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Interview: Christopher Ward Watches


c4srs.jpgGo to Christopher Ward Watches, and see the work of a visionary. Chris Ward is an entrepreneur who returned to the watch industry, and has made a bit of a splash. His goal is to make “the cheapest most expensive watch in the world” at “the biggest ‘smallest’ watch company”.

He uses first rate Swiss movements, currently ETA 2824 automatic, ISA quartz, and Ronda quartz movements (but Valjoux may be on the horizon). Style and substance go together when these bits of quality mechanism are put inside tasteful cases with restrained dials and hands. The basic watches, in his Russell and Malvern lines are relativel small by modern standards at 38 mm, but some of the other chronographs and his dive watches are a little more typical at 42mm. The styling of the chronographs was also a pleasant surprise as it was not the customary Rolex, or Breitling homage, but a distinct designs that took a few risks without getting as gaudy as the fashion watches. The Russell line stands out as distinctive and classic, and one of the other lines was inspired by early IWC aviators’ watches, but still look good. The attention to detail comes through in the photos, and they certainly look like $500 to $1000 (U.S.) watches, but the collection averages about half that.

The prices seem low, and this sounded too good to be true. But Chris’ business model is everything, and provides the context to make sense out of something that seemed unlikely. I have never heard of anyone trimming costs as efficiently without sacrificing standards. The first thing to go was a physical store front. No showroom to stock and staff. He accepts a fairly slim margin, but that wasn’t that radical. Next is marketing. His model is the closest to pure word of mouth I’ve heard of. This is the big one. A web site, and … happy customers. He must be doing something right, as he continues to make plans for new models over the next few years.

Given the business model, it has been easy for some bloggers to make what I feel is an unfair comparison to Invicta. I say unfair, because Chris uses only Swiss movements, only does direct retail, doesn’t have a suggested retail price, and has much more reasonable actual retail prices. I asked him about this, and he said “I’m not going to knock Invicta….I think perhaps when they compare us to Invicta they do so on a price level only…and as we are direct to the consumer at a similar price point and they have more margins and middlemen to squeeze in then inevitably they are going to be a lower quality product..or so sense would say…however they do have more volume than us so perhaps they can and do offer a similar quality product as us …but I doubt it some how….the movement as you know is pretty important to customers, for others its about look or particular brand.”

In an earlier interview, Chris mentioned a design team in Tibet. This intrigued me, but I was actually a little disappointed when he said “That one was rather tongue in cheek….I was referring to hand painted dials …currently we have nothing on the cards but we do have contacts both in Tibet and China that can do specialised hand painting of dials”.
On the other hand, this opens the doors for some interesting directions in the styling of these watches.

I look at his watches, and I see a good variety of tasteful dress watchs and robust looking dive watchs and chronographs. The prices are surprisingly affordable, but the movements are excellent. I haven’t handled one yet, but I’m thinking that a C1 Russell, a C5 Malvern Automatic, or C5 Aviator Limited Edition might make a nice step up from my usual knockabouts.