Once upon a time, British clockmakers ruled the timepiece kingdom. Names such as John Harrison and George Graham were highly respected for their many inventions that improved timekeeping. Meet Graham, the “British brand produced in Switzerland”, inspired by the 18th-century inventor.
The original Graham (1673 – 1751) was a notable geophysicist, clockmaker, and inventor, born in Cumberland.
He left his home in 1688 to work with Thomas Tompion (1639 – 1713), considered the father of English clockmaking and Graham’s mentor.
Among George Graham’s inventions, we can mention the orrery he and Tompion built around 1704. It is a mechanical model of the solar system, driven by a clockwork mechanism, with the Sun at the center and a planet at the end of each arm.
Graham gave this model to John Rowley, a London instrument maker, who produced a copy for his patron Charles Boyle, the 4th Earl of Orrery, from which the instrument took its name.
Another Graham creation was the great mural quadrant for the Greenwich Observatory, commissioned by Edmond Halley in 1725. The wall a mural quadrant is mounted at is precisely oriented on the meridian, allowing the observer to measure the position of a celestial body.
The 1990 book “The Chronograph”, by Professor Bernard Humbert of the Horology School of Bienne, calls Graham “the father of the chronograph“, because he was the first to design and build a horological mechanism (then for a clock) capable of measuring the duration of an event, the principle of chronography.
John Harrison (1693 – 1776), voted as the 39th greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll, was a self-taught carpenter and clockmaker. He would eventually receive the hefty prize – £20,000 of 1714 (£2,9 million today) – offered in 1714 by the British Parliament to anyone who created a precision maritime chronometer, a timepiece necessary to calculate the longitude of a ship. (If the longitude was wrongly calculated, it could send a ship to an enemy’s island, with serious consequences.)
George Graham helped Harrison in the development of the marine chronometer and even loaned him £200 in 1730 so that he could start the production of the H1, the first attempt to produce a precise timepiece.
But it was the H4, a pocket watch, that earned Harrison the longitude prize. Its accuracy was three times better than that required to win the promised prize. He was 80 years old and died three years later, but his invention – that had George Graham’s hand on it – caused a revolution in maritime navigation and saved countless lives.
Graham and Tompion are buried side by side in Westminster Abbey, an honor not easily achieved by a member of the middle class. It says a lot about the esteem in which he was held. The epitaph at his tomb says:
Here lies the body Mr. Tho Tompion who departed this life the 20th of November, 1713 in the 75th year of his age. Also the body of George Graham of London, Watchmaker and F.R.S. [Fellow of the Royal Society] whose curious inventions do honor to ye British genius whose accurate performances are ye standard of mechanical skill….
The Modern Graham Company
Even though there is no direct relation with George Graham, the modern brand evokes him with their motto, “Watchmakers since 1695”. It was created in 1995 by Eric Loth. Born in Bienne, he was involved in engineering since a tender age. His father was a professor at the engineering college of Neuchâtel and Eric graduated as a mechanical engineer there.
His career in the watch world started in Swatch Group, where he managed many plants. In 1992, he became a director at Gianni Bulgari Watches. Two years later, Loth founded a consulting company which had Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Bulgari Daniel Roth, and Gerald Genta e Jaquet-Droz as clients.
In 1994, he started to search for a brand in the luxury segment to express his own ideas. By that time he read about Graham and united this brand with another British-inspired one, Arnold & Son, creating The British Masters in 1995.
The association with the United Kingdom is not limited to the name. One of the company stockholders is William Asprey, chairman of William & Son. His family owns the uber-elegant store with his name in New Bond Street, with a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales.
In 2010, Eric Loth left as CEO of The British Masters, even though he still keeps a place on the board. This move allowed him to dedicate more time to projects such as contemporary art and car racing.
Sports and Graham
Using George Graham’s ideas as inspiration, virtually all Graham watches are chronographs with a substantial case, made with avant-garde materials and a casual DNA.
This is probably the influence of the founder on the design since Eric Loth is passionate about motorsports. This led the brand to be the official timekeeper of the insane Tourist Trophy at the Isle of Man, as well as of the annual rugby RBS 6 Nations tournament involving England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales (until 2013).
The referees received Graham chronographs to keep track of the duration of the games.
The brand also served as Official Timekeeper of the Swiss Gurnigel Bergrennen hill race, this year held on September 9 – 10: their Silverstone RS GMT was the official watch of the oldest motorsport race in Switzerland, with more than 200 racing cars and 50 motorcycles competing on a course with 17 bends and gradients of up to 12.6%. This race, dating back to 1910, became an annual event in 1968: the 3,734-meter course starts in the village of Dürrbach and ends in Gurnigelbad.
The sports association keeps on with a sponsorship of Al Ahli soccer club of Dubai and the Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One team.
The present Graham catalog comprehends the Chronofighter collection (with lines such as Vintage, Oversize, Superlight and Prodive), Silverstone RS and the Geo. Graham collection, with complicated movements.
