I meet Don Cochrane on a rainy Thursday morning at a small darkly lit restaurant in Mayfair, I’m ushered into a booth where he sits with a number of black cases on the table. “The coffee machine is broken, as is the kettle, so it’s going to be OJ.”
Don wears a white shirt, wool trousers, and of course a Vertex MP45. He has somewhat of a varied background, from working as a Director and Editor for legendary Ogilvy and Mather, to Production in F1, Sales Director for Tesla and VIP Sales for Aston Martin. Not to mention Vertex, for which he took up the mantle in 2016.
“Although I grew up with lots of stories about watches from my Grandfather, playing with watches, dismantling them and so on. I never really thought of Vertex as anything I could have a piece of.”
Vertex, for those of you that don’t know, is the only British member of the Dirty Dozen, the group of watch brands commissioned by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War to produce reliable watches for the British army. Others of this group included Jaeger Le Coultre, Omega, IWC, and Longines.
“It all started with my great grandfather Claude Lyons - he set up Vertex in 1916. Formed during the First World War, Vertex did a number of things - they supplied watches to officers and then they made civilian pieces, which were a bit more fanciful, made with platinum and diamonds and so on.”
More famously Vertex along with the other eleven companies produced what became known as the ‘WWW’. Each watch maker having a list of essential elements the watch had to adhere to, including a second counter sub dial at six o’clock, steel case, shatterproof glass, black dial, manual wind, and luminous hands.
Don reaches for his bag and removes what looks like a canvas ammo pouch come watch roll - from inside he pulls an original Vertex; “This one was delivered in 1944, so it did fight its way through France, all the way to Berlin, which is just cool, those little watches made definitive decisions for people. It’s the first time many people actually had a watch. They had to be clear, they had to be robust, they had to be water resistant, with fixed lugs so they wouldn’t fall off.”
The company packed up in the 1970s due to a number of reasons including the onslaught of the quartz revolution. In 2016 Don re-launched the company and released the M100, aside from fixed lugs for ease of changing straps, he followed the same set of principles as set out by the MOD in 1943.
Something which became abundantly clear to me during our meeting, was Don’s attention to detail and the somewhat soul-bound authority and heritage to produce time pieces like these. Don focuses on the M100, “It had to take the authority [from the original] and be made with a larger case size to pay homage, it couldn’t have had a date window, it had to have the same size second sub dial, and it had to have the cut off five and seven.”
Moreover, as any serious practitioner is, he is aware of how the market works, and clearly isn’t keen on the way pieces are bought and sold today. “It is rarely your importance to the brand, it is how rich you are - I wanted to change how the M100 was sold. It’s much more important that you’re the sort of person that you want to hang out with.”
And so, to combat this, he and a couple of others held a gathering, “They weren’t all necessarily my friends, a group of about five of us made a list, and we invited all these people to a party; and the people that wanted to buy a watch could buy a watch.” Of the 60 that bought a piece, they were in turn, able to refer a small number of people to purchase their own.
Since 2016, Vertex have sold the M100 in this manner, but the watches were also made available (without referral) to serving members of the British armed forces. This way of selling watches could be seen to be elitist, but I believe it has more to do with ensuring that those with a real passion and enthusiasm for watches are not overtaken or pushed to one side by a gaggle of dealers placing pseudonyms on waiting lists to then immediately resell for a premium.
Since the initial launch of the M100 the company has gone on to make the M100B which is a DLC version (‘Diamond Like Carbon’, which is eight times harder than steel) of the M100 in black which, I might also add, is available to buy on the website without a referral.
But more recently, a piece released last week at the end of February has taken the market (and my heart) by storm…
“Towards the end of the war, the British Government wanted an ordnance timing watch for bomb disposal- Vertex developed the watch with Lemania.” Lemaina was another member of the dirty dozen, but by mid 1945 and at the end of the war in Europe, Vertex were rationed to how many movements they could bring in to the country, and as there was no longer a need, they turned back to civilian pieces and Vertex never produced the piece; until now.
The watch consists of a similar layout to the MP100, but with an additional sub dial (both of which are laid at 3 and 9 o’clock), a mono pusher above the crown and a chronograph second hand; “There are two versions, a manual and an automatic. A manual, I love and obviously when we first made one it was a manual. I thought it would be interesting to do an automatic and see what the market really wants. So far, the manual is outselling the automatic 2:1.” He seems quite pleased with this ratio, and in the sense of legacy and integrity I can see why. Aside from a nod to the original, there is something that brings one closer to a watch through a manual wind and bridges a gap between man and machine, that is otherwise quite passive.
I’ve had the honour and pleasure to put the piece through its paces since our meeting, and F*** Me, I love this watch! From the asymmetrical case to the highly legible at a glance dial and extreme accuracy. It has a timeless quality and elegance, that Don describes as “purity of purpose, which is something military objects have, they are designed to do a job and that job alone.” It really ticks (no pun intended) all the boxes.
To that end, let’s also talk about the box.
They say clothes make the man and sometimes the packaging in which a product comes in deals a certain amount of influence. Vertex have really hit the nail on the head by supplying all of their watches in a military flight case. “It’s waterproof and pressure proof you can run it over. You can send this anywhere in the world and you know whoever gets it, it’s going to be fine.” Don has a love of objects of function and history and that by no means stops after he has finished creating the product. “The one thing I hated about watch boxes is that you can’t do anything with them, and you can’t throw them away because they are so lovely, and you end up with a box that sits in a cupboard for the rest of time. I’ve been transporting watches for most of my life, from one place to another. I know people who have had beautiful watch boxes which have been broken in transit.”.
Vertex MP45 case
Suffice to say I must now return the watch and I do so with a heavy heart, an adaptable, truly eye catching, piece of kit which doesn’t seem to ever be out of place. Whether it be the west end or some foreign field.
I want one…
The MP45 and M100B are available from www.vertex-watches.com/
Words by Tom Heap
Photos courtesy of Vertex Watches and by Tom Heap