It is only when consumers are educated in this field, see the watch with their own eyes, and operate it with their own hands that they can then fully appreciate the level of painstaking work that goes into each watch.– FWA, 2021
It is difficult for some of us to see any silver linings that resulted from the pandemic. For those of us who escaped the grasp of the COVID-19 virus itself, its economic impact left a deadly wake across most industries. Independent watchmaking, a darling segment of the watch industry, was not left without its casualties.
In 2019, we at The Matick Blog were privileged to take you on a journey with Birchall & Taylor, an independent watchmaking brand led by two gifted young watchmakers based in Toronto. As the pandemic marched on through the following year, the new brand saw signs that they would have to close their doors. As orders were cancelled and having their investors impacted by the global economic downturn, Charles Birchall and Bradley Taylor were forced to close operations on their beloved business.
Birchall & Taylor not only brought a high-end watchmaking studio to Toronto, but it was headed by two brilliant young watchmakers. Resolutely professional, kind, generous, and industrious, anyone who stopped by their workshop left with a sense of pride. This sense of pride was magnified by how the workshop grew in such a short time from the success of their first watch, the Reference 1. Shortly after having moved into their new workshop, the two watchmakers brought on another watchmaker to help with the workload, Theren Wang. Like Messrs. Birchall and Taylor, Mr. Wang is also an extremely capable watchmaker who studied in Switzerland. Mr. Theren’s quiet demeanour and amazing sense of humour added an air of sophisticated yet understated comedic subcurrent to the already charming workshop. With the addition of Mr. Taylor’s newly adopted dog Romy as the resident shop dog, Toronto suddenly was home to one of the most captivating houses of horology on the continent.
However, any grief felt for the closing of the business was short-lived. Charles Birchall decided quickly to go back to school and to arm himself with more tools for his future ventures. Bradley Taylor threw himself into his work and started mentioning that he might release a watch in the near future. This was a watch that he had already poured hundreds of hours of work into over the last two years.
A few weeks after the decision to close the business, I met with Bradley to go on a socially-distanced walk with his dog, Romy. Before our walk he said that he was moving to Vancouver. Instead of being sad for having a friend move across the continent, I got excited, for the beautiful landscapes of British Columbia are something that all of us in Ontario admire from afar. He then showed me three prototypes of his new watch, the Paragon. Before we get into the interview with Bradley Taylor, I will go over my impressions of these watches.
As Mr. Taylor showed me the three prototypes for his new watch, a certain song started quietly resonating in my mind. As a professionally trained classical musician, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne/Ciaccona, Partita for Violin No. 2 started slowly blaring louder in my head as I handled the watches. At first I did not recognise the significance of this until later that evening, after settling into my reading chair from being on the road for many hours. The watch shared many characteristics and features with one of the greatest written works of all time – regardless of genre or application. An exhausting performance and accomplishment for any performer to play in a mediocre manner, this composition offers the very best of the Baroque era. This masterwork of classical music shared many of its features with the new Paragon from Bradley Taylor, these being a focus on precise detail that leaves nothing to chance, and vividly contrasting elements, tones, textures, and ambiance.
From the very first interaction, this watch impresses. The crown invites winding with a beautiful shape. Here is where the watch’s first surprise awaits its prospective owner. This dress watch has a screw-down crown, boasting a water resistance of 120m. This excited me personally for this watch has more than enough water resistance for most non-technical dives. The engagement of the crown and winding action leaves no room for distasteful wiggles or unrefined grating sounds.
Viewed through the exhibition caseback, the excellent Vaucher 5401/32 provides a stunning view. This hand-finished movement puts other machine-finished movements from contemporary mass-market brands to shame. There is a reason why this movement alone costs thousands of dollars. This 30-millimetre movement has 160 parts, 29 jewels, and uses four gold blocks in its variable inertia balance resulting in a 49-hour power reserve at 21,600 beats per hour. All of this is made even more impressive when realising that the movement is only 2.6 millimetres thick. This movement is used by many other independent watchmakers who occupy this space, but also by larger brands whether it be the independents from Japan’s Kikuchi Nakagawa, Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie, to larger brands such as Hermés and of course Parmigiani Fleurier which owns Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier.
