Interview with Ralph Edmondson

RE: Ralph Edmondson

MF: Michael Friedberg, IWC Forum Editor

 

 

MF: Ralph, you’ve had a most interesting career and I thought it would be helpful if you gave everyone a bit of background.

RE:  After reading law, I started my career in the trustee and tax department of a major bank in the City of London.  I spent several years making wealthy people much wealthier but little of that wealth creation came my way.

 

My career took some unexpected turns.  I was a company secretary of an insurance group and then found myself in the unlikely role of investor relations for B.A.T Industries, a tobacco conglomerate.  This was a job I agreed to do for two or three years but I remained in the post for twenty years until I retired.   In 1999, BAT acquired Rothmans International from Richemont, which became our largest shareholder.  I got to know senior Richemont executives rather well and became fascinated by their luxury goods business. 

 

I retired from BAT five years ago and have continued to travel with my wife but much more of my time is now taken up with the charitable side of a London livery company: The Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders. 

 

 

MF: A livery company? That sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, but peculiar to the British experience.  Please tell us more.

RE: Livery companies are descended from the medieval trade guilds of the City of London. They are now largely social and charitable organizations and I am secretary to our Benevolent Fund.  Some trades, such as clay pipe making, have virtually disappeared so the rationale is now benevolence and civic life in the City.  My livery company was originally granted a charter in 1619 but disappeared in the 19th century to be resurrected in 1954.  There are 110 livery companies and to see the masters processing in their gowns into Guildhall or St Paul’s Cathedral is a wonderful sight. 

 

I am the current Master Tobacco Pipe Maker and Tobacco Blender which provides me with opportunities to dress up and attend civic events.  I get to wear a gold badge around my neck and people address me as “Master” (it’s convenient because they don’t have to remember my name).  My wife Maureen is “the Mistress” - a title she is still finding it difficult to get used to.

 

 

MF: Does “the Mistress” share your interest in watches?  What about the rest of your family?

RE: Maureen and I have just celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary and the secret to a long and happy marriage is shared interests or at least putting up with your partner’s interests.  Maureen has been very patient while I have taken her to IWC boutiques and watch shops all over the world.  She has several fine watches including the small Portuguese Ref. 3531.  Maureen is a Portuguese fan with limited enthusiasm for the other brand families.  Unfortunately, when I have shown her the women’s Portofinos, Pilots and Da Vincis, she compares them to the 3531 and that’s as far as we get.

 

We have two sons: a chartered accountant and an F1 journalist.  Both have inherited my interest in watches and have a good working knowledge of IWC.  I have presented them with watches on significant birthdays, and they each have an IWC vintage watch and a more modern reference.  Laurence borrowed my Big Pilot 5002 when he went to a Mercedes press conference with the drivers last year.  Apparently, Nico Rosberg noticed the watch.    

MF: Speaking of that, I know you’ve been a fan of Formula 1 racing.

RE: Formula 1 and fast cars have been a passion of mine for many years. I appreciate the value of F1 for marketing purposes.  British American Tobacco built the Mercedes factory in Brackley in 1999, when we launched British American Racing.   The team was sold when tobacco pulled out of sponsorship in 2005, but I had six great years enjoying the glamor of Formula 1. 

 

The team was eventually acquired by Mercedes AMG and IWC is a sponsor.   It’s very convenient to support IWC and the team I love on race weekends.  At this year’s British Grand Prix, I had the pleasure of meeting Lewis Hamilton and also at the IWC London Boutique a week later.  The more I see of him, the more impressed I am.  He is a remarkable sportsman. 

 

 

MF: I know you’re not a Formula 1 racer yourself, but I do understand that you have and love your Porsche.

RE: After several track days and surviving my fiftieth birthday, I experienced the “Meno-Porsche” and bought an ardoise 997.  I still have it.  It’s a fair-weather car that comes out of the garage when I need to put a smile on my face.  It’s not about top speed; it’s about the handling, cornering, braking and the noise and vibration of the engine behind.  It is a perfect match for my Collectors’ Forum Ingenieur which was acquired at about the same time. 

 

 

MF: Your sons seem to share your interests.

RE: Very much so. Both sons share my passion for cars, watches and photography.  They are outstanding photographers and certainly have the eye for composition that distinguishes a photograph from a snapshot.

