Based just a stone’s throw from the Goodwood Motor Circuit and the Rolls-Royce car factory on the south coast of England, Zero West Watches was formed by two engineer-designers, Graham Collins and Andrew Brabyn.
It all started in late 2016, when Graham was taking some time out due to illness which allowed him time to focus on a lifelong goal of designing a watch - something he had always talked to his friend and now business partner Andrew about.
He says: 'I remember receiving this e-mail from Graham with a stunning 3D render of a watch body. Graham asked what I thought. It was too good an opportunity not to design a watch dial and turn it into an advert.
‘A short e-mail came back, saying ‘’want to set up a watch brand?’’’
It quickly became apparent that their combined skills would allow them to create a very individual watch brand. Their ethos echoes the words of legendary Spitfire designer Reginald J Mitchell – ‘There is a time and place for everything’.
And it’s with these words in mind that they have designed their limited edition timepieces, celebrating man and machine, embracing important historic moments of distinctly British engineering achievement.
In a sea of Euro-Asian ‘catalogue’ watch cases, it’s refreshing to see something different! Their unique combination of beautifully-engineered cases, striking graphics and handmade straps, characterised by historical reference, certainly set them apart.
Talking to Graham and Andrew at their Boathouse studio-works in Emsworth, it is impossible not to be captivated by the skill and passion exuded in their watch range.
Look closer into their individual backgrounds and it’s clear that they’ve pooled flare, expertise and experience in spades to form the brand.
Graham has a long and successful history in designing military black-ops and aerospace kit and Andrew has comparable acumen in commercial graphics and product marketing.
Both have an insatiable passion for history and watches, which when combined with their professional collective, makes for a great timepiece and powerful brand identity.
In-depth analysis of the watches reveals a clever marriage of precision-engineered and machined components with flowing, ergonomic styling.
At their heart are Swiss automatic movements. Internally, the movements are shock-mounted and case backs, crowns and pushers are sealed to 10ATM. Crystals are custom sapphire with internal anti-reflective coatings and, indeed, all of the components and features in ZW timepieces are what you would expect of a high-end brand.
But what is unusual about the ZW in-house design is unique bold styling. Lugs are skilfully manufactured as separate components which seamlessly integrate with instrument-styled bodies, resulting in an inspired concept of multi-faceted reflective surfaces and contrasting finishes, instantly identifiable as their brand ID.
The watches in the range are distinctive, skilfully balancing style and wearability. Many of the newer models have been designed to display reclaimed material from iconic British WW2 planes and iconic vintage racing cars. As one of the brand’s tag line advertises... 'True history on the wrist’.
Another pleasant surprise is the quality and design of their leather straps. Talking to Graham, he explained the importance of having the right strap for a watch and after an exhaustive and failed search for that ‘right’ strap he decided to make them in-house, typifying Zero West’s drive for perfection.
It took over a year to develop the strap process, but that effort and dedicated obsession has paid dividends and resulted in a range of high quality, 100% handmade straps, which are now an integral strand of ZW’s brand DNA.
Also a great display of the brand’s DNA is the new design studio. During Covid Zero West took advantage to completely refurbish its studio located in the Old Boathouse on the shoreline of picturesque Emsworth, on the south coast of England between Portsmouth and Chichester.
The design studio is now an extension of the website and an absolutely fascinating treasure trove, with a plethora of various historical artefacts adorning the walls and shelves, intermingled with various engineered watch designs.
Particularly striking are the custom, British-built motorbike courtesy of Foundry Motorcycles and a complete salvaged Mk IX Spitfire Merlin engine doubling as a table. They explained that these various artefacts are more than just window dressing and they are the kinds of things from which they draw inspiration for their designs.
At the time of writing there are nine timepieces in the line-up, each of which marks a unique moment in Britain’s history.
Even the company name is steeped in British history and single-minded achievement, with Zero degrees West being the Prime Meridian that runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
It was here at the Observatory that Graham and Andrew marvelled at the achievement and story behind John Harrison’s H4 Marine Chronometer, a timepiece that for the first time in history enabled longitude to be determined accurately at sea. At that moment, it was obvious that John Harrison’s H4 would be the focus of their first very limited edition watch, the ZW-L1.
Future models all tied to iconic moments in history are all in the pipeline along with new material/case designs. Graham commented: ‘We are working on a rolling two-year road map of watch designs and have some very exciting projects and collaborations in the works. You can't rush the process, even if we are designing most things in-house’
It is very clear that nothing has been compromised in Zero West’s watch construct – every working part and aesthetic touch has been thoughtfully considered and carefully chosen.
Like a reflection of the stories they represent, Zero West watches are British-designed, British-engineered works of art.
Check out www.zerowest.watch