To finish off –
Part 3: The Reference 1
Birchall & Taylor’s workshop is unique in Toronto and quite possibly in Canada. There are some watchmakers, and other small independent brands which have small workshops, but none are like this that I know of. Like some watchmakers in Switzerland and abroad, those curious about watchmaking can take a tour and see firsthand what goes into making these watches. I highly recommend that you take this tour. You will not only be treated to seeing the tools of the trade necessary for high horology such as lathes capable of micrometer levels of precision and kilns, but you will see firsthand the difference between a mass-production watch such as a Rolex, and something from the likes of Birchall & Taylor.
When seeing a watch that is as elegant and simple as the Reference 1 in pictures, it is easy for most to see a simple watch. This is even the case for some horology enthusiasts who look upon a picture of the front of the watch and somehow claim that the watch is powered by a regular off-the-shelf movement. This is why this interview had to be done.
When speaking to a few collectors about the Reference 1, they all mentioned that they would consider getting a watch such as the Omega Trésor which is priced similarly as the Reference 1. After having handled a Trésor and the Reference 1 many times, it is obvious that people need to see and hold the Reference 1 in person.
The level of polishing on the Reference 1 is simply astounding and absolutely obliterates the polishing and level of detail presented by the previously mentioned Omega and that of similarly priced Rolexes. The 316L stainless steel case has the quality of a precious metal when finished by hand on this level. Unlike metals such as gold, this watch will easily put up with more punishment before needing to be polished. The first time I held the Reference 1, I could not put into words why it felt as special as it did. That was until I remembered my impressions of when I held and wore a F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu.
This is further reinforced with the Reference 1-R and its upgraded hands and dial. I returned a couple of months after the initial interview to get some photographs of the new model and you can see for yourself that all of Brad and Charles’ work was definitely worth it. The hand finished hands add a level of richness that continues to delight the wearer, or the photographer in this case, as light continually plays with them throughout the course of the day. This addition did not occur over night. Months of hard work ensuring the utmost quality were accomplished to make this happen. The new dial is something that simply generates smiles because of its beauty. The Reference 1-R seems to have a new and more direct focus with the more detailed dial. The more detailed sub-seconds gives it a newly found and unexpected presence. The watch now has a presence very much like a professional athlete wearing a classic and perfectly tailored suit. There is a strength, purpose, and a constitution to achieve at such a high level that is simply not possible for most people.
The attention to detail of the polishing and overall finishing of the case was the leading contributor to the comparison being made. The enamel dial has a depth, warmth, and a constantly changing character that though very different from the Chronometre Bleu, incites a similar level of joy when gazing upon it. This is helped by the blackened hands which themselves have a dynamic personality and offer a wonderful legibility while being wholly endearing. All of this is substantiated when surveying the exhibition caseback and the micro-rotor by Vaucher at work.
The example that I got to wear and look at that day was Charles’ very own Reference 1. He has worn this specific example for over a year and he is a very active person. The strap, buckle, case, and overall finishing all looked exemplary. This illustrated to me the difference in the case finishing in such a watch when compared to offerings from Nomos, Omega, and other watches in my collection.
After the interview was over and I left, I was filled with a sense of pure joy. Naturally I was stuck in Toronto’s notorious traffic and I did not mind in the slightest. Over the last couple of years, my passion and love for horology started to suffer greatly. This was due to seeing my own watches mechanically fail in unexpected ways, experiencing poor service (while also experiencing amazing service as well from various brands such as Swatch Group Canada), and most importantly the closed-mindedness of a lot of enthusiasts who frequent horology events. Getting to hold and wear a watch such as the Reference 1 made me fall head over heels in love with horology once again. It reminded me why these wonderful mechanical works of art are truly special.
On-wrist, the Reference 1 has a glow that might be missed when looking at it in photographs. The case finishing reflects light perfectly and without any imperfections. When a timepiece such as this is finished to this level, its character is amplified when it reflects light. I have found this to be the case with certain cars whose aerodynamics comes to life as one walks around the car. These purposefully formed lines reveal the true intent of the vehicle when it is performing at its peak. The same is with the Reference 1. Whereas the sports car is exerting its dominance over physics, the Reference 1 is revealing its excellence and the many hundreds of hours that go into making one. The 1-R simply does all of this but better and with a new focus that is simply spellbinding.
That glow I mentioned earlier is only magnified by the grand feu enamel dial which somehow comes to life and has a very organic presence. To simply say that it looks wet would be to oversimplify this dial. The perfect printing and the beautifully crafted hands also have a large part to play in the watch seemingly being alive on wrist. The counter of the small seconds hand, which is an open circle, not only balances the top of the dial which has the logo, but it creates a tension. This tension arises from a sense of the seconds hand stalking time itself in a manner that is truly captivating. On their website there is a small video on the Reference 1 page which shows a rotating Reference 1 in action. Here you can start to get a glimpse of this character that this timepiece reveals. The strap and buckle hug your wrists with a level of comfort that results in the watch disappearing. The perfectly sculpted case also allows for optimal wearing.
In the weeks following the interview, I have found myself buying and reading many books on horology, its development, history, recent noteworthy watchmakers, and the engineering and design behind various movements. I have also started wearing my Nomos Orion 1989 more often. This is obviously because it is my closest watch to the Reference 1, in that it embodies the design elements of a great dress watch – a 38mm case, elegant and clean yet legible dial, and a beautifully decorated manual-wind movement.
I had gone into this interview with the goal of helping the masses and enthusiasts better understand the level of work that goes into a watch such as the Reference 1. I am not certain whether or not this will be the end result of this article. What I am certain of, however, is that my love for this field has been rekindled, and I am very thankful to both Brad and Charles for this.
Marshall: A big thank you to FWA for doing this in-depth interview with the good folks of Birchall & Taylor. We hope the rest of Team Matick will someday have the honour of visiting the studio as well.
For more details on the Reference 1-R, click here.
Apologies for the slight delay for part 3 but we hope that you’ve enjoyed this interview! More to come in the near future!
For Team Matick,