#03 Notes from Accurist
Great British cult classics
Accurist first started making watches in 1946 in London’s Clerkenwell (an area that remains a hub of design innovation today), and it soon became an icon of British watchmaking. You can still find hallmarks of the early aesthetics of the brand in the modern Classic and Vintage collections:
As times changed, so did the watches. The Swinging Sixties brought a colourful collection of fashionably oversized watches from Accurist called Old England, which screamed Cool Britannia with fat straps and quirky Union Jack dials. They were seen strapped to the wrists of the seminal stars of that pivotal decade, including supermodel Twiggy and The Beatles. The 1970s then led to Accurist joining forces with a giant of British comedy, John Cleese. His humorous television adverts to promote Accurist watches, with addictively silly catchphrases (“Accu-wrist, Accu-ankle”) and Cleese’s signature comedic whimsy, won international awards.
Britain has always led the way in style and culture, with a pool of design talent famed for starting trends that quickly reverberate around the world. While we would most definitely consider our own timepieces part of this revolution, here are some of our other favourite examples of Great British cult classics.
A decade before Asher and Rebecca Loftus set up Accurist, British automotive engineer George Carwadine was tinkering with springs, cranks and levers. During his experiments, he invented a lamp that was a perfect combination of balance and flexibility. The exposed cables and springs of this industrial design were revolutionary at the time, and their charm has not diminished.
What other jacket could work shrugged around the shoulders of Alexa Chung at Glastonbury, buttoned up tight on a shooting trip, and as a final layer before lunch on Sloane Square? This classic waxed cotton jacket has transcended its initial use as a barrier against foul weather to become a global style statement, and they are still made by hand in South Shields.
Lord Phillip Stanhope, the fourth earl of Chesterfield, is believed to have been the first to commission one of these classic leather sofas in the 18th century. Its buttoned leather has become an iconic marker of style in the home, particularly dark green and Oxblood red leathers. In recent seasons in rich, deep velvets have become the material of choice.
We associate Dr Martens with many a decade and tribe – 1970s punks, 1990s skinheads, 2017’s trendies – but their history actually stretches back to 1901. What started out as a simple, hard-wearing work boot made in Northamptonshire, has become a cultural icon; its sturdy soles, yellow stitching and long laces are a symbol of rebellion and youth culture across the globe.
Picking just one car as an example of a British cult classic is hard. This spot could so easily have gone to a Mini Cooper, Range Rover, Rolls Royce, MG or Aston Martin, but there is just something classically cool about the Jaguar E-Type. It made its debut in 1961 and soon won the mantle of “the most beautiful car ever made” thanks to gushing Italian racing driver Enzo Ferrari.
Liberty of London Fabric
In the 1880s, Arthur Liberty set out to create a utopian store for the artistic shopper, with wildly colourful fabrics sourced from the exotic Far East. Over time, an aesthetic took hold and Liberty of London is best known for its own intricate floral prints that cover everything from aprons to window dressings and Nike trainers.
The Mini Skirt
The 1960s was a time when British youth gave many things the chop – Vidal Sassoon introduced radically short haircuts, while London fashion designer Mary Quant made the miniskirt a global phenomenon. It remains an enduring symbol of feminine fashion, fun and freedom, and looks just as fresh in stores today.
In the leafy Somerset town of Chilcompton in 1971, Roger Saul, emboldened by a £500 loan from his mother, opened a factory dedicated to high-quality leather goods. It started with belts, but Mulberry soon diversified and is now most famous for its instantly recognisable bags, with 2002’s Bayswater its biggest success.
Britain has produced some of the world’s greatest authors, and Penguin Classics, founded in 1933 with the aim of publishing brilliant stories that cost less than a packet of cigarettes, is home to many of them. The now-iconic uniform cover was chosen as owner Allen Lane felt anything more elaborate would distract readers from the writing. This much-loved minimal design can be now found decorating fashion and homewares as well as shelves.
In 1932, Harry Roberts sacrificed his beloved motorbike and used the proceeds from its sale to open a small factory in London making three radios a week. The Revival Radio, with its signature leather handle, wooden box case and metal grille, first launched in the 1950s and is its most iconic design. Even Her Majesty the Queen has one, though we imagine she’s since upgraded to a DAB version.
The Trench Coat
Two British fashion manufactures – Aquascutum and Burberry – lay claim to the invention of the trench coat (the former has a design that dates back to the 1850s, while the latter patented a waterproof gabardine fabric in 1880 and went on to supply the army). Either way, it is an undeniable unisex classic. Its double-breasted camel silhouette, cinched by a belt, and can be found in closets across the world, as well as on the backs of many a fictional detective.
Don’t miss out on next month’s #04 Notes from Accurist next time we spotlight the Royal Observatory…