Peter Speake-Marin: "Emotion comes from motion; you've got to keep on moving"


Master watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin honed his skills in London and Le Locle before founding his own luxury brand, Speake-Marin.

In 2006, he collaborated with Harry Winston to develop the Excenter Tourbillon

Recently, his Renaissance tourbillon minute repeater was preselected by the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève jury in the Best Complicated Watch category.

Speake-Marin spoke with me about what inspires him, how he developed his style, and what he hopes to achieve for the future.


Ying Zhu: How old were you when you first got interested in watchmaking and when did you realize that this was your calling?

Peter Speake-Marin: I started when I was seventeen years old. I didn't even know what horology was then. As a seventeen year old, I thought it was something to do with astrology and stars and futures and witchcraft. And I got involved in it because I was looking for a direction and at seventeen I had no concept of what I was going to do. I was thinking about going into jewellery making because I was very creative and I was good with my hands, but I didn't have a foundation degree in art, which is what you needed. A kindly careers teacher forwarded me to Hackney Technical College where I discovered horology for the first time and it fitted. It was like a glove that fit the hand the first time. That was in 1985--the course finished in 1987. And I was immediately good at it. It was something which I didn't have to work hard at to be one of the best in the class. I was good at it and I enjoyed it, but I fell in love with it when I was in Somlo Antiques, when I was involved in restoration.

YZ: What are some of the qualities one should possess if he wants to go into the field of horology?

PSM: You have to be insane, to be honest. [laughs] There is a ''fundamental'' that is needed if you're to become a watchmaker: you have to like it. It's like with anything that you do in life: if you enjoy it, you'll do it well. But with watchmaking, if you don't enjoy it--and if you think about the nature of the job which is quite often to be in an environment where your world is this bench, and you spend hours and hours and hours, days, weeks, months, years, actually at this bench--if you're not into that, then your life will be a living misery. If you dislike it, don't do it.

YZ: You spent seven years in Piccadilly restoring vintage watches. How did that job position come about and how important was that experience?

PSM: I'll answer this in reverse. It was important because it has influenced everything that I've done ever since. It was the most influential, inspiring period of my professional life because I worked on brands from all over the world - from Germany, France, Switzerland, America and England, of course. From the beginning of watchmaking up until about the 1950s and that's why my case is called Piccadilly - its kind of like a homage to that period that I spent there. How did I actually get in there? I was actually looking at Omega at the time in the South of England. I was about to have an interview at a company called Nairs International in the North of England to move to New York. In between Omega and the interview, I met some friends in London, ended up--as a very young man--drinking a little bit too much beer, and didn't not make the interview with Nairs the following day.

Then one of my friends said that there was a guy called George Somlo looking to set up a restoration workshop. So I saw him the following week and he offered me more cash than I'd ever earned, which wasn't huge, but I think I was at that point eighteen years old. It was interesting and a blank cheque: build a workshop, develop a business. And I did. Previously I hadn't held down a job for more than six months. I learned the job and then I got bored and moved on. But when I went into Somlo's, I was there for seven years. It was a constant learning curve.


Somlo Antiques

YZ: Can you talk about your journey: from the time you left Piccadilly to the start of your own company. What did you learn from each watch company you worked for?

PSM: From the restoration side I saw the evolution of product from its inception through the next half a century and that was interesting because I saw how people thought. There was a period before the globalization of the industry. So Vacheron executed things differently than Audemars Piguet; Audemars different than Patek; Patek different than Rolex. That was extremely enriching from a creative point of view.

After the 1950s it all kind of became the same; pre 1950s it was extremely varied. From a technical point of view it was challenging; from a creative point of view it was rewarding because there were no manuals, no instructions, so you had to learn for yourself. You'd have to think for yourself and you'd have to become an investigator, and work out how things were made; how do you make it sympathetically to bring it back to what it was originally? That will always remain the most influential part of my career.

Then I went to work for a company called Renaud & Papi in Le Locle, which was involved in complications. That period was very much the dawning of complications and wristwatches. It began with Franck Muller and then Renaud & Papi was one of the very first companies to make serious, high quality complications from scratch. There I moved around quite a lot from working and being responsible for tourbillons to building up the basic calibres for repeaters and Grande Sonneries. I was involved in training, which was a wonderful experience, and then in product development. So I learned all the different elements, from being at the bench to managing, working a little bit on the manufacturing side, helping overcome the problems, to the whole prototype experience, to taking an idea and developing it. So that built on from everything else.

