Posted on February 28 2022
But these large established brands tend to broaden their focus somewhat. Hamilton is now as well known for its Jazzmaster line of dress watches as it is for its rugged military designs.
And Breitling is now known as much for divers watches as for its ground-breaking pilot's watches.
In contrast, young British brand William Wood is at the start of its journey. So they do one very specific thing.
They make watches inspired by and in tribute to firefighters.
It's that simple. Each William Wood watch references - subtly and not so subtly - frontline firefighters.
I got my hands on the William Wood Valiant. It's the watch that best represents the brand and the most obvious place to start.
William Wood Valiant - The Red Watch
William Wood Valiant - The Red Watch Review
There are two men at the heart of this watch brand. The founder - Jonny Garrett - and his grandfather William Wood. I've written about the history of the company here, but it's important to place this watch in context.
Firefighters are at the centre of this brand. Nowhere is that more obvious than with the Valiant - a watch that features parts salvaged from fire stations.
But why this narrow focus on an emergency service?
And why the brand name William Wood?
For decades, William was a fireman. More than that, he was one of a small group who has received a Certificate of Merit - the first to be awarded to his Fire Brigade. It came after Wood and his team rescued five children from a house fire in 1966.
William Wood was something of a role model for Jonny and an obvious inspiration for his business. As he said, "I knew that building my lifelong career around him would get me out of bed every day ready to take on the world”.
It's within this context that we need to view the Valiant.
It's a modern watch that pays homage to emergency workers in general and Jonny's grandfather in particular. And I'm keen to highlight these individuals. They are important if you're interested in buying a William Wood watch because (like I noted with Bremont) you're being asked to buy into the brand and its story.
That's what piqued my own interest in William Wood watches.
You see, I'm familiar with the fire station where William Wood worked. It's in my hometown, located right in the middle of Newcastle city centre.
So when Jonny responded positively to my request to borrow a watch I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.
And my first impression?
I wasn't disappointed. The price will be an issue for some watch fans, and with this in mind, it's obvious that Jonny has made a real effort with the presentation.
The first sign of this quality was the packaging. The William Wood Valiant is presented as a luxury watch. It's worth taking a minute to explain what I mean.
First, I was greeted by a slim fabric bag. Inside was a green and gold box - with an outer cover that slides off. Inside the box was a tied green bow, again with the brand logo in gold. I carefully untied this.
This allowed access to the red leather watch roll - the press stud being a gold firefighters helmet - the brand logo.
Within that was the watch (and any additional straps).
That level of detail gives the impression that there is something special or valuable inside. It's almost the opposite of the rugged and practical aesthetic I might have expected.
Instead, this feels like a luxury product and confirms that the brand understands the expectations at this price point.
And the watch?
It's marketed as a divers watch and that matches my first impression. It looks like a tasteful, mid-sized dive watch. But on closer inspection, the fire brigade references become more obvious.
It's a fairly compact and colourful watch that took me a little while to process. There's a lot going on - some of it quite obvious, while other design cues are more subtle and arguably more satisfying.
Let's look at the details.
The William Wood Valiant Watch in Detail
It's probably best to give you a quick summary of this watch. It would be too easy to get side-tracked by all the small details.
In many ways, this is a straightforward piece. It's not too ornate and is fairly versatile. At first glance, this isn't an exceptional watch.
The Valiant has a recognisable dive watch style - you'll be familiar with the basics. The look is sporty and includes a rotating bezel, neat crown guards and a rubber strap. There is 100M of water resistance and the version that I have features a Swiss Sellita automatic movement.
On paper, this is a decent enough automatic dive watch - albeit priced towards the top end of what you'd expect for these specs.
But as I've tried to stress, it's a watch that is more than the sum of its components. Aside from the branding, there are the unique details of the watch to consider.
Take the colour for example.
This variation is red. It's not subtle highlights either - the strap is bright red, as is the bezel. And this version is called the Red Watch. The name doesn't only refer to the colour. It comes from the firefighter shift patterns that we have here in the UK - Red Watch, Blue Watch etc. It's red for that reason.
Then there are the smaller details, some that you may not notice.
