Once an exclusive military brand, Vertex is now courting civilians, says Simon de Burton...
When Don Cochrane decided to relaunch the historic British watchmaker Vertex, set up in 1916 by his great-grandfather Claude Lyons, he decided to market the new timepieces in a most unusual way: instead of following the traditional route and making them available to all retailers and the internet, Cochrane decided to invite specific individuals to become owners of these limited edition watches.
He began by providing an initial 60 invitees with a purchase code that would enable them to buy a watch through the firm’s website if they wanted to become a member of the decidedly exclusive Vertex club. Each buyer was then entitled to invite five further individuals, each of whom could invite one more person – beyond whom, only owners of original Vertex watches or military personnel could apply.
Cochrane’s “anti-commercial” marketing method polarised opinion: some regarded it as a welcome change from the modern obsession with selling as much product as quickly as possible, while others, perhaps surprisingly, criticised it for being “elitist”.
In any event, almost all of the M100s have found homes, and Cochrane’s revival of Vertex has put it well and truly back on the horological map almost 50 years after the original firm went out of business in the early 1970s. Prior to that point, Lyons had grown it into one of the top manufacturers in Europe, following its selection as an official military supplier during World War II. Until recently, collectors of military memorabilia were about the only people with whom the name still resonated, which is partly why Cochrane designed the M100 to closely resemble the Vertex models made for the Ministry of Defence in the 1940s.
If you weren’t among the fortunate few to end up with an M100 the first time around, Cochrane has now produced a second version, featuring a case treated with a black diamond-like carbon (DLC) finish – and this time, anyone can buy it for a reasonable £2,625 from the Vertex website. Called the M100B, it features the original M100’s black dial with highly luminous Arabic numerals, a small seconds counter and a “broad arrow” government property mark, all of which hark right back to the old military-issue models.
Soon the two M100 models will be joined by a military-style monopusher chronograph that is expected to retail at £3,800, although that will initially be available only by referral until the arrival of the first Vertex boutique, due to open in London’s Marylebone later in the year. Rumours that potential customers will be allowed in by invitation only are said to be groundless...