In the current watch climate, where heritage is all the buzz, Bold Timepieces look at the "Fears" brand and their inspiration from the past.
The Fears Watch Company is one of the oldest family-run watch companies in Britain, with a long history leaping back to 1846.
Edwin Fear's business began when he set up a workshop and showroom on Redcliff Street in Bristol, just aged 22. In 1866 he acquired number 4, Bristol Bridge, which was the beginning of the of the growth of the company, establishing what was to be Fears home up until 1940.
In 1877, Edwin Fear passed away and left the business to his son, Amos Daniel Fear who was 21 at the time. Significant upheaval was the hallmark of Amos Fear's time at the helm. This started with the purchase of one of the shops next to Fears home on Bristol Bridge.
A savvy business mind also led Amos Daniel Fear to move away from their former name of Edwin Fear and become Fear's Limited in 1908. Carrying on the trend of growth and upheaval, an Export department, called 'Fears (Export) Limited' allowed Fears to export to 95 countries.
Fears knew then, as they do today, the importance of high quality UK made products and the allure of them worldwide. Thus creating a brand that became a name you could trust.
After Amos Daniel fear's long and successful time at the helm, Amos Reginald Fear took over operations in 1931. By now, Fears had accumulated surrounding buildings on Bristol Bridge to create an area that was referred to as "Fears Corner", with the business resembling more of a department store, selling records, gramophones, Silver, Jewellery, watches, pocket watches, clocks and home accessories.
On the night of Sunday November 24, 1940 the entire commercial and shopping centre came under prolonged attack. The area of Castle Street, Bristol Bridge and the Old City were destroyed or severely damaged. This terrible event ended lives directly and also ended the work of many generations to build up family businesses, carefully guarded for the next generation.
Fears Corner was damaged beyond repair and after Fears moved out of the city centre to Clifton.
Fears celebrated their centenary in 1946, with Amos Reginald Fear celebrating his half-centenary working in the business in 1956.
Fears continued into the 70s, offering orders to both international customers and UK residents via catalogues, yet Fears were to fade away and seemingly be left in Bristol history, with many people still adoring their watches.
From the ashes of the night of Sunday November 24, 1940, Fears did rise again. It took until 2016, by which time 40 years and two generations had passed. This was all thanks to Edwin Fears great-great-great-grandson, Nicholas Bowman-Scargill.
Nicholas is of good pedigree, being a direct descendent of the Fears family. Having had a position with Rolex for over 4 years showed that the passion for watches runs deep in the veins of the family. His technical role as a watchmakers assistant and quick service technician set him in good stead for the re-launch of Fears, having the requisite technical ability and knowledge to construct a high quality timepiece.
You can already begin to see the knowledge and attention to detail that underpins Fears revival and this shines through in the watches that Fears have produced. The 1st watch to be introduced was the Fears "Redcliff" model in 2016. This watch took its name from the street where it all begin with Edwin Fear back in 1846.
My personal view on the watch was that at a cost of £650, the watch seemed to be a bit steep on price. This perception was based on the heart of the watch - The Rhonda quartz movement. One I had handled the watch in person at the Fears boutique and listened intently to Nicholas' passionate walkthrough of the watches design inspiration, I was converted.
At first I thought only the name was a token to fears heritage. Yet the more I inspected the more nuanced details jumped out at me. The model number on the Redcliff series begins with BS1. This is in-fact, the postcode of Redcliff street. Add to this, the syringe style hand's, which are an obvious homage to commonly used hands in the 1940s/50s. It was also clear that the logo was from Fears centenary in 1946, another nod to Edwin Fear and the generations after. A final interesting detail was the syringe shaped markers and date windows. This was not a feature of the previous Fears watches, yet Nicholas informed me that the inspiration, once again came from the hands. This symbolism has became key to Nicholas' plans for the new company, making the fears "Pipette" a central theme of all new watches.
Fears then introduced the Redcliff Continental which boasted the ability to have dual time across two time zones. The "Passport Red" version is particularly eye catching, although technically it will be a relic of the past when we have our Blighty Blue passports. Luckily the Fears Blue model covers those customers with a more patriotic wrist taste.
The aforementioned quartz pieces by Fears were an important step in re-starting the business, however Nicholas' intention was always to arch back to history and invoke and older style.
The first step towards this came with the launch of the "Brunswick". The Brunswick took its name from Brunswick Square in Bristol, where Fears Established their export branch in 1920.
In 1924 Fears designed a watch with a cushion-shaped case and a wire, fixed lug. The key hallmark of the dial was its legibility considering the importance of portable timekeeping in a different era.
It is clear that the Brunswick is inspired from this piece and this era in general. The dial is a cool and clear, white Enamel. The cushion case is synonymous with the 1920's, where the public were captivated by a host of exciting cushion cased innovations, such as the original Rolex Oyster in the late 20s. The watch also boasts an onion style crown which is another design feature of watches from this period. The hands are a neat touch, being thermally blued and skeletonise in the classic syringe style. However these were the product of 1940's inspiration, not the 20s.
These features of iconic design and legibility are then intertwined with modern features, such as quick release lugs (for strap interchangeability), plus the 38mm x 38mm case is larger than cases in the 1920's, yet by todays standards this is a smaller and more subtle wristwatch, thus highlighting the compromises of old design, but with a modern twist.
An important note on the cushion case is that it has these cases tend to be flat at the middle of the sides, before curving again at the edge. The Brunswick boasts compound curves which are arduous to achieve and required extensive failure and subsequently, alteration, during the prototyping phase. The only other case that boast this is from Panerai.
