Due to a slight delay at the entrance to the the Saatchi Gallery (the security guards waited for the clock to strike six before letting any of us in to SalonQP), I missed the official launch of Meridian Watches. This was rather a shame, as I'd been hoping to witness the unveiling of the Meridian Prime, an almost entirely English-built watch, heralding from Norwich. Meridian's founder is Simon Michlmayr, a second generation watchmaker and Fellow of the British Horological Institute, who has been running his own watch and clock repair company since 1986. I spoke briefly to Simon at SalonQP, and he was kind enough to allow me to take a look at his watches, movements and accessories and to tell me a bit more about Meridian, and their future plans.
A special non-luminous dial for SalonQP 2012
The idea behind Meridian Watches was to find a way of manufacturing high quality, hand-produced watches, that the owner could wear day-in, day-out, using all-English parts (except - currently - for the movement) at a reasonable cost. Simon brought in a business partner - Richard Baldwin (a keen watch collector and CEO of Arcadia Watches) and started sourcing appropriate partners from across the UK with whom to work. Their search has yielded a collective that includes a hand-made leather strap-maker (Steve O, who will be well-known to Panerai owners), an optics company that supplies military contracts, an additional webbing strap-maker who also produces their cotton/canvas watch-roll (Carl Evans of GasGasBones fame) and even a leather passport holder (from Bond Street brand, Smythson). On top of this, Meridian hand-make strap-changing tools which are included with each watch, and have also hand-produced their buckles. These latter items are a fantastic example of the Meridian ethos - each of the eleven elements of the buckle is hand-machined, and then assembled in Norwich. There is no doubt that a cheaper buckle could have been sourced, but Simon has focused his attention on making every part of these watches feel like they have been crafted for the owner. This also extends to the hands, which are hand cut, colleted, polished, treated and coated in SuperLuminova (TM). It's a very artisanal approach, and one that I find increasingly attractive.
The Meridian Black treatment on the MP-09
For their first watches, Meridian have taken a Unitas hand-wound movement as a base - modifying and decorating it in-house, and encased it in an extremely robust 46mm case that's water-resistant to 300m (and tested to 40 Bar). The decoration is good - with a Mercator-projection style engraving and frosted bridges, but is entombed behind a similarly engraved solid caseback. These initial pieces - the Prime series - have been built around a common, military-inspired design, with various dial options. All are three-handers, with running seconds at six or nine and are available in a number of case options. The model I spent most time studying at SalonQP (the MP-09) had been finished in a proprietary treatment called Meridian Black, an unusual multi-layer coating that provides the watch with a rather unique look. It's an intriguing finish - a battered, lived-in style that makes the watch feel very personal. I can imagine that this patina will only improve with age, producing a truly original piece**.
Meridian are currently working on a slightly smaller model, and two other calibres - a 100 hour power reserve platform that will be available in both manual and dual micro-rotor automatic versions. The Prime watches range in cost between £4,495 and £4,995.
These watches are not cheap, and I have seen a great deal of comment focused on this aspect, rather than on the watches themselves. As someone who increasingly buys hand-made / hand-produced items, often from UK-producers, whether these items are watches (or watch-related accessories, such as straps), jeans and other clothing, ceramics, food or even small-batch gins or vodkas, I am aware that there is a considerable cost to producing such items, but I usually find that the pleasure I get from, e.g. wearing a strap made from hand-tanned leather and sand-cast brass buckle tend to outweigh the price I pay for a machine-made item. I believe that Meridian are seeking to elicit a similar response with these watches, and I wish them the best of luck.
More photos of the Meridian Prime (and other watches from SalonQP 2012) can be found here.
**Our friends over at Fratello Watches have an excellent exclusive look behind the scenes at Meridian's base in Norwich, as well as a photo of a prototype watch built four years ago which shows the effect of age on the finish.