I first met Don Cochrane, the owner of Vertex Watches, at a Watchmakers Club event in November 2018. I had heard of the Dirty Dozen and ‘www – waterproof wristlet watches’, the pieces created by watchmakers for the armed forces during the world war but, despite being a watch enthusiast, Vertex was a name that had, until that moment, escaped me.
Held at M Restaurant in the city, around 20 independent brands were in attendance to showcase themselves and interact with collectors and enthusiasts. I met with all of them and, of course, there were some rather beautiful pieces, combined with some novel ideas in terms of both presentation and dials; one particular example of the latter is GOS Watches, a company that has embraced its Viking heritage and combined it with Damascus Steel to mesmerising effect. But there was one brand that stood out to me, not just because of the quality of their timepieces but also the narrative behind them.
Spending around 10 minutes chatting with Don was enough for me to know I wanted to learn more about him and Vertex. So I emailed him, explained The Peaked Lapel, and asked if he would be prepared to meet. I was delighted when he accepted.
A brief history
The Vertex journey is one simultaneously well-worn and unique. The well-worn part is as follows . . .
Having begun working with watches at the age of 17, Claude Octavius Lyons (I wish we still had names like that today . . .) set up Dreadnought watches in Hatton Garden in 1912. By 1915, he had begun producing watches for the British Military and, a year later, he founded Vertex, not only based in London’s jewellery hub but also in La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland. From this point onwards, Vertex grew in both stature and reputation. It began selling highly decorative ladies watches, fashioned solely out of precious metal, became the exclusive importer of Movado watches into the UK and, by 1931, had begun work on a range of steel ‘All Proof’ watches.
In 1938, Henry Lazarus became Claude’s son-in-law and joined Vertex. Given his unique understanding of the watch industry and his role as a captain in the British Army, in 1941 he was asked to assist in the procurement of watches for the military. Three years later, Vertex started to produce the Cal 59 Nav watch and supplied 15,000 of them to the armed forces. It is on this watch the current M100 is based.
Less than 30 years later however, and like so many other small independent watchmakers, in 1972 the brand was forced to close under pressure from the quartz revolution.
The unique part of the story however took until 2016 to unfold, 100 years after Vertex was first incorporated.