The 5400 series of movements see duty in various watches. The most affordable option housing this movement is the Slim D’Hermés, but this movement is used as the basis for independent watchmakers to showcase their strengths in case, dial, and hand design such as the aforementioned Nakagawa, the now closed Birchall & Taylor, to Bradley Taylor himself. Every level of this movement sings with its own voice, as if they are different movements in a carefully composed Baroque musical composition. The plates mirror their function in strength with strong bold Geneva stripes that invite one to look deeper into the movement. The staggeringly detailed 22-karat gold rotor foreshadows elements on the front of the dial, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. The contrasting finishing of all the gears is punctuated by the perlage background that directs one’s eyes onto the gold balance wheel, the second to fourth wheels, and the customised micro-rotor. The hand polishing on the edges of the plates demands your attention in a manner that is simply not present on less expensive offerings on the market. When one knows what they are looking at, there is not doubt that they are getting their monies worth here. This is just one of many examples of the attention to detail apparent as you turn the watch over and are greeted with the dial.
For sourcing his dial, Mr. Taylor went to Swiss dial manufacturer Comblémine based in Saint-Sulpice. Many know this company who recently won The Men’s Watch Prize at the Grand Prix D’Horlgerie De Genéve with their 28SC, because of the dials in its owner’s watches, Kari Voutilainen.
Working from its borders inwards, the same pattern on the micro-rotor outlines the dial and is in the small-seconds sub-dial. These raised sections add depth to the watch, and are greeted with the painstakingly hand-finished numerals designed by Canadian typographer Ian Brignell.
The hands of this watch are what stood out to me. This makes sense when you find out that it takes Mr. Taylor around 20 hours to finish each hand himself. The gothic design makes this timepiece slightly nefarious in character. I could easily see this watch being worn by a supervillain in a movie. Personally, I have never encountered such a hand design with what seems to look like a blend of a leaf and a lance hand, and the tip of a teardrop hand. This timepiece has its own character altogether making this watch truly unique. This unique character and the concentration toward every possible consideration is highlighted with the tip of the minute hand gently pointing downward towards the minute track. We shall learn from Mr. Taylor himself as to what made him design such hands.
With these raised, engraved, hand-finished and engraved elements, the function of this dial is executed perfectly as it entices your gaze toward its act of time-telling. Bringing one’s attention toward the dial is accomplished by the hand-finished case.
The Case and Its Elements
It has been said by many enthusiasts and collectors that steel is the most precious metal in watches for it stands the test of time the best when compared to white gold. If one is planning on wearing one’s watches frequently and leads a non-sedentary life, steel is desirable for it can resist incoming impacts and be polished effectively if needed. The 316L stainless steel case is expertly hand-finished. When finished and polished to these levels, the case starts to have a certain glow. It reflects light back to one’s eye in a carefully choreographed manner. The bevelled lugs act in unison with the aforementioned elements in training the eye towards the dial.
A unique feature which has nothing to do with the watch’s ability to tell time or that of legibility are the bespoke screws fastening the exhibition display caseback. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Taylor in person, this should give you a window in to what kind of human he is. It was not uncommon for people who were visiting the Birchall and Taylor workshop to see Mr. Taylor take a break for a few minutes. Instead of going for a walk or checking his phone while on his break, he would shift his focus towards inventing new items unrelated to watchmaking. I will not say what these items were, but this act of refreshing his state of mind before heading back to work speaks volumes as to the brain behind such a watch. The screw is probably the smallest square-headed screw in use to date. The design of this screw came from Canadian inventor Peter Lymburner Robertson. We shall hear from Mr. Taylor himself as to why he chose the Robertson Drive screw and its strengths in the interview portion. And yes, each screw is hand-finished by Mr. Taylor himself. This is the level of labour one should expect in such a watch.
Pricing and Availability
The Paragon is being sold for $22,000 USD which is in line with its competitors. These competitors offer haute horologerie levels of workmanship and detail in every facet of watchmaking. The one point which makes me personally sad is that the Paragon will be limited to 12 pieces. Due to being a single-person operation, Mr. Taylor can only produce so many watches himself. Those who collect watches and who are not strangers to spending this much on a watch may see this as a positive. As someone who has come to know Mr. Taylor on a personal level, I would like to see as many of his creations out in the world as possible, which brings me to my final point before the interview.