After Renaud & Papi I worked for a company in Geneva for ten weeks, which was a disaster for various reasons which are not important, but that actually gave me the leverage to become effectively self-employed; to become an independent watchmaker. Then the education continued because I started building repeaters for one company and then became a consultant working with different companies--giving them advice on how to execute products. I designed tourbillons for Harry Winston, and then helped the then-managing director of Harry Winston, Max Busser, help develop his company MB&F and then by the time I finished that I was helping an American entrepreneur called Steven Holtzman develop another company in the same vein called Maîtres du Temps. With him I worked with Roger Dubuis, Daniel Roth, Christophe Claret. Daniel Roth and Roger Dubuis are two legendary names in the industry. Daniel Roth was probably the very first of all of the living watchmakers to make the brand so there's me at that point in time working side by side and project managing these guys which was extraordinary. I don't think it shaped what I do, but it was historical. These guys are brand names and they're not going to be around forever, and as a fairly young man I worked with them. There are not many people who get that kind of opportunity. So in a very nerdy kind of way, in the watch industry, it was an extraordinary experience. Daniel Roth who was incredibly talented, but very humble, was the first person in this new era of independent watchmakers who had been through everything. From him I learned what a business can do to people, good and bad. You can learn from, not necessarily people's mistakes, but the life experiences they've had. And how a watchmaker is a watchmaker but not necessarily a businessman and not necessarily a marketer, and how savage the world that we actually live in can be.

YZ: Is there a single watch complication that is your personal favorite?

PSM: It's not about the complication; it's not about any particular piece. I have certain favorites but it's more about actually having the freedom to develop an idea. I did that for many years for other companies but then you're told what to do by somebody else, and you have to do it within those constraints, which are given to you. What I love about my life and the freedom that I have today is that whether it's a simple idea--whether it's the Spirit or the Renaissance--to take an idea and realize it is like living a dream. It can be something super complex or extremely simple and it's just that freedom to be able to execute one or the other that I really love. I love tourbillons but it's become almost a little bit clichéd today.


Peter Speake-Marin Renaissance

YZ: That was my next question: what is a tourbillon?

PSM: One of the things that you have to remember about all the high-end watchmaking today is that in a sense none of it is necessary. But it is a necessity for human beings to have quality in their lives. If people didn't have a certain desire for luxury--and luxury is not necessarily having a Ferrari or Lamborghini--but it's having anything that you don't necessarily need from a survival point of view, but that brings quality to your life. It's why we don't live in the same house, eat the same bread, eat the same pasta. You don't have a bare wall; you put something on there. These are not things that you have to have from a need point of view, but from a human point of view, because it gives you culture and enrichment. Do we need music to survive? In a sense no, but we do because we're human and it gives us pleasure and it brings us soul.

With modern horology, I perceive it the way many people perceive music or art: it's that which brings a certain quality to our lives. When you have a beautifully executed tourbillon or a repeater or any type of timepiece, where there is a certain animation behind it, and you look at it, and there is fascination; there is soul. When you have something that you know somebody has actually put their heart, their soul and their time into, it's part of them. In a way there's a feeling and soul that you get from it that you don't get from a product which is produced in hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands, which isn't constructed by a computer or by CNC machinery and all the automation that follows. It's another level of quality. It is a culture. I love tourbillons when they're well executed because the balance inside a watch is like a heart pumping. You add the animation of a tourbillon, which puts the balance in the scheme inside of a cage and makes the whole thing rotate. It was designed by Breguet around 1811 and the idea then was to balance out errors in time-keeping because of a thing called positional error, which is caused by gravity. Do we need it today? Quite frankly, of course we don't. Everybody's telephone is more accurate than every mechanical watch made, but the beauty in some of these timepieces is phenomenal. In a tourbillon in particular, you have this momentum, this movement, this action; it's something that I find from a poise point of view to be fascinating.

You can look at a Qwartz watch, it can tell the time, it can be very pretty, it can be designer, but it has no soul. When you look at the beating heart of a watch, it moves around, and you know that time has been consecrated in making this timepiece. That's what makes us human and differentiates us from animals and robots.

