JON PRITCHARD WAS doing a route march across Dartmoor as part of his Royal Navy basic training. It was at the end of week six of HMS Raleigh’s gruelling eight-week course. Jon was team leader, in charge of a group already suffering from multiple injuries by this point; they weren’t expected to even finish the march.
One of his team was suffering from such painful shin splints that Pritchard and his navigator offered to carry her bergen between them – an extra 35kg to share on top of their own 35kg bags. His team did finish – and even managed to come in third out of 12 competing teams. But sadly it was to be the last march of Pritchard’s career.
He crushed two discs in his spine – and suffers from degenerative disc disorder to this day. “Basic training in the military is designed to break you, so that the training that follows can build you back up again. I didn’t get that, so I was left broken both mentally and physically,” he explains.
However, a second life awaited him – his passion for watches provided a career where he could find a different kind of fulfilment. We caught up with Jon about his life and times…
How did you start out in the watch industry?
At the age of 16, I began working for Ernest Jones in Brent Cross, which was then a Rolex retailer. I had an amazing assistant manager, Tony Sofocli, who is still in the industry running a flagship boutique for one of the big watch manufacturers, and there was a valuer onsite called Cedric Lauder. These two men fired my passion for the watch industry for varied reasons: Tony because of his love and passion for the products and the way he interacted with customers, and Cedric because of his depth of knowledge.
The first watch I ever opened was in fact Cedric’s bicolour Patek Philippe Nautilus, which today is a £40,000 watch second hand.
From there I moved around a bit, working in Harrods’ Fine Jewellery Room for a spell and a few other shops.
Tell us about joining the Royal Navy?
From the age of seven, I wanted to join the Royal Navy, simply because of the stories my Grandad told me. He never talked about the War to other people, but for some reason he decided to open up to a very impressionable kid.
At age 19, I decided it was time to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps – although, unlike him, I hadn’t lied to the careers officer about my age. I even joined as a stocker (officially a ‘marine engineering mechanic’) – the same trade as him. So off I went bag in hand, full of trepidation and fear – and I loved it!
What a life awaited me beyond basic training in sunny old Plymouth. But it wasn’t to be. I busted my spine six weeks in on a march over Dartmoor, then spent the best part of the next two years in rehab. But my injury was never going to be fixed. More than 20 years later, it still affects me every day and I live how best I can, with help from family, friends and Help for Heroes.
So, what came next?
I returned to London for a bit, and back into the watch and jewellery industry that I adored. It gets under your skin, you know. Then by a beautiful turn of fate I ended up in Scotland and got to work for the most fantastic people and jewellery shops, Michael and Richard Laing of Laings and Stephen Patterson of Hamilton & Inches.
What’s your advice to someone just getting into watches?
Look at the multitude of other brands on the market. Seriously there are loads of them out there, from watches that cost more than a lifetime of arduous work to the ones that you just wear for your summer holidays because they are a little bit of fun.
Look at Swatch as a good example – they are making look-a-like Speedmasters that sell for less than £230. Buy a real one and own the exact same watch that Nasa strap on everyone they throw into space, or a Rado which is made from the stuff they make the front of the rockets out of.
Or you could buy British and get a Bremont, they’ve made watches with parts of HMS Victory or Bletchley Park. Then there’s a company called REC. This company uses parts from Mustangs and Porsche cars or even P51s and Spitfires – how cool is that?
What would you recommend as a ten-watch collection for men?
Omega Speedmaster Professional; IWC Big Pilot; Cartier Santos; Cartier Tank Solo; Breitling Navitimer (or a vintage Cosmonaut); Casio G-Shock; TAG Heuer Monaco with the crown on the left; Bremont Broadsword; Panerai Radiomir California; Rolex Explorer, Milgauss or Air King.
And for women?
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso; Blancpain Quantieme Retrograde; Piaget Limelight Gala; Cartier Tank Solo; Omega Seamaster 300; Breitling Chronomat; Omega De Ville; Rolex Cosmograph Daytona; Longines DolceVita; Swatch Skin.
What about the vintage market?
I would always recommend having a look at the auction sites of Bonhams, Christie’s or Antiquorum. There is a fashion for men to wear three-piece suits (thank you, Peaky Blinders; a waistcoat covers all manner of sins and cakes) so why not wear a pocket watch and chain as well? But never a modern version; always buy antique.
What’s your grail watch?
That is far too hard a question; it’s like asking someone which of their kids they like the most. I don’t think that anyone who’s been in the watch industry could pick just one.
So here’s my selection. My first choice would be either the MB&F HM4 Razzle Dazzle or Double Trouble. I tried one on once and fell in love with the watch, and when I researched more about the company. Take a look at their Starfleet Machine clock, that sense of playfulness runs through everything they do.
Next would be a set of watches I saw at an exhibition at Garrards when it was on Regent Street and I had just come into the industry. The set of Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watches with the hand painted four seasons on the back. Just stunning.
Lastly, it would have to be the James Bond set of Swatch watches. I have always adored Swatch, there’s just something simple and honest about them.
What’s your advice for watch retailers?
Take back your power from the big brands and start giving a shot to the little guys. And remember why you exist: for no other reason than your customers, so start acting like it and treat them ALL with the respect and service that they deserve, whether it is a customer who has spent a hundred grand with you or a fifteen-year-old lad who is just discovering his passion for watches. He may one day be a big fish in the industry or the best customer you’ve ever had.
And the customer?
To the consumer, all I ask of you is that the next time you are walking past your favourite jewellers or along the fabulous Bond Street (a place I try to visit every time I’m in London) look left and right of the big shiny display in the centre of the window and investigate the other brands that they sell. I can guarantee you that you will find something else that you’d love to wear just as much.
But also, don’t be afraid to be different; wear something that people see, don’t instantly recognise and then want to talk about. If you see someone with a nice watch complement them, start a conversation; you may just have found a kindred spirit.
Oh, just one last thing: don’t buy watches as an investment. Wear them, love them, and let them be a part of your story, then pass them on to the next generation so that the story continues.