A Farer Deal – The New GMT
Launching a new watch brand is no easy job. To paraphrase the late, great George Harrison, it’s going to take plenty of money plus a whole lot of patience and time to do it right. So, what on earth would persuade someone that it’s a good idea? “When I was in my late-twenties, I had made a little bit of money and I wanted to buy a watch,” says Paul Sweetenham, one quarter of the management team behind Farer. “Back then, there was a pretty good choice of affordable timepieces, but in 2017 a luxury watch is a far more expensive purchase and the prevalence of the so-called ‘fashion’ watch has increased. We saw a gap in the market and wanted to develop something between these two poles, using quality Swiss movements instead of Chinese or Japanese ones.”
The “we” Sweetenham refers to consists of his partners in Farer: business strategist Jono Holt, design director Ben Lewin and Stuart Finlayson, who has a background in branding and advertising. Friends with parallel horological tastes, all four have an interest in the watch designs of the late-1960s and early-1970s and what Sweetenham calls “the art of the dial.”
“At Farer, we like deep details and colour that mean you look at the watch more than once – 14 times overprinting, three-step dials, vintage curves and new colours,” he says. “We then combine these accents in a way that ensures the dial is unfussy and still legible. We are motivated by the halcyon days of the early-1960s through to the 1970s. For example, when we first started looking at colours, we couldn’t find the right ones so we went back to the car colour charts of the mid-20th century – Jaguar, Porsche, Alfa Romeo.
“The proliferation of dial designs then meant that watches were much more individual. Companies like Lip, Angelus, Gallet and Universal particularly stand out but they were not robust enough to take the huge kick in the teeth that came from Japanese quartz watches. We have suffered from innate conservatism in dial design for a long time now, but slowly brands like Zodiac are being reborn and with them some innovation. For me, as long as a watch keeps good time, it all comes down to the dial – that’s what people remember.”
So, with the aim of bringing to market a quality watch with interesting design at an affordable price, Farer was established – the name borne from of a desire to symbolise travel (seafarer, wayfarer and so on) and “because five-letter words make great branding and logos.” The initial collection, launched in 2015, comprised seven time-only quartz watches retailing from £280-£420, but even in the beginning, the plans were in place for something more technical, and in October 2016, the first automatic collection, powered by industry favourite the ETA 2824-2, debuted.
Consisting of three models – the blue Hopewell, the green Beagle and the more conservative, silver-sunray Endurance – all three models, priced at £875, sold-out by March this year. A second production run followed, albeit without the Endurance. “We are retiring that model,” says Sweetenham. “Our plan is to retire one after each production run and replace it with a new model. This will allow us to keep introducing new designs without risking having too many variations in our catalogue at one time.”
Although the quartz models are available on Mr Porter, as well as in Selfridges and independent retailers, the automatics are only sold direct from Farer deliberately to keep selling prices low. “If we were to wholesale the automatics, the retail price point would have to be so much higher, nullifying the purpose of our mission: to supply great Swiss watches at an affordable price,” explains Sweetenham. “We currently ship to 30 countries, with 50 per cent of production going to the US – mainly New York, California and Texas.”
Unusually open about Farer’s suppliers, Sweetenham believes that much of the watch world suffers from a lack of transparency about the construction of a timepiece, leading to misplaced rants on forums and blogs. “Most people don’t have a clue what it costs to make a watch,” he says. “We have chosen not to have secrets. We have an expert partner – Roventa-Henex, who are cutting edge in terms of technology – and work with many of Switzerland’s biggest brands. But we are no sleeping partner: we have pushed them in areas such as colour, because we haven’t gone for anything standard.”
And now, less than two years after the brand exploded in to the market, Sweetenham and partners are launching their first complication: a GMT – or, more precisely, three GMTs which are powered by an ETA 2893-2 Top Grade, five-way adjusted movement with 42-hour power reserve and personalised rotor. The watches are, as usual, named after explorers and adventurers.
The Oxley (named after John Oxley) features a vintage-style, curved black dial with silver perimeter, deep applied indices and orange, blue and green hands; the Lander (honouring Richard Lander) has a three-step dial with silver outer ring and sea-green sunray dial in two levels, an orange seconds hand and red GMT hand; the Ponting (remembering photographer Herbert George Ponting) is the design for the “courageous customer” and boasts a silver sunray dial with a split flange featuring orange at the top and French blue at the bottom, with the dial accented by French blue, orange, yellow and sky blue. As well as the bold colours, each dial has a mix of textures and signature syringe hands and the watches all feature a bronze crown with compass logo. Sweetenham says of the latest watches: “While the three automatics were variations on a theme, the GMTs are all quite distinct, like a family.”
On why the GMT became Farer’s first complication, the company co-founder says: “If you are going to sell direct, you need to continually have new models and be careful with inventory. We have a production calendar for five years ahead and the only change we’ve made to it is that we’ve brought things forward – our 2018 models were originally planned for 2020. We always knew we wanted a GMT; it’s just a brilliant complication that is still useful and holds its own against technology. Really, it’s two watches in one.” The biggest surprise with the GMT comes in its price, an astonishing £1,175.
In terms of marketing, the guys at Farer again looked outside of the box, with their own online journal of super-coolness looking at places like Michael O’Hare’s restaurant The Man Behind the Curtain, people such as Jim Cregan of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, and classic cars and bikes including the Jensen Interceptor and Rickman Metisse Mk3. Through gathering stories for the journal, Farer has secured its first four ambassadors: The Proper Adventurer Paul Brett; US drummer Carter McLean, Cad & the Dandy’s James Sleater and Revolution contributor and photographer-extraordinaire Amy Shore – all perfect candidates for one of the new GMTs which are available from 26 May at www.farer.com