While intensely coveted new items are invariably out of the ordinary, it’s usually possible to acquire them in a conventional way – if you’re quick and prepared to pay for the privilege, of course. However, this is something that can’t be said for a wristwatch from the recently revived Vertex dial name that is becoming increasingly desired by dint of its invitation-only status.
For the uninitiated, Vertex was founded in 1916 by Londoner Claude Lyons, who grew it into one of the top manufacturers in Europe – helped by the fact that it was selected as an official military supplier during the second world war. The brand enjoyed a golden era that lasted almost four decades, but its fortunes began to fade in 1969 with the arrival of quartz watches, which forced the firm out of business within three years.
Until recently, collectors of military memorabilia were about the only people with whom the name still resonated – but in 2015, Lyons’ great-grandson Don Cochrane rediscovered his family’s horological links following the death of his grandmother. He was subsequently inspired to revive Vertex with a model called the M100 (£2,500) that closely resembles the watches it made for the Ministry of Defence during the 1940s.
In an unusual marketing move, however, Cochrane decided to “invite” an initial 60 people to buy one of the watches, on the basis that each of them could then invite five others who, in turn, could recommend further owners – thus accounting for the 600 examples to which the M100 is strictly limited. In addition, anybody who already owns a historic Vertex second-world-war watch may also buy a new one.
As one of the first 60 invitees, I recently took delivery of my own M100 and, I have to say, I’m delighted with it. Even the packaging held an unexpected bonus, since the watch is delivered in a genuine Pelican-pressurised, waterproof case (ideal for sailing and so on). The watch itself, meanwhile, lives up to expectations in being instantly recognisable as a descendant of the original Vertex “WWW” – the MoD’s abbreviation for “watch, wristlet, waterproof” – despite being 40mm in diameter, 5mm larger than the 1940s versions.
Otherwise, the black dial with highly luminous Arabic numerals, small seconds counter and “broad arrow” government property mark hark right back to the old military-issue models. The authentic feel is further upheld by the use of a hand-wound (rather than automatic) ETA movement and, for those who really want to capitalise on the combat credentials of the watch, it’s supplied with a nylon Nato-style strap, as well as a black leather alternative.
Cochrane says the aim of his marketing method is to create an “organic” sales model that will see the watches go only to like-minded people. Bizarrely, however – given that many major watch manufacturers routinely produce models that are available only to favoured customers – his innocent plan has been decried by some members of the watch-collecting community. But in reality, anyone who wants to own an M100 can apply to Vertex through its website in order to gain an introduction to a current owner who (if the meeting goes according to plan) will then be able to recommend him or her to become part of the rather special club of initial owners.
Cochrane’s ultimate goal is to re-establish Vertex on a firm footing and rebuild it into a family business – hopefully involving his young son – just as his great-grandfather did. As a result, news of further Vertex models is expected next year – but the original M100 will, undoubtedly, always be considered rather special.