Most people question the existence of luxury watches. These people are only capable of questioning what is within their capacity of understanding and accumulated experiences which have shaped their opinions. I have heard some people question the point of a $800 Tissot Visodate. I have had others question as to why I would spend so much money on my Omega Speedmaster. I have seen many people who have become accustomed to purchasing watches under $10,000 frequently dispute the worth of watches such as those by F.P. Journe, A, Lange und Söhne, and even Patek Phillipe. These doubts are amplified when presented with a brand that they have not read about in their much-frequented online watch blogs and publications.
What distinguishes varying levels of price ranges in the field of horology is not based simply on features. We are trained since childhood to hold up a product’s worth based on its features and surface levels of refinement. The level of workmanship for high-end watchmaking is similar to that of cars. The hours needed to finish each part of Mr. Taylor’s watch are not apparent to the untrained eye when viewing a compressed photograph on a screen. For someone who is unfamiliar with cars, seeing an all-black interior of a new $600,000 Rolls Royce Phantom would look no different to the interior of an all-black $40,000 Mercedes A Class in terms of refinement. It is only when consumers are educated in this field, see the watch with their own eyes, and operate it with their own hands that they can then fully appreciate the level of painstaking work that goes into each watch.
Knowing this, we will start our interview with Mr. Taylor with a harsh question, simply because we can.
Furry Wrist Abroad (FWA)
Bradley Taylor (BT)
FWA: So before we dive into the pleasantries, I want to ask you why, but more importantly what. Why have you decided to design such a watch, and what in the world drives you, a single-person operation, to produce such a refined timepiece? Are you trying to make the rest of us look bad?
BT: Well that’s very kind of you. I can’t escape the allure of watchmaking. Making watches, like any other craft, requires practice and commitment and I am grateful my most recent work has been received so well.
FWA: Alright, with that out of the way, how is Vancouver treating you and has the move been a difficult one for your personal workshop?
BT: I am really enjoying Vancouver so far. It’s tough during the pandemic to create roots here but the area has so much to offer. The workshop has transformed from 2000 square feet to 80, so it’s required a lot of reorganizing, but I have managed to fit everything and can use my equipment with a more modular approach.
FWA: Every songwriter, author, and designer draws inspiration from other great works and in some cases relatively unknown achievements from the past. When initially designing the Paragon, were there any watches or pieces of design such as architecture which inspired you to give birth to such a unique watch?
BT: Of what I can consciously recall, themes of gothic architecture and storms managed to imprint themselves on the Paragon. The opposite-direction guilloché on the dial takes inspiration from a whirlpool.
FWA: The Paragon’s character is something which immediately made an impression on me. As you recall, while sitting in the lobby of your old condo in Toronto I mentioned that I could easily see a scene featuring the Paragon in my mind. This was one of a movie villain every day waking up, and gazing upon his vast collection of high-end watches, and selecting the Paragon every single day before he moved on to his wardrobe. The watch’s hands partially had something to do with this. But the unexpected tough and sturdy nature of the watch with its 120-metre water resistance could be felt when handling the watch. Before we get into the specific design aspects of the watch, what made you decide to make the Paragon go almost anywhere the human body could before risking decompression sickness?
BT: I got tired of worrying about my watch when I went away for a weekend or might be near water. I challenged myself and my casemaker to build the case for the Paragon to offer a much higher water resistance while preserving the appearance of an elegant watch. The screw-down crown provides an extra layer of security, and makes the sloped crown a pleasure to operate.
FWA: The merits of the Vaucher movement are well-known, but that of the dial manufacturer Comblémine may be a little less known to our readers. Their work speaks for itself when one looks at their long list of dials that were made for other brands. One such example is the intricate dials that they made for Sarpaneva. What about your design lead you to this specific company?
