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QUICKFIRE Q&A: Giles Ellis, founder of Schofield Watch Company

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Giles Ellis, founder of Schofield Watch Company, has never been entirely clear whether his goal is to live to work or work to live. His passion and expertise for watch design and micro-engineering mean he is immersed in the business from morning to night. His rare watches sell mostly online, but customers can try before they buy if they seek out his home/workshop/boutique in the village of Upper Beeding (pop. 3,763 at the last census) on the edge of the South Downs in West Sussex.

That is quite a schlep for most, which is why Schofield signing up to present at WatchPro Salon in November is a welcome opportunity for collectors to get up close and personal with Mr Ellis and his timepieces.

WatchPro: How would you define an independent watchmaker as oppose to any other watch brand or manufacturer? Do you think it has to mean a business that hand-makes a very low number of watches from scratch every year, or is it more about a state of mind or simply being self-owned?

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Giles Ellis: Generally when we say Independent it means a small company 10 employees or less and not controlled by another larger entity.

WatchPro: How much of your design and manufacturing do you outsource and how much do you do yourself?

Giles Ellis: 100% design, nobody touches a detail! I design every 10th of a millimetre of every touch-point of the business. Products, packaging, website, accessories, ephemera. However a manufacturing process may influence the outcome.

For example when machining the Raw Bronze Beater we found that the machining path left a pretty fingerprint type pattern on the metal, so I choose not to bead-blast the case, opting to leave the machine-marks visible.

We outsource all manufacturing of parts, using the best we can find. We try our best to do this as locally as possible but if quality cannot be found we move abroad. We do watch making in house and case finishing.

Strange Lights is the first new Schofield watch since 2018. A full titanium case making it the lightest Schofield ever made at 85 grams strapped. It comes in two colours; not quite red and not quite green, a little off, strange. Port and starboard navigation lights, on the sea or in the sky. Distant. Playing on Schofield’s domain; the English coast with a touch of the obscure. Striking watches designed for comfortable, everyday wear in the highly recognisable Schofield case with legible dials devoid of any unnecessary ornament. Powered by a Swiss automatic, gold, high grade and highly finished ETA 2824-2, the watch is essentially a two and a half hander featuring our new Sign-of-Life seconds hand. The case is 44mm in diameter with a deep laser engraving on the back. Retail price: £3,295.

WatchPro: How has the past year been? Some trends like acceleration of luxury watches being promoted and sold online should have helped independents. What has your experience been?

Giles Ellis: Urgg! Prior to 2020 I could count the lost leads on one hand, not bad for nearly a decade!

In fact I remember their names; there was a guy that rocked up to HQ in a Bentley and when he opened the door a ton of McDonalds cartons fell out on the road.

He was so tall that he did not fit in the office, it was so awkward and weird, Schofield was a million miles away from what he was expecting.

Another was an elderly gentlemen who had a prominent wrist bone — you know the one that sticks out? The watch just did not sit well.

2020/21 has been terrifying, we have so many emails from guys saying ‘they want ‘and then following up with ‘they can’t’. So many I cannot remember their names.

So it has been tough but we are still here, we continue with all our activities and are lucky enough to be able to release new products.

We have relocated to a bricks and mortar shop and I have to say I have never been more excited about Schofield’s future.

WatchPro: Do you think more collectors are getting into independents because they have reached saturation point with big brands?

Giles Ellis: That has always been my experience, but then we are that kind of brand. Schofield products come with a strong narrative. It is this value that has sustained us through covid.

It is not enough for our customers to buy something just because. They need to justify the purchase with reason.

Interestingly, quite often one of those reasons is to support independents.

WatchPro: Could this lead to more retail partners wanting to work with you?

Giles Ellis: We don’t retail and the reason has remained the same for 10 years, our mark-up would make any accountant wince. The products are made in such low numbers with so many details added along the way that they simply cost too much to make.

WatchPro: What are your most successful ways of connecting with customers?

Giles Ellis: Our Six Pips newsletter. It goes out Thursday evenings at 8:15 sharp, as the occasion demands. Sign up here. http://eepurl.com/gQ7Vgr

WatchPro: Have any countries performed particularly well this year, and why do you think that has been?

Giles Ellis: Canada, we commonly sell good numbers there but alas not last year, I don’t have time to investigate why.

WatchPro: What have your most successful watches been this past year?

Giles Ellis: The launch of the new titanium Strange Lights watches. We sold a record number on launch day, very exciting indeed!

WatchPro: What are your hopes, plans and expectations for this year?

Giles Ellis: Loads actually, We have a new Wall Clock coming out next, a couple of new watches perhaps even three!

New straps and other bits, as well as the formal opening of the new shop and maybe something for the new WatchPro Salon in November.

Shop for Schofield here.

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