Another British watchmaker whose work focuses on the technical aspects of watchmaking, while leaning towards a more traditional aesthetic, is Charles Frodsham & Co – a heritage company revived by Philip Whyte and Richard Stenning.
Some of their projects have included work on a replica of John Harrison’s H4, which was begun by Derek Pratt, and Frodsham have most recently released the Double Impulse Chronometer, back in 2018. In addition to traditional methods, they don’t shy away from modern materials such as ceramic, and physical vapour deposition (PVD) techniques for printed text and tracks.
The engineering of their latest wristwatch is nothing short of a small miracle. Miniaturising George Daniels’ double impulse chronometer escapement took more than 16 years – what else can that be considered if not dedication to the craft? As Stenning commented in a New York Times article in 2012, quite a few years before the watch was officially released: “We’re not in a rush. It’s more important to get it right.”
Meanwhile, Belfast-based Stephen McDonnell differs slightly from the above examples in his staunch dedication to innovation over tradition, as evidenced in his work over the years. Best known for his collaborations with long-term partners MB&F, McDonnell’s work seeks to introduce something new each time. This ethos is present in the LM Perpetual Calendar, which featured a completely new system for calculating the number of days each month, as to the LM Sequential EVO Chronograph, which introduced the first-ever jewelled vertical clutch, and won the Aiguille d’Or at the GPHG in 2022 – making McDonnell the first Irish watchmaker to win the award.
McDonnell’s work marries design and making in an unusual way, thanks to his background and experience with both technical and practical aspects of watchmaking. Although his work focuses intensely on innovations within the movement, McDonnell makes prototypes of each of his watches in his own workshop. “I obviously work with a lot of CAD, for designing all the components, but prototyping the parts runs alongside that, because there’s no point in reaching the end of the project and realising that the bit you designed in the first three months doesn’t work,” he says. “So, every so often there will be technical milestones, which happen as soon as I come across a section of mechanism which seems that it could be problematic. I’m not creating a complete movement or watch, but just enough parts to analyse if this might be viable, and this happens a lot. There’s a lot of things that even the best computer modelling can’t predict until you physically try it in the metal and put it together to see how it performs. It’s particularly the case whenever you’ve got parts which are fast-moving and have to take dynamic forces into account.”