Camron shares his passion for watches (with many chronographs and Indie watches) under the pseudonym @cucalichronoguy on Instagram. He’s not the average collector and his collection is pretty… eclectic. Today we’re talking about a Speake-Marin, but not one that you’d think of immediately when hearing the Speake-Marin name. It’s a chronograph, and to be precise, it’s the Speake-Marin London Chronograph First Edition. But there’s more to the collection of Camron than just watches. He’s also the owner of one of the craziest strap collections I’ve ever seen. Dozens and dozens of custom-made, highly personal, straps to match his personality. Today, in our newest instalment of the Collector’s Series, we’ll discuss this cool Speake-Marin chronograph with a restored vintage Valjoux movement, as well as Camron’s passion (dare I say obsession) for custom-designed watch straps.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – Are you a typical ‘brand’ collector?
Camron Uhr, @cucalichronoguy – First and foremost, I am principally a collector of chronographs (although I’ve added some neat indies along the way that aren’t chronographs). There is something about the subdial design that allows for a contrast of colour that just appeals to me as a collector and that colour contrasting serves as central focus of my collecting activities. Moreover, I have a one watch per brand rule…
And when did you find this London Chronograph by Speake-Marin?
I originally found Speake-Marin a bit prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. I remember I was researching independent watchmaking for the first time and was having a really hard time finding independent watchmakers that produced chronographs. Voutilainen had released one previously at a price point I couldn’t hope to pay and Torsti Laine’s chronograph had just gone out of production.
It was in that search that I stumbled upon Speake-Marin’s London Chronograph Second Edition (the one with the one red subdial) and I just fell in love with the design language of the brand. Big bold colours, huge fonts, really unique case shape and lug design, etc… Going down that rabbit hole I stumbled upon the London Chronograph First Edition with its combination of Roman and Arabic numerals and the 3-D dial design with the raised subdials – most chronographs actually sink their subdials down below the dial, so this was really unique.
And has the brand itself touched a soft spot, too?
My admiration for the brand stems largely from the man who founded it. Peter Speake-Marin is a watchmaker’s watchmaker if you will. He founded the brand in the early 2000s leaning on his watchmaking history with AP or a division later acquired by AP (that’s APRP, FG) to begin his manufacture. He started off with fairly conservative design language but eventually transitioned to bolder designs with his Spirits, London Chronographs, and a few other models which I all love. His Naked Watchmaker series demonstrates just how well Peter knows his craft and even that of other major manufacturers in the field and I love how he transitioned to education after leaving the brand. Today, the brand continues on, and if you look at recent releases like the London Chronograph (3rd or 4th generation now) and the Mint Dual Time, the brand just keeps pushing the boundaries of design and watchmaking, which is truly exciting for an enthusiast.
But why is this chronograph one of your favourites?
The Speake-Marin London Chronograph First Edition is one of my favourites for a couple of reasons. The first is the case. I typically try to steer away from large case sizes now that I’m more mature in my watch collecting. However, because of the shape of the lugs, the Speake-Marin London Chronograph at 42mm and a 51mm lug-to-lug length is bold on the wrist due to size without wearing as large as it might seem. In that same vein, the really stark contrasting colours of the dial really make it stand out to me. You’ve got the absolutely bonkers-huge 12 and 6 Arabic numerals (probably 8mm tall), one in black and the other in bright red, stacking up next to more normal-sized roman and Arabic numerals scattered throughout the remainder of the dial. The main hands are blued and absolutely pop in the sunlight while the chronograph hand and the minutes subdial hand follow the bright red colouration to separate them and make them distinct.
One other thing to mention is the insane finishing on the back end of the dial for the re-worked Valjoux 92 movement. The movement has been hand-polished and just absolutely gleams. The craziest thing about the finishing of the movement is that chronographs don’t have the standard ¾ backplate that a lot of 3-hander or sub-second movements have, so there is no consistent surface to apply a Côtes de Genève striping that you see on so many other decorated movements. That didn’t stop Speake-Marin though. They carry a subtle Geneva striping across the heavily 3-D movement such that individual subcomponents carry the striping consistent with the part directly above it spatially, even though they aren’t a consistent piece. It’s wild.
Lastly, and this is the biggest draw for me, is the 3-D nature of the dial and the really novel central movement mechanism of the hands. The subdials are actually raised rather than sunken below the dial – and they are visibly raised by 1-2mm, so you can physically see the depth and them lifting off of the dial. The central hand mechanism is fashioned into the shape of the Speake-Marin logo and as the hands turn, the logo turns as well, creating a visually stunning counter-movement while setting the time.
