Interview with the Henfield founder of the Schofield Watch Company, Giles Ellis
PUBLISHED: 06:25 11 December 2019
© Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
When Henfield horologist Giles Ellis launched his independent fine watch company, his uncompromising personal taste was his guide
Schofield Watch Company was born "partly from frustration and partly vanity," says owner Giles Ellis. "I wanted a nice watch and couldn't afford one, so the obvious thing for me to do was make one."
It wouldn't necessarily be the obvious step for most of us, but Giles says: "I have always been interested in creating my own environment and from an early age that's always your bedroom isn't it? But as I got older I grew in confidence and began to create my own stuff."
The son of a teacher and a sculptor, Giles grew up in a creative household and clearly combines a passion for detail with a strong entrepreneurial bent - he had a previous business buying and restoring American folk instruments - but the watch project was never supposed to be a commercial endeavour. "It was only ever about making one watch for me." But he soon uncovered flaws in that plan: "You cannot, for example, make a dial as a one-off. I had to commission an order of a hundred dials which is why I was left with 99 watches left to sell and only one friend wealthy enough to buy one. I wasn't exactly bankrolled here: I sold a BMW and some mountain bikes and quite a few banjos."
Giles launched his first watch, the Signalman, at fine watch exhibition SalonQP and quickly created something of a stir. "Right from the beginning we have thrown curveballs at the industry," he says. "We launched an independent watch brand in 2010 and that was a pretty unusual thing to do. We are now one of only five watchmakers at our price point doing our thing in the UK. We hit the ground running, selling 100 watches in the first three months of year one. Suddenly people were taking notice." The brand's carefully curated narrative grew organically. "The lighthouse on the back of the first watch was really a design element for me to show the consumer that it's trustworthy, it's a friend, it's a beacon of light, it's tough and it can withstand. I thought it was a perfect device and it just so happened that I chose a lighthouse I knew on the south coast. A few other design elements led back to this British coastal thing and it was something that I expanded upon. In the watch industry you often make watches that are anchored to various geographies: you have pilots' watches, diving watches, sailing watches, and then you might have military watches. By claiming the British coast as our geography we were neither land nor sea and that gave us a really unique angle. And it was sincere. I spent years of my youth on Shoreham Beach so it felt like the right way for us to go."
As one of the company's unique selling points, Giles points to multidinous options for customisation. Customers can choose from a wide range of straps, from ethically sourced sharkskin to tweed. "If I pay £3,000 for a watch but there are only 100 of these watches and 30 different straps, the likelihood that I bump into someone with that watch and strap combination is so slim that for £3,000 I'm effectively getting something that's very close to a bespoke watch."
Next year will mark the company's tenth anniversary, and there are various plans afoot: Giles is excited about launching a more accessible watch, the Lentica, which will retail under £2,000. At the other end of the scale is a reimagining of the company's coveted limited edition carbon fibre BlackLamp, which will be called Obscura.
The past ten years have brought many lessons - "it's a hard business to be in," he says. One thing, however, has remained constant: "Every watch is for me," says Giles. "I basically make every watch for myself."