My “Mother Bird” Watchmaker – Peter Speake

It’s said that a newly born chick will imprint the first living thing they see as their mother.

Peter Speake is that for me. Strange thing to say I realize so let me explain.

Peter Speake

When I was first introduced to the concept of “independent watchmakers” it was a Peter Speake-Marin Serpent Calendar 41mm in Steele. In that moment, I had seen my guiding light for what such as timepiece could be.

Serpent in Rose Gold

The Serpent was unique, powerful, imaginative. It’s design (and in no small way the story behind it) transported me to a workbench in London where mechanical magic was being performed. Not an ancient or mystical workbench with Merlin hunched over, or a 17th century atelier with a pioneer of wrist watches whose name now adorns a company he never imagined, but a modern workbench with a living watchmaker who was turning ideas into wearable art and technology.

It was relatable. It was current. It was achievable.

Later I was to meet Peter in person furthering the imprint of an independent watchmaker in my mind – tall, stylist, informed, the accent, the world travel, a foot in London and Geneva.

Peter circa 2017

Hollywood took it even further when Piece Bronson played a watchmaker in the movie Survivor, a role based on Peter and one Peter assisted the filmmakers in sculpting. If you watch the movie closely, there is a scene where Peter walks past the front of the character’s atelier.

Pierce Bronson in Survivor

But unlike Piece, Peter is a real watchmaker. He trained at Hackney College London in the mid-eighties, before going to the Swiss watchmaking school WOSTEP in Neuchâtel. Over his career he has left his mark on several companies and brands leading at least one supporter to say “Without Peter, there would be no MB&F

He worked for multiple companies in the UK, at Oxford, Southampton and several companies in London, notably at Somlo Antiques (then based in The Piccadilly Arcade which lent its name to Peter’s pieces), where he developed their first workshops that specialized in the restoration of antique and vintage timepieces.

Between 1996 and 2000 he worked for Renaud & Papi in Le Locle Switzerland, after which he developed with Daniela Marin the brand Speake-Marin. He remained active with the brand until 2017, following which he spent the next 5 years involved in horological education. In July of 2022, he established PS Horology.

In the mid 2000’s Peter raised funds to design and develop his own movement. The 1in20 (as they were called) were an experimental series of watches, they formed the anticipated foundation for future watches. This series went to fortunate individuals willing and ready to contribute to Peter’s future. While I was offered the opportunity, the price point was out of reach for me at the time.

Over the years Peter grew the popularity of his watches and his namesake company and I forged my own path. I exited watch collecting for a good 10 years but continued to view Peter and his creations as iconic and imaginative time pieces.

Heraclitus (a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher) said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice. For the river and the man have changed.”

And so, when I returned to collecting and reconnected with Peter the industry – and we – had changed. Yet, despite (or maybe because) of his journey, successes, challenges, and dare I say humanness, he continued to embody to me the iconic watchmaker.

As a child is apt to do, my view of Peter and his watches is a bit skewed by their importance and emotional memories. I see him through rose colored glasses hesitant to take them off despite knowing he is human. The same glasses bring an extra sparkle to the watches which remain industrially stern and machined in the best of British stoicism.

Rear of one 1in20

There are more decoratively finished, splashier designed, and more eye-catching watches available, but none will ever compare to Peter’s contributions to the British and Swiss watchmaking universe.

I searched for his pieces to add to my reborn collection and have been fortunate to find fine examples of his “Marin” series – the Marin 1, Mk1; Marin 1, Mk2; and the Marin 2 (which is sans the familiar auto winding mechanism). These contain the SM2 in-house movement the 1in20 funded.

I’ve also found three 1in20 so far and remain on the lookout for more.

One of the 1in20 piece has been re-born. Appropriately for the year of the Dragon, the dragon watch (engraving by Kees Engelbarts) was originally made in red gold and left in red gold. Recently it was re-finished by silver plating, oxidizing the surface and re-polishing. The result is an effect that makes the dragon look antique and accentuates the detail and depth of the dragon.

As I close, I am reminded of another film – Psycho. Norman’s “mommy issues” got a bit out of hand and certainly weren’t healthy. I don’t think my viewing Peter as my Mother Bird of independent watchmakers is that unhealthy, but I’m sure Norman though he had everything under control as well.

Peter was kind enough to share some Q&A from a recent interview he had. Below is an edited version.

When you review your career which is soon approaching 40 years in watchmaking what are your first thoughts?

“That it’s been been a full life, I fell into horology by chance when I was 17, I was fortunate to have landed in a career, a craft that crosses over multiple disciplines many of which I have always enjoyed, ranging from mechanics to design and history. It’s a subject that is endless in its diversity, the more I learn the more I realize how little I know about the subject.”

When you look at your own work, what were the pieces for you that stood out the most and why?

“The most important is The Foundation Pocket Watch which launched the S-M brand,  it influenced the DNA of the watches that followed, it was the mother watch. The wristwatch case that ensued we called the Piccadilly (a link to the time in restoration at Somlo’s), this was the element that gave the early brand its identity. The original design in 38mm remains to my eyes as strong today as it was 20 years ago and in a small way, it was in symbolic of a period in time when the independent world started to be increasingly visible, it emerged at the same time as digital photography and the early plethora of internet watch forums.

Foundation Watch circa 2014

There was a series of watches called 1in20’s that were made in order to raise the money needed to develop an in-house calibre that was named the SM2, these watches were pre-paid by collectors, and each was different in some way, ranging from simple timepieces, QP’s to hand engraved art-pieces. One of the commissions gave birth to the Marin 1, the first series model to carry the SM2 calibre. The Marin 1 was one of a number that was ever made with a 38mm Piccadilly polished titanium case (not easily executed at the time) 2-piece enamel dial and an automatic version of the SM2. For myself, this was the high point of our work in the brand. Prior to the SM2 we had always modified existing calibres, but the SM2 was entirely original, hand-finished and assembled.“

What do you do in PS Horology?

“A mix of commissions from collectors and old friends, as well as a personal project. One of the first projects is a timepiece made using no CNC technology, only hand techniques, some of which I haven’t used in over 20 years.“

Additional sources of information:

https://www.remontoire.com.au/english-blog/the-story-of-the-mbampf-hm1