Since when has it been a watch you desired to possess?
I first saw this watch in mid-2019. I probably visited the listing of the piece and looked at photos twenty, thirty times over the course of two months. I read the articles published on the release of the piece probably five, six times – probably once a week. I just kept coming back to it. After about two months and knowing I was about to get my year-end bonus from work, I started negotiating to buy the watch.
It was listed on Chrono24 by a well-known retailer in the United States who was an authorized dealer for Speake-Marin, Timeless Luxury (now Watches of Switzerland) in Texas. I ended up connecting with some of the really awesome people at the store and Kevin, a gentleman who kept up with the dealer’s social media presence and I negotiated to purchase it. Once the decision to buy happened in my mind, it was a very quick process to reach a deal I was happy with and pull the trigger…
And do you wear it a lot now you have it?
I have a relatively large collection of pieces that all desire wrist time, so no one watch really dominates. Virtually every piece I own gets worn somewhere in the vicinity of two to five times per month, depending on outfit and occasion that I am going to on a given day.
We can imagine this one elicits a lot of reactions…
It’s strange. I thought as I got into wrist wear that I would get more people looking at them and making commentary, but it just isn’t the case. Out and about, I rarely get comments on my watches. I think my most commented-on watch is actually my purple Laine Gelidus 2 and that’s probably because of how bold the colour is on the piece. This one, while large and having a ton of wrist presence, just isn’t something that brings a lot of random attention.
That really changes when I go to visit with collectors in a setting where the goal is to look at people’s collections. In those settings, the London Chronograph does garner a decent amount of attention just due to its rarity, the design, and the unusual case and lug shape. The movement gets a lot of attention from people who really know what they’re looking for and looking at.
Overall, this really is how I would want it to be. I try not to be overly pretentious in my day-to-day activities so being under the radar with my watches lets them be exactly what they are and who they are meant to please – me.
Are you keeping track of the market value of the watch?
Market value on Speake’s is really difficult to peg just because they don’t trade like a Rolex, Omega, AP, VC, etc… At the end of the day, the target audience for a Speake-Marin is probably pretty narrow. Happily, the independent watchmaking scene is really growing, so I’m thinking that is changing. If I had to guess, I could probably find a buyer in the neighborhood of maybe $8-10K? I paid somewhere in the $11-12K range for it, so I’m pretty comfortable that I wouldn’t lose a ton of money.
What’s really cool is this is one of the very last pieces that Peter designed and developed before leaving the company to found the Naked Watchmaker. My watch is #33/33, so it is, quite possibly, the very last bit of Peter’s DNA on a Speake-Marin piece!
Do you have any other watch related passions?
You’ll notice in my photos that the strap on the watch is not the OEM-issued blue rubber strap that comes with the watch. My other passion is watch straps. I don’t use the word passion lightly. I have something in the realm of 100+ custom-designed watch straps that I’ve had commissioned over the last three years that really allow a collection to go from versatile to completely customizable in terms of the look I’m going for at any given time.
The other cool thing is that you meet such passionate watch lovers when you get to know the strap makers. Outfits like Cascadia Strap Co., which is a local West Coast strap maker with probably the most comfortable rally strap I’ve ever owned (I have 1 already and an order for 4 more in different colorways pending). HD Straps has probably made over 50% of my custom straps to date and the owner, Tuan Vu, is always reachable, responsive, and such a cool guy to know, even though we’re half a world apart. Aaron Pimentel from Combat Straps is my design guru when I really need something special for a particular piece – he designed a blue/salmon cashmere strap for my Daniel Roth Salmon Retrograde that wowed people at Cellini Jewelers in NYC enough to take down his info. And lastly Diaboliq Straps out of Germany – Joe is just a master when it comes to canvas straps with patches/stamps. The strap currently on my London Chronograph – a black canvas with stitched on mini Union Jacks was handcrafted by him and is just a show stopper on the piece (at least I think so!)
How would you describe your watch collection so far?
Eclectic and colorful would be the best way to describe my collection. I really struggle with black dial watches or pieces that are overly monochrome (no offence). Monochrome the publication = awesome. Monochrome on my watches = not my taste. To give some color (pun intended) on how colorful my collection is, it varies from a bright purple fumé dial Laine to Studio Underd0g’s watermelon chronograph to Zenith’s El Primero 38mm Final Edition with vibrant tri-color subdial layout to Bovet’s latest 19Thirty Fleurier release in its turquoise guilloché dial.
Wow! Are there still other watches on your colourful wishlist?
