Christopher Ward: A conversation about the Sealander
Updated: May 1, 2021
Christopher Ward are a UK based watch brand who pride themselves in providing the “cheapest most expensive watch” you have ever owed. As an individual who has owned and owns some rather impressive time pieces, the first time I got to handle and wear a Christopher Ward watch was a true pleasure. They really are extraordinary value for money. Below is a conversation between myself and Mike France, one of the co founders of Christopher Ward, about their newest release, the Sealander.
Omar Hi Mike, its an absolute pleasure to be speaking to you again, thank you for your time. I genuinely find this new release very interesting. So if you could tell me, how long have you guys been working on this project and what what is what, what what what does it kind of mean to you? The Sealander project?
Mike France Hi Omar, the pleasure is mine, thanks for wanting to learn more about the Sealander. We started thinking about it a couple of years ago when actually the idea was we were we were talking about doing an integrated bracelet watch, which we're still thinking about. We are still doing some early work on it, but we didn't feel we had something that was new enough to say about integrated watches, something...
Omar That hadn't already been said.
Mike France Yeah. And therefore, we couldn't find the sort of angle that we thought was interesting enough. And we still haven't to some extent. We're still working through. We think there's a there's an opportunity somewhere and we've gone through several iterations of design, but it's not right yet, so it'll come. But in discussing the integrated bracelet, of course, it led to a discussion about bracelets. Apart from a few of Rolex's dress watches, 95 percent of their watches are on a bracelet and therefore we were seeing increased participation of our own bracelets. So we felt, well, OK, if that's happening, one of the gaps we have in our collection, and was surprising it stil was a gap was a sort of hybrid sports watch that doesn't have to be on the bracelet, but the mix will be leaning towards bracelets, which really is borne out by the likes of the datejust that perpetuates the architecture as this kind of sports hybrid.
Omar Yeah, there's kind of one watch does it all type of thing.
Mike France Yeah. Everywatch in a sense and by the way, we're registering that name so. it's probably the biggest single important platform we're missing.
Omar It was very weird when I got the email and I looked at the at the the marketing material that you guys have got. I looked at it. I thought they must already have something like this in the collection. This is a no brainer.
Mike France You're right, then it just suddenly seemed like a no brainer. So what could we then bring to this category that was particularly Christopher Ward and what is suggested to us, and hopefully people think we deserve it, is it particularly appeals to us in some regards because particularly the Sealander Automatic, which is the entry level Sealander which we retail from £595, which is. for what people are going to be wearing, it is a truly exceptional price. I mean, without any compromise in terms of the engineering of the watch. So the the aim was to deliver beautifully engineered watches. These are watches - we will talk about the elite in a second, because that does have some frills - but the automatic and to a large extent the GMT, which, you know, for watch afficianados like yourself, will see an obvious nod to the Explorer two. Which again is one of the most iconic watches in the canon, which we didn't have anything related to. I mean, I do think that the industry owes a debt of thanks to Rolex. I don't know what the industry would do without it, but anyway. The beauty of these watches to some extent is they they they play to the things that we love and I love in particular about what is is. There's a great beauty in simplicity, isn't there? Only if that simplicity is delivered to an extremely high standard. So when you pare things down, as you will, as you know only too well, does it matter whether it's a simple white T-shirt? You can't get a more simple, functional piece of clothing than a white T-shirt, but a white T-shirt badly versus a white T-shirt like you're wearing well, you know, is dependent on the sort of fabrics that you prefer to invest in, the quality of the quality of the fit and the quality of the sewing. Yeah. And so there's a huge difference between a white t shirt that's really exceptional and a crap quality. It's true in everything that the simpler a product no matter what it is, the more obvious errors are, more obvious shortcuts are, and particularly to the practised eye. Yeah, what you have in the Sealander collection, just as you have in 'Echo' collections that exist in most other brands ranges, is, is this sort of pared down simplicity, which really plays to two things we enjoy and like. We toyed with even taking the date out of the Automatic and the GMT but decided to leave it there. But but it was pairing it down, making it beautifully simple, beautifully engineered and obvious to anybody wearing it. It is a piece of exceptional watchmaking without any frills. And at a price that we believe nobody touches for that level of engineering. The people can argue the point but deluded though it may be that's what we believe. So. It's a price that is very, very CW.
