Zero West - The Emsworth watchmakers who have launched their own limited edition brand

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 March 2020

Zero West's L1 Longtitude watch, which is limited to just 20 pieces Photo: Chris Ison

Zero West's L1 Longtitude watch, which is limited to just 20 pieces Photo: Chris Ison

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A pair of watch enthusiasts in Hampshire have launched their own timepiece range inspired by the greats of UK engineering.

Graham Collins and Andrew Brabyn - the founders and force behind Zero West in Emsworth Photo: Chris IsonGraham Collins and Andrew Brabyn - the founders and force behind Zero West in Emsworth Photo: Chris Ison

Examine the dial of any of Zero West's limited edition watches and you will see a longtitude and a latitude.

It's all part of the Emsworth watchmaker's brand: There's a time and place for everything. Each map reference refers to a location directly connected to the ideas behind the design of the watches, which celebrate historic feats of British engineering. The location on the L1 Longtitude watch is 51.48°N-0.00°W - Greenwich Royal Observatory referring to watchmaker John Harrison's development of the H4 Sea Watch which won him the Longtitude Prize.

And there are a few Hampshire locations too. On the L2 Longtitude is 50.845°N - 1.328°W for Southampton Water, where Hubert Scott-Paine broke 100mph in the single-engine hydroplane Miss Britain III. And on the S1 Spitfire the location is 50.8986° N - 1.3813°W for the Woolston Spitfire factory. What's more, on the latter design the dial of the Spitfire watch is a homage to the Smith clock found in the Spitfire cockpit, while the crown is modelled on the fire button found on the Spitfire's joystick.

With this amount of attention to detail perhaps it is no surprise it took three years for friends and founders Graham Collins and Andrew Brabyn to produce their first watch.

Putting together Zero West's CR-1 Chronograph watch in their Emsworth workshop Photo Chris IsonPutting together Zero West's CR-1 Chronograph watch in their Emsworth workshop Photo Chris Ison

The whole process began with just one email Andrew received from former military and aviation engineer Graham. 'He got ill and took some time out,' recalls Andrew, 50, who has a background in graphic design and marketing.

'One Saturday he emailed me an idea for a watch - it was a 3D render of this beautiful watch body. Instead of just emailing back I designed a dial and put it into an advert for him.'

From there the idea of creating a new watch brand was born.

'We have always been into watches,' says Andrew. 'We felt we could combine our experiences together. Obviously nothing happens overnight - even with Graham's contacts in engineering and suppliers it took us three years to put our first watch together.'

Zero West's rendering of the Miss Britain III hydroplaneZero West's rendering of the Miss Britain III hydroplane

Part of this delay came from the pair's approach to the industry. Although the watch workings are Swiss-made, they didn't do what a lot of other watch companies do and take a white label design from a manufacturer. 'We wanted a design with its own identity,' says Andrew. 'With key brands you can look at a watch from a distance and know which brand it is.'

This led to 3D printed watch designs, 50 to 60 ideas being scrapped for each individual watch, and even taking on the challenge of creating their own handmade leather straps after failing to find a supplier which met their high standards. The straps are made by Graham in their Emsworth workshop - with sections of wartime canvas incorporated into the Spitfire watch strap.

Other unusual design quirks include the crown and pushers on the top of their LS-1 Landspeed model, whose position resembles that of a stopwatch.

Zero West's LS-1 Landspeed watch - which has its crown and pusher at the top of the dial to resemble a stopwatch Photo: Chris IsonZero West's LS-1 Landspeed watch - which has its crown and pusher at the top of the dial to resemble a stopwatch Photo: Chris Ison

It was 57-year-old Graham's passion about the history of engineering which has fed into the Time Traveller brand. As well as the Spitfire, H4 Chronometer and Miss Britain III, watches in the limited edition range celebrate the Land Speed Record, the RAF and the Café Racer motorcycle culture of the early 1960s. As well as the custom dials, all the watches have beautiful laser-etched designs on the reverse. 'We are celebrating engineering achievement,' says Andrew. 'It's important for us to have integrity, and not be a novelty.'

Zero West's location, by Emsworth's picturesque harbour, has its own place in engineering history. Back in 1940 the Boathouse where they are based was being used by George Gray as a shadow factory to manufacture parts for British bombers. George had already made a name for himself as an expert panellist in aviation and motorsport circles, having worked with Malcolm Campbell and Reid Railton on designing cars to break the Land Speed Record. After the war his Boathouse team continued this work, building racing car bodies for the MK1 British Racing Motors Formula One car and for Vanwall - the first winners of the Formula One World Constructors' Championship in 1958. In the 1970s he worked to restore the Sunbeam, Golden Arrow and Bluebird which can be seen in the Beaulieu collection.

Each Zero West watch design has a limited run, of between 20 to 100 watches, with each being put together on demand. Although these are premium watches - prices start at £1,995 - for Andrew and Graham the company was born more as a labour of love than a desire to make money hand over fist. 'We have the same ethos about detail and perfection,' says Graham, whose early interest in engineering was sparked by taking watches apart as a child. 'Each watch has to be bang on.'

'I think people buy into what we are about,' adds Andrew. 'A lot of watch designers would have five different colours and four strap options for one design. We are design-led, no matter what happens, design will always be at the heart of what we do.'

Word is spreading about their designs, with the pair having sold watches to collectors in the UK and Israel, as well as receiving a lot of interest in the US. They hope to make headway into the Asian market with their brand.

'What watch collectors want is to go into a room with something on their wrist that no-one else in the room has got,' says Graham. The pair are keen to make the experience of buying a watch as personal as possible, with buyers getting regular updates on their watch getting built once they've ordered it, and Graham designing the straps specifically for the customer's measurements.

There is plenty more to come too. 'The ideas come 24/seven,' says Graham. 'I saw some new materials yesterday - some formed carbon with Super-LumiNova in it which I hadn't seen before. I sent a message to Andrew - can we do a watch around this?'

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