I can clearly remember my very first Baselworld and meeting Peter Speake-Marin. I didn’t know the “industry” as well as I know it today and I had no real conception of the entire industry and where Peter fit in. Today, some ten years later, I’m still in touch with Peter and I feel honoured to call him a friend. Over this past decade, I’ve followed Peter’s wanderings through the industry, and since Peter recently started a new venture (the Naked Watchmaker) I wanted to give you an overview of who Mr Peter Speake-Marin actually is. Soon, we’ll focus on him deconstructing movements, but first, an interview with the man himself.
MONO: Peter, can you tell us about your background in the industry.
PSM: I began my education in 1985 in London’s Hackney Technical college followed by WOSTEP in Neuchatel before working for multiple companies in the UK, like Watches of Switzerland on Oxford Street, Piaget on New Bond Street in London, Omega in Southampton, then six years developing a restoration workshop and network for Somlo Antiques in London’s Picadilly.
Then, in 1996, I moved to Switzerland to work for Renaud and Papi in Le Locle where I spent four years being involved in diverse activities from building tourbillons through to training and product development. I became self-employed in 2000, setting up a small workshop, both building minute repeaters (for clients) and I developed my first collection. In 2002 the collection was ready, I had made my own watches, and the next step was to turn it into a business. That challenge was met by Daniela Marin, who joined me in 2002, and together we turned a dream into a small business. At that time, there were few independent brands, and the AHCI was a lifeline to the outside world of collectors. We had no real prior experience in this specialised commercial world and made it up as we went along.
MONO: When you were running Speake-Marin, you also worked with some other brands. Can you tell us more about these collaborations?
PSM: The collaborations were an important part of marketing myself. As we didn’t have the funds for conventional marketing, every penny was spent on making the best product we possibly could. The internet, forums and the collectors’ community were the reason we were able to grow.
By 2008 I had made various collaborations, working with Harry Winston with the development of two tourbillons, MB&F with Max’s very first Horological Machine (HM1) on a technical capacity following the development and assuring the final quality of the watches, plus assembling the team to assemble the watches. I had been contacted to aid in the development of Maitres du Temps, prior to Max Busser, but the project didn’t start until near the end of my work with Max. I loved these collaborations and they made for a wealth of experience beyond watchmaking, to project management, but these projects took me away from our own brand and became a constant source of friction as Daniela tried to pull me back to our own brand. In 2008, I stopped all outside collaborations.
MONO: When we first met you told me about developing your own movement, and subsequently I came to visit you in 2010 when you had just finished the Marin 1 movement. Please tell us more about the Marin 1 and 2 movements, and what this development meant for Speake-Marin as a brand.
PSM: I had started making my own watches using elements from ETA and personalising the calibres. I later developed a unique calibre, called the SM2, which was used in a series of watches called ‘Marins’. The calibre was a highly over-engineered movement which was beautiful, but coincided with the 2007-2009 crisis and placed me under severe financial pressure to realise the final watches. Combined with problems with suppliers going bankrupt, stores selling our pieces but not reordering because they had so many other brands sitting in the safe.
This was a hard time, we turned to our bank UBS. Our bank manager and the regional manager came to see us, the regional manager shook our hands, looked us in the eye and told us not to worry, that they would help us out during this difficult time. The next day we received a message from our bank manager stating that the regional manager had told him that UBS does not help start-ups, hence they would not help us. Our bank manager quit UBS disgusted by their approach and we were left up sh*t’s creek without a paddle.
As we tried to steer through difficult waters, suddenly the company seemed to have two captains. At the end of 2009, Daniela decided to leave the company and sign over her share in the company to me. This made for a lot of ingenuity and the development of a more entrepreneurial nature. As hard as the period was, I came through it, wiser and richer in knowledge. However, had I listened to Daniela beforehand, life would have been considerably easier.
MONO: I had an inkling that things weren’t going very well and suspected a bankruptcy and all of a sudden you had investors. Please tell us what went down.
PSM: In 2011 business was actually moving positively and I had one of my best years financially. But I was tired, to the point of being burnt-out and needed help to continue to develop the business. Various investors came to the table but the final group I shook hands with were a French family who wished to expand into the luxury industry. With multiple successful companies around the world, finance would no longer be an issue for the company. In 2017 – 17 years after I had become self-employed – I left the company. The company still exists but for clarity, I am no longer in any way linked to the company I founded and built together with Daniela.
Leaving the company was one of the hardest things I have had to do, but it has brought me back to my passion. Before coming to Switzerland I would write articles in my spare time, trying to explain the beauty I saw in watchmaking to others. The Naked Watchmaker concept was an idea I had back in London over 20 years ago, photographing the deconstruction of watches from a watchmakers’ perspective and sharing them. Except, today the tools are better, quicker and more effective than anything I had used back then, and the ability to share the content infinitely more powerful. The Naked Watchmaker was officially born in September 2017.
MONO: And what’s it like sharing your knowledge and insights with others?
PSM: In only a few months we have thousands of followers around the world, but the site is still in its infancy. It is not a forum, think of it as an auditorium. I provide the content so the discussions can take place on the forums, and my aim is to work hand in hand with the forums to spread the word. I fell in love with watchmaking at an early stage and sharing what I see with anybody who has an interest in the nuts and bolts of watchmaking is enormously satisfying. I find that I begin to grow again. Every week we receive spontaneous thank-you emails, people taking a few minutes out of their time to acknowledge what I do, it is quite amazing.
Today I am being welcomed by multiple companies and exploring the evolutions they have undergone over the last 30 years. Blancpain is the most recent and the Fifty Fathoms marks the beginning of the first series of deconstructions on both Blancpain’s new watches as well as several examples of their vintage pieces.
Later this week, we’ll share some of Peter’s latest work with you, deconstructing a vintage and a new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and we’ll explain more of what Peter is doing.