Peter Roberts Interview & Grand Complication 5 Hands-On

Peter Roberts Interview & Grand Complication 5 Hands-On

by Angus Davies

Peter Roberts “Concentrique” Watch – Grand Complication 5
Standing on the shoulders of giants

Often, when chatting to my compatriots and explaining that I derive income writing about wristwatches, they proceed to tell me that the best watches are made in Switzerland. I would agree, in part, that some fantastic watches are indeed made in the land famed for banking, pharmaceuticals, chocolate and haute horlogerie. However, I would also point out that some incredible watches are made these days in Finland, Germany, Holland, Japan and, most notably for this self-confessed anglophile, England.

Regrettably, many laypeople regrettably don’t know of England’s rich history in watchmaking. The names of Arnold, Graham, Harrison, Mudge and Tompion warm the cockles of my heart. These individuals had immense talent, pioneering many inventions which we continue to use to this day.

Whilst England’s dominance of the watchmaking industry subsequently waned, there continues to be some incredibly gifted, home-grown, talents who produce sublime horological creations. I remain a huge fan of Roger Smith, based on the Isle of Man, and would argue that he is one of the finest watchmakers of his generation.

Another talented watchmaker who wears a rose in his lapel each St Georges Day is Peter Roberts. I have met Peter on several occasions and admit to being bowled over, not only by his watchmaking prowess, but also by his charming modesty. In an age where self-promotion is de rigueur, this quintessentially British gentleman quietly converses with a refreshing humility. Indeed, it has often been my experience in life that those individuals blessed with colossal talent, seldom feel the urge to boast, their work manifestly conveying vast ability.

Isaac Newton is often attributed with the quotation, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. The origin of this expression was actually Bernard of Chartres by John Salisbury (1118-1180). In many respects Peter Roberts has built his understanding of haute horlogerie by appreciating the work of the great luminaries of British watchmaking. However, Peter, throughout his career, has enjoyed close ties with Switzerland, initially as a student in Neuchâtel, attending the respected WOSTEP (Watches of Switzerland Training and Educational Programme) course and, thereafter, working with IWC in Schaffhausen and Rolex in Geneva. Indeed, the success of Peter Roberts is that he has a breadth of experience gained in Switzerland, together with time spent working in the UK for Garrards, teaching at Hackney College and, more recently, as the Technical Director of Bremont.

Peter harboured a dream to create a watch bearing his own name on the dial, a dream he has now realised. If I am honest, knowing Peter, I don’t think this dream was born out of desire to make lots of money, but rather to produce a watch he conceived whilst studying in Neuchâtel. The result is a limited series of 40 watches made of steel. This creation is named, the Peter Roberts “Concentrique” Watch – Grand Complication 5.

The Grand Complication 5, as the name implies, features five hands, all sharing the same axis. Moreover, additional functions are presented on subdials and via apertures. This is a complex timepiece and a wonderful showcase of the talented artisans’s adroit skill and know-how. It is a watch I often cite as an example of exceptional watchmaking. I am mindful that I have already revealed by adoration for this watch. However, the focus of this article is to convey the basis for my opinion and highlight the nuances of such an exceptional timepiece. This watch is a remarkable testament to Peter and those who have supported him throughout his career.

Peter Roberts – The Interview

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The dial

After seeing a 5-hand watch in a text book, which his lecturer at the time pointed out had never been made and was merely a fictional concept, Peter vowed to bring the watch to fruition. In 1972, his one-off Grand Complication 5 prototype came into the world and over the years has been admired on many occasions. By creating today’s Grand Complication 5, Peter has captured the essence of his former watch but, with the benefit of experience, has imbued the timepiece with a matchless finish.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - The Dial

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The Dial

The dial, whilst featuring many functions, is exceptionally legible. Colour has been expertly utilised to differentiate the functions conveyed with each hand. There could have been a danger that with the myriad of colours used, the dial could have appeared garish or disjointed, but Peter, by employing a discriminating eye and choosing the colours wisely, has delivered a harmonious composition.

Hours and minutes are conveyed with red hands, lined with Super-LumiNova which emit a green lume in restricted light. The central chronograph seconds hand is white, a GMT hand is presented in yellow and the date is indicated with an orange hand featuring a crescent-shaped tip. All hands incorporate Super-LumiNova, save for the date hand.

The tricompax layout looks stunning. Each subdial is presented in silver and snailed splendour. A 30-minute chronograph counter resides at 3 o’clock and a small seconds display is positioned opposite. The 12-hour chronograph register, located adjacent 6 o’clock, includes a moon-phase indication.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - The Dial

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The Dial

Two apertures reside below noon, imparting the day and month eloquently with white text against black background.

Dates, presented in red text, encircle the inner portion of the dial canvas. Neat, rectangular hour markers, again lined with Super-LumiNova, tastefully convey the prevailing hour. A chapter ring, depicted with white strokes and employing Arabic numerals completes the accomplished dial design.

