Don Cochrane, Founder of VERTEX, On How To Re-Build a Brand and What’s Next for Vertex Watches
Re-incorporated 100 years after the company's creation by the founder's great-grandson, Vertex and its military-inspired watches are moving fast!
Some names come and go. That’s unfortunate, yet that’s also part of a company’s life. Nothing lasts forever. Still, some names remain iconic in selected circles of enthusiasts, and until recently, Vertex, a watch brand mainly known for its military watches, part of the “Dirty Dozen”, was among them… Things changed in 2016, as a certain Don, great-grandson of the original founder, decided to bring back the name “Vertex” at the forefront of the British watchmaking industry. And clearly, things are moving fast for Vertex and its new collection of military-inspired watches. To understand what it means to re-incorporate a century-old name and how to re-develop a brand, we decided to spend some time with the man behind Vertex; Don Cochrane.
Tom – MONOCHROME: What is your earliest horology-related memory?
Don Cochrane – VERTEX: We used to stay with my grandparents at least once a month, this was in the age of only three TV channels and programmes did not even get started till midday, which is hard to believe now. So, my grandparents would do what they could to entertain us. For me this was would be drawing watches and exploring the collection of movements held in the garage with my grandfather’s Loupe. One of my grandfather’s best tricks was taking the parts of the movement and stringing it out in a line, using pins, so I could see how each part interacted with the next.
Editor’s note: Don Cochrane is the great-grandson of Claude Octavius Lyons, the founder of Dreadnought Watches in 1912, soon to be named Vertex Watches (back in 1916). Even after its re-incorporation in 2016, Vertex remained a family affair.
How important was the legacy of your grandfather growing up? Was this a story you heard often as a child?
When I was a child I did not really appreciate things nearly enough and I would give anything now to be able to ask all the questions I have in my head about the business. I remember him being very proud of Vertex and also very sad at its demise.
What have been some of the main challenges in restarting Vertex?
The first and main challenge was regaining the trademark and the associated intellectual property, that was expensive but worked out really well. Luckily, although the Vertex name had been taken by another company, they only used it for clothing and not for watches. They were a family run company and understood the importance of Vertex to me so they made it a lot easier than they could have.
How long did it take from idea to the launch of the first product?
It took about 18 months. It all started with the death of my grandmother who was 99 ½ years old and the founder of Vertex, Claude Lyons’, daughter. It was her passing that was the inspiration to bring Vertex back, as much to keep her memory alive as anything else. 18 months later I presented the watch for the first time at our launch at the Duke of Wellington’s residence, Apsley House, in London, which was an amazing honour and we started deliveries two months after that.
How did you decide which model to revive first?
I think on the first day I decided to restart Vertex I knew I wanted to start with the W.W.W. Cal59. The W.W.W. Cal59 has an amazing story behind it. Those watches were designed to be fit for purpose. To be strapped on to the wrist of aircrew, soldiers and sailors who would then go on to liberate Europe. They were designed to assist people to make decisive, life-changing decisions. I don’t think you can ask much more of a timepiece. Being able to make a homage of that watch is something we are very proud of.
Can you tell us more about the story behind the Monopusher and the challenges involved in producing this watch?
I have always loved Monopushers, just like the W.W.W. they were designed to do a job. In 1944 Vertex was commissioned to make an Ordnance timing watch, this was intended for use in navigation and fire and even bomb disposal. When it came to producing a modern version, we worked with a number of movement manufacturers. In the end, Sellita won out due to their unerring accuracy and robustness. Importantly they were also prepared to make a manual wind version for us, which was crucially important to us.
Have you been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the relaunch of Vertex?
I really have, when I started I really did not think anyone would really care about Vertex anymore. As it turns out, many people are very passionate about it! Another wonderful surprise is how many fantastic stories are coming to light of past Vertex owners. From wearing a Vertex while measuring the D-Day Beaches a night before the landings on the 6thof June, to two serving prime ministers being given a Vertex to mark their time in office.
What are some of the ongoing challenges you face with production and distribution?
We work with an amazing production partner in Switzerland, who are famous for manufacturing at the very highest level. The one thing they cannot do its short-term customisation and we are seeing quite a lot of demand for that. Our big plan for this year is to have our own facility in London that can offer a point of sale along with a service and distribution hub. It will also allow us to prototype here.
What has been the biggest single surprise about running a watch company?
My biggest surprise has been how friendly the industry has been to our arrival, I thought there would be a bit of push back but some of my best friends now are other watchmakers.
And, the most important question of all: what can we expect next and when?
DC: The M100 and the M100B are almost sold out now and the MP45 is going really well, with a small run DLC version about to join the steel one (27 pieces automatic, 27 pieces hand-wound, both priced at GBP 3,800), we currently have 5 further completely different watches in prototype and one clock! If all goes according to plan we will show one of these watches at the end of the year, I could tell you what that is now but I really don’t want to ruin the surprise…
More details about Vertex and orders on the official website. You can also read our hands-on review of the Vertex MP45 MonoPusher Chronograph here.
Please ruin the surprise…
Seems nice and with long legacy. But GBP 3,800? You have a lot of other (and better) options at that price point