Occasionally Peter Roberts can be seen wearing the unique five-hand timepiece he made during his student days. The original watch will be handed down to Roberts' son, James - also a watchmaker - but finally, after four decades, a limited run of Concentriques is to be produced, with one major difference: the new Concentrique benefits from 40 years' worth of experience at the highest level.
Roberts' path to the production version of the Concentrique, began at the Swiss watchmaking school, WOSTEP, where Roberts was the first Englishman to attend, eventually creating a watch his instructor told him had never been made before. "It was explained that the chronograph I wanted to make - taken from the booklet The Main Types of Chronograph Explained By Their Dials published by the Federation Horlogere (FH) - was 'theoretical'. This booklet was illustrated with generic representations of every type of chronograph, with variations including tachymetric indications, pulsations, calendars and so on. I chose to produce one with five hands from the centre."
With a single-mindedness he still possesses, fuelled by unbridled precocity, the 20-year-old Roberts delivered a chronograph based on a Valjoux movement, with the addition of two extra hands from the centre, one for the date and one to indicate a second timezone. The latter also required a 24-hour outer bezel, which also bore the 1-31 indications for the date hand.
CGIs of the 2012 Peter Roberts Concentrique - the Valjoux 88-powered chronograph with moonphase and triple calendar and five hands from the centre, of which only 44 will exist.
Raising the bar
"Those of us in the WOSTEP class of 1971 were all given the basic, unfinished parts of a Valjoux 72 for the project, - specifically a Valjoux 726," says Roberts. "Everything had to be hand finished, the jewels fitted - the entire assembly." All the students produced their chronographs at the end of the course with the cases supplied by the school. That would not do for Roberts: over the ensuing year, he went on to design and make the Concentrique mechanism, produce modifications to the movement and make his own case, ensuring that his watch was truly unique. Moreover, he fitted it with a glass back, at a time when such a detail was a rarity.
To put the young Roberts' Concentrique into context, 20 years would elapse before a five-hands-from-the-centre wristwatch would appear from a series manufacturer, in the form of the Maurice Lacroix Cinq Aiguilles. That watch, however, added date and day of the week, so it only had three hands in constant movement (those showing hours/minutes/seconds), with two 'jumping', and did not include a chronograph. In total, Roberts' original Concentrique bore eight hands, and of the five in the centre, four were in constant motion.
On graduating from WOSTEP, Roberts joined Rolex in Geneva and trained as an official Rolex watchmaker. Upon qualifying, he worked at Rolex in Bexley for 3½ years, followed by stints at Garrard's and Watches of Switzerland, before he joined the staff of Hackney Technical College, where he would lecture for 14 years. Among his students were Peter Speake-Marin, Stephen Forsey and Meridian's Simon Michlmayr.
After another spell with Rolex in Geneva, Roberts went freelance, acting as a consultant and servicing watches for private clients. During the past decade, he has also worked with Dent, served as Technical Director for Bremont, and - as of its debut at SalonQP - founded his eponymous brand to produce the new Concentrique.
A new trio
"I was lucky to find a source of the base movements for the new watch. I am using the Valjoux 88 - the same basic calibre as the 72, but with more complications," divulges Roberts. What those who have long-coveted Roberts' WOSTEP watch will be staggered to learn is that he has added three more complications to the original's complement of chronograph with day and second time-zone.
In addition to possessing all of the functions of the original Concentrique, the new model adds moonphase at the 6 o'clock position, sharing a dial with the 12-hour counter, while windows have been added to reveal day-of-the-week and month. The 24-hour bezel has been retained and refined, while the 1-31 indications for the date form an inner chapter ring. Thus, the new Concentrique boasts 11 indications.
In certain areas, Roberts is adamant to the point of obsessiveness. He has sourced only Swiss- and British-made parts, including dials, hands and straps. And the movements, although made in the 1960s, are still in their original sealed packaging. Each requires the same hand finishing as was applied to the original 'School' watch and each will be made by Roberts himself.
Peter Roberts, second left, with WOSTEP class of 1971, being instructed on how to adjust the clicks on the latest tuning fork watch - MOSABA (as used in the Omega F 300).
A labour of love
As the new watches to be made have more complications than the WOSTEP watch, Roberts needed to design a new version of the Concentrique mechanism. The case, dial, strap, buckle, crown - indeed, every part of this watch - are uniquely designed by Roberts. Even the eight hands are individually made, finished and luminised by hand.
"It must be understood that to undertake a project like this with no parts off the shelf is no easy task," says Roberts. "And because it is a severely limited edition, there is no economy of numbers. I have produced this watch because I wanted to and could do so, by calling in many favours from friends in the watch industry who are helping to make it possible."
Because this watch depends on the availability of an obsolete movement in an unused state, as well as addressing the span from 1972-2012, only 40 examples will be made in stainless steel. They will be numbered 1-44, except for numbers 10, 20, 30 and 40. "The decades are reserved for the rose gold ones," says Roberts. Working feverishly, Roberts plans for the first prototypes to be ready for Baselworld in April 2013, and for the first customer watches to be ready in May. The watch will be priced at £18,000 including VAT for the steel and £28,000 for the gold. Pre-orders and deposits will be taken from January 2013.
Further information: www.peterrobertswatches.com