Each element of the dial is distilled to perfection. This timepiece represents the culmination of a lifetime spent working in the highest echelons of haute horlogerie and even with only the briefest association with the Grand Complication 5, its superlative creation is readily apparent.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The case

The Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 is presented in stainless steel, executed to the highest order and partnered with bronze on the bezel. I have perused the finish with a discriminating index finger and cannot overstate how incredible it truly is. Polished to an exacting standard, the resultant surface is peerless without the merest hint of a burr anywhere; it is absolute perfection. Peter sourced the cases from a contact in the industry and used his charm to persuade them to make the limited production series of 40 cases. His no-compromise procurement of components has led to a watch made of the finest materials. Indeed, the Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 is a purist’s watch of the highest order.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - The Case

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The Case

Often watch companies state their timepiece has anti-reflective treatment on the sapphire crystal, but I have never encountered a dial which delivers this degree of clarity. Peter has, once again, sought the best, entrusting the anti-reflective treatment to one of Switzerland’s finest practitioners and it shows. The sapphire crystal delivers matchless transparency and confers a high definition vista unlike any other.

In creating the Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5, the English watchmaker has sought to produce a legacy, a piece of work to mark the zenith of an artisan’s career. In this regard, there is no question Roberts has achieved his goal. He has cleverly chosen the optimum case size of 42mm for this timepiece. The scale of the watch is not too large, nor too small, and should retain relevance and eye appeal for decades to come.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - Crown & Pusher

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – Crown & Pusher

Everything delivers a palpable sense of quality and excellence. The strap is a case in point. It is made of the finest leather, hand-stitched and delivered with a delightful pin buckle, tastefully adorned with Peter Robert’s restrained logo. I first saw the Grand Complication 5 presented on a black strap, but recently I encountered the timepiece presented on a gorgeous russet red leather strap. This would be my preference as it is an absolute stunner and delivers a refreshing deviation from the norm.

Adorning the case back, a sapphire crystal accords a view of the hand-wound movement within, allowing the wearer to while away the time, admiring Peter’s incredible work.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – The movement

The Valjoux 88 provides the base for this movement. Peter spent a long time seeking this particular calibre and had nearly given up when he learned of some “new old stock”. The base movement has been completely reworked and refined to the highest order.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - Caseback

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – Caseback

Taking the base ébauche, Peter has imbued the movement of the Grand Complication 5 with the finest finissage. I suspect that his professional pride would prevent him from releasing anything less than perfection.

All of the parts within this timepiece are hand-finished. Anglage, perlage, and mirror-polishing are all in evidence. When handling the watch, my eyes kept returning to the hand-bevelled steel parts with their gleaming chamfered edges, testament to Peter’s deft use of hand. Each wheel is circular grained and jewel sinks are magnificently polished.

The chronograph movement is fully integrated with the column-wheel readily visible to the wearer. Indeed, this is another delicious aspect of the movement. Peter has provided a visual feast of horological treats laid out in front of the observer. There is a refreshing absence of large, oversized bridges, hiding much of the micro-mechanics, everything is exposed. Each wheel can be seen working with faultless precision. The balance is not obscured by any items above. And finally, the levers, seen via the case back, are worth admiring, they are delectable. This movement is a mouth watering prospect to any discerning watch collector.

Peter Roberts Concentrique – WOSTEP School Watch Picture (1972)

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – Closing remarks

I have a strong emotional connection to this watch. I remember listening to Peter deliver a seminar at SalonQP in 2012 where he announced the release of this timepiece. I have subsequently met Peter on many occasions, seeing the evolution of the final model take place. Often, the watch appeared faultless and yet Peter would remark he was not fully happy with it. His fastidiousness would see him expend further hours, seeking subtle enhancements few would be qualified to notice. However, evidently Peter noticed and his pursuit of perfection led to today’s watch, a timepiece crafted to the highest order.

This is not a low-cost watch, costing £18,000 and may seem overpriced for a steel watch. However, it is actually a bargain.

I know that if Peter costed every hour of labour lovingly expended on each timepiece, he would soon realise that his hourly rate is little more than minimum wage. The Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 is not really a vehicle for the Roberts family to enjoy untold riches, but rather the realisation of a long-held dream belonging to a great master. Peter Roberts is a name I personally hold in the highest esteem and I suspect will provide a source of inspiration to the next generation of English watchmakers. Some of the current great watchmakers to benefit from his tutelage, include Stephen Forsey, Simon Michelmayr and Peter Speake-Marin and his accomplishments as a watchmaker are beyond question.

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 - Wristshot

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 – Wristshot

The Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 houses a brilliant mind which harnesses a lifetime of experience. It is a veritable magnum opus. Indeed, this is an opinion shared with at least 40 other individuals, as the watch has now been sold out. Like many admirers of fine watchmaking, I hope Peter decides to create another horological masterpiece and continue to uphold the tradition of great British watchmaking.

    Author Bio

    Articles by Angus Davies


    Angus Davies is a self-confessed horological addict. It was this passion for watch collecting which led to the launch of his own website, ESCAPEMENT, in 2011. He now regularly writes articles for other websites and magazines both in his native UK, mainland Europe and the US. These include printed titles such as Great Golf Magazine, iW Magazine, Deluxe Swiss Made.