The inspiration for the Chronofighter was the pilot watches of World War II. They had to wear gloves and so they needed watches with big buttons. These watches have, as typical, a lever that engages some chronograph functions, all of them on the left side.
Contrary to what you could surmise with a smirk, the left-handed winding crown does not come from the British driving habits, themselves deriving from the medieval times and their swordsmen. (The left drive, by the way, became mandatory there in 1835.) The design allows the wearer to use the chronograph lever with the right hand and, as a bonus, it does not trouble the movements of the left hand.
The Chronofighter Vintage GMT models have 44 mm steel cases with ceramic rotating bezels and come in four different colors (green, grey, blue or brown). A window shows the date at 12 o’clock, with the automatic Calibre G1733 providing a power reserve of 48 hours. The leather strap (in the color of the dial) has white stitches, conferring the model a definitive sportive look.
A beautiful and nostalgic timepiece is the Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art, with four different designs, each in a limited edition with 100 pieces.
As if the 44 mm diameter of the basic Chronofighter was not enough to ban it from the wrist of a suit wearer, the Oversize Target has a 47 mm steel case, also with a ceramic bezel, with a telemeter scale, allowing the user to determine the distance of a storm – or of the enemy’s gun…
The focus of the Chronofighter Superlight is, obviously, its weight. Made with a superlight black carbon composite, the 47 mm case is complemented by a dial made with the same material and a rubber strap.
Pic. 19 –
The Prodive is a version tested to resist to a 2,000 feet depth, more than what a gentleman’s need regularly. It has a monopusher chronograph system, automatic helium valve and luminescent hands for good legibility.
As any car racing fan may tell you, Silverstone Circuit is a racing track with 3.661 miles, graded 1 by FIA, meaning that it is apt for Formula One races. The Silverstone RS Racing watches have six versions, with different color and material alternatives, all with 46 mm diameter steel cases and resin bezels with tachymeter scales.
The movement employed in this collection is the automatic Calibre G1749, with 48 hours power reserve, chronograph functions (seconds, 30 minutes and 12 hours counters) and day-date windows at 3 o’clock. The hands have Super-LumiNova luminescent elements and the seconds counter is shaped like a brake disc, with a yellow, red or orange indicator, depending on the version. Some models come with a rubber strap reproducing a tire tread with colored inset.
The Silverstone RS GMT is powered by the automatic Calibre G1721, with flyback chronograph function: this allows the user to start a new time measurement with a single action. The black-smoked dial is partially skeletonized, showing the date disks; the hands have a luminescent covering, and a second-hour hand – complemented by the rotating GMT graduation bezel – indicates a second time zone.
And don’t complain about the 46 mm steel case: older versions of this limited edition (250 pieces) had a 48 mm diameter. It comes with a quilted leather strap, but it may be replaced by a metal bracelet or rubber strap.
Presently, this collection includes the Tourbillon, the Orrery Tourbillon, and The Moon watches.
The Tourbillon has three versions in limited editions: eight each for the brown and the blue dials, and 100 for the white dial. The case has a more subdued 40 mm diameter in pink gold, with a G1796 automatic tourbillion movement. The strap is of alligator leather, in a color that complements the dial.
The Orrery Tourbillon has two versions in pink gold 48 mm cases, each in a limited edition of 8 pieces. This extraordinary watch has a mechanical solar system model with 100 years calendar. On the case back, it has a year counter with planet correction indicators. (Moon: 7 years, Earth: 1156 years, Mars: 25 years). The movement was developed by Christophe Claret for Graham and it has Haute Horlogerie finishing. A crown at 2 o’clock sets the calendar on the case back and adjusts the planets; there is a corrector for the Moon and for Mars.
The Moon is also a limited edition (8 pieces), with a flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock, a retrograde moon indicator with a precision of 122 years: it returns backwards to zero at the end of its cycle of approximately 29 ½ days. The case is white gold, with a generous diameter of 46 mm; the dial has 48 diamonds (totaling 0.24 carats) with a hand-painted moon.
With their big-sized cases, Graham watches are definitely not for the suit-and-tie gentleman. However, they can certainly be used on weekends or in sports situations. The trigger on the Chronofighters reminds me of the safety lock on the crown of Panerai watches, another brand with massive cases and aimed at the sports crowd.
The vast majority of Graham watches has prices below $8,000 in steel – with the Geo. Graham models ranging from $50,000 to over $270,000. I’d say that these are aimed at the collector, so that leaves us to consider the sports lines.
The Chronofighters are in the same price range as steel Omega Speedmasters and Breitling chronographs, two brands with reliable movements and good track records. So, any buying consideration on a Graham will rely on your interest in having a different watch, perhaps a conversation (time)piece. It will appeal to the war pilot in the wearer, as well as to those who want to be connected to a great watchmaker of the past. Preferably with a big wrist!