BT: It’s important to note that Kari Voutilainen purchased Comblémine in 2014. For anyone not familiar with the quality of Kari’s work, I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to acquaint yourself with it. There is a reason many important names work with his dial-making company, including MB&F, Grönefeld, Fiona Kruger and others – they operate with the same pride in their work as their customers do. When you work with them you can be confident your vision will be executed to a high level.
FWA: I mentioned the hands as a primary design feature which your watch utilises. What drew you to such a design? Furthermore, help our readers understand the process in making these hands. This not only being the hand finishing required, but the level of work required in producing the various colours of the hands on offer.
BT: It is quite rare to see purple tempered hands on a watch; the purple colour is much more challenging to execute than blue, as you are provided a very limited amount of time to remove the component from the heat while it oxidizes. Often each hand will have to be retempered multiple times, being polished each time in between to make a new attempt at achieving uniform colour.
FWA: Besides the logo, the typeface used for the hour indicators are the only other pieces of writing on the dial. Many can be forgiven for thinking that they are Breguet numerals, but if one actually pays attention, they will then realise that they are nothing alike. What was the collaboration process like with Mr. Brignell, and how did you two land on this typeface?
BT: I had started designing my own typeface; thankfully after going in circles for a few hours I recognized I would not be able to meet my own standards. Fate and a Google search led me to Ian Brignell, an incredibly accomplished Canadian typographer who has created an identity for so many brands, one of my favourites being the logo for Paramount pictures. Ian was excited by my project and spent time in the workshop learning and studying watch dials before creating the numeral set featured on the Paragon. Ian also created the wordmark for my name on the dial.
FWA: Like the numerals on the watch, you decided to use a Canadian design for the screws on the Paragon, the Robertson Drive screw head. What strengths does such a screw head provide and why did you scrupulously decide to hand-finish each screw in such a laborious fashion?
BT: I’ve always taken pride in the fact that most common screws in Canada are square drive, invented by a Canadian. It didn’t come as an immediate idea until I considered more ways to integrate Canadian elements into my work. The square head is challenging to manufacture but provides far more security than the typical flat head used, it is much harder to slip out of. Like all elements on the watch, the caseback screwheads receive the same attention and hand finishing.
FWA: The watch is available in either a black, pale blue, or purple dial. Each one has its own specific character; the black being very formal and timeless, and the pale blue being the watch that I have obsessively deemed as sinister. Which dial colour came first and speaks to you the most?
BT: Pale blue, although I conceived the watch originally with a black dial, I really enjoy the difference in character when the dial or hands are made in different colours.
FWA: If a potential client were to come to you with a different colour in mind, first is this possible, and second which other dial variants did you consider that may not only work for the Paragon, but offer a distinct character from the rest of the colour options?
BT: Absolutely, many of my clients so far have chosen to have a custom dial colour for their Paragon. Salmon, or gold was a choice for my first round of prototyping – although I didn’t have the most recent design made in salmon, it looks excellent. I’m excited to see some of the new colours materialize as I begin to work on the series.
FWA: Lastly, looking at your work, it is obvious that you are a watchmaker for life and that the Paragon is only the start for your new self-titled watch company. Given this timepiece’s distinct and unmistakable personality, where do you see your work leading you in the near future?
BT: I have already begun some discussions with a collector about creating something special once I finish work on the Paragon series. For now I am looking forward to focusing on the Paragon.
FWA: Thank you once again for yet another probing interview, and as lovers of horology, we at The Matick Blog truly wish to see your work on many more wrists in the future in the decades to come. Some people may not know this, but you are not even 30 years old yet. This bodes very well for the field of independent watchmaking in our opinion.
BT: It was a pleasure, as always – thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about my work.
For Team Matick,
Marshall: We at The Matick Blog would like to take this opportunity to profusely thank FWA for deciding to once again, let us run this amazing in-depth interview of Mr. Taylor on our humble little domain.
For more info, check out FWA’s work here and Mr Taylor’s latest creation <a href=”http://<!– wp:paragraph –> <p>https://www.bradleytaylor.ca/paragon</p> <!– /wp:paragraph –>” data-type=”URL” data-id=”<!– wp:paragraph –> <p>https://www.bradleytaylor.ca/paragon</p> here.