I’m looking very heavily at the independent space right now. I believe you know Pietro at The Limited Edition UK; he is a wizard in the independent watchmaking world. My plan currently is to work with him in the near future to get either a custom Chaykin Wristmon or Decalogue (I haven’t quite decided yet) or an Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force. Those are high on my list and I’ll probably order at least one of them this year.
I have a number of new pieces currently on order that haven’t landed yet. RGM out of Pennsylvania is making me a custom salmon-dial Bicompax out of a Valjoux 23 movement from the 1920s. For your readers, please – check Roland from RGM out – he is one of the only watchmakers in the US making his own in-house movements, including I think the only US-built tourbillon! I also have a custom-dial Ophion on order and am hopefully expecting to receive the 50th anniversary Snoopy from Omega sometime in the next… two years? Maybe?
Could you shed some light on the brands you think are doing interesting work out there?
There are so many interesting brands out there. I think all the typical ones that people know – FP Journe, Grönefeld, Chaykin, etc… are all amazing and really deserving of the “hype” they are receiving, even if it makes mere mortal collectors like myself sad that the possibility of receiving or affording one of their pieces unlikely.
In the realm of the possible for me, I think McGonigle is doing some amazing work. I absolutely love where Armin Strom has been headed over the last few years. Nivada Grenchen’s resurgence in the last year or two in the affordable chronograph space is something to behold. Alexander Shorokhoff is doing some really interesting things on the design side if you’re into a little bit of bolder colorations and artwork.
Capping off the list of amazing brands that I’ve grown to love is Bovet. Completely in-house for the most part, completely independent, and their designs and haute horology complications have just gotten better and better over the last ten years. I own one Bovet already and I think I could convince myself to break the one watch per brand rule for some of their other works of horological art.
Do you have tips for others who want the London Chronograph?
Speake-Marin has their 4th generation (I believe?) London Chronograph available on their website or through their retailers. It has some real advancements in technology and complications, adding a triple date function and moonphase to its capabilities. If you want one of the older versions, it’ll be a bit harder to find. You’ll have to find a collector willing to part with one (as of this writing, there is only one bronze-cased version available on Chrono24). Most of these were limited runs of 20-35 pieces, so they are fairly difficult to find.
And general tips for starting collectors?
The best advice I can give is to be targeted. The natural impulse is to go buy a bunch of small watches and build a 10-12 piece collection really quickly. This is fine, because I doubt I could ever influence a new collector to NOT make this mistake. Honestly, it’s not even that much of a mistake outside of the lost capital because you need those experiences to really refine and understand your taste as a collector.
Once you’ve got a good handle on what you want, be targeted. If an Omega Speedmaster is the watch you really want, don’t settle for a $1,500 chronograph that isn’t exactly what you want to “hold you over” – save for what you really want.
As a collector, I’ve now gone through two major consolidations to be more targeted each time. I bought about ten to twelve $500 – $2K pieces and then consolidated those to get a few $3-7K watches. A few months ago, I sold off about eight different pieces to be able to move upstream to my Bovet, Kudoke, and ultimately a Lange 1815 Chronograph, which should land by the time this gets published.
What role do peers play in your collecting journey? Are you in touch with other collectors?
Absolutely. This is the whole reason I am so passionate about this hobby. On its face, you’re definitely working with mechanical artwork that has an intrinsic value of its own to each and every collector. However, moving beyond the wrist art that we all love, it’s the relationships that actually make this hobby fulfilling.
I’ve gotten to know some amazing collectors in my local area through local watch meetups. They’ve been instrumental in helping me refine my tastes and just get wrist-access to pieces I would never be able to find in a store and then use those testing experiences to decide if I want to pursue something on the secondary market. I’ve been introduced to amazing collectors around the globe via Instagram and other social media platforms. I trade consulting memes with @Yourauthorizeddealer, I ask for collecting advice from @watch_artloji, and @watchfoodwithme introduced me to the world of Daniel Roth and a whole community of independent watch lovers. Graal Limited’s Zoe Abelson (@watchgirloffduty) worked with me to make my grail watch, a Lange 1815 chronograph, that I’ve been dreaming about a reality. The strap makers I mentioned before – Cascadia Strap Co., Combat Straps, HD Straps, and Diaboliq Straps – have all been such awesome connections and helped make my aesthetic desires to be a reality and flesh out this hobby even more.
At the end of the day, the community, the watchfam if you will, is what turns this from personal style and art to a fulfilling, relationship-driven, part of my life. It’s the MOST important aspect of collecting and the reason I love watches as much as I do today.