YZ: That's beautiful. I love that. What were some of the challenges that you faced making your first pocket watch?


Speake-Marin Pocket Watch

PSM: Staying sober [laughs]. It's not every watchmaker, but maybe it's because of the nature of the beast that a lot of them drink. When I was making that watch at the very beginning, I was working for Renaud & Papi, and I built a workshop in the bedroom of the farm house that I was renting. I had no idea what the thing was going to look like at the end, I just knew technically how I wanted to execute it. Most watchmakers want to make their own watch. Anybody who loves what they do wants to realize it. Not many of them do it. I started and I got to a point where I couldn't stop because I'd gone too far. Evenings, weekends and holidays were consecrated in the workshop building this piece; re-doing pieces, re-making, re-desgining. I learned CAD [computer aided design] at that time, and I would have a bottle of red wine on the side. Sometimes friends would come and they'd leave a bottle of whiskey and at one point I even went through a period of a Swiss drink called Gentiane which is incredible--about 1% of the world actually likes this drink.


So imagine that you're in the workshop; you've got your music – boom boom boom – playing in the background; you have a bottle of wine or a dram of whiskey or a glass of Gentiane, and you get into it. You get to a point where you've just got to keep going. And I kept on going. There's a certain stubbornness whereby you start something and you have to finish it. If you don't finish, it's incomplete. I have to complete things.

I left Renaud & Papi in 2000--worked briefly for this other company--then set up my own workshop, started rebuilding repeaters for another company, and then in parallel I finished that watch. Most of that watch, from the hands, the cage--part of it's machine-made, like what they call the pointers in Switzerland--but a lot of it was piecing it out with a saw, filing it by hand, polishing it by hand, and it takes an awfully long time.


Speake-Marin Pocket Watch

YZ: Is your watchmaking technique similar to the masters of the past? Has computer technology, CAD, helped you during your watchmaking process?

PSM: Invaluably. There is no way that any independent watch company could survive today if this technology didn't exist. That's not only CAD but prototyping, making virtual images, experimentation on the computers, using CNC milling machines, and equally important is the internet. This whole modern technology is what actually gives us the possibility to breath. The technical side of it allows us to achieve things which otherwise would never be achievable because the time limitations would just prevent an individual from making his own calibre. Harrison made about six pieces in a whole lifetime. Today if you have that creativity you could probably make them in five years. If CAD didn't exist, I wouldn't be doing it. If the internet didn't exist, I wouldn't have been able to sell all my first watches and become a little bit known in this huge world that we're in.

It's only a tool, its not a solution, but without those tools, we wouldn't be able to do it in the first place.

YZ: What percentage of your production in terms of pieces is completely made with your own movements versus where you modify existing movements?

PSM: I'll start from 2000 to 2008: during that period I was always using other peoples calibres and modifying them; 2008 to 2010 I developed my own calibre. I had the goal of making one of the most beautiful, highest quality calibres in Switzerland, and I achieved that goal. But in 2009, when the recession hit, the whole world changed. Then what became more important in the market was prices, figures--numbers more than idealism. Which in a way makes complete sense. So, my goal was then to concentrate on making uniquely my own calibre, but because of the price associated, it became a very difficult thing to sell. So instead of making lines of watches with those calibres, I now use them to make unique and very special pieces, which have a value beyond the technological aspect but also in the artistry of the dials and the final execution. We probably have 5 – 10% of our product lines which have the SM caliber and then the remaining percentage today we use the caliber which is called Eros, based on a caliber from a company called TechnoTime. We take the basic caliber, we change bridges, we modify it, we turn it into a speeding rim, we change the automatic, we change the mechanism. But the basic wheels, the winding mechanism and the mainplate exist already and are produced in volume. It means that the final watches we have are competitively priced in relation to other brands. They're a bit more expensive because we still do all the stuff by hand like finishing it by hand, whereas with most companies it's all machine orientated. But that is the extra value that we bring to those pieces. With the modifications that we make, you look at it and it can't be anybody else's watch. You look at it, and it's a Speake-Marin, which is the essential thing. Following what it looks like is the pricing. Ultimately it's a business and we're living in an industry that doesn't need another brand.