 

 

MF: I’ve admired many of your photographs. How did your interest there develop?

RE: The Forum reignited my interest in photography.  Many photographs posted by members on the Forum have been simply outstanding.  I bought a macro lens and began to experiment with light and angles.  Each watch presents different challenges but the Forum provided an opportunity to publish my photographs.  To capture an image of a watch requires careful planning to avoid unwanted reflections and would often involve long exposures to manage. When you get it right, the satisfaction can be off the scale.  

I found the Forum when I was researching my 5001. It was 2004 and I was a “lurker” visiting two or three times a day. I couldn’t wait to take delivery of the 5001 to announce myself to the Forum. I knew the Forum members but they didn’t know me until that first post.

MF: As you know I –and several other Forum members-- share many of your interests: watches and photography…but also wine.

RE: Wine is a wonderful hobby.  It can be an academic subject.  You can collect wine, you can invest in wine but, above all, it is best enjoyed from the glass.  I used to be very narrow minded about wine, focusing on Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Happily, old age has broadened my mind and I am constantly surprised about the quality of wine coming from places I would have shunned two decades ago.  I am also moving into the consumption phase after the accumulation phase.  I would hate to leave the best bottles behind when I go. All problems can be categorised by the number of bottles required for a solution.  Remembering the solution the next day is also a problem.

 

 

MF: Well, do your recall when your interest in watches began?

RE: I suppose I have always hankered after a fine watch.  It was my grandfather’s boxed chronometer which fascinated me as a child.  He was a trawler skipper who emigrated from Iceland in the 1930s.  I remember being mesmerised by the movement of his chronometer, which was serviced by HM Chronometer Depot in Bradford upon Avon.  My brother showed me the watch recently, and it still goes.

 

 

MF: And what was your first fine watch?

RE: My first decent watch was a quartz powered Omega Seamaster for my thirtieth birthday.  For my fortieth birthday, I got a steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual 16030 with an oyster bracelet.   The Rolex still looks good and is remarkably accurate.  I wear it on Saturday mornings when I work on the village common.  It’s a beater that has survived some horrible treatment.  My eldest son asked for a Sea Dweller for his twenty-first birthday and I had no hesitation in agreeing to his request.

MF: What about IWC? When did your interest there start?

RE: A German colleague at BAT used to wear a titanium Porsche Design IWC which caught my eye.  Porsche was the brand that appealed but I started to investigate IWC and liked what I saw.  I had a fiftieth birthday looming and it was time for my next fine watch.  I did a lot of research and kept coming back to IWC.  Even Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky was an influence with his Mark XV. 

 

The key factor was the movement.  I was struck by the Cal 5000 which was IWC’s return to making in-house movements for wristwatches.  The Portuguese 5001 had size, presence and elegance, especially in rose gold.  It was newly launched and, at BAT, our relationship with Richemont took some of the sting out of the price.  I put in an order and the rest is history.

 

 

MF: Did you find the Forum back then?

RE: I found the Forum when I was researching my 5001.  It was 2004 and I was a “lurker” visiting two or three times a day.  I couldn’t wait to take delivery of the 5001 to announce myself to the Forum.  I knew the Forum members but they didn’t know me until that first post.  I was quite nervous about that post but I need not have worried, I was welcomed into this strange online world with open arms.  I had also discovered Timezone but the IWC Forum was the “go to place” for all things IWC and it felt more “grown up”.

 

Before long I was hooked and devouring all the information I could get my hands on.  Bearing in mind I bought a new watch every 10 years, I soon found myself applying for the Collectors’ Forum Ingenieur.  Michael, that watch cost me a lot of money.  When I ordered the CFI, the once-every-ten-years rule was broken.  The CFI is a special watch and I thank you for making it happen.  Again, the movement was important - an in-house movement (Cal 80110) - but the excitement was about the relaunch of the Ingenieur.   I still wear it a lot. 

MF: I’m really glad to hear about the effect that the CFI had on you. But I suspect it was just the start of many great Forum experiences.

RE: There have been many but that first trip to Schaffhausen in 2007 was very special.  Suddenly, there were faces to attach to the Forum names.  “Yes, I’m Rave,” I would answer.  Friendships were cemented that will endure for decades.  The tour of the factory, my first meeting with Kurt Klaus, the watch shops, the Rheinfall and, above all, the people made it a magical experience.    

