The appreciation of tradition is an essential component of the widespread interest in fine watches. It is linked to a historical past when horological craftsmanship pushed the technical envelope, advancing the science of timekeeping and creating art at the same time.
Our watchmakers have a purist vision for their timepieces, a concept of style that is above all, elegant and practical. They take note of contemporary trends while staying true to the essence of timeless utility. As did the pioneering engineers, designers and innovators that came before us in all industrial arenas.
Our founders could be described as “nautical” gentlemen. For a decade, Hartwig and George viewed the Chesapeake Collection as a platform to work with ideas and inspiration taken from their travels in the bay. But the Chesapeake Region endured plenty of monumental achievements unrelated to its maritime heritage that were equally as inspiring and worth horologically commemorating.
After mastering the chronograph with his first few Mission Collection’s, Hartwig wanted to make a limited series of pilot chronographs for the Chesapeake Collection. He craved something visibly different yet powered by the same Valjoux-based 7750 movement he had mastered. He envisioned a template that allowed him to exert his full potential as both an established horological engineer and an experimental artist.
It happened to be Memorial Day when Hartwig was walking from the domestic to international terminal at BWI Airport when he noticed a pop-up display of some antique cockpit instruments in a glass case. They were accompanied by framed articles describing the Martin M-130 “China Clipper”, the historic aircraft that opened the skies above the Pacific to commercial flights. It was a plane that shrunk the world, skipping across the Pacific like a rock across a pond in an astonishingly fast sixty hours. This " flying boat" was built right in our backyard here in Maryland.
As an engineer from Germany, the story of the “China Clipper” was inspiring to Hartwig as he learned of yet another monumental industrial achievement that happened to occur right in his new backyard in Maryland. Nonetheless, what captivated him over anything in the pop-up display was this one particular 24-hour cockpit clock. It featured a striking contrast between the luminous numerals and black background. Its identity as a “tool” was clearly communicated, but at the same time, its purity carried a distinctively contemporary and appealing aesthetic.
This spontaneous moment at the airport instigated years of playful experimentation and casual visations to the Glenn E. Foundation, which housed many of the “China Clipper’s” artifacts. Ultimately, it produced our signature pilot chronograph made in collaboration with commissioned restorers of the precious cockpit artifacts Hartwig saw at the airport.
Before boarding his plane back home to Germany, Hartwig snapped a quick photo of the cockpit instrument and proceeded to play around with it on photoshop for the following weeks. When he returned to the TWC workshops weeks later, he came prepared with a completed digital rendering of the original clock dial encompassed by a Potomac case. In addition, he printed out the dial onto a piece of cardboard and placed it within the physical steel case. The makeshift prototype showed instant promise. It was time to start digging deeper into the details.
Like the Pride II, an engraving of the original aircraft is etched onto the closed caseback. But unlike the tendencies of several modern brands, there are no bits of metal or fabric from the seat of the original aircraft hidden away on this watch. There’s no DNA from the first test-pilot to get off the water with the M-130. What you have is an authentic and inspired expression of a pilot’s watch that adds a dash of color and ever-more utility to an all too often monochromatic type.
The Martin M-130’s dial makes a quick connection to its source of inspiration, pointing to a blue-blood historical lineage of local industry that shaped how we live today. It was designed to replicate cockpit instruments of the 1930’s. It is a practical yet abstract response to the typical design language found in modern pilot watches. It represents an evolution of the traditional, in which a vintage palette is woven into a proven structure of elements. But what results is a dramatically contemporary yet ageless feel.
Collaborative innovation allows for tradition to remain timeless.
Innovation is built on collaboration, between people, ideas, and materials. This philosophy has formed a basis for all of our creations here at TWC. It applies to the story of the Martin M-130 in its purest sense, where a collaboration between past and present principles come together to push the envelope. Hartwig envisioned his pilot watch to represent a return to practical intentions. A pilot watch to serve as a true pilot’s watch, with bold numerals and luminous indices for readability and a hefty case for durability and atmospheric pressure regulation. The Martin M-130 isn’t just inspired by pilots, it's deliberately made for them. This is why Hartwig wanted to remember the cockpit instruments of the 1930’s and their intentions as instruments.
Hartwig considered infusing some scrap pieces of the aircraft into the limited edition timepieces. He was even given permission by the museum’s curator to use a certain section of the aircraft’s wing for the chronograph’s subdials. However, this idea ultimately didn’t pan out because it just didn’t align with the artistic motives that prompted the project to begin with. There was no doubt that the project was intended to be playful, but there was no room for gimmicks. The source of inspiration in that cockpit clock was so strong that yes, it provided Hartwig a story to attach his pilot watch to, but it struck a much deeper chord than that. As a German engineer for thirty years, he became an expert in an approach to design based on function. In other words, a certain instrument, like a watch or even a car, must exuberate characteristics that it can identify with because of utilitarian reasons. This principle was surely not forgotten by our legendary master watchmaker once he moved to America, but the reminder he received from the cockpit clock truly put him back into his roots. That cockpit clock demonstrated the beauty of engineering and function, where elements of design can serve two purposes that are contingent on one another, aesthetic and utility.
Ex RAF Officer Keith Campbell may be one of the first European partners we've collaborated with, but the origins of our newfound relationship seem to have rooted long ago. When Keith Campbell reached out to us after many months of mutual engagement on social media, we knew right away which TWC piece this military legend should be suited up with - the Martin M-130.
In his part-retirement, after 16 years circumnavigating the globe, Keith Campbell has translated his experience in aviation to timepieces and horological photography. He accompanies himself with a wide range of pilot watches he enjoys throughout his aerial travels, keeping his fanbase thoroughly updated throughout with creative shots and lessons. The success of his @captureasecond social media accounts comes from a particular methodology that here at TWC, we like to call, "clashing worlds."
Like Keith Campbell, TWC is built on a collaboration of "two worlds" in many respects. In some cases, two different niches and talents are brought together to produce something great. In other cases, two design languages or eras can unite. As for the applicability of this theme to our production, we bring together the accuracy of European technology in timekeeping with our in-house expertise in horological design and craftsmanship. Beyond this, we appropriate past achievements in technology and design to modern-day status-quo to evolve current processes and desired outcomes. That's what paying tribute to the past means. This is what we have done with the Martin M-130 timepiece. Design runs across a continuum for artists seeking to respect those that came before them.
“I started life as a watchmaker in 1948, 58 years ago. Hartwig started out as an engineer. We work together well because he essentially does the design and engineering work that I can’t do. But I’ve had a lot of experience doing restoration of antique watches for museums. These are 200 to 300 year-old timepieces. We have both ends of the technical spectrum covered, from current engineering to an understanding of watchmaking 500 years ago.” - George Thomas
To shine light on the past, an artist must recreate it…
A commemorative watch pays tribute to its source of inspiration by appropriating it to new innovation and status-quo. The everlasting legacy of that inspiration becomes defined and takes its effect in a new medium. Hartwig was tempted to incorporate some physical relic of the aircraft into each timepiece, but chose to extend the significance of the Martin M-130 another way. He allowed the design language of the aircraft’s cockpit instruments to speak for itself in a contemporary arena. There was no need to alter existing artifacts. Just a need to remember the genius behind them. A horological work of art uses design to communicate the beauty of utility.