You have companies like Rolex producing a million pieces per year, Patek 50,000, and then you have companies like Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis which put everything into perspective. These two companies have spent tens of millions in marketing, and as I've travelled around the world, I've discovered that hardly anybody has heard of them. So when it comes to being a little player in the market like we are, you have to be very, very creative: creative with the watches, creative with the design, with the strategy, with the whole approach and also the pricing.


Speake-Marin  Renaissance Front

YZ: I am in awe of your Renaissance watch. It's very complex but also very elegant. Did you have a different approach to this watch because all of the movements are exposed?

PSM: The reason for Renaissance--the name and the Raison d'être

for the calibre--was to mark a new period in the development of my work. It came out this year and it marked the end of the initial period of Peter Speake-Marin, and the change to what I call the Speake-Marin brand. I wanted to have something that was a statement watch, something that encapsulated a whole bunch of elements from my career. So the whole thing is inside my case; so it's in a highly identifiable, strong, classical case which is contemporary but it can't be confused with anybody else. Most modern brands that are in the classical world will re-adapt classical existing cases, such as the Calatrava cases or early teardrop cases, things that were born in the first 50 years of the last century. The case was important. The mechanism had to have a tourbillon, because my first watch was a tourbillon, so it had to be the same. I wanted it to have the repeater mechanism because I spent so many years building these pieces, and it also brings both the visual aspect--the animation--and the aural aspect, so you can see, you can touch, you can hear – it's everything. It touches all senses. And when you flip the back over, each one has a unique engraving on the back. I have done many unique pieces of engraving, which I became quite well known for, so it had all of these things combined into one watch. The Renaissance--the "new birth,"--marked the new period in the development of Speake-Marin. Now for the first time we actually have a catalogue, which gives a foundation upon which to build Speake-Marin into the future.


Speake-Marin Renaissance

YZ: You also make beautiful custom watches. What is that process like, from a client's idea to realizing it in the form of a watch?

PSM: That's also a learning curve. When you make something that has an artistic base, you can't necessarily make a rendered image in 3D, which will look like the final result. Because when you're working with enamel, or engravers or special forms of Maki-e--different techniques for making dials--you don't know what the result is until the end. This can either be a great positive surprise or a disappointment depending on what's in your imagination, and everybody's imagination is different. If I say to you, a white dial around the numbers, there are a zillion possibilities on what that is going to look like. Now imagine somebody says, "I want an imperial Russian eagle with an enamel brown background, diamond-set, with an antique silver patina covering the whole thing." I had a particular request from a guy who used me to design his watch and it was one of the most costly, time-consuming experiences I've ever had. When I get commissions today, people can give me a theme and I do a lot of skull pieces and I will make suggestions and I'll go into a certain direction, but they cannot define the watch A-to-Z. They can give me a direction and I'll make the watch in that direction. I listen to people, they're the clients, but at the end of the day, I make the final decision, because otherwise the project will never come to a conclusion.


Speake-Marin Eagle

YZ: I love your Shimoda watches. Can you tell us about these watches?

PSM: We've made many different pieces in maki-e. There was the monkey piece which was a Shimoda model using maki-e in a sense but the Shimoda model was the very first commission I ever had, in 2004. The reason it's called Shimoda is that the client asked me to make this single-handed watch which was reminiscent of an early Breguet pocket watch called the Souscription watch. The client's name was Shimoda. His original piece was a unique piece, enamel dial, single hand, blue steel, and there was a dragon engraved on the movement at the back. When I made the watch we needed a name for it. And I asked him, would he mind if I used his name as the model name? He was very flattered by it and that's why that watch came into existence. The weird thing about it was that I'd actually already designed the watch. Nobody knew about it and then on my first trip to Japan, I have some guy asking for that piece. Now we've stopped making them. And the previous ones have all been sold. Now next year, we actually have a new version coming out.


Speake-Marin Monkey

YZ: I saw a tiger watch as well.

PSM: The tiger is maki-e. The Shimoda model is quite simply a single-hand which gives the time. It's accurate to within five minutes.

Speake-Marin Tiger


YZ: How do you tell the time?

PSM: So the big sign in the center is 1.30. The middle line is 1.15 and each little line is five minutes. So when you look at the watch, the accuracy is within 5 minutes. It was sometimes known as the Philosopher's watch because it gives the impression that time slows down with this thing.


Speake-Marin Shimoda

YZ: I love the blue, too.

