Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S02 ep4 : Peter Speake, Marin Watches, [Switzerland]
Interview with Peter Speake
The inspiration and knowledge gleaned from working in restoration of historic treasures fired his desire to work and further his knowledge of watchmaking to an even higher level. Returning to Switzerland in 1996 to work on modern watches he specialised in complications both building them and in their development. In 2000, after 15 years of study he embarked on his personal dream; an independent workshop in which he could design and build his own watches.
PS: I don’t position myself anywhere, I don’t try to emulate anybody, I don’t follow brands, I don’t
see what’s in fashion.
PS: I had an average education, I didn’t __ I was good at woodwork, good at metalwork, okay at
these kind of things, but I never really perceived myself as being somebody that was creative. And
I found through a very kindly careers teacher a subject called horology.
PS: The ___ lecturer was a guy called Mr Beanie, I instantly had a rapport with the guy, I fell in
love with him, and why? He had a mixture of art, of history and mechanics.
PS: This was at Hackney Technical College in London. I was good at it. I came one of the top
people in my class and I loved it and it fitted. It just fitted, I spent two years there and it was a
mixture of everything from ___ clocks to quartz watches.
PS: I was given the option to go to a school called Wostep in Neuchatel. That was incredible. I
learnt in four months probably what I would have learnt outside in sort of the real world in
probably four years.
PS: It was more focussed in the direction of watchmaking, and it was repetition starting on basic
repairs and building and stuff from pocket watches, all the way down to ladies watches. And each
time you would do, again, seven or eight watches of the same calibre, parrot fashion, each time
doing the same thing, going smaller and smaller and smaller and there were almost points where I
felt my ability pop and suddenly go on to another level and then you go further, pop, go on to
another level. And I wasn’t a black belt by the time I got to the end, but it was a hell of a good
PS: My first job was in commercial watchmaking in Oxford for a company called Watches of
Switzerland and I worked there for six months and that was everything from Tissot to Rolex and
they offered me a job in London and I was the Piagi watchmaker and I did that for six months,
learnt everything, got bored of that, I did a short stint with Omega and I was about to go to
PS: I got drunk the weekend that I was meant to go, but I ran into an antique dealer called George
S___ who had an antique shop in Piccadilly Arcade. He offered me more money than I’d ever
earned at that stage, he said I want you to develop your own workshop and do after sales service
for me, as well as restoration of all my watches. I was then with him for seven years and I touched
everything and if I liked what I did before, I fell in love with it. I worked with early English
manufacturers like Fro__ and Dent, quite often people I’d never heard of and Smith, original Patek,
original Cartier, before they became the big empires that they are today.
PS: I saw things which were really beautifully made, but badly designed and what happens over 50
or 100 years, and I saw other things which were really pretty crummy quality, but had been really
well designed and they were still going. And all of those things I learnt from working on a 200 visa
watchmaking and then it was one of the things that frustrated me in modern watchmaking was that
they hadn’t learned because nobody had actually seen it and often they were making the same
PS: Some of the best watches, wrist watches, in my opinion were either made prior to the 1900’s or
in about the 1940’s and they actually achieved a certain level of theory and precision which made
for things which will just last forever. Prior to the 1940’s they ___ too fine, beautiful watches made
by companies like Cartier, they had their technical guy was Lacoote and the company brand
movement was European Watch & Clock. Exquisitely made, nothing could reach them, but after
50 years, they wear out and you have to start restoring them. All of these things together they kind
of directed me to what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do.
PS: The hardest thing in restoration is not repairing the wear in watches, but it’s the repairs need to
the wearing watches because they didn’t supply it the first time, and to try to be sympathetic to the
original style, sometimes when things have been glued or soldered back together and you’ve got to
get rid of it all and you’ve got to redesign it. And that was probably the first time they ever did
something, to design something which is functional, which works, but also is identifiable as the
correct component for that piece, so when it’s finished you don’t see that it’s actually been
??: Historically, English watchmaking really was quite strong.
PS: It was the best. But the English refused to change and when you work on these watches, you
kind of understand it, because you wouldn’t want it change because it was so amazing, but then the
Swiss came along and were able to produce high quality, but in production.
