Marloe arrived on the scene in 2016 with its first watch, the Cherwell. The founders had forged a plan to create well-designed, beautifully engineered watches they could sell at sensible prices, and immediately made an impact.

Today Marloe stands tall among a resurgent independent British watch industry.

Cofounder Gordon Fraser oversees the aesthetics of the company: from the design of the watches to the films on its website, down to the colour palettes the brand employs.

Here, Fraser opens his design notebooks and talks us through just what that job entails…

My background is in product design – not watches

“I found my feet as a model maker for an architectural firm. When Oliver [Goffe] contacted me, I was a CAD technician.

I studied Innovative Product Design at the University of Dundee. People on the course did all kinds of stuff. Some went down the aesthetic route and just created beautiful objects. Some people created wind farms. One guy did trampoline socks.

My project was a medical dispenser for people with Alzheimer’s – because my grandma had Alzheimer’s and I saw she was struggling with working out how to take her pills. We were given free reign to do whatever we wanted to do. That’s where I found my love of filmmaking.”

Trust your own values

“At the start we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We weren’t part of the industry. We had no idea of what was ‘right’.

So we just started off with our own values, and what we liked.

We had a load of mood boards flying around the place. A lot of it was heritage-based. Traditional, but in a modern sense. Avoiding the ‘hipster’ side of things.

We wanted to be this bridge between mechanical watches – which when we launched were very much the plaything of rich people – and making them affordable and accessible.

How do we do that? And what will that look like?”

Marlow Pacific

Keep notebooks

“I keep a bunch of sketchbooks. More to get stuff out of the mind, and down on paper. But my notebooks aren’t where I spend all my time finessing a design; they don’t look good at all! There’s no structure to them.

But they have lots of ideas that I can reference later on. It’s a basis for where I spend most of my time – at the computer

I do most of the writing [for Marloe] as well. I really love writing. It’s a way for me to process life: I write stuff down.”

Some watch designs come easier than others

“Our next dive watch is a great example of something that came quickly. ‘That’s what it should look like!’ And it was just a case of getting it out and on the computer.

Other projects, you’re just grafting away and you’re fed up and you’re miserable. It’s not going where you want it to go.

After the Coniston [the Coniston Automatic Collection, produced in partnership with the Campbell Family Heritage Trust, and named for the Lake District area where Donald Campbell and his father Sir Malcolm Campbell set various water-speed records], we saw that storytelling was really engaging with our audience.

So I started trying to design from a point of storytelling. ‘Why are the hands that shape?’ It couldn’t just be ‘because it looks good’. It was misery! After six months of toiling away we binned it all.

Sometimes a watch can just look the way it looks because it looks good.”

Our colours have got bolder

“Our brand just came together. We always had this tagline of ‘Beyond Expectation’. We always wanted to deliver something that people went ‘Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this good’.

We were quite conservative with colours at the start. We started off with dressier watches, so blacks and blues and greys. Oliver didn’t really want to do big, bold things. Whereas I err on the other side. I love big, bold things!

I would always put in little orange accents. More recently the Solent project [the Solent Timer Collection, with a dual crown and an exhibition caseback] was all bright yellows and oranges and teals. So we’ve started to stretch out in terms of bold colours.”

Marloe Solent

Marloe designs ‘forever products’

“That’s what we call them. Because if you look after our watches they will last multiple lifetimes. That’s part of the fact of owning a mechanical watch.

If you keep it serviced, it’s great. But we don’t think of our watches as something you ‘look after for the next generation’. We want to do things that are exciting for people. So we’re an open book in terms of what we do next. We’re not stuck in ‘We must be classic.’”

Nature is an inspiration

“In Kinross [Scotland], where we used to be based, you’d always get this really pale blue wintery sky. I know this sounds a bit silly but the colour of our GMT – Day was inspired by that. I thought ‘That’s a great colour, we should use it’.

I photographed it and matched it to a Pantone chart. Pantone is my best friend, you know? I have that beside me all the time.”

Try things

“The [square-cased] Astro is the most polarising thing we’ve ever done. It was Oliver that suggested it. ‘Why don’t we do a square watch?’ And I said, ‘No way! Nobody wears square watches!’ He’s a disrupter, is Oliver.

‘Well, it’s not going to happen if you have that attitude’. So, I said ‘Alright, I’ll try it’. And all the way through the project I was thinking ‘This is great!’ It was fascinating. Because it’s not really a square, it’s a rounded circle. A squircle.”

Trying to predict people’s tastes is a mug’s game

“No, that doesn’t work. For our first watch, the Cherwell, the bestseller was white. By a large margin. We had to order multiple thousands of those because they were just so popular.

So for the next watch, we weighted our production towards white. And it was the worst seller!

It’s happened multiple times where we’ve thought ‘this will be a good one’. And it’s inevitably the other [version] that sells more. You just have to try and capture as many of people’s desires as possible without spreading yourself too thin.”

Marlow Pacific

You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth

“As someone once said: you cannot accept the praise if you’re not willing to accept the criticism. If you’re not polarising people then you’re not really doing anything.

As much as that’s painful for me because I’m very attached to these things. I put things out into the world, through Marloe, as a way of either celebrating people or places or objects. But not everybody’s going to love everything that you do.”

The most fun part is…

“The most fun I have is when I’ve settled on a baseline design. And then it’s just down to the colours and the details.

The convergence on an idea is the exciting part. The wishy-washy ‘What am I going to do?’ – that’s just frustrating. Because you can spend loads of time languishing in that pool.

It gets exciting when you’re crystallising all this stuff into this object that you’re then going to make, physically. That’s going to be handed down and enjoyed.”

Marloe Solent Timer

And the least fun part is…

“The least fun part is when we launch it. You’re excited, you’re nervous… but also you’re kind of fatigued. Because we’re so close to it. You’ve looked at it so much. You’ve looked at every millimetre of it, for a year.

But then you do get a second wave of excitement because people are saying ‘Wow, look at this!’ And that’s nice. That’s really nice. And it’s great when you meet people who are excited about what we’re doing.”

For more information, see Marloe;