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Coffee With Don Cochrane – Part II

Vertex Cal 59 Nav Watch

The Revival of Vertex Watches

In 2016, Don Cochrane, the great grandson of the founder of Vertex watches, Claud Octavius Lyons, re-incorporated the company with a humble vision. Having met him at a small, independent watchmaking event, I was captivated by his story and wanted to know more.

The inspiration for reviving the brand came when, sadly, his grandmother passed on. Reflecting on her life and the fact Vertex was her father’s company, he wanted to bring the name back, for her. Whilst, of course, any company needs to be financially viable to survive, he is adamant the primary purpose was not to make money; “it was a cathartic thing” he explained.

It was anything but straightforward to accomplish though; for example, the company did not own any of the required trademarks, meaning he had to obtain them from many separate sources in order to achieve his ambition. There were “lots of places the journey could have stopped” he mused but, fortunately both for him and for Vertex, no such thing happened, something he referred to as “universal causality“.

It took approximately 18 months from re-incorporating the name to re-launching the brand and, within three months, the first of a new generation of Vertex watches was delivered. Unlike many watch company revivals, this process was not kick-started by a financially liquid joint venture company. All the investment had been his own, including re-mortgaging the family home and maxing out credit cards, which meant he simply could not afford to maintain the business if sales took any longer than six months to begin. That forced him to keep things simple, to great effect.

What makes Vertex Special

Prior to Vertex, Don had held various position in sales and marketing at some exceptional brands. Starting the company himself meant he was able to make it unique… he “wanted to create something not just about money“. The value in these watches is not their cost, but instead it’s their story and, equally, their owner’s. He wanted to “slow things down and reintroduce the concept that good things take effort and… mean a bit more in the process“. He analogised how we used to purchase CDs and would play the same album repeatedly many times over; how that was cherished because it was so much less readily obtainable than the Spotify, Youtube or Soundcloud of today.

So what did that mean for Vertex? The M100, based on the 1944 Cal 59 Nav watch, which is a limited edition of 600 units, is only available by invitation and referral. You simply cannot just go and buy one. He admits that this strategy has “pissed a lot of people off” but, for the majority, has introduced a novel concept they are only too happy to be a part of.

There are two other models available: the M100B, which is a DLC coated version of the M100, and the MP45. Both can be bought ‘conventionally’ although they are much rarer in number; 150 for the former and 400 the latter, albeit this is split between manual and automatic movements. Ultimately it means that, at every turn, Don has introduced not only a story but also scarcity; not to drive up financial values, because these pieces are modestly priced, but instead intrinsic value and, ultimately, a talking point.

The sense you get from him is he loves the feeling Vertex creates for its owners. “It’s about being part of something that normally costs a lot more” he explained. “Vertex has identity but is not really screaming ‘look what I have’… it brings people together. Many don’t want to be judged as to whether they have wealth or not. A Vertex gives a different angle“.

Vertex also has a history of making ladies watches but, currently, that’s not a market Don is interested in. The pieces the company used to make were fine, art deco precious metal and diamond watches, which he didn’t believe there was a market for today. What he had found however was a lot of women were wearing M100s and M100Bs. There is one gold version of an M100 however… which he made for his wife.

As our meeting drew to a close, I had to ask whether his passion for watches pervaded into motorcars. The 60’s and 80’s were the decades of his choice, with cars on ‘the list’ ranging from a VW spit screen campervan to a Renault 5 Turbo to a Lamborghini Countach. But when pressed, the car he chose was the Jaguar C-Type. “It’s just the most beautiful car“, he reflected.

Sitting down and chatting with Don was precisely why I created The Peaked Lapel. There are plenty of sites that provide all the salient facts about watches and the company that makes them, but it was important to me to try and give the reader an inside track. To establish the personality behind the brand. It’s rare you find a someone who is able to combine drive and determination with imagination and warmth. Don is one of those individuals however and it was a real pleasure to chat with him. I wish him and Vertex, as it begins its second century, all the very best.