PSM: The blue is very traditional watchmaking, because when you have steel, to polish it you heat it up, and the color that you attain is sort of the most consistent of contrast in the enamel; it comes out blue. When you heat up polished steel, it goes to a straw color, violet, then it goes to blue, then after that it actually goes light blue and back to white. It's quite a tricky process. But that's why blue is synonymous with watchmaking.

The tiger was one of my favorites. That one went to Japan but as many went to America as went to Asia. The first one was sold in California, and a lot of that one went to Vietnam.

YZ: Where do you get your ideas for new designs? Where do you get your inspiration? From traveling? from museums?


Fighting Time

PSM: I love museums. I'm not knowledgeable in that I don't know names and dates and the history but I love walking through museums. If you look up, you see the brass work, the copper work, the bronze work, the stainless steel sculptures, the deco. In the same way I think I sucked in a lot of that when I was at Piccadilly as I have travelled. A lot of the dragon pieces that I made, they were influenced by certain philosophies. I made a piece called "Captive in Time," another one "Hungry for Time," another one called "Fighting in Time," and each one has a reason, a philosophy behind it. Sometimes the philosophy behind it influences the design and the way the creature is actually inside the watch and the actual aesthetics are influenced by Japanese or Chinese culture. I did a piece called "Captive in Time," I chose the dragon because the dragon is a leap through time. The Asian dragons are eternal, they live forever, and time is forever. So "Captive in Time" was meant to show a dragon for immortality actually captive inside of the watch. The basic design was mine. I was in Tokyo at a Japanese steak grill. There was an incredible lamppost and at the bottom, you had this dragon circling it. It was a work of art; the detail in it was incredible. When I saw that I had that idea and then we made it. That was sold to a Californian collector. So there is often a story behind it. The influence is from museums, from traveling, from everything that I see around me.

Captive in Time--dragon watch

When I made the Marin Mark One--up until that time I don't think there was ever another watch that I made that I felt personified who I am as a watchmaker. It's a simple timepiece but everything about it, the dial, the construction, the caliber is very English, and very conservative. It's very classical and very contemporary at the same time. It's me. I still love it today. The only thing that's surpassed it for me is the Spirit, which is the least expensive watch that I make but there's something about the Spirit which appeals to another part of me, a deeper part of me. I'm not trying to be overly dramatic about it, its just I love that watch. The Marin One, there may be an odd one around at retailers around the world but at my place I've got a 142mm which I think was sold last night and I think we have two 38mm and then that series is finished. The Spirit is going to be launched in the QP Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in November and that will be an unlimited piece. That will be the entry level watch from Speake-Marin into the future. That will become a permanent part of the collection.


Speake-Marin Spirit

YZ: What's the story behind your Spirit watch?

PSM: The initial reason why I did the first Spirit was the recession in Switzerland, which was the worst recession ever to hit the industry. During that whole period, I lost a lot of cash because companies around me were going bankrupt, which made my business very difficult. It meant that I had to work like a complete animal to keep my business alive. I noticed that a lot of other people around me couldn't do anything about it. I was able to swim and keep on swimming but if you're a supplier, all of your clients go die and it's a domino effect, they die as well. People who put their heart and their soul into what they did, then suddenly it was gone, but regardless of that people continued. That was the initial thing, to fight and persevere. You've just got to fight, to keep on going. If you just do that without a certain passion in what you do, then you're not human. You have to have the balance and persevere and you've got to keep on going. Never give up. The more I thought about that, which is kind of an obvious thing, but we live in a very decadent society, at least in Switzerland, and in Europe. America is a little bit more raw; you have more diversity here, you see guys in their late 70's filling shelves in pharmacies, you have a closer contact with life here.

The whole thing with the Spirit is that spirit continues. It isn't just my experiences and what I saw and what I lived through the last four years; it's human. It's that element that, as with the essence of culture, makes us human. It's that constant drive to keep going because if you don't, you die. If you don't grow, you die. If you don't keep on moving, you die. Emotion comes from motion; you've got to keep on moving. It was called the Spirit as a reminder of the story behind it. It's very congruent, complete, and probably one of the strongest watches I've ever made. I put this on my wrist the day before coming here and the more I wear it, the more I love it. And I think that that's going to be around for a very long time.

YZ: So from the first years of your company to now, what have you learned about the business side of watchmaking?

