An Old-Style Watch in a Modern World
In a world of automatic mechanical and quartz watches, Oliver Goffe founded Marloe Watch Company, making old school hand wound watches that don’t cost the earth
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
For the founder of a watch brand, Oliver Goffe is disarmingly honest, “I’d never been big into watches but what I’d always been extremely conscious of is quality” he laughs. This curiosity and discernment is what has driven Marloe Watch Company since its inception in 2015. Whilst working in Sweden as a marketing consultant, Oliver took the back off his watch when the battery expired to be shocked at just how little went into the modern mass-produced quartz watch.
Fired by the thought to produce something, “different; a watch that was well engineered and had real value” Oliver began to reach out to designers and manufacturers and through various watch design forums (he cheerfully admits to a spot of internet stalking) began talking to his now business partner Gordon Fraser. Gordon had designed several watches though his previous attempt at launching a watch business had unfortunately coincided with a drop in Swiss watch sales and that country’s component makers clamping down on manufacturing for non-Swiss brands. Though initially reticent, Gordon was eventually persuaded by Oliver’s persistence and together the pair created Marloe Watch Company focusing on something rather different and old school; the hand wound mechanical watch.
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“I remember my father had a hand wound watch, I remember watching him wind it at the breakfast table,” Oliver recalls, “it’s just different, in an age of quartz, expensive automatic or smart watches to just enjoy the simple pleasure of winding your timepiece each day, there’s a soothing rhythm to it.” Clearly Oliver was not alone in this yearning as when the brand was launched on Kickstarter in early 2016, it sailed past its target of £30,000 to raise £180,000. “I’d had experience of Kickstarter in my marketing career so I knew how I wanted to use the platform” Oliver remarks, “people love to be a part of something early on, something new. You instantly have a community talking about you, supporting the idea.” Clearly this enormous early enthusiasm and backing also in Oliver’s words, “changed the ball game completely; we knew straight away we’d have to enlarge our thinking.” The investment meant that when the first watch model was available to buyers, development had started on the second range which in turn was released barely a month later enabling Marloe Watch Company’s momentum to remain high.
Like many new comers to the luxury world, Oliver was focused on customer service and the experience, “it’s huge for me, the amount of times I’ve had poor service over the years that is completely avoidable. It’s about putting the customer first.” Marloe Watch Company’s clients can come to their small offices in picturesque Henley on Thames and chat over a coffee, compared to the rarefied world of many watch brands and dealers it’s a refreshing alternative.
At the time Marloe Watch Company came into being, Apple watches were in the process of being released. Along with the watch world saturation in automatic timepieces, it made Oliver and Gordon even keener to go against the grain and focus on the hand wound. The first three prototypes were made in China, each in a different factory for comparison purposes. However, after evaluating the watches, Gordon and Oliver decided to transfer full production to a Japanese factory, and their internal calibre for their Haskell model is Swiss made. “Many brands find Chinese workshops very good but we just found it wasn’t right for us” Oliver says, “we have found a manufacturer with a far lower failure rate and much higher quality control; our Japanese factory promises a 0.01 per cent failure rate for what leaves them.”
So far the Marloe Watch Company has bought out five collections with two more in development, “we look to launch two each year” Oliver explains. “We identify the movement we want to use at the start of the process and that in turn will determine case size and other detailing. Gordon then designs the watch around these parameters.” The firm has found its audience thus far to be predominantly male though Oliver points out their minimalist dialled Derwent model is a 38mm dial rather than a 40mm or larger so is suitable for women.
Word of mouth referral was been of great importance and team have found people are just drawn to the very nature of the hand wound watch. “We’ve found a lot are bought as gifts, one customer has bought the first serial number of every model as an investment and a number of customers have told us they’re buying it as an heirloom.”
From the beginning, Oliver and Gordon have focused on the design, “above everything we want to be seen as a design led British brand” Oliver remarks, “we want to show the details – what sets us apart. For example, our crown is designed with rifled grooves, for grip, as it’s actually used every day. Gordon is very focused on ensuring that every part is there for a reason, there’s nothing extraneous just for show.”
Despite the excellence of their Japanese workshop, Oliver found there was a demand amongst clients for a Swiss made Marloe watch. To respond to this need, they created one, albeit pricier, model – the Haskell. Named after the Haskell Strait in Antarctica, the watch follows the firm’s convention of taking inspiration from and naming their models after iconic water features, the Cherwell in Oxford or Lake Coniston where Malcolm and Donald Campbell set their water speed records. All Marloe Watch Company watches are leather strapped, the firm sourcing German or Italian leather to make the elegant straps.
This attention to detail allied to the old school desirably of a hand wound watch has meant Marloe Watch Company has grown gratifyingly well; Oliver remarks that in their first year they made 2,500 watches, this year – their third – they have already made over 2,000. The firm finds 30 per cent of customers buy more than one watch and they receive a lot of custom locally, from people in Marlow itself and Henley keen to support a local business. Looking forward Oliver reports they are keen to expand their partnerships and there are plans to offer engraving.
In a watch world dominated by huge conglomerate backed bland watch brands and the rise of admittedly useful but perhaps rather soulless wearable tech, for those seeking something a bit different and harking back to a less rushed and careful world, a trip to scenic Henley on Thames and a discussion about your watch needs with the Marloe Watch Company should be booked.