Omar I just think it's I think you guys have taken it to a next level with this price. The thing is £700, £800, £900. That's kind of what I'm more accustomed to when it comes to Christopher Ward. So to see £595 for an automatic, thats pretty impressive.
Mike France Totally. As you know, we have quite a simple retail cost price, 3 times. Therefore, the price of, say our Trident Pro you know, the dive watch which is £795, the only difference between that and Sealander is it doesn't need to go to 600 metres in terms of water resistance. You don't need crystals as thick. Crystals cost a lot of money so the thinner the crystal the more saving you can make on that. That's one key component of the cost saving. So you don't also need a ceramic uni directional bezel, the Sealeander is a fixed bezel. Ceramic is very expensive so therefore you take everything else about this watch is engineered to exactly the same standard as our Trident Pro, and all we've got is the savings that we've made by not needing to have a ceramic bezel, not needing to have as thick as a crystal, we pass as we do, we pass on to the customer. And that means the multiple times three is rounded up to the nearest hundred it is £595. So we're really not trying to be clever about the the pricing it's straightforward because we're not quite enough to be clever about it we're just straightforward so if it costs us that we multiply by three and that's the price.
Omar What are the proportions of these pieces and how have you integrated the light catcher design that I love so much in to the Sealander collection?
Mike France Well the Automatic is 39mm and the GMT and Elite are 40mm. The architecture of the cases are out Light catcher design, but unlike the C65 Sandhurst where we soften the lines because there is a sort of a retro feel to the C65 collection. Whereas the C 63 Sealander is much more contemporary in a sense in terms of it's much sportier, it's sharper, the lines are more dynamic and much more closely relate to the C 60 Trident Pro, which is again our contemporary dive watch. But it's a brand new case built around that. We think we'll have the first Sellita 3302 GMT movement. So the 332 is is notable in that it's its power reserve is gone from forty two hours up to fifty six. And also what they've managed to, although it still isn't in inverted commas, a true GMT. And that's the thing that sets Rolex apart is they have done is they've massively improved the movement of the GMT hand. So I don't know if you knew on ETA or Sellita or virtually everyones GMT's you sometimes get this, like, jerkiness and it's not quite as smooth in setting as it as it could be and they've made a huge improvement in the setting of the GMT and it moves much more smoothly. We think we're the first brand in the world to have it. You know, great prices for beautifully engineered products. Beautifully simple.
Omar It sounds as though, using the t-shirt analogy and one thing that I've always been really fascinated with regards to product design and any type of innovative product design is creating a product that, in its essence is simple, yet is more than the sum of its parts. And I think that is what requires a true love of the craft and a certain amount of genius.
Mike France Yeah, it certainly requires dedication to keep going back and making sure as best you can that you're living by the tenets that you set off to deliver. And I do think there is a and sometimes where we can be found guilty of this to some extent. There's huge hyperbole in the watch industry.
Omar Yeah, the best, the hardest, the lightest, the thinnest.
Mike France And people get besotted by complication, you know,
Omar We mentioned that in our in our last episode. That's a big deal for me, I really disagree with this whole complication for complications sake.
Mike France Oh, I see. Well, I mean, interestingly, I'm personally not besotted by computation, so I'm besotted by simplicity. And I'm not I'm not besotted by complications in watches, you know, to show off. We could we could have and we did think about it. I said no because it's just showing off.
Omar Complication for complications sake. That's all it is.