PSM: What not to do. Often you're a creative person, you're a sales guy, you're a business guy, you're a designer, but you're not everything. I've done basically everything. I've also done, in a sense, too much. From a commercial point of view, the common sense is that you take one model and you push it. Now I didn't get involved in the independent because I wanted to make a fortune; I got involved in it because I love what I do and I just wanted to do everything. I have a book that I published in 2010 which charts the first years of my life as being an independent person. That book really would be representative of what a company does in fifty years. There's so much diversity, tourbillons, repeaters, punching perpetuals, I made watches in steel and yellow gold, red gold, rose gold, platinum, mixed material things. I've done art pieces, technical – just everything and in a sense, you shouldn't do that. Because every time you launch a new watch, you have to make new cases, you have to do new movements, you have to make new dials, new hands. The time and the financial investment is huge. All I wanted to do was execute every idea that came into my head. At that period it was fine, because it was kind of a golden period because everything was selling; people were mad; there was a lust for it; there was a vacuum for these kinds of watches. But from a business point of view, it was kind of ludicrous. The positive side of it is that by having made so many things, I saw what people loved and what was less loved; what the issues were; what the questions were. It was an incredible learning process. I've come back today from that period with all this knowledge, with all these experiences, with having done one of the most comprehensive products and market research campaigns of any company--by actually having made the pieces, spoken to the clients, sold the watches, got the feedback, spoken with the retailers and distributors and sales people--I have a very complete view of what to do in the future.

YZ: I would love for you to talk about creativity, passion and integrity. Do you have your own philosophy when it comes to watchmaking?

PSM: The watches that every watchmaker makes come from the heart, from the individual. The final product is the representation of who they are, their own philosophies. It's not a marketing thing; what they make is who they are. With what I make, I go for longevity. It is clearly longevity and functionality of the product: the way it's made has to be fairly substantial; it has to be strong; it's got to survive for years. If you make ultra flat slim watches, by the very intrinsic nature of what they are, they're not going to survive a hundred years. They're going to wear out. If you want to make something that lasts into the future, it has to have a certain muscle behind it. There has to be a certain amount of material. That defines the shoulders, the crown, the whole construction of that case. At the same time, that philosophy of longevity also follows over into the aesthetic aspect. A lot of modern products today have a short lifespan: a couple years. A new model, a new design comes out, and if it isn't sold within two years it basically goes under the market and disappears; then the next model comes out. I'm still making today the same watches I made ten years ago, designed thirteen years ago. If you look at the Patek Calatrava it's been copied by every company, but when you think of it, it's still a Patek Calatrava, and it's been there for a hundred years. It will be there for another hundred years. That is what I think my watches are: longevity and classic design – an iconic model, an iconic design, which will go beyond time. The meaning of classical is that it's neither in fashion nor out of fashion; it's just there. It's the same way that I want things to work, to function. I want my watches to survive and live into the future.


Speake-Marin Workshop

YZ: You want to leave a mark on this planet.

PSM: I'm not built like that intrinsically; it's just accidentally become that. That is what differentiates this watch from virtually every other product available today. If you look at all the watches which exist today, all of those which are the most successful were born between 1910 and 1950. If you think of a Tank, which has been executed by Patek, by Odema, by a bunch of companies, it's Cartier. If you think of a Reverso, its also been done by the same people but its Jaeger. You think of the Calatrava, its done by absolutely everybody but its Patek. With all of these very iconic brands, they were born in another period of time. Today, it's very hard to find any new iconic design. I thought I'm the only one but actually there's also the Bell & Ross square watch – I can see how it will become an iconic design.

In the 80's you had the Genter design, the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, which in a sense are also sort of classics, but they're not classics just because they're classic design, they've become classics purely because of marketing. I think there is a difference between that and just incredible designs, which came about from the beginning. This I believe is something that will survive; if I was to die tomorrow, Speake-Marin would continue to live. It would suffer because the person who actually gave it life isn't there, but it's so much already in place, that it will outlive me and will continue into the future. That's not my ego, that's just accidentally how things have developed. I'm a watchmaker; I'm not a designer. I'm creative, but I had no pretenses when I started that I was going be the designer of a brand. It just happened that way. Destiny.


Speake-Marin Serpent

YZ: What are some of the challenges and rewards in being an independent watchmaker?

