Pirating The High Seas Of Watchmaking

Pirating The High Seas Of Watchmaking

For those of us embroiled in the watch-collecting hobby, the never-ending search for novelty is well understood. To non-watch obsessives, it seems an odd thing to pore over every detail of a company, todissect its wares and operations to death, or to analyze its goals and message just in case hidden somewhere within that tangle of intent and result there might be a kernel of specialness that might set it apart from its peers. But we do it on the regular. It’s what keeps us going. Not the struggle, of course, but rather the hope — the hope that one day our faith will be rewarded; the hope that one day, we’ll see something we’ve never seen before and it’ll make us sit up and take note.

The funniest thing about novelty creation, when you look at it from an audience perspective, is how the subtlest changes have the most seismic effect. Brands often make the mistake of changing too much. More often than not, in an attempt to show something new, a brand will attempt to reinvent the wheel, when, really, a new trim or tire was all that was desired. If you want an example of brand evolution rather than revolution, check out everything Rolex does. That’s a brand that understands the novelty game from a commercial perspective. But, it is very fair to say, the Crown’s activities lack soul. They lack passion. They are, for those of us driven by those more human spurs, dull and uninspiring. 

Now, we’re not saying we want a rocket ship on the wrist. Oh no. Nothing like that. We basically want what we had before but...different. And I’m not talking about a Pepsi bezel here or a Jubilee bracelet there… I’m talking "different" as in never done before. Something made different by doing. Something truly novel that isn’t garish or grotesque. Give us something thoughtful, we would say, as we knelt at the end of our beds and prayed to the Gods of time above. Give us something we can talk about with our buddies but can also actually wear. That can’t be too much to ask, can it?

Unfortunately, what is often lost on the ravenous watch-buying public is that good design is hard. It takes years to learn the requisite skills and the ability to capitalize on moments of inspiration (which are oftentimes all too fleeting if they happen to arrive at all). 

When I first visited Anders Brandt and James “Black Badger” Thompson at Thompson’s “Badger Den” in Gothenburg, I assumed I would be in the presence of greatness. I was aware of Thompson’s high-profile team-ups with Max Büsser, Giles Ellis, and Stepan Sarpeneva (three men I either admired, adored, or wished I could drink under the table). I was prepared to be starstruck. All I knew about Brandt was through the watch he had designed that had caught my eye some months earlier. I knew next to nothing about the man, but I already liked how his mind worked.

As it happened, the door to the Badger Den opened like any other door. There was no dry ice or strobe lighting. All that greeted me was a beaming Canadien with an outstretched hand. 

James, JT, or “Jimmy” as we affectionately call him in-house, is as humble and down-to-Earth an artisan as you’re likely to find. He is proud of his work on some level, but the level that is most immediately apparent is his desire for you to understand it. He’d like you to like it too, but getting the “why” behind the “what” is maybe the most important thing for him. As I would come to discover, it isn’t impossible for the “what” to predate the “why” but a project is never whole until the two take equal billing.

However, it must be said, that when it comes to Arcanaut and its first and most famous proprietary composite D’Arc Matter, the why is obvious.

We want to f**k s**t up,” James cackles maniacally. “We’re pirates. We wanna sail the Good Ship Arcanaut right up alongside watchmaking’s dreadnought and overrun her. We’re not trying to disrupt the industry, turn it on its head, or any of that crap. We’re just doing our own thing. Our goals aren’t some kind of far-reaching revolution. We just wanna do, what we wanna do. And we wanna get away with it. Pirates. Like I said. We’re piratey.”

It was a far cry from the staid, side-parted slogans of Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, or Blancpain. I guess what struck me as most interesting about the Arcanaut way of life was that while it existed within the watchmaking industry, it was completely separate from it. It had its own culture. It had its own code. And D’Arc Matter was emblematic of this creed.

So we’re kind of like the ‘76 Raiders,” said James, thumbing lumps of slate into an industrial coffee grinder. “It’s not that we don’t respect the institution for what it is. I mean, we’re in this game out of choice, right? It’s just that we want the institution to respect us for what we are. To acknowledge we have a place, I guess. Watchmaking can be about more than heritage, prestige, and status. It can be fun, experimental, and a bit goofy. And we can all enjoy the ride. Especially when your captain’s got one of these!"

The captain grinned and engaged the grinder. It let out an agonized wail as it chewed like billy-o through several pounds of metamorphic rock…

His words got me thinking. Could watchmaking sustain the outlaws as well? Was it not a walled fortress that balked at any kind of uprising whatsoever? Did the tranquility of the manicured courtyards within the industry’s borders need the rabble-rousing beyond the walls to feel as sanctified as there always had? Could it not exist without the baying independents at the gate, desperate to break into that world and snaffle a slice of the spoils for themselves? Perhaps. But perhaps it would just be a smaller and sadder world as a result. 

It’s a funny thing. No one ever asked for pirates. I’m not even sure pirates asked for pirates. As I always understood it growing up, one only chooses the life of a pirate when one has no other choice. They are desperate men and women, fighting for survival. They are driven by need, not desire and they are damn near unstoppable as a result.

But as little as the world asked for pirates, it is pirates about which we tell stories until this day. Tales of treasure, of swashbuckling escapades in search of glory, of explosive battles fought in ocean arenas, of sea monsters overcome, and the (very) occasional damsel in distress snatched from the jaws of certain doom because of an honour that even the most rakish of rogues cannot deny exists within them on one level or another. 

Simply put, pirates are cool. They do what most of us cannot because they must. And in the case of Arcanaut, although Jimmy references pirates in an attempt to draw on the manifestation of that need (because that’s the bit that looks and sounds cool), those motivations are the same. We create because we must. We push the boundaries of what materials can do or how they can be seen because we must. And we scrap tooth and nail for our place in an industry that would probably rather never come within 100 yards of an industrial coffee grinder because we must.

And that’s all you need to know about us. 


Reading next

History For Your Wrist
The Arc II Havender — The King of Composites

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