Off Beat Time
Page & Cooper might be slightly tricky to track down, but Jonathan Bordell’s company rewards the horologically curious with some niche and attainable brands
Article by Stuart Husband
What do you look for in a watch? Jonathan Bordell knows exactly what he wants: “First, they have to be well designed,” he says. “Secondly, they have to be Swiss-made, in the classic manner. Thirdly, they have to have a great story behind them. And lastly, they have to be slightly outside the mainstream, a niche brand that’s brilliant at what they do, but that needs to be hunted down a little bit.” He pauses, smiling in satisfaction. “That sense of discovery, quality and exclusivity is, to me, the very definition of luxury”.
Jonathan’s own company, Page & Cooper, fulfils at least two of his criteria for timepieces. To track them down, you need to head north out of London to the town of Elstree, famous for its film studio (where the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films were shot); a miniature, and slightly less sun-kissed version of the Hollywood walk of fame leads you to a former Sellotape factory where P&C have their headquarters. Inside, Jonathan awaits with his own enlightening back-story. One of his grandfathers was an East End tailor, and the other an East End watchmaker, which gave him an early appreciation for the virtues of the painstakingly hand-crafted (today, he’s wearing a Timothy Everest bespoke blazer). He worked at a Central London department store before joining an agency that sourced high-end homes for some of the world’s wealthiest individuals: “I became the go-to guy for the Saudis and the Sultans,” he says. “I’d get a call from the airport: ‘we’re here, we want to buy something.’ It moved on from houses to cars, jewellery, whatever – I became a sort of one-man concierge service.”
Jonathan eventually decided to zero in on one aspect of the booming luxury sector. “With watches, everyone’s aware of the mega-brands and the obvious status symbols,” he says. “But behind those, there’s a bunch of brilliant companies you won’t find in the upscale boutiques who bring amazing creativity and heritage, who haven’t had the resources or the inclination to promote their achievements. And I think there’s a consumer, whether from Asia, Europe or the US, who wants to buy into that, because it’s much more of an emotional investment.”
All of Page & Cooper’s brands exemplify this above-reproach but below-the-radar ethos, as a randomly-chosen quartet make clear. Squale – named after a kind of Franco-Italian-Swiss mash-up for shark, the brand’s logo – have made diving watches since the 1960s, the decade when it first became a leisure sport; the owner, Charles van Buren, used to plunge into Lake Neuchatel, just outside his Swiss factory, to test the efficacy of his product, and archive photos show various Squale models being sported by suitably virile diving and spear-fishing world champs. “The factory is completely unchanged from the early days,” enthuses Jonathan. “About five people work there, and they turn out just a few hundred watches a year.” (Sadly, however, the company is no longer able to give away a free shark’s tooth with every purchase; P&C have substituted a hunter’s knife instead). The German brand Sinn was founded in the 1950s by Helmut Sinn, an ex-Luftwaffe flying instructor whose mission – to create a clear, affordable watch for pilots – resulted in a product so utilitarian-yet-stylish that, according to Jonathan, it’s become something of a cult among scientists, and was the first automatic watch to be deployed on the NASA space station Skylab: “Each watch contains a copper sulphate capsule,” he adds, “so they never fog, no matter how high the altitude.” The Swiss-German company Hanhart produced the first stopwatch in their workshops back in 1924, and their sleek chronos feature pinpoint start-stop-reset buttons (Steve McQueen favoured a Hanhart timepiece, and deployed one of their stopwatches when calculating the timing needed for the museum heist in The Thomas Crown Affair to the millisecond). And Autodromo, the brainchild of industrial designer Bradley Price, is inspired by vintage motoring instruments; the chunky-yet-sleek pieces, with their rally straps, leather finish, and speedo-inspired chronos, are much-coveted by car designers and Goodwood Revival enthusiasts.
One other quality that links all Page & Cooper’s products, stresses Jonathan, is their relative affordability. “We have people coming to see us who think nothing of dropping ten thousand on a watch, and others for whom it’s a major purchase,” he says. “It works for both ends of the market.” Those clients can also get a hands-on (wrists-on?) view of the range with the launch of the Page & Cooper Club, a series of informal gatherings in which enthusiasts mingle with P&C’s horologists and their wares. Future plans include setting up a retail space that retains P&C’s commitment to informed personal service, and working with their brands on limited edition and bespoke pieces (a run of Squales with hand-applied vintage 60s bezels, which Jonathan found while rooting around in their factory, has already sold out). It seems that, in a market dominated by the usual suspects, Page & Cooper have carved out their own idiosyncratic niche. “It’s like a private member’s club,” says Jonathan. “If you walk into a meeting, people will always notice and ask you about an interesting watch. And with ours, you’ll have plenty to tell them”.
Enquiries: Page & Cooper, Kinetic Centre, Theobald Street, Elstree, Hertfordshire, WD6 4PJ / pageandcooper.com