??: Wasn’t Rolex originally an English brand?
PS: Wilstoff and Davis were the two guys. I think Davis was English and Wilstoff was Austrian.
One was a bracelet manufacturer and one was a case manufacturer. And the early Rolex, they’re
still marked “WD” inside, the movements were made by a company called Reburg and if you
follow Reburg, the same movement Reburg which was made like in 19, I don’t know 20 or 30 or
whatever, you can see an evolution as a restorer how that grew literally over the next 50 years, you
could follow history.
PS: I didn’t approach my business from the point of view of what we sell. I did it initially and I
started off and I worked as an independent for other companies, but I designed my own watches
the way I wanted to make them, with my own philosophy and my own approach and I was
fortunate that people liked it so I kind of landed very well.
PS: I had potential orders and the prices were high because it’s handmade watches. No bank in
Switzerland was prepared to cut me any slack, so I then had to work for about three years
developing a foundation of the Piccadilly watches by basically funding myself through working on
complications for other companies.
PS: Anybody who becomes independent you sacrifice probably the first you know three, four years
of your life. You know, weekends, weekends, holidays and as a watchmaker it’s very insular and
after a while you go a little bit gaga. I was saved by the birth of my boy and then he kind of
showed me what was really important and balanced out my life and my wife also kind of kept me,
kept me on the tracks.
PS: I made everything. My own cases, my own vials, all the modifications to my own movements
own bridges, own rotors, the watch developed over about two years. The basic pointing, meaning
the basic axe positions was fixed from an original design, but after that the final aesthetic I was
never really sure about. All of this, the finishing, the assembly, I used some components from some
very early pocket watches, but nothing was standard, everything had to be modified or pin designs,
pivots, profiles were changed. In fact, a lot of people, I thought I was saving myself time, but had I
made it all from scratch, I would have probably made it quicker than the system that I actually
took. But, it was, I had already spent years from restoration but this was another, another eduction
PS: We get approached by people from everywhere. Retailers and distributors from all over and
we’re tiny, we make a couple of hundred watches a year. I think they come to us because it’s real.
PS: Watchmaking crosses over from something which is human, art, something which is physical,
mechanical, which works and when you work with these kind of pieces there’s a certain affinity. I
felt that and I spent seven years doing it and in antique stuff, and everything that think I loved from
that kind of diffused into me and then came out in that foundation piece and when I look at it now
I can see because it just evolved, I didn’t know at the beginning what it was going to look like
aesthetically. But now I look at it and I know where everything comes from. It wasn’t meant to be
taking components, but it formed a DNA which now creates my style.
PS: Harry Winston, the concept came from the ex Managing Director, a guy called Maximillian
Busser. What I made for them, instead of a one year limited edition opus, I designed two watches
for them, or two movements for them which they used over two year. First was a manual
movement which was this was, actually this is my second generation of, three forward minute
Tourbillion on this side, on this side it has an enamel dial, between 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, the
little black hole is a window and when you get to the last 24 hours, it changes colour from black to
red, so you have a visual warning. On the back, you have a double retrograde which is for the
power reserve, so here zero to 55 and then from 55 to 110 hours, and then all the bridges are hand
PS: If you look at the shape of the wings here you have it in the Tourbillion bridge, the sweeping
lines, it’s all, it’s all the same character as this piece. I mean there you have the same DNA
PS: I had a phone call from California, it was from a representative of a woman who was the
daughter of one of the original JP Morgan directors. What had happened was she owned a watch
which was made for her father, given by JP Morgan to each of his directors, after the recession in
the 30’s. They had actually sought out someone to restore it in California, could find. Went to I
think Sotherbys or Christies in New York and they forwarded on the name of our company. When I
received this watch it was a solid gold Frogam watch which filled the whole of my hand. It was a
multi complication with minute repeater, Tourbillion and split second chronograph. Today worth, I
don’t know, a million bucks, I have no idea, at the time it was like several hundred thousand. It
was just mind blowing. And just before it arrived, I had some people come to visit me who were
part of the family, or part of the employed, just to check me out and I didn’t know what this was
about until this watch finally arrived. And it was part of history.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Peter Speake, Marin Watches, Switzerland