When Nicholas Bowman-Scargill’s mother made a joke at a Sunday lunch about restarting the family’s 170-year-old Fears watch business, he laughed. The company closed 60 years ago, and its revival wasn’t something he had thought much about.
“It was my eureka moment,” Mr. Bowman-Scargill, 29, said. “I’d been working at Rolex for two and a half years, and although I was enjoying working in the workshop, I have always wanted to try my own thing and create my own company.” He was sitting in the office at his home, a 1920s townhouse on a gated cul-de-sac in the London Docklands, in early September, just days before the first 200 watches were delivered.
“It would have been easy to have a modern watch and stick the name Fears on it, but there would have been something very inauthentic about that,” said Mr. Bowman-Scargill, the great-great-great grandson of Edwin Fear, who established the company in 1846 in Bristol, England.
Instead, the quartz Redcliff Date combines the old and the new, designed, he said, to appeal to his millennial peers. The name Redcliff refers to the street where the company was originally located, and Mr. Bowman-Scargill has added a date window at the 3 o’clock position. “I was keen to find a name that everything could come from,” he said, noting, “I started with a date because I can’t wear a watch without a date. The date is one of the most useful features.”
He designed the dial on a computer, adapting it from vintage Fears watches found on eBay, like the blue model from the 1940s that he wears daily. They come in classic white or shiny teal blue, since “blue isn’t as formal as black but is still smart — with teal being more distinctive than navy,” he said. The hands, which end in small arrowheads similar to those on the original watch, were created through the Swiss company that manufactures the timepieces. (Mr. Bowman-Scargill said the company wanted to remain anonymous for commercial reasons.)
Interchangeable leather straps come in the same teal blue, as well as in red, tan, mink brown and the traditional black. “So you can wear the watch with a suit or jeans and T-shirt,” he said.
Mr. Bowman-Scargill’s experience as a Rolex watchmaker’s assistant and quick-service technician helped him shape his new company. He said the watches will have consistent elements — like the arrow-tipped hands — “so in 10 years’ time you can recognize a Fears watch.” And he has created several after-sales services, such as battery supplies, repairs and engraving, that he hopes will keep customers coming back.
Mr. Bowman-Scargill said the brand’s history has been a bonus: “Before I had a physical watch, I had a story to tell, which has started conversations, either in the pub or with suppliers, as it elevates the watch from an idea to there actually being something behind it,.”
Lucy Cheesewright, the director of SalonQP, agreed. “I brought the brand in because of the story rather than the specifics of the watches,” she said.
But Mr. Bowman-Scargill acknowledged that hitting the right blend of heritage and modernity was like walking a tightrope.
“I had to decide how much of the heritage I use — as what is interesting to me, might not actually be interesting to anyone else,’’ he said. “I wanted to create a watch with its own personality, otherwise it’s stuck in the past. But not so modern that it destroys the heritage.”
The watches will be available online beginning Nov. 3, at £650 pounds, with additional straps at £85 each. Instagram and Facebook helped him get 40 pre-orders since March, and he is in talks with retailers.
His plans include the introduction of a chronograph model, as well as a bricks-and-mortar store of his own, to “create a Fears world where everything is done, showcasing the theater of watches as Ralph Lauren has done with fashion.”