Last weekend, hundreds of wristwatch enthusiasts from across the UK convened in Rugby for the inaugural WatchIt! Watch Fair. WRUK’s editor was there to report on the show.
WatchIt! Watch Fair 2019
The event, which was the brainchild of Joshua from the Watch It All About British watch review website, brought together some of the UK’s top microbrand watch companies in the Holiday Inn near Rugby. Although the venue was a last-minute change, it perfectly suited the event with a room of just the right size, good transport links, on-site parking and a bar.
There were a large number of people there by the time I arrived and the whole event was just busy enough, without being overwhelming. It took me the full six hours, but I did eventually manage to get round every stand for a brief chat with each of the brands’ teams.
Watch It All About
Joshua of Watch It All About was there to greet every guest and issued me with a raffle ticket. Unfortunately, my number did not come up, but some great prizes were given away every hour. Watch It All About also sell watch pods and straps in their online shop, and I was very impressed with the quality of what was on offer – their two-piece Bond NATO could find a place in any collector’s strap drawer.
The first stand I visited was Isotope, whose owner Jose was most pleased to see me and even greeted me with a hug! You don’t get that from a Rolex dealer! Earlier this year I was bowled over by Isotope’s Goutte D’Eau diver and I was treated to a preview of their next model which promises to be just as iconic.
Pinion watches, a brand with which I have thus far been unfamiliar, proved to be one of the revelations of the show for me. I was talked through the evolution of their watches, from the three-hand Atom to some higher-end chronographs that were produced with new-old-stock Valjoux movements.
I was most impressed by the styling, and the next time I am looking to buy a quality timepiece in the £2,000+ price bracket Pinion will be my first port of call. Extra dad-points were scored when I was able to photograph a watch that was worn on the set of Doctor Who for my ten-year-old daughter!
Watches of Lancashire
Watches of Lancashire are not a watch microbrand but rather a stockist of used watches. Their stock is all towards the higher end of the market, and I was seriously tempted by their Mark 2 Speedmaster and vintage Heuer chronograph. I’ll certainly be checking their website when I next buy a vintage timepiece.
I have not yet reviewed a Gauge Instruments watch, but I have written a short article about the brand. Their watches resemble car instrument dials, with some unique features such as the numbers being printed on the dial itself. I was excited about some of the brand’s plans for the future which include truly customisable watches now they can produce their own dials and hands.
Alkin watches, based in Bristol, were the next brand you came across as you walked anticlockwise around the room. As well as their Model One, I noticed a number of people checking out their compressor model, which looks like it is going to be a great success.
As the biggest brand at the show, the Christopher Ward stand was probably the busiest for the entire day, and it was only late in the day when I managed to have a short chat with Mr. Ward himself, who had brought a sample of almost every model the brand produces. The standouts for me were the C65 Trident Vintage (I have bought one, and will be reviewing it soon), the C60 Trident 600m which I think is a genuine challenger to the high-end brands and the absolutely beautiful Moonphase which, despite its £1,700 price tag, looks like it is worth every penny.
I was delighted to finally meet Ross from Hamtun, as we have conversed a few times over the last few months as I watched his Kraken campaign mushroom into one of the most successful campaigns of the year. I loved the Kraken H2 titanium dive watch, which should begin to arrive with its backers very soon. I finally got to try out the Nanok, a day-date dress watch that was one of the brand’s earlier models and which will soon be available in some stunning new colours and with a new 12-hour ball-bearing bezel.
Another brand that was new to me is Zero West, who inhabit the higher-end of the microbrand market with a series of beautifully-designed watches modelled after classic bikes and planes. This was a brand that clearly cares about presentation and I was drawn to their copper-pipe watch stands, military cases and gas-strut watch box, which was one of the highlights of the show for me!
Vapaus admitted that they do not have much of an online presence, which is a shame, because they had another stunningly-presented display, complete with a working vintage computer! Their watches did not disappoint, with their VK64-powered chronograph immediately drawing my eye thanks to its sunburst dial. I will be keeping a close eye on this brand in the future.
I’d been looking forward to meeting Andy from MAALS watches for some time, and in the flesh, he was just as charming, warm and funny as he is in our email communications. I was treated to a top-secret preview of an upcoming design which I think will appeal to me just as much as the first watch – Jump Over The Moon – which, although not too practical at telling the time, makes a real statement on the wrist. It was rather telling that Andy himself was wearing a watch with a transparent face, which he was unable to read whilst actually wearing it…!
Keep your eyes on MAALS, although there is only a single model at the moment, they are doing something different to all the other brands and that is worth supporting.
Art of Horology
Although not a watch brand themselves, Art of Horology really caught my eye with their stunning selection of mixed media art prints. Their art really captures what we watch enthusiasts love about the hobby, and I hope to add one of their pieces to my collection in the future.
Last but not least was Carrington Smith, a pair of watch designers who clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the design and technical details of their watch, which is based on a dial from Concorde. I was very impressed by the level of knowledge and passion that the brand’s owners had about this and their future planned watches and they win the unofficial WRUK award for “most stuff packaged with a watch”: your Mach 2 watch will come bundled with a watch winder and more straps than I have in my “junk drawer”.
And that wasn’t all…
I bumped into a few people at the WatchIt! show who are celebrities in the watch world. As well as Joshua Flagg of Watch It All About, without whom none of this was possible, I also had the pleasure of meeting Richard Dolinski – the Christopher Ward Enthusiast Facebook group’s king of the “pocket shots” who shared the secret of taking such as iconic image; Alan Griffiths from the Spinnaker Watches Enthusiasts Facebook Group who I hold responsible for the way my head (and stomach) felt the following morning after we almost drank the bar dry after the show; James Mulvale from the Watch That Sweep blog (who took some far nicer photos than I could ever manage with my iPhone); and Rikki Daman, who after getting his big break writing for this very website has gone on to have some moderate success with the Scottish Watches podcast. If you don’t already listen then you really should – it’s not all watches, it is very funny, and every now and again I pop up to talk about microbrands.
Final Thoughts on WatchIt! 2019
I really enjoyed the WatchIt! watch fair – even more than I had expected – and the time flew by. I really hope that this is the start of a regular event and that some more brands can be persuaded to attend in future.
My “take away” from the event was that the microbrand world is not just about watches – yes, there are some great designs, but I realised that many of the watches I have enjoyed the most in the short time I have been writing this blog are those with strong personalities and compelling stories behind them. That is what inspired me to buy my daily wearer, the Offshore Professional Field Engineer, whose creator Lorne Gifford sadly left us earlier this year and which I wore on the day as a tribute to his memory, as we’d discussed meeting up at the fair. At the WatchIt! event I met brand owners with passion for what they do, and it was great to hear theme explain the thought that has gone into every aspect of every one of their designs.
On the whole, I had a a fantastic day at WatchIt! 2019 and my heartfelt thanks go out to Joshua for arranging it, and to all of the brands who attended and fouind the time to talk to me and everyone else for six hours straight! If you hear about a WatchIt! watch fair in 2020 then I strongly encourage you to attend.