VERTEX | In defence of time
With no way to tell the time, the world seems to spin on without us. Sure, we can see the shifting clouds overhead, and the darkening of the day, but our place – our purpose – has no orientation when we don’t have the facility to track the seconds ticking by. It’s something we take for granted now. We’re never more than a reach away from knowing the time. This most vital of gages is so prominent that it’s secondary to the frivolous – on the screen of a smartphone or drowned in exorbitant metal and stones.
The timepiece is a sacred tool and Don Cochrane has that very sentiment running through his veins. So much so that in 2016 he resurrected his great-grandfather’s watch company from a 44 year hiatus. Vertex had provided watches for British armed forces since World War I through to the Korean War. The initial company was founded in 1916 by Claude Lyons. A quartz crisis in the 70s forced Vertex to close its Hatton Gardens store for good, but its mark on history was resolute. Don Cochrane set out to recapture to golden age of his heritage.
“It was an epiphany. I wanted to create something where the value wasn’t defined by what you paid for it.”
Cochrane began by assembling ledgers, parts, watches and stories, and gleaning knowledge of the company from any relative who could help him. He was lucky to regain the trademark and brought in designers to splice the DNA of the crucial artefacts he had accrued – watches that had seen wars nearly 100 years old, watches that hung upside-down on a nurse’s lapel so they could flick it up to check the time, miniature bedside clocks resembling zippo lighters and, of course, the watch issued to soldiers in World War II that was to be the basis of his reimagined comeback model.
Vertex is a part of the dirty dozen – a collection of 12 watches commissioned by the Ministry Of Defence for British soldiers during the Second World War. For many soldiers, this was their first watch – a collective rite of passage before heading across the channel to defend the free world from Nazi tyranny. Their watch was a meditative constant amongst so much chaos. The ritual of winding up the mechanism and making something work was a time a lot of soldiers treasured. That sure and steady pulse, keeping them grounded when the clamour of war distorted reality around them.
“Our watches have lived and breathed and been down in the muck.”
There are stories of soldiers losing their watch, getting lost and having to ask for the time at every stop between France and Germany. These watches were built for purpose: waterproof, glow in the dark and reliable as hell. Their aesthetic was purely practical and now, with the revival of Vertex, Don Cochrane has recaptured that wartime ethos for the M100. This new watch has all the DNA of its military-issue ancestor. It looks like a relic in the best possible way. They’ve even included the Crown’s hallmark onto the face of the watch. Its spec., however is modernised:
- Hand wound, Custom ETA 7001 mechanical movement with rhodium finish and Cotes de Geneve decoration.
- A moulded Super-LumiNova dial (the original model was radioactive).
- A brushed steel 40mm case – slightly larger than its predecessor and waterproof up to 100m.
- Peli case packaging with two straps – a black leather two-piece strap, with contrasting red lining and a bespoke nylon NATO-style strap in Admiralty Grey.
Cochrane wanted the initial launch of the M100 to be a meeting of enthusiasts. 60 people were invited to buy the piece and each of them was allowed to bring five guests. Each of those five were permitted a plus one. Failing an invite, a referral from active military personnel would have sufficed. This ensured a grand sense of community at the launch event and the foundation for Cochrane’s philosophy to spread, organically.
“Some of our customers have the Patek Philippes and Cartiers but they’ll wear their Vertex because they know they’re not being judged. They are still unique. They are a part of the history.”
The dirty dozen counts esteemed watchmakers Longines, Omega and IWC amongst its ranks, while others are lesser known or else defunct. The beauty of this collection is not in the opulence of each specific brand but in the mutual necessity for flawless practicality. All military operations depend on precise timing. Bombing runs, invasions, bridge demolition – all impossible without a trusty watch on your wrist.
This appreciation for functionality permeates collectors and enthusiasts alike and, although a complete collection is worth between £50,000 and £100,000, you can start by spending as little as £500 on your entry timepiece. But that’s beside the point. To Cochrane, the watch isn’t a symbol of wealth, but rather a conversation piece. Vertex is never going to produce a watch that flashes or turns heads. Wear one, however, and you might find yourself swapping tales with one of your own. Future designs will, of course, be dictated by a storied past but Vertex will continue to keep us grounded in the present.