PSM: The challenge is that you must have a similar infrastructure and approach to business as a big company with far-greater resources. The advantage is that when you have a huge company you have to go by a board of directors and you spend time talking and in meetings and all the stuff associated with that--which is why I became independent in the first place. With the life I have now, I have partners, but I have the freedom to be able to do pretty much whatever I want. So I have an idea and I execute it. With a big company, you don't have that kind of freedom. I'm at a point where my experience is such that I don't waste my time. I've done so much already, I can concentrate and guide my desires in a way that is very pragmatic, but I can do things that big companies simply can't do.

The other element is that if you're producing say, 50,000 pieces or 5,000 pieces of a product, there is a lead-time of six months to a year to execute that product. It could be a big company or a small company, when that product goes out, the shareholders of the big companies want to be pretty sure that they get a return on their money and the right decision is made, which is why a lot of products are very safe and boring. There's no great creativity behind it, because creativity is dangerous. For a lot of people, whether it's a new piece of music or a painting or a watch, they don't necessarily understand it so you have to appeal to a wide market. For a long time, I really didn't care about trying to please people. It meant that I learned an awful lot and I've been able to play and experiment and do things that other people haven't been able to afford to do because of the constraints of the business.

So small companies have the flexibility, and that's what also makes us interesting to collectors, because we do stuff that is maybe reckless. We don't have the money to be able to guarantee the kind of volume or the stability that a big company has, but then, that depends on your drive, why you're doing things and for me – if you put me inside of a box and you said, you have to do this kind of fashion, I would have to break out of it.

YZ: Absolutely. Your wife Daniela has been your biggest supporter, can you tell me a little about her and how she has contributed to your success?

PSM: When I was developing the business back in 2000, before children, I was building all these repeaters and all of the money that I was earning went into the development of the business, so I didn't have enough money to feed us. Daniella was at a communications company and she basically funded our food, electricity and our life. So it was very much because of her that I was able to start in the first place. And then at a given moment in time we worked together for six years. She has always had an unfaltering belief in what I do. More so than me. I have the biggest – less today but I had for many years – the huge insecurity or inferiority complex and Daniela never doubted for a second.

I'm a big doubter when it comes to believing in myself. Now because of experience, what I've been able to do, what I've learnt I have confidence, but she always had that. The goal now, as I've grown older is to actually pull back a little bit and now my values are very much family orientated and I want to spend more time with them, and I'd say find a balance. I think whether you're a watchmaker or a businessman it's very difficult to find a balance and I know I lost it for many years. But I have the most incredible wife who, not just because she's patient but because of who I am, has accepted that. Daniela is one of the most extraordinary people I've met in my life and we've known each other for a very long time now. I don't think I would be doing what I am doing today without her.


Peter Speake-Marin

YZ: I have one last question, what are some of your goals for the next 10 years? What can we look forward to?

PSM: I have got a business plan and a strategy which takes me up to 2018 and the reason I did this was that I have so many different ideas that I got to a point whereby everything takes so long, the lead times and production development, that I knew the only way I could actually realize these ideas was by sitting down and doing a plan. That plan has been developing now for the past year. So I took down all the ideas and got rid of some of the things which were less strong, worked out different collections and now 2012 will be a big year because we put down the base of a collection. By the end of 2013 you'll start to see a new collection called Mechanical Art, which will begin to come out, which will be kind of wacky original pieces. They're classical, in the same Piccadilly case, but the execution of time is in a very different way. Then one idea tends to knock into a second idea, which knocks into a third idea and then it accumulates. But I put down this strategy and structure and I'm going to try to respect that path. That's a solid basis which is going to develop Speake-Marin into the future. It's constraining in one sense but you've got to have that to make a business grow. What I built into that is very much the artistic side so I can give myself leeway whether its maki-e or engraving or gothic pieces or the dragons or the artistic side of working with different materials to be able to still have a flexibility to make all those unique watches. Sometimes by commission, but for the most part ideas that I have that I want to execute. So it doesn't end, it never ends. The only place in life where the learning curve never ends is the creative domain. When you're in restoration or if you're making complications, you get to a point where you know what to do, but when you're in a creative domain, it's infinite. You can keep on going forever. And that's why I've done everything else, and I've learned and the learning curve has kind of finished. Where I am now is eternal. It's going to keep on going.

YZ: Thank you so much.


Speake-Marin Serpent



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