The red strap is actually hand-cut from a recycled fire hose. And to allow an easy change to the other straps in your watch roll, it has a quick-release feature. It's a nice blend of authenticity and practicality. The strap is made from repurposed materials that have been used by firefighters. But if rubber isn't for you? It takes a minute or two to swap it with something else.
These well thought out features really warmed me to this watch. A good example is how the double-domed crystal has been worked into the design. You really notice the crystal. It's high.
But the bezel is sloped.
That sloping design helps smooth the transition from the bezel to the high double-domed sapphire crystal, creating a balanced watch.
Those neat little touches continue throughout the watch. The gold-coloured insert in the crown is made from a melted down 1920s fireman's helmet. It's quirky and as you'd expect, the crown screws down.
The checked outer ring on the dial is also there for a reason. Although not unique to the brand, this pattern is styled like those used on fire engines. Again, it's not obvious. Neither is the second hand's counterbalance - it's modelled on a fire station's bell.
That pleasing mix of obvious design points and subtle references stops the watch from becoming a parody or too cluttered.
The dial is another good example of this. It's easy to miss that it is a sandwich style. You need to look closely to appreciate this uncommon feature. If you're not familiar with this style, the layer beneath the dial is lumed and the upper dial has indices cut out to show the lume.
Then there's the 12 o'clock double marker. Again, it's not unique to William Wood, but it does conveniently match the markings a Crew Manager would have on their uniform.
This attractive black dial is rounded out with an applied gold fire helmet logo. The dial text is neat and restrained.
I've worn the watch on and off for a few weeks now and I'm starting to get a feel for it. It's a comfortable wear. I was a little concerned that the 41mm diameter might be a touch too big, but the short and slightly curved lugs keep things compact. With the double-domed sapphire crystal, this is quite a thick watch - but that's not a deal breaker for me.
Turning the watch over you are presented with an exhibition back. Through mine, you can see the Swiss-made movement with its signed rotor. I can't quite make my mind up if I'd be happy with the more affordable Seiko movement. On the one hand, it's the movement I used in the Northwind Armstrong - it's a reliable workhorse. But as usual, the appeal of a Swiss-made movement is clear. I guess that's your own call to make.
I've highlighted quite a few distinctive features. So how well do all of these competing design points work?
I'd suggest that Jonny has pulled it off. There's a lot that might not have worked with this design - the sandwich dial, the domed crystal and the rubber strap spring to mind. But by keeping the case, bezel and hands simple he's managed to combine these features to produce a tasteful piece.
And that was my first thought when I heard of William Wood. Can you build a watch brand around such a small niche? Will it feel forced and inauthentic? Can it be tasteful and stylish?
I'm confident in saying that it doesn't feel forced. But that is only because the brand is more than the Valiant watch. And that's a point I'm keen to labour. It's why I've referenced the founder by name.
At the bottom of the watch box, barely noticeable, was a sheet of printed paper. It's a note from the brand to their customers - presumably, each watch contains one.
There's a line in it that states "Feel free to email me directly at any time" and includes the founder's personal email. That's what you're getting when you pay a little more than cheaper brands with similar specs. You get history, enthusiasm and a brand owner who wants to tell you about his role model - his fireman grandfather.
As I was writing this article I noticed a quote on LinkedIn by the popular business writer Simon Sinek. It succinctly states what I've tried to say in this review.
"Great companies don't offer us something to buy. Great companies offer us something to buy into."
It might be a bit of a push to use this to refer to microbrand watch companies, but it's broadly true. We get most excited about the companies that sell more than just widgets.
Have a look at the ambassadors on the William Wood website - they're all working firefighters. And William Wood proudly raises money for the Fire Fighters Charity.
When you're buying a Valiant watch you're buying into something. I don't want to overstate the point, but equally, I think it's only fair to point out that not all watches brands are equal. Watches are more than just components. Yes, you can buy a watch with the same specs as the Valiant for half the price - but it likely won't be from a British brand. And it won't raise money for a British charity.
I've enjoyed my few weeks with the William Wood Valiant and I'd recommend you give this quirky microbrand a closer look.