 

In London, IWC has taken me to a Wimbledon final and a Laureus polo match.  IWC certainly looks after its collectors and I think we, as collectors, do a good job promoting the brand. 

 

BAT allowed me to travel the globe and make friends in cities from Tokyo to Los Angeles.  Many of those friendships were initiated through the IWC Forum.  I am grateful to you for the hospitality you showed me during my trips to Chicago. 

 

 

MF: Ralph, it has been a pleasure seeing you in Chicago, and in London and in Zurich, Schaffhausen and Geneva.

RE: My first SIHH in Geneva was in 2007 - the year of the Da Vinci.  Another new movement: the Cal. 89360 chronograph and a radically different case.  It was my first opportunity to meet Georges Kern and several new collectors for the first time.  We were the grateful recipients of generous IWC hospitality.  It was a special event.

MF: I would think special events have been coupled with special watches. Are certain of your IWCs especially meaningful?

RE: The first IWCs in my collection still mean a lot to me.  My Big Pilot Ref 5002 is the watch that signified the start of the weekend.  I would put it on when I got home on a Friday evening.  The Portuguese Ref. 5001 still looks good with either a suit or casual clothes.

 

The heritage watches, the Ingenieurs Ref. 666 and 866, and my Mark XI, get a fair amount of wrist time.  At 36/37mm, they are comfortable, accurate, require little servicing and are anti-magnetic.  Protection against magnetic forces is no less relevant today than it was 65 years ago. 

 

Also, I am one of a small group of collectors who own all three Collectors’ Forum watches.  There is a strong emotional attachment to Collectors’ Forum watches.  The Forum has meant a great deal to me since I found it in 2004. 

 

When you think about it, the raw materials of a watch are a small fraction of the retail price.  You also pay for the R&D, intellectual property and the skill of the watchmakers, case polishers etc.  The rest of the retail price is intangible: it is the brand, the marketing and the emotion the watch brings to the purchaser.  I guess, I am a very emotional man when I think of the number of watches I have bought.     

 

 

MF: Has your interest in different IWC models evolved over time?

RE: First, I was driven by the movements: Cal. 5000 series, Cal. 89, Cal. 853/4 and then pocket watch movements.  Then I wanted a platinum case and a ceramic case.  IWC’s heritage is important to me, so bagged a couple of Ingenieurs Ref. 666, Portofino 5251 and a Portuguese Ref. 325. 

 

Then it was the complications: chrono, split seconds, perpetual calendar and minute repeater.  More recently, I have been fascinated by the huge gold pocket watches produced during the quartz crisis and powered by exquisitely engraved Cal. 97s.  I leave the older IWC pocket watches to you, Tonny, Mark Levinsohn and Ralph Ehrismann.  My latest pocket watch is the elegant Ref. 5250 moon phase which compliments my Ref. 5251 wristwatch and fits in the pocket of the waistcoat (vest) of my white tie evening suit.  It also has two sevens on the dial.  I was going to give it a wide berth until I discovered an IWC catalogue from 1980 proudly displaying the same watch with two sevens.  

 

My Portuguese 5001 also has a spelling mistake on the movement.  It’s part of the charm of the brand.  I have also picked up a couple 19th century London clocks but that’s another story.

MF: Do you have a next watch in line?

RE: I have placed an emotional order for the Collectors’ Forum Aquatimer.

 

 

MF: I’m certain that it won’t have a spelling error on it! I also must compliment you on your many interests, and the thought underlying your excellent collection. And you’ve been a wonderful friend to many fellow collectors.

 

RE: I never thought I would get so involved in collecting IWCs.  I was not a watch collector until I got my second IWC.  Remember, it was a new watch each decade. I contracted the virus and it’s been a wonderful journey.  I have made friends for life and we continue to correspond daily. 

 

I discovered the magic of Schaffhausen and I have enjoyed the chase for new watches.  IWC has a very rich history and the deeper you delve the greater the rewards that drive the emotion.  And it’s the emotion of the brand that keeps me hooked.  

 

MF: Thank you – and I hope to see you again soon.

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