Episode #3: A re-launched family watch brand, oh and he also helped bring Tag Heuer to the UK...
For those out there who are deep into the industry will more than likely know who Neil Duckworth is. Amongst many other things, Neil now specialises in working with a variety of different watch brands that he finds interesting. However, he’s probably best-known for establishing TAG-Heuer in the UK: or just Heuer, as it was known when Neil started in 1982 (because TAG didn’t join the party until 1986). That puts him in a great position to look at how times and tastes have changed over the years and speculate about what’s likely to happen in the future.
Neil has recently successfully launched the old family watch brand, Prestex (now known as Duckworth Prestex) and has created pieces that retain the heart of original Prestex models and combined this with updates and tweaks for the modern wrist. He is a fascinating person to talk to and someone who we're so pleased to feature on 15 Questions With.
1. Let’s start with something everyone is always interested in, what’s on your wrist at the time of writing this?
A Duckworth Prestex Verimatic 39 mm automatic with a smoked orange dial on a rust-coloured suede leather strap. Earlier this year I achieved a dream by launching my own watch brand, and this is from the first collection. It’s the perfect case size for me, very clear and easy to read, and the smoked orange dial is truly magnificent.
2. What was the first watch you remember that left an impact on you?
A Girard Perregaux quartz gold-plated watch on a brown leather strap, circa 1980. It had a porcelain white dial with quite bold black roman numerals. Three hands and nothing else – but bags of personality. It was elegance and simplicity personified.
3. How did you start working in and around watches?
I joined my father’s retail jewellery business, Prestons, in Bolton when I was 20 years old in 1975. At the time Prestons was one of the largest Omega agencies in the UK and that was when I fell in love with watches.
Finish the following sentences:
4. The best-kept secret in watches is…
That the first working automatic watch was invented and made by an Englishman from Bolton, named John Harwood. I'm also from Bolton and it's where my grandfather originally designed and sold his Prestex watches from; the brand we have revived this year.
5. The one watch that got away from me was…
A Heuer Regatta, which I spotted at a market in Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como, northern Italy, while on holiday in 1995. I was in charge of TAG Heuer UK at the time. The brand was getting stronger but there was no market as such for pre-owned Heuer watches. I left it until the next day for some reason; probably because the stallholder was asking too much in my opinion. I attempted to play it cool to get a better price, but when I returned it had gone! Lesson learnt.
6. If I wasn’t in watches, I’d be working in...
Music. I studied flute and piano at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, preparing for a life in music. The incredibly high standard, quality and commitment needed to be a professional musician is extraordinary. I realised by the age of 20, surrounded by very talented and committed individuals, that I wasn’t really good enough to make it professionally. But I still play and enjoy my music as an amateur and, of course as a concert-goer.
7. What is one thing you think is missing from the watch industry today?
British movement manufacturing capability. The equivalent of Sellita, ETA or Miyota in Japan: but here in the UK. We have the history, the knowledge, the capability.
8. Tell us about one watch that took your breath away recently?
The Bremont Jaguar E Type boxed set. I particularly want the green dial. I love what the English brothers have done and continue to do so at Bremont.
9. What is your most prized possession in your collection?
A gold pocket watch given to me by my father. It has a white dial, Arabic numerals, and small seconds. It was made by my family’s firm and is now over 100 years old, but was given to me on my 21st birthday as a new unsold watch. This is amazing, considering it was 40 years old at the time.
10. Date or no date?
No date. There isn’t one on the Girard Perregaux that first made such an impression on me, nor on my prized pocket watch so naturally there isn't one on the Verimatic Duckworth Prestex.
11. What was your most recent watch purchase?
An old 1940s cushion case Prestex in nine-carat gold. As well as launching the new Duckworth Prestex brand, I’m trying to put together a collection of as many old Prestex watches as I can find. So if anybody has one to sell, please let me know!
12. And the next watch you’ll be adding to your collection?
The Fears Brunswick Midas white dial. It’s timeless, very elegant, manual-winding and it’s a British company with a history. Not unlike my own.
13. What is something you feel passionate about in the world of watches?
Supporting the drive to put Britain back on the map when it comes to watch design and production.
14. What is one piece of advice for people out there looking to make it in the world of horology and watches?
Become a specialist in something. A period, a brand, a type of watch. Anything, just become the best and most knowledgeable expert at something first. The world will beat a path to your door. And then you can build upwards and out.
15. Tell us about something you’re working on that is really exciting?
The new ‘Bolton’ Duckworth Prestex collection, which is going to be a classic. Elegant, sober, yet strikingly different. It uses exactly the same highly unusual numeral font as one of my grandfather’s pocket watches from the 1920s that I have in my personal collection as well as the same distinctive hands. This model will become the signature piece for Duckworth Prestex, I’m sure of that.