Visit With Peter Speake-Marin
By Ron Decorte
A visit with Peter and
Daniela Speake-Marin is always a pleasure. The warmth of their hospitality
makes me feel like an old friend… or maybe just old. Their youthful
enthusiasm for what they do is stimulating, and it’s a reminder of what the art
of watchmaking is supposed to be. I should point out that Peter and
Daniela operate their watchmaking business as a team, Peter is the
watchmaker/designer and Daniela is the business manager and point-person
for their work.
Located on the shore of
Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) in the small town of Rolle about 40 KM north of
Geneva, the Speake-Marin atelier, “The Watch Workshop”, is modest and well
equipped with modern and vintage tools-of-the–trade. The view of the lake
and mountains makes a comfortable place for their work, and my three-day
Peter and Daniela are
proud of their business independence. There have been ample offers for
them to take investors into their business and participate in the mass
production of watches, but they have refused all such offers. “We want to
grow slowly in a well managed manner, we will probably never make
thousands of watches but this isn’t an issue for us” says Peter.
As a watch restoration
expert in London, Peter developed his skills and a deep appreciation for
the past masterpieces he was entrusted. After moving to Switzerland, and a
short stint in world of modern production practices, Peter decided to make
his own mark in watchmaking by drawing on his past with an eye for the
future. As Peter says, “I want my watches to outlive me, I want someday
for a watchmaker to be specializing in antiques and looking at one of my
pieces the way I looked at some of the pieces I once worked on”.
Prior to my visit I spoke
with Peter about a suitable watch to feature in my documentary article. It
was decided that his first watch, a pocket tourbillon, would make a good
starting point. Peter’s pocket tourbillon is the creative result of his
skills and imagination, one of a kind. As Peter said, “this is my
Foundation Watch, the foundation for all my work since”. We eventually
decided to include some pictures of his latest watch “Piccadilly” as a
It’s always interesting
to see how a personal piece of art evolves as an idea and into reality.
Examining the small bits and pieces is a great way to gain insight into
that artistic process.
An expertly crafted pocket watch, with
one-minute tourbillon, front and center stage.
Peter took the unusual approach of using two
mainspring barrels and two complete trains of wheels to deliver power to
the tourbillon cage. You can see the barrel arbors and ratchet wheels, one
to each side of “The Watch Workshop”. The second and third wheels follow
symmetrically on each side of the watch leading to the tourbillon cage
located by the diamond end stone in the lower center. Just below “The
Watch Workshop” is a jewel for the center pinion carrying the minute hand
on the opposite side.
This is very practical from an engineering
standpoint. Most tourbillions, eventhose with two mainspring barrels, use
only one train of wheels to conserve space and manufacturing resources.
Some pictures of the tourbillon, with and
without the dial. The regulator (in blue) serves as the second’s hand,
very clever! Notice that diamond end stones (cap jewels) are used.
The tourbillon cage extracted from the watch.
The cage is especially light and spidery, and there’s good reason for this
approach. In a tourbillon watch the cage, and all its components, must be
accelerated and then decelerated 5 times each second (if the watch is
making 18,000 beats per hour). A heavy cage would require a lot more
energy and would also contribute to erratic timekeeping at the lower end
of the power cycle (when the main spring(s) is almost exhausted). This
tourbillon cage and components are first rough machined using a precision
pointer (jig bore) and then completely hand finished.
Under the dial. The hour and minute hands are
positioned up towards the top of the watch to make room for a large
The main components of the watch. On the left
is the main plate showing both mainspring barrels and both trains of
The dial is completely hand engraved. Lets
zoom in for a closer look at the details…………
The main plate of the dial is German-silver,
the upper center section is solid silver held in place by two invisible
pins and one screw (just above the 6), and the solid silver seconds
chapter ring is pressed into the main dial plate. Details of this dial can
be seen in Peter’s more recent watches such as the silver dialed
Peter at the bench, no he isn’t sleeping, he
just makes it look so easy!
Piccadilly in 18K yellow gold. Notice the
shape of the auto-winding rotor is reminiscent of the pocket watch
to visit Peter’s official website
Contact Peter at
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Here are a few technical definitions that
might be helpful:
Tourbillon: Invented in
the Abraham L. Breguet workshops more than two hundred years ago. The
objective being to equalize positional errors in the escapement by
rotating the entire escapement around a central axis. Historically a
tourbillon makes its rotation once per minute, but in some cases in only a
few seconds to more than one minute. Another adaptation of the tourbillon
principal is the Carrousel used almost exclusively by English watchmakers.
A carrousel is generally slower in its rotation, ranging from about 6
minutes to more than an hour per rotation. Although not as exciting to the
eye, many time keeping prizes have been held by carrousel watches proving
Diamond end stones: An
end stone (cap jewel) affords a much greater reduction in friction as
compared to a simple hole jewel in that only the very smallest tip of the
pivot (shaft) is allowed to contact a flat surface rather than the
shoulder of the pivot riding on the diameter of the hole jewel.
Historically diamond end stones were used only in marine and pocket
chronometers because of their hardness and durability, not to mention the
difficulty of working (shaping) diamond as compared to ruby or sapphire.
It’s common practice in watchmaking to refer to gears as “wheels” In most
cases a “wheel” is comprised of a gear and a pinion with the gear being
fixed to the pinion shaft. Generally speaking a wheel has more than 14
teeth (dents), and a pinion has 14 or fewer teeth (leaves).
Ron DeCorte 2004, All rights reserved
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