forums that pick up on the product that we’re pushing out there and all of a sudden it’s more lifestyle mags and blogs that are looking to these forums for their source of information.”
Until now, pricing of WT Author’s watches has been fixed at £300 for pre-orders, £350 once launched and £400 for #001 and #125 examples. That changes with the 1929, which sees the introduction of a mechanical automatic movement from Miyota for the first time, alongside the normal Ronda quartz movements. The 125 examples of the automatic Black Series will cost £450 at pre-order and £500 afterwards.
It is fitting that automatic models have been added to the fold for the 1929 as it was the 20s that witnessed the invention of the automatic wristwatch and the 1929 Wall Street Crash that signalled the downfall of the its inventor John Harwood’s fledgling watch company.
Shakespeare and Holland have planned for the future with the WT Author brand, having a clear plan for the remaining ten watches in the series. They plan to grow organically as resources allow, but would like to exert more control over the production of their watches.
“The ultimate dream would be that we have control over everything,” said Holland. “We want to oversee the manufacture and take it on ourselves. But at the same time if we take on too much it’s doomed to fail because we either don’t have the expertise or there simply wouldn’t be enough money but it’s totally self-funded between Jon and I, everything from the website to the watch design is being produced by two people. We want to introduce a new element each.”
For the time being sales will remain direct through their website because of the limited production model and to maintain low, affordable pricing. But the idea of having a few select retail outlets, offering their international customers a bricks and mortar location to view their designs, appeals.
“I think if the right people came along we absolutely would,” muses Shakespeare. “It might be more of a marketing route; if we had it in Liberty’s or Selfridges it would be amazing to tell people that’s where it was. But as we like to keep the prices as low as possible we would very much like to keep an online presence. We do have a lot of enquiries from customers in the US, so it would be nice to have somewhere in New York that they could go and see the watches before they buy them.”