A couple of weeks ago, we introduced a new brand and its first model, namely the Firle Sennen Automatic, launched on Kickstarter here. Having played with the watches for a certain time and keeping in mind the extremely reasonable price at which these timepieces are offered, we were pretty impressed by the result… Especially when you consider that the Sennen features a Swiss automatic movement and an enamel dial for less than GPB 400. Rare enough to tickle our interest. After a closer look at the watch, we thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with the man behind this concept, Will Martin, Founder of Firle Watches, to understand how and why he launched his brand and managed to create this beautiful watch.
As a reminder, before we talk to Will, the Sennen Automatic is a rather elegant, discreet and minimalistic watch with a modern 41mm diameter and shaped around smooth, curved surfaces. Besides this sleek and timeless approach to the design, the uncluttered dial with slender hands and indexes, what really got our attention was the presence of a nicely executed enamel dial, available in navy, green, black and white – a type of dial usually found in far more expensive timepieces. In addition to that, the watch is powered by an automatic Swiss STP movement, an ETA alternative (without date here, but also without a ghost position). Best of all is that you’ll be able to get this watch for GBP 380 (about EUR 425 or USD 460) during the Kickstarter campaign.
So it is time for us to have a conversation with Will Martin and to understand a bit more what’s behind Firle Watches.
Brice Goulard, MONOCHROME – What’s your background, Will? And why did you start a watch brand?
Will Martin, Firle Watches – I think my interest in watches stemmed from my grandfather. He was an expert and avid collector of scientific instruments, in particular microscopes – he had hundreds and hundreds of microscopes. As a kid, the dusty old microscopes bored me senseless. He knew this and found it amusing, but he still wanted me to engage with science and mechanics and get me thinking about how things worked. To do this, he would give me things to take apart; countless weekends spent dismantling all kinds of radios, antique guns, instruments and clocks and at each stage of the messy disassembly, he would explain the different components and their purpose.
And honestly, I was still vaguely bored until he got me to take apart a pocket watch. I remember opening the caseback and was blown away by the sheer number of components encased within this tiny ‘device’. It’s probably not surprising that to my parents’ dismay, I went and took apart the first watch I was given at the age of 21.
I studied Industrial Design at Brunel University, London and took a position at a company specialising in the design and development of renewable energy systems. During my first year, I travelled with the company to Shenzhen, China to meet a manufacturing partner and discuss current and future products. I was also given a tour of the factory and met a large number of employees.
It was an insight into a very different world, one that was particularly fast-moving and forward-thinking. I remember leaving China feeling completely inspired. The trip had opened my eyes to the world of business and manufacturing and because of that, I started thinking about designing a product of my own.
Your first watch, the Sennen, has a very clean, minimalist design. What was the inspiration behind this design?
I have tried to create a piece that resonates with my own aesthetic values; stripping away the excess noise, to focus on the beauty of one thing. It goes beyond aesthetics really… like when you step outside and into nature, all the clutter falls away and there is space to appreciate what’s in front of you.
In terms of minimalist design, minimalism has to showcase perfect balance. It can be done badly and when it is, it will be clumsy or bland. However, done right, minimalism can offer a powerful visual experience, which is what I’ve hoped to achieve in the Sennen. Each individual element has been painstakingly considered and functions in balance with each of the other elements: the Assagai-inspired hands and the way they rotate above the indices and two-tiered dial; the roundedness of the case and sapphire; the curvature of the lugs; and smaller details like the shadow gaps caused by the joining of the three case parts.
It features an enamel dial, something usually found in much more expensive watches. How do you manage to combine this dial with a Swiss automatic movement and still maintain the price at GBP 380?
My inspiration for the dials came from the rich and vivid colours of the Cornish coast. Trying to capture these colours within the dials was hugely difficult. I tried a matte type finish and a sunburst, before deciding on enamel. Enamel has a fascinating, eerie feel to it – the black enamel absorbs so much light, and the white dial, combined with the sapphire crystal, reflects the light like the sun reflecting off the ocean.
How did I manage to use an enamel dial and a Swiss movement for under GBP 400? Well, I didn’t really. The £380 Kickstarter price makes the margins very tight and I wouldn’t be able to sustain a business if I was selling at that price. However, as the name suggests, it gives Firle a kick-start. A good number of supporters are able to get hold of the Sennen, to feel the quality and see the beautiful dial and appreciate the Swiss mechanics encased within. The aim of the Kickstarter campaign is first and foremost to get the pieces out there and let the watch do the talking, whilst also contributing to some of the start-up costs.
How do you envision the future of Firle watches? Other plans in the pipeline?
I had a very clear vision when I started Firle. I wanted to create the most beautiful watch for under $1,000. I didn’t want to design a diver or a pilot, I didn’t even want to create a dress watch. What I wanted was simply to create a beautiful piece. For me, that means leaving the rule book at the door and forgetting somewhat about watch ‘types’. I focused on creating a watch that looked and felt a certain way, and then the specifics of each element to achieve that.
The design process for the next model is already underway, and my plan is to stick with my gut and never focus on watch ‘types’ but instead always to focus on producing the most beautiful watch I can.
I guess it is unconventional, but in an oversaturated market I believe you have to do things in an unconventional way. It may well lead to some obscure or ‘rule-breaking’ designs, but with everyone’s different styles or tastes, that’s what I love about this industry: I am never going to produce the perfect watch.
Don’t you think it’s a bit of a challenge to launch a brand right now, given the current situation?
It’s obviously far from ideal. I’ve done a full circle of questioning whether I should hold off from launching as the world definitely has bigger things going on at the moment, but ultimately, people want normality. I’d begun the process of getting Firle out into the world, and there were people excited for the release.
It’s worrying too when we’re set to head into a recession, but as I said earlier – I’m hoping the watch will speak for itself. Watches have long been an investment, a keepsake, something to pass on to future generations – and I hope and intend to be producing watches of that sentiment and calibre.
You can find more details about Firle Watches in our review of the Sennen watch, and also secure your example through the Kickstarter campaign here, ending in a couple of days.