Mike France Yeah, a lot a lot of watch making is and then they forget that wonderful thing on our wrist is primarily still there to allow you to tell the time. It confers some sort of other stuff on people, you know, whatever that might be in in the psychological world but that's all about branding and that's all about all that sort of stuff. But at its very base level, you know, these are wonderful micro engineering machines that should be attempting to tell the time as easily and as accurately as they possibly can.
Omar Absolutely. They're essentially tools, utilitarian devices.
Mike France Absolutely, and so, you know, we could easily have created a tourbillon and we thought we might have five or six years ago, we could have done it all and we thought, but tourbillons are not great timekeepers, they're not they're not advancing the art of horology in our view in the way that we would like it to advance. And so we decided against it becauseI would never buy or wear a tourbillon.
Omar I'm with you on that.
Mike France But I will buy and wear a Sealander automatic. So it's living by those principles, I suppose, to some extent. And I was interested, you know, as you know, Roger Smith is a friend of mine. He has he has a very similar view on life, when you look at his watches. He's not looking to create ridiculously complex movements. Yeah, I've noticed his movements are, but what they are is and he's absolutely besotted by accuracy. Yeah. And then the beauty of everything that he does, it has a decorative, relatively well balanced. attention to detail, finish. These are the things that he is completely dedicated to, which is why he's worked tirelessly to improve upon the co-axial escapement, the co-axial that George Nathaniels left behind, i think we've had this conversation previously, is unrecognisable now compared to that which Roger's using and all of that is all enhancing the accuracy of his watch. And then the next stage will be, you know, the nano technology that were still being worked on between him and Manchester met. So in some ways, one of the reasons I think that we we hit it off, even though we come from two ends of the spectrum is that we actually live in the same basic principles. It's just that he's that he's tackling a market thats a different end to us,
Omar But you're working and fighting to create the best possible product you can for the market you are creating for.
Mike France Which very nicely brings us to the Sealander Elite which as I say, slightly bigger saying, same case, 63, case sign, slightly bigger, sportier, obviously extremely lightweight, yet it's in in its strap form. It's less than 45 grams so it's very, very light. We've gone to the extent of drilling through the dial, so they have a see through dial. to take weight out of the principle that being a bit like Formula One cars where you're looking to strip away because this was the sportiest of the watches. The inspiration for this came from a couple of years ago. I did Ride London, which is if you haven't done it I recommended it, hundred mile bike ride with, you know, 40000 of us, Box Hill, all of that stuff, its fantastic.
Omar I've done Box Hill, absolutely knackering that is.
Mike France Oh good man, it certainly is knackering. I'm not going to it would be wholly inappropriate for me to I think I would ever wear a Garmin! I'm going to wear one of our watches, of course. When you're riding a bike, the crown digs in to yur wrist or the back of your hand and I think actually at times was uncomfortable and that irritated me. And then so Adrian and I started to talk about this and and do our investigations.
Omar Adrian is the chap that designed the light catcher case, correct?
Mike France Yeah, that's right, Adrian. So Adrian and I talk about this, ropped in Will one of the other designers and in our research, we came and we found a retractable crown design. The only other watch at the time, has only a couple of watches we've seen in the world with anything approaching this. But the only of the one that's similar in concept and execution is the is the act Omega Aqua Terra Ultra Light.
Omar Of course, I love the implementation of a retractable crown, but given the example of the ultra light, we are talking about a significantly more expensive time piece here.
Mike France Its fantastic for a fantastic sport. We're working on something for the Paratroop Regiment at the moment and it's fantastic for parachuting. So we decided we wanted to incorporate it into the Sealander Elite and that's what we've done. it's a very, very, very clever piece of engineering but to the consumer it's extremely simple to operate and it has a purpose. It has been designed to be the most comfortable fit you have on your wrist and the retractable crown makes it a brilliant watch for any sport where a watch is relevant. If you've got titanium, you've got a retractable crown, you've got a drilled through dial, you've got chronometer status all for £1150. And if I tell you that the the within that £1150, £150 of that is just in the retractable crown. About 10 percent of the cost is in the retractable crown. We think that's a really, really fantastic value for all of that componentry, all of that sort of watch for £1150. And then you compare it to something like the Aqua Terra ultra light which is very similar to the Elite, Omega are charging £40,000 for it.
