Q&A with Lorn Gifford, founder of Classic Chronographs
These days, there are so many watch brands popping up with pompous names and epic stories, involving WWII battles, fighter jets, racing tracks and you name it, but their watches are painfully boring, often rebranded AliExpress junk, sold for a hefty profit. These guys will know how to package everything in cutting-edge websites and glamorous photos so that the unsuspecting victims will be hypnotised to open their wallets and rush to buy a watch before that countdown to get 70% off would stop…
Then, there are these truly “underground” brands founded by people who are doing it because they love watches and watchmaking. It’s not easy to spot them. Often these brands are run by people who are new to social media, they might not master web design and marketing because they are too busy making their watches “perfect” — I use commas because I don’t believe in perfection, but I do think that every craftsman’s duty is to work towards it.
The other day, I discovered such an underground brand, all the way from the UK, here is Classic Chronographs. After visiting their website, I felt quite intrigued — here is a great looking watch with killer specs but to truly appreciate it, I have to ignore the old-school layout of the website and the raw style of its illustrations. I exchanged a few emails with its founder, Lorne Gifford, to learn more about his brand and the only model he has in stock, the Field Engineer.
Tell me about yourself?
51 years old, married for 25 yrs, two teenage children, live in West London. Professional offshore and subsea engineer with an engineering degree, chartered both as an engineer and marine engineer, registered as an accredited subsea engineering specialist. There are less than a hundred registered subsea engineers and the world is 70% subsea so it’s always struck me a little strange that so few people have mastery over so much. I pay the bills by subsea engineering, mainly in the oil & gas industry but quite frequently now in renewable energy and casualty investigation. Subsea engineering requires designing and building things at the limit of technology, placing them in the most remote places in the world and being confident they will work perfectly for 40 years. A good example are the subsea field developments I did off the coast of Angola where we had 60 seabed wellheads in 6000 ft of water gathering a quarter of a million barrels of oil a day from 200 square miles of real estate and funneling it to a tower 6 times the height of the Eiffel tower to bring it up to the floating production facility. Errors can be very costly, both in money and lives, so I always ensure I do it as perfectly as possible.
How did you become passionate about watches?
Mechanical timepieces triggered the industrial revolution. Understanding mathematics, the science and engineering necessary to make them led to machine building, and machine building was what the industrial revolution was all about. Modern life started with the industrial revolution and 95% of people alive today are only here because of that revolution, so ultimately the watch on your wrist is the reason we all exist.
Why start a new watch brand?
Over the years I’ve owned and broken a variety of expensive watches and once broken would take them apart to see what broke and why. It developed from fixing expensive watches that really should have been a bit better, to modifying them, to replacing sections and ultimately to throwing the whole lot away and actually doing it properly. I did the replacing and modifying bit for a few years and the building it properly from scratch part for about fifteen now. It’s a bit like many people with cars except with the advantage that everything fits into a small bag so I can continue my hobby no matter where in the world I am. Building properly from scratch is quite expensive though so to offset the cost of a completely bespoke watch I do it all through a limited company as it’s vat and tax efficient, and because they’re rather good, I do also sell them.
How come as a subsea engineer, your first watch is a chronograph and not a diver?
The rules of life for a subsea engineer are, in this order; don’t get wet, don’t get burned, sit by the exit on helicopters, avoid jokes about religion. The human body can get to about 1000 feet before your brain turns to clotted cheese and the developments I do are now over 6000 feet deep so all engineering, even when offshore, is done from an office with a calculator and computer.
That said though, the first watch I made to a standard I was happy to sell was a divers watch. I ran it to some pretty violent depths by tieing it to the robot submarines we use, so the engineering was spot on. I didn’t use any technique for getting the style right though so it looked a little like an oil rig. Overall it was too bulky and a bit ugly. When I produced the first Field Engineers I offered the few Divers owners the chance to upgrade at a small price and they all took it. I broke up the returned watches and used them for various parts of my testing and generally seeing when things break philosophy. The Field engineer will run to a thousand feet, but because I have floating rather than screw down crown it’s not a divers watch. A swimming pool is fine, deep sea diving requires a Casio dive computer on your wrist.
How did you go about creating the Offshore Professional Field Engineer?
I only wear one watch, so I only make one model rather than a collection. Engineering is my core skill so that side and the manufacturing, contracts etc was reasonably straightforward. Visual design is most definitely not a core skill so I applied a little bit of mathematics instead and ensured everything visual or aesthetic was defined by a number pattern. Mechanical timepieces began during the 12th Century medieval renaissance and many of the mathematics and numbering we use today also evolved then. One of these is the Fibonacci sequence, a very simple number pattern that features in nature and almost everything that has a pleasing visual balance to it. People use the Fibonacci sequence without knowing it, for example in proportioning architecture or the layout of a painting, or even the correct size for a wheel on a car so it looks ‘right’. I allowed the number sequence to dictate the layout, sizes, proportions and even the shades of darkness or light in the colour pallet so that the final watch would simply be as perfectly proportioned and balanced as it could be.
What makes the Offshore Professional special?
They’re as perfect as it’s possible to do. No consideration at all to saving cost, no consideration to fashion, none to ego, trends, marketing, hype of any of that. Simply built to ‘do it right’. The brand name is deliberately simple and reflects the reason watches were first made (accurate timekeeping offshore and hence knowing where in the world your little sailing boat was). The model name is because great ideas and concepts don’t become anything unless you actually get out into the field and make them work.
What are your plans for Classic Chronographs, short term and long term?
I’ve sold just over a hundred now, so short term I’ll carry on as is for a bit. Long term I might develop one or two other models, but I need to recoup the cost of the first one before I can do another.
Technical Specifications of the Offshore Professional Field Engineer
- 4 mm diameter, 14.5 mm thick, 132 grammes on leather composite strap
- Bespoke 316L low carbon stainless steel Faraday cage outer case, mechanically isolated rhodium plated inner movement holder
- Three layered shock resistance with mechanically isolated movement and floating crown
- Perfectly flat single crystal sapphire front & back crystals
- Anti-reflection vapour coating on inner faces of sapphire crystals
- Triple complication 25 jewel Swiss Valjoux movement with completely anti-magnetic drive chain
- Movement finished to a top echelon grade including machined and rhodium plated mainplates
- Timing adjusted to within chronometer standard
- Unique in-house day and date modification to movement architecture
- Self-winding mechanism with approx 4 hours of normal wear to fully wind
- In-house self-winding rotor with cut out Trident and individual serial number engraved onto rotor arm
- 48-hour power reserve, protected against overwinding
- Hour, minute and 1/8 second chronograph, day and date display
- Pressure rated to 10 ATM with each watch tested to 12 ATM
- Long-term climate tested in the arctic, tropics & deserts
- 4 layer dial designed for low-light and harsh-light visibility, electrically continuous with outer case for full Faraday cage magnetic shielding
- Unique handset with C1 Super Luminova solid wafers in hour and minute hand and C3 hour markers on dial
- No luminous markings on subdial or second hands to ensure clear nighttime legibility of hour and minute hands
- All dimensions, layouts and colour variations based on numerical ratios from the Fibonacci sequence
- Silicon impregnated leather strap with profiled natural rubber core and neoprene anti-sweat lining
- Fixed departure angle of strap from case to provide maximum comfort and stability on slim as well as thicker wrists
- 316L stainless steel butterfly-hinge clasp with engraved Trident logo
- 316L stainless steel bracelet with Trident logo deep engraved into butterfly clasp. Adjustable links secured with 316H double headed screw bolts
- Both the bracelet and strap are included with each watch
- Leather presentation and travel case suitable for up to 2 watches
- Information, manufacturing and service record on USB Dog Tag memory stick
- 2-year Warranty & a Lifetime Guarantee
- Standard build is with a Tachymeter bezel case, with the Roman Numeral bezel case available as a no cost option
- Price: £1900