Robert Loomes introduced his newest watch, the Stamford, to the watch-collecting community at the annual SalonQP event at the Saatchi Gallery in London held November 3-5, 2016. “Salon QP is the largest British watch show, so I always regard it as the perfect opportunity to put ourselves in front of the press; it’s somewhere we are able to showcase what Loomes can create,” says Loomes. Originating in 2009, SalonQP has grown into an event known worldwide where watch manufactures can introduce their newest product to collectors and press.
Robert Loomes & Co. is offering the Stamford watch initially as a limited edition of 24 watches, 12 in 18k white gold and 12 in 18k yellow gold. The Stamford watch is a dream realized for Robert Loomes. He has long wanted to produce his own line of completely made-in-England watches. Loomes made the leap from dream to reality after his wife and business partner, Robina, secured £250,000 in EU grant funding. The grant is distributed to companies that do groundbreaking work and promote industry within the UK.
Loomes and Robina invested in machinery and increased staffing because their goal was to put together a team that could manufacture most of the Stamford watch parts in their own workshop and then assemble them. In addition, Loomes found British companies to create important watch components and worked with universities to devise a theoretical balance system. Each component was sketched by hand before Robert Loomes & Co. began the process of machining the parts. In designing the watch, according to Loomes, one of his favorite moments was when he realized the letter “S” for Stamford would make a “superb spoke shape for the train wheels.”
Designing and building the watch was a long and thorough process that wasn’t free of complications. Loomes encountered some challenges in getting ready to launch the watch. “I designed the winding mechanism so it sat under the barrel bridge. It is always tricky when building a new watch and you cannot see how the components behave,” says Loomes.
Loomes would know this because he owns a watch repair shop as well as an antique watch and clock restoration business. He also manufactures two other watch lines. In fact, Loomes’s newest watch is named after the location of his small factory in England, which is located in Stamford, Lincolnshire, halfway between London and York. Loomes’s workshop occupies four floors in a building known as “The Mermaid,” which was built in the 16th century.
In 2011, Loomes discovered some unused 1950s Smith movements that he cleaned, rebuilt, and fitted into his popular watch lines the Robin and the Robina, of which Robert Loomes & Co. manufactures approximately 100 a year. Each watch Robert Loomes & Co. builds takes hundreds of hours, from engraving the plates and jewelling the mechanism to polishing the cases.
Though much of the work is completed at Loomes’s own workshop in Stamford with his staff of twelve, he has, over the years, built a network of suppliers and manufactures within the UK to help complete the Stamford watch. He has learned valuable lessons in working with his various business contacts. “Our barrels are one of the few components we have made locally for us. I drove over to the factory to collect them and they looked like they were going to be perfect. However, when we brought them back to Stamford they did not mesh well with the center pinion. I telephoned the factory in a panic and they calmly replied, ‘Have you tried cleaning them with a soft nylon brush?’ This we did and they subsequently meshed perfectly. A good relationship and ability to access your suppliers is so important,” says Loomes.
Loomes’s suppliers and manufacturers come from various places in England. The watches’ rubber seals are made in Northamptonshire, the balance wheels are turned in Leicestershire, the plate screws are from West Yorkshire, and the barrel and cap are from Coventry. The watch straps are made from hand-cut English bridle leather and goatskin in Leicestershire. All of Loomes’ gold watches are cast in London of Scottish river-panned gold and Cornish tin.
At Robert Loomes & Co., they strive to produce watches the way it has been done for generations in Britain but with a modern eye to the engineering aspect. They have the ability to machine 80% of their watches in-house. Their senior engineer is a master of CNC machining, allowing them to cut exceptionally accurate components. Within their staff of 12, each worker is responsible for one aspect of producing watches, from machining components up to final assembly. At final assembly, the watch components go to the two senior watchmakers on staff who assemble the watches and test them for accuracy.
Kathy Ortt is an editor for the Horological Times.