A family watch brand dating back to the 1920s is back!
Anyone familiar with these pages will probably be equally familiar with the name Neil Duckworth. And even the people who don't know Neil will be hearing a lot more from him in future.
Neil, the man who brought TAG-Heuer to the UK and is even thanked in Jack Heuer’s epic autobiography, features regularly on our Time to Unwind podcast and now embarks on his very own watch-making adventure. Because he’s finally doing something he’s always wanted to do: revive his old family watch firm.
Like many people in the watch business, Neil grew up with it, back home in Bolton. Go back a few decades and Bolton was the jewellery capital of the north, courtesy of Prestons jewellers.
Prestons – founded in the nineteenth century – started making Prestex watches in the 1920s, thanks to Neil’s grandfather Frank Duckworth. The concept was for affordable yet high-quality watches that were extremely distinctive, made in Switzerland and finished in Bolton. It was a formula that met with tremendous success, with Prestex producing pocket watches, a rectangular dress watch, and other more conventional watches right up until the 1960s.
That was the time when the Swiss watch industry was really taking off in the UK, and with sales of these exotic watches now booming, the home-grown brand fell out of fashion and was quietly dropped. By then, Neil’s father Gordon had taken over the business – while Neil himself was working directly with brands such as TAG-Heuer: travelling the world and enjoying life at the upper echelons of the industry. But although hanging out with stars such as Alain Prost (who drove for the TAG Heuer-sponsored McLaren Formula 1 team) was great fun, there was another ambition that Neil wanted to achieve once the time was right. And that was the rebirth of Prestex watches.
Fast forward to today, when the first collection has just been launched. Neil’s surname, Duckworth, has been added to the name along with a flying duck logo, creating the very first Duckworth Prestex watches. But while the brand may be a new one, it has its roots firmly anchored in his family’s horological history.
There are two watches on sale initially: a quartz chronograph and an automatic. Each comes in three colours: green, blue and black for the chronograph, plus blue, black and orange for the automatic – called a Verimatic – with its distinctive fumé dials. What jumps out immediately about both of them is their heritage and direct lineage from the previous Prestex family. The train track around the dial is identical, as is the distinctive font of the Arabic numerals. This all adds up to a particularly vintage feel, especially with the automatic. The ambience is enhanced by the 39mm cushion case, which looks and feels reassuringly classical on the wrist.
In many ways, it’s the perfect size: especially with more and more people moving away from the recent trend towards larger cases. Yet this is far from a retro watch. The classical style has been brought thoroughly up to date with the addition of modern colours, which give it a distinctly contemporary twist with a nod to Art Deco too. For those with more sober tastes, there is of course the black automatic – which wouldn’t look out of place in any setting.
However, it’s the blue and especially the orange that particularly catch the eye: warm tones that really make the new Duckworth Prestex automatics stand out, without compromising instant legibility of the time. A highlight of both is the contrasting seconds hand: in blue on the orange dial and yellow on the blue dial. The beating heart of the watch is the Japanese Miyota 9039 movement, which needs no introduction and is once again testament to the overall quality of the watch – just like its forebears. The automatics are priced at £595 each, and you can also buy a founders’ set of three – one in each colour – for £1785. These are made up of the first 50 serial numbers of each, so are likely to go quickly.
The quartz chronographs obviously cost less, at £495 each (or £1485 for the set of three colours). However, you get exactly the same quality, albeit within a very different look. The movement is another Japanese Miyota, this time the 6S21 quartz, with two chronograph sub dials. Look closely, and you’ll see the same train tracks and Arabic numerals as you find on the automatic.
Being a chronograph, this watch feels more sporty and multifunctional – and it’s bigger too at 42mm. Again, you have a choice of restrained black, or a much more colourful blue or green. These all benefit from sunburst dials, which you clearly see best in the blue and green. Opinions will naturally diverge, but the green chronograph seems to stand out most: with the colours perfectly complimenting the timeless design, once more housed within a cushion case.
The chronographs come on matching leather straps, while the automatics arrive with a suede strap – but Duckworth Prestex offers a number of alternatives on the website. The chronograph in particularly feels nicely chunky on the wrist without being showy or overbearing, while the pushers have a pleasingly firm action, complementing the overall feel of quality.
“I only wanted to do this project if I could get the quality right,” says Neil – and having worked for years with those top Swiss brands, he knows quality when he sees it. “What we have produced now has been several years in the making, as I’ve always wanted to see the Prestex name back on a watch for as long as I can remember. I’m absolutely delighted with the watches and we’re already thinking about the next collection. I grew up with Prestex watches, so to see them live again is a really emotional moment.”
The watches are finished and serviced in Bolton: just metres away from where the whole story first started. And that’s perhaps the most pleasing aspect to these timepieces: there’s a real and genuine history behind them, inspired by one man’s passion and expertise.
To find out more, visit www.duckworthprestex.co.uk