Omar I didn't know it was that much. I am in shock.
Mike France I don't blame you. If we can communicate that across in a good way I think it demonstrates again the value of what we create. And the Omega is the only watch that we've found that is in any way comparable to the elite and theres nothing else out there, so that appeals to our sort of sense of disruption to some extent, and our sense of a technical advancement, because we I just think for us to have gone and found out about this retractable crown and incorporate it into watch that retails at £1150 with chronometer, with titanium. And I guess that's what gets you out of bed in the morning. That's like yesssss!
Omar I mean, I love the fact that the one thing that I constantly and consistently loved about every watch that you've produced while I've been going through the collection and the pieces that I've been lucky enough to be able to get my hands on, is every watch has its purpose. And that's one thing that I have been trying to get across in my horology episodes as well. And hopefully this Q&A will get that across as well, is that there's no watch in your collection that is kind of a grey area. So, oh, maybe, you know, it might solve an issue. You know, it's like you guys have got a problem and you've decided to try and solve with the most ingenuity possible while still providing the best value to the to the consumer. Whereas brands like Rolex, for example, every year the crowns are getting bigger, the crown guards get beefier, the lugs get wider, the case gets the gets bigger. Everything about it just gets bigger and blingier. You know, it's very, very interesting that you guys have decided to create a new model with a retractable crown because you realise that it's a bit of an issue when you're paying when you're playing sports. And it is every single time I play cricket or golf or rowing or I’ve done a track day i would always have a red bruise behind my hand due to the crown digging in to me.
Mike France Yeah. Yeah, I know. Exactly.
Omar Or when I was cycling or whenever it might be,
Mike France Cycling was for me the answer, particularly when i had to do a lot of training for Ride London. I think the Sealander definitely plugs are a pretty big hole that was in our collection and I do believe we've done a good job of plugging it. And it'll be the customer who tells us how good a job we've done. Its taken us some time but we've done it.
Omar Funnily enough, I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing the value of the phrase in today's day and age of "it's all about being first". And I think that that's a dead phrase now. It's not about being first, Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world and their never first, they are just the best. They use the first to realise what the problems are and then they work on their own solutions to those problems. I have always been a huge fan of your bracelets and straps, what sort of stuff are you going to be offering with the Sealander collection?
Mike France Our major watch manufacturer, a while back, a couple of years back, like all of us these days I think they've been very concerned about with an eye to an entrepreneurial idea you're concerned about and noticing the amount of plastic that's being dumped into the shore, dumped in the oceans. So what they have done they created a new company called Tide. and what Tide does is it pays a fisherman particularly in the Pacific Ocean - which is where the problem is at its greatest - the same price per kilo that it extracts out of the oceans in plastic as they would get for extracting fish. Which is a really practical solution to the overfishing problem which has then a beneficial impact because they've got all of this plastic which they then turn into. And it's not a simple process. It sounds reasonable. The only place in the world today that you can take that reclaimed plastic from the ocean and turn it into the sort of stuff that you can weave into straps in Switzerland. They've created the only plant that can transform that reclaimed plastic into the material that they can make their straps out. So we are we working with them. We also have a close connexion with the Blue Marine Foundation and we were introducing across the entire collection, including the Sealander collection the Tide straps , and then later in the year we'll be releasing what I call the C 60 tide which is our homage to their work.
Omar That is absolutely fantastic Mike, I commend the support you provide to these great causes and even as a micro brand you are still finding ways to give back and be a net positive.
Mike France They're doing great work and we are more then happy to do what we can
Omar It's absolutely fantastic. Mike thank you so much for your time today, this has been a truly interesting conversation today and am excited to get my hands on the Sealander collection.
Mike France My pleasure Omar, thanks for having me and looking forward to seeing what your audience has to say about it too!