I was pleased to see a move to a hand-winding movement with the inclusion of the 'top-grade' ETA 7001. This movement boasts 17 jewels, a frequency of 21.600 WpH and a power reserve of 40 hours. It is a Swiss movement by design, however the nod to UK industry to decorate the bridges with the Côtes de Genève motif isn't the only English element to this watch. The hands are completely UK made, which a intense heat treatment to achieve the thermally Blued colour. The importance of such a commitment needs to be recognised. It is incredibly rare for an English watch brand to craft UK based hands. The case is also painstakingly hand polished in the UK.
At a current retail price of £2850, the Brunswick is a high end watch by the standards of the average watch collector. However the cost is entirely justified when you take into account its originality, nuanced design features and overall wrist presence. Having worn the watch in many occasions, I can confirm that is sits comfortably on a 7" wrist that is used to vintage pieces as small as 30mm.
Fears continued with an incremental, yet impressive alteration to the stainless Brunswick.
The Fears Midas ditches stainless for a completely new case composition. The base of the watch is a marine-grade Phosphor Bronze which is then coated in a layer of 18ct Rose gold, before it is finished with a layer of 9ct Yellow gold. The result is a tone of gold, not seen in modern watches, resembling the rolled gold finish to cases in the companies past.
A nod to quartz and a look to the future
It is my pleasure to have the blessing to report on an all new, limited edition, final quartz wristwatch by Fears.
This is the Fears Redcliff "Streamline".
The price of this limited edition piece is £483 inclusive of VAT. A strange price you may ask. This watch is based on a model released in the 1940s from the Fears archive which also happens to have the original advert which has a list price. This list price of £11 2s 6d has then been converted, accounting for inflation, to set the price at todays equivalent of £483.
The case is hand polished with brushed sides. The dial has a tremendous shine and provides a great contrast to the white syringe hands and the red coated second hand. A new addition is the inclusion of the Fears pipette on the crown. The case shape really is spot on for vintage design as it hugs the wrist perfectly. It has held onto the wrist with a Goats leather, Mink Brown strap. This strap is much thinner than the traditional Fears straps, taking inspiration from the straps of the 1940s.
I loved it so much I had to purchase number 107. The only slight alteration I would make to the watch is the inclusion of smaller second increments, within each second, as this would be more fitting to the purpose of the red second hand for precise timing. However I recognise this is impossible with the single second tick of a quartz watch. I personally hope that a similar mechanical piece is in the pipeline, considering the abundance of examples and adverts of Fears "Doctors" or "Engineers" watches.
The Streamline is limited to 100 pieces to signify the end of Fears quartz era, and a move towards further mechanical advances.
A focus on heritage
In early 2019, a special division of Fears launched. Fears Heritage caters to owners of vintage Fears wrist and pocket watches made between 1846 and 1976. The years of dirt and damage that these watches develop means that they require much more delicate and involved servicing and repairs.
Under this umbrella, Fears offer; full services and refurbishment, dial restoration, hand re-lume and restoration, case cleaning, glass fitting and new straps. Straps will be individually designed for each piece, to try and reflect the strap that came with them.
Complimentary with the Fears service is an extract from the archive. The archive is used to assist when selecting new hands, restoring dials or making straps.
As I am a big fan and collector of vintage watches (like this really needed to be said), this is a very exciting and savvy move from Fears. To me, this cements Fears commitment to their history and shows that it is at the centre of everything they do. Too many new companies who re-found based on an old brand, talk of heritage and like to highlight the influences within their current watches. However, they neglect the very history that got them there with services tailored to these watches being few and far between. This to my eye, shows a true appreciation of heritage and demonstrates that when Fears talk of heritage and influence from the past, they do it with their chest and their heart. It is far more than a marketing technique to justify a pieces legitimacy.
Even top brands such as Vacheron and Constantin have neglected their history and allowed old examples to fall by the wayside. Now they recognise the importance of historical pieces to the strength of the current brand, and certainly this is the main motive considering that they charge thousands of pounds for what is, in reality, a simple restoration that any watch maker who knows his hairspring from his mainspring could do.
When we begin to consider that servicing starts at £400 and bespoke straps start at £125 for Fears, you can begin to see that this isn't a money maker aimed to aid the current brand, it is a labour of love. This is aimed at looking after those who have cherished their watches throughout time, and ensuring that they can still look down at their wrist to this very day and smile at their well made watch.
The Owners Club and the passion of collectors
In April of 2019 I had to pleasure of attending the first Fears owners club meeting based in its historic home city of Bristol.
Too often watch fans/collectors have the stereotype of an annoracked, grey haired gentleman with little in the way of social graces. I must be honest, I have attended such meet ups in my time... However this was very different. There was a diverse group in terms of background, age and gender, which to me, indicated the passion and wide-reaching nature of the collectors which the Fears brand has touched.
With the owners club, new and old owners are welcome to join. For joining there are numerous benefits, such as an exclusive Fears Pipette pin badge in Fears Blue enamel, a membership card embossed with your member number and invitations to events across the UK/around the world. In the digital world you will have a gateway on the Fears website to the Club store with unique straps and options, as well as special offers and discounts from Fear favourite brands.
As far as looking after its owners goes, Fears go above and beyond. In being an owner you enter a very tight-knit community of passionate people, from many walks of life.
At the end of the day, isn't that what any passion should be about?
If you are interested in vintage